MASTER GARDENER: Adaptive gardening with raised beds
George Fowler, Joyce Hettich and Joyce's grandson Brandon Hettich have created an inspirational vegetable garden in their backyard in Warrenville. Using rows of 4 feet wide by 8 feet long by 1 feet high raised beds, the garden plot has made it possible for George, who suffers from a muscle disease and whose mobility is limited to a wheelchair, to get back in the garden and raise his own vegetables. George feels that it's important to know that successful gardening can be accessible to people with physical challenges, and said, “Those of us who are handicapped can achieve more than we expect to if we dare to dream.”
Gardening in raised beds
George did a great deal of research on the Internet before designing his vegetable garden, consulting websites on raised bed design, organic gardening and soil. Materials to construct the project were purchased at local stores, and it took about a month to complete the initial phase of the project that consisted of four raised beds. The remaining beds shown in the accompanying photos took another four months to complete. Each bed is constructed of 2 inches by 12 inches boards and filled (with Brandon's help) with top soil delivered from Bricko Farms.
George has a vermi-compost bin and produces his own compost tea and also uses Azomite purchased from a farmer-owned supply store in Johnston to increase the amount of trace minerals in the soil. These organic fertilizers, along with compost, are the only fertilizers used on his plants. He has found that the use of trace minerals sweetens all the vegetables and reduces insect infestations. When necessary, he uses only organic pest controls. Horse stall mats purchased at an Aiken farm supply store provide a stable and level base to the paths between the beds in the 900-square-foot garden and make the area accessible to George in his wheelchair.
George starts seeds in late summer and in the winter with the aid of heat mats and grow lights. In the summer he grows tomatoes, silver queen corn, green beans, cucumber, squash, butterbeans, blueberries and strawberries. In the winter he grows rainbow chard, collards, lettuce, turnips, kale, arugula, mustard greens and spinach.
Winter beds are covered with plastic supported by PVC hoops. To prevent daytime overheating in the winter, the plastic is raised on the hoops unless the day's high temperature is below 27 degrees.
George uses livestock panels to create large trellises for his tomatoes and relies on the concepts of concentrated gardening to fill his beds with beautiful vegetables. The most expensive and the most important part of his garden is the soil.
According to George, “If you start with a good-quality soil and continue to amend it, you will be amazed at the vegetables you can produce.”
Weeding by hand is a pleasure for George; he can reach everything but the middle foot of the beds. The garden keeps him active; he gets to spend time with his dogs outside, and he has a well-deserved sense of accomplishment. He recently harvested 6.5 pounds of broccoli and has plans to put in more corn in the next few weeks. Currently, squash, tomatoes, green beans, and butterbeans are in bloom.
Cabbage planted in February is forming heads. He's learning the tricks of the trade of vegetable gardening and has placed foil around the bottom of squash plants to keep off squash bugs and uses panty hose on broccoli heads to keep the cabbage moths at bay. Plans for the future include the addition of new raised beds, the installation of a drip irrigation system, and the addition of heat for winter gardening.
George encourages anyone, whether disabled or fully functional, to try a raised bed garden. Start small, maybe with a 4-foot-by-4-foot-by-6-inch bed made with western red cedar. Use 1/3 garden soil, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite or perlite for the growing medium. All of these components can be found at a local nursery or big box store.
He encourages beginners to try the “square-foot gardening” method, a technique that you can research on the Internet. George recommends that you “experiment with different types of vegetables; don't grow something just because someone recommends it.” Venture out and study your seed catalogs or the Internet; there is an unlimited supply of information on organic gardening.
George is grateful for the support and love of his friends Joyce and Brandon Hettich; without their support and strong hands this wonderful vegetable garden would not exist. Joyce is the harvester and processor of the vegetables, and has also been an excellent student and enjoys every facet of the venture.
We can all benefit from the knowledge and experience of these wonderful gardeners; thank you for sharing your story, George! For more information on George's raised bed vegetable garden, contact him at email@example.com.
Upcoming Aiken Master Gardener events
The Meet a Master Gardener team will be at the Aiken Farmers Market (on Williamsburg Street between Richland and Park) on June 7 from 8 a.m. to noon to answer your lawn and garden questions. Visit us at the Farmers Market!
As part of our free monthly lunch box lecture series, Dr. James Blake of Clemson Extension will give a presentation on “How to Kill Your Favorite Plants” at 12:30 p.m. on June 16. By learning how our plants die we can learn how to keep them alive, right? The lunch box lecture series is open to the public, lasts about one hour, requires no reservations, and takes place at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2724 Whiskey Road.
Are you interested in training to be a Master Gardener? A new training class will start here in Aiken in July. If you are interested in taking the class, stop by our office for an application or call us for more information. Contact the Aiken Master Gardeners at (803) 649-6297, ext. 122; send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us weekday mornings in our office at 1555 Richland Ave. E.
Pam Glogowski moved to Aiken in 2001 from Janesville, Wisc., and has been an active Master Gardener volunteer since 2007.