Gardening series begins

Those organically-grown vegetables now being sold in the produce departments of local supermarkets are nothing new, according to Jim Couts, co-owner of Jubilee Gardens and Landscapes in Marietta.

Couts gave a presentation on organic composting during the first of six free community garden classes at the First Unitarian Universalist Church Sunday afternoon.

“Around 1850 all farming and gardening was organic-no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides were used,” he said. “The essence of agriculture for thousands of years was based on organic compost and fertilizers.”

But with the advent of the industrial age in the late 1800s, and into the 20th century, synthetic or chemical-laced fertilizers were introduced, Couts said.

“People were very excited. Their plants grew large and fast,” he said. “Synthetic fertilizers will make your plants look great, but as long as you keep using it you will also have to use pesticides and herbicides on your garden.”

Couts said the use of organic compost and fertilizers helps eliminate the need for such chemicals as the organics, derived from composted plants, discarded food scraps and animal manure, provide a natural shield for the roots of plants that synthetic fertilizers cannot provide.

He added that the use of chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides is killing off the honeybee population which is key to the pollination process vital for plant growth.

“Synthetic fertilizer prices continue to increase, which means food prices increase, and that impacts the ability of low-income people to purchase quality food,” Couts said. “If you eat food that’s only grown with synthetics, you’re not eating healthy food. The continued use of synthetic fertilizers is just not sustainable.”

He encouraged those attending Sunday’s gardening class to help stop the use of chemical fertilizers by growing their own organic gardens and participating in local community gardening.

Couts noted Jubilee Gardens and Landscapes is planning to start an “organic only” community garden with 30 plots available along Phillips Street in the Norwood area.

“We’re looking for people who want to do organic gardening to take part in that garden,” he said.

For more information, e-mail Jubilee Gardens at, or call (740)706-4672.

Couts said organic composting begins by creating separate piles of materials like food and garbage scraps, leaves and grass clippings, and cow and horse manure.

“Collect the materials, but keep them separate, then construct a compost bin that’s 3 feet square and 3 feet deep in which to place the compost materials,” he said, adding to cover the bin with a tarp that’s easy to remove.

The compost material can be mixed in the bin and turned regularly with a pitchfork or shovel to keep the material loose and aerated for 30 days.

“The material should be turned three times the first week, two times during the second week, and one time during the third and fourth weeks,” Couts said.

Some water should also be added to keep the compost moist, he said.

“But you don’t want too much water. Moisture and air help keep the microorganisms in the compost working,” Couts added.

He said the compost is ready for use when the material looks like black dirt, and the process should take about six months to complete.

Couts said a much faster method is vermicomposting, in which worms are added to help break down the compost mixture. He said it takes about one month for vermicomposting to break down the materials into usable compost.

Tom Rowell of Williamstown was among the 35 people who attended Sunday’s gardening class. He raises crops on farmland near East Ninth Street in Williamstown.

“I believe in saving our landfills, so organic gardening has always been my way of life for more than 60 years,” he said. “I haul piles of leaves to my property all fall and use them to make compost that I put around our flowers, fruit trees and blueberry plants. It also helps cut down on weeds.”

Sunday’s class will be followed on Jan. 19 by a presentation entitled “Ethical Eating” by local gardeners Megan Buskirk, Dana Singer, and Chrissa Campbell of Marietta.

“They’ll also be providing some incredible ethical food for everyone to try,” said Roger Kalter who helps coordinate the community gardening classes, now in its sixth year.

Buskirk said ethical eating covers a variety of topics, including consumption and marketing of locally-grown foods in area restaurants and stores, as well as the ethical treatment of animals that are used for food.

“I’ll have a list of 10 things that people can do to help encourage the availability of more locally-grown food and the ethical use of that food,” she said.

Buskirk said Singer will discuss the economics of ethical eating.

Kalter said future community gardening classes will include a presentation by the Marietta In Bloom gardening group and a special presentation on edible landscaping-landscaping with plants that also can be used as food.

“Our final day will be a hands-on class, building cold frames and raised beds,” he said.