The basis of the "What You Can Do" series is to offer the average person actionable ideas to make a difference about whatever issues speaks to them most. Alicia and I met Andrew Spilberg while producing a corporate video for PRG. He's a master at his job and travels all around the world working to make some of the biggest events, concerts and award shows awe-inspiring. In chatting with Andrew we discovered that not only is he some kind of technical genius, he, along with his wife, is becoming a master gardener. Essentially, he's a "What You Can Do" All-Star. He's changed some of his carbon footprints into earth-friendly tracks that lead to a backyard organic garden. Since I myself have been known to kill a cactus, I thought he'd be a great person to talk to.
Read on for some tips and some inspiration on how you too can create your own produce garden!
What made you want to begin gardening at home? Was it just because you were interested in the experience of gardening, or was it so that you could reduce the cost of your produce and control how it was grown?
Andrew: My inspiration for gardening at home as two fold. First we, my wife deserves credit as well, had a side yard that we just finished terracing. Previously it was an area that was about a 3' tall slope that was about 10' deep and 50' long. It was covered with a flowering ground cover seen along major highways here in California. It had to go. By terracing the area we were able to create two flat areas that were 100% useable. Once complete we quickly decided that some raised planting beds would be nice. In turn we built four 5' square redwood box frames. I made them stackable so we could either have four that were 1' tall or one that was 4' tall. However in the 12+ years that we have had the garden we have always had four.
Secondly we had a need to landscape the backyard. When it came time to buy plants and trees we started out slow with the ornamental variety. They looked nice but they were very expensive. One day I saw a "Citrus Fruit Salad" tree at our local garden center. It had lemon, lime, two varieties of oranges, and a tangerine grafted to one tree. How cool was this! A tree to fill an area and it produced fruit that I liked. SOLD! From then on no matter what we planted in the back yard we decided that it had to produce something that could be eaten. Over the years we added a grapes, blueberry, artichoke, rosemary, Fuji Apple, Asian Pear, and Cherry trees. They have all done a wonderful job in helping to landscape the yard as well as produce fantastic fruits and vegetables.
In the raised planters and the terraced areas we plant seasonal vegetables including; Lettuce, Beet, Corn, Peas, Beans, Peppers, Sunflower, Eggplant, Pumpkin, Watermelon, Zucchini, Radish, and whatever we find that looks interesting. We especially like the heirloom varieties that are next to impossible to find in any store.
Why did you choose to create an organic garden?
A: There was a point in the first year of our garden when I was standing in the garden center of our local home improvement store trying to decide what chemical solution I should buy. I was reading the labels to make sure that the bug or weed was included on the list of things that it would kill. I began to question what happened to those chemicals after they were applied and were done doing their job. Did I really want to apply something that had more warnings about its use then a chainsaw? I put the chemicals down and started to walk out the store when I noticed some tubs of Lady Bugs at the register. I picked one up and low and behold those little guys would eat my problems away. That is where it began. That container led me to a website where I was able to see benefits of using lady bugs and my personal favorite praying mantis. While we didn't intentionally set out to produce an organic garden it just sort of turned out that way.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own garden? Any lessons learned?
A: Even if you don't have a back yard there are other alternatives. A community garden area, a window box, or just a single plant in a pot. Not too much of an investment can lead to big rewards.
Fertilize with compost. Not only will you be sending less material to the landfill it will improve the soil and your plants will reward you.
Would you advise someone to start with one vegetable or fruit only, or would you tell someone to just go for it?
A: If you aren't ready to jump in with both feet, that's ok. Start with a single plant in a pot, something that you like. I would suggest a tomato or a strawberry. Do a little research and ask for help if you think you are running into problems. The internet, "farmer's almanac" and your neighbors are good sources of information. Don't get discouraged if you don't end up with a crop of fruits a vegetables that will feed the neighborhood. My cherry tree is not a big producer. In the first five years it produced a grand total of two cherries. Two years ago it produced one cherry. Last year it produced twelve. That was a 1200% increase over the previous year. I wish I could do that with the stock market. Admittedly twelve cherries isn't much but progress is progress.
Do you find that the produce you grow in your backyard tastes different than supermarket produce?
A. I do find that what we grow in our garden has more intense flavors and are sweeter. I think we can attribute that to the fact that we control when something is picked. Just one extra day can make all the difference in a strawberry. There isn't anything to get in the way from the time something is picked until it is being served in a salad, made into a pie, or grilled.
Anything else you'd like to share?
A. My dad likes the results of our efforts as well. He calls it "Andrews Victory Garden." He was born in the '30s and says that our garden reminds him of the victory gardens that his parents, friends and neighbors planted during WWII.
My dwarf citrus fruit salad tree produces more lemons and limes twice a year than our family of four can consume. Share what you grow with your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and local food bank.
Here are a few links to some resources that I think are great:
Gardens Alive: http://www.gardensalive.com/
Beneficial Insects 101: http://www.beneficialinsects101.com
Farmers' Almanac: http://www.farmersalmanac.com/
Composting info: http://www.howtocompost.org or http://earthmatter.org/
Victory Garden info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_garden
Thanks again to Andrew for his insight!