If the White House has any questions about its new garden, the First Lady might want to call on Melbourne’s Garden Club for advice. Students Robert Burtner, Daniel Eakin, Sarah Johnson, Daniel Kight, Peter Snell, Moultrie Woodall and residential staff Annette Corrado have dealt with tropical storms, evening frost and pesky critters while growing fresh vegetables.
Planting for this season has just been completed and the new and older plants are doing well. Scarecrows adorned with silver Christmas tree garland are now standing guard over the garden.
The Brevard Center Garden Club was started in July 2008 with the goals of teaching students at CIP how to grow a variety of fresh vegetables, learning different ways to cook and prepare vegetables, and developing more of an awareness and appreciation for the many different varieties of vegetables that are important for healthier living.
Fortunately, Daniel Kight, Robert Burtner and Peter Snell had gardening experience and their participation since the beginning has been significant to the success of the garden. Later, Daniel Eakin, Sarah Johnson, and Moultrie Woodall joined us to further enhance our success. We have fun but also face many challenges.
The soil that we planted the garden in was very poor and more like sand. We compensated by using lots of chicken manure and Miracle Grow once or twice a month. Shortly after we planted, we discovered that the next door neighbor had a family of pet squirrels that he rescued as babies from a storm and nursed back to health. These squirrels are now grown, very tame and friendly, and have established the area where we planted our garden as their hiding place for peanuts.
We tried the standard scarecrows to keep them away but these squirrels have no natural fear of humans and did not find our scarecrows intimidating. I talked to the neighbor next door and he suggested using aluminum foil as a deterrent because his squirrels hate it. We tried dressing up our scarecrows with silver-foil Christmas garland and so far have found it helpful. We started our garden and planted squash, cucumbers, carrots, basil, eggplant, several types of peppers, lettuce, corn, green beans, and tomatoes.
In August 2008, Tropical Storm Faye struck and our garden was completely under water. We waited more than a week for the flood to dry and made efforts to try and salvage what we could of the garden. We propped up wilted plants and hoped for the best. We lost the squash and cucumbers and the lettuce we planted never grew. However, the rest of the garden seemed to slowly come back to life and was doing exceptionally well after a few weeks.
We planted some more string beans in place of the lost cucumbers and some cantaloupe and watermelon in place of the lost squash. Soon our plants were developing lots of flowers but we were concerned about the lack of bees and insect activity in the garden which is vital in the pollination of the plants to produce vegetables. I had the students tickle the flowers with paint brushes to help cross pollinate and the students found this to be quite silly at first but it worked well– we had 20 eggplants produced from one plant.
Our next obstacle involved a few mishaps with a lawn mower cutting up our corn and tomatoes. In spite of the damage, the corn and tomatoes continued to grow back each time they were hit. During this time, we were enjoying the peppers, basil, green beans and eggplant, and using them for Grill&Chill or Cooking Class. We would later plant more root vegetables (carrots and onions) that were lawn mower friendly towards the front of the garden.
December came and we had about eight weeks of frost and night temperatures in the 30’s– unusual for Florida. We did lose our corn, watermelon and cantaloupe but much to our surprise, the eggplant and tomatoes seemed to actually thrive on the cold weather, producing even more flowers. Our carrots were still doing well and lettuce that never grew when planted in July was now growing.
Working on the garden has been a very enjoyable learning experience full of unexpected surprises from the forces of nature beyond our control. Some of these were good, some bad and some so strange we can offer no reasonable explanation for them. Gardening provides big lessons in flexibility, patience, coping with adversity, and accepting that we cannot always have control over everything that we plan.
We are now learning from our experiences and planting more basil, onions, and peppers for cooking and changing the arrangement of the garden. We are going to try again to grow cantaloupe, cucumbers and watermelon for Grill&Chill. We look forward to another gardening season, hoping for continued success and open to experiencing nature’s new surprises still to come.