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Before You Grow: Growing individuals, one plant at a time

The Washington County OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers have operated a raised bed garden dedicated to teaching horticulture knowledge and skills since 2012. This “Teaching Garden” is currently located behind the county office building at 202 Davis Avenue, but it will need be relocated due to a reassignment of county owned office buildings. Planning is underway to relocate these impactful gardens on county ground between the County Health Department and the Washington County Juvenile center.

The gardening at the Teaching Gardens closely reflects the mission of the OSU Extension, which is to create opportunities for people to explore how science-based knowledge can improve social, economic and environmental conditions. The teaching garden supports this mission by working with youth from the Washington County Juvenile center to instill a sense of applied science in a formal garden learning environment. Dean Kathrine Cress, Dean of the College of Food Agriculture and Environment Sciences at the Ohio State University recently visited the gardens and commented this was one of the best raised-bed OSU gardens she has seen! teaching gardens in the state by the OSU Department of Agriculture.

The garden operates on a bi-weekly schedule from March through October of each year. In early March the students begin by developing a garden plan for the growing season, by selecting which crops they would like to grow. With guidance from Master Gardener Volunteers (MGVs), their selection is narrowed down to the exact varieties suitable to local growing conditions. This plan includes succession planting so that a greater variety of plants can be grown in the limited space available.

This year one of the three beds was dedicated to early crops: lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, onions and peas. When these were harvested, the bed was replanted with a variety of squash, pumpkins, melons, and cucumbers (cucurbits).

So far this year, the garden has produced 2 pounds of peas, 12 pounds of green beans, 15 pounds of onions, 3 1/2 pounds of lettuce, 1/2 pounds of broccoli, 5 1/2 pounds of spinach and Swiss chard, 5 heads of cabbage, 38 1/2 pounds of zucchini, 22 pounds of tomatoes, 3 1/2 pounds of cucumbers, 4 pounds of beets, 8 pounds of potatoes and 4 pounds of peppers and more to be harvested. Some of this produce went to the juvenile center for their use and the remainder was donated to a local food pantries.

In addition to planning, planting, maintaining and harvesting the plants in the garden, the students have completed several other projects to improve and maintain the garden area. The projects include installing rainwater collection and composting systems, and constructing gates, fencing, a tool storage rack, and small asparagus raised bed. One of the most ambitious projects completed, was the construction of a multi-level raised bed which houses five dwarf apple trees and strawberries.

A short mini-lecture presented by a MGVs kicks off each gardening session. Topics have included talks on: vegetable families, planting techniques, general science, invasive plants, and plant nutrition. After the mini-lecture, students discuss what changes they have observed since the last session, as well as what tasks need to be completed which include: weeding, harvesting, replanting, watering, ‘squishing’ bugs (our method of organic pest control), and special building or repair projects. Then they are turned lose to work, guided by MGVs. At the end of each session, a summary of the day’s activities and what they learned is discussed.

During the final session of the year the garden is ‘put to bed’, that is prepared for winter, with the exception of a small patch that is seeded with some winter hardy crops, like spinach, and covered with a translucent cap. After mild winters, we have found a nice bunch of early spring greens to enjoy in March. There is also a brief celebration of the harvest marked by enjoying homemade pie featuring products of the garden, usually apples, pumpkins, or PURPLE sweet potatoes.

In conclusion, the teaching garden serves our troubled youth with the hope of instilling a new healthy, safe, and fun hobby for the students to explore in life. As an indirect result, the MGVs themselves learn a lot from these students and build impactful relationships which stand the test of time. To learn more about the Teaching Gardens and how to become a Master Gardener Volunteer, please visit our website or- call our office: Washington.osu.edu / 740-376-7431.

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Robert Rothwell is a Master Gardener Volunteer since 2013. He is a retired Environmental Scientist and armature wood carver and musician.

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