Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Green Business Spotlight: Progressive Gardens

My fall garden
When you walk into Green Baby Diaper Service, you’ll often find a new or seasoned mom or dad chatting with one of the ladies there. They might be asking about diaper creams, wondering about the newest cloth diaper covers, or sharing parenting advice.

The same thing happens when you walk into Progressive Gardens, the organic gardening store in Wilmington across the street from Green Baby Diaper Service. Except people aren’t asking about how to raise their kids, they are asking about how to raise their plants. Progressive Gardens is one of those places where you can shop for gardening supplies, seeds, rain barrels, or nursery containers, or you can go to find out about local organic farms, natural approaches to lawn care, and more.

You know how there is so much information out there about cloth diapers that if you try to research it on your own, you end up completely overwhelmed? Gardening is similar. It’s best to do a little planning, but then jump in and ask questions as you go along. And even with all the information out there on the internet, I find it’s so much more straightforward to just go into Progressive Gardens, ask about your specific issue, and buy what you need right there.

Right now, the sign in front of Progressive Gardens says, “Fall is coming. Time to plan your next garden.” With the long, hot, dry summer that Wilmington experienced, many people who tried to keep up their gardening failed. It was miserable. The weather was stifling and the land was parched. But Wilmington, North Carolina is the perfect place to start a fall garden. The first frost comes late, and—as I found out at the fall gardening class I took at Progressive Gardens on Saturday—you can cover many of the plants in your fall garden to protect them from the cold all winter.

We decided to find out a little more about fall gardening directly from the source, so we asked Ryan at Progressive Gardens to answer some of the most popular questions about fall gardening. This guy knows what he’s doing, so pay attention.

1. If you have let the garden go over the summer, and you find that weeds are growing like crazy and there are lots of grubs, grasshoppers, ants and other bugs taking over in the garden, other than weeding, is there anything you can do organically to control the bugs and prep for fall gardening?

That’s a good question. Most people here in southeastern NC do exactly this during the summer because it gets so hot. My first recommendation for next year is to cut down your dead plants sometime in July when the spring crop is on its way out. During the heat of summer you can cover your plot with mulch, a weed cloth or a light fabric to keep the area from being taken over. Mulching during the growing season is also an effective way at keeping weeds from getting established.

If you still have plants growing and are dealing with a jungle, there are a few ways to get ready for fall. To control bugs, using a solution like Neem oil, or an application of a good repellant that contains garlic, clove, or cinnamon extracts are an effective way to push bugs out so you can prep for your next planting. Ants can be driven out of the area with beneficial nematodes; these microscopic worms eat their larvae and disrupt the activity of the nest, forcing the ants to move. 

The other thing to think about is why the bugs are there in the first place. Insects have evolved to use their antennae to “tune into” unhealthy plants and environments that don’t have healthy populations of natural predators like praying mantis or ladybugs. Problematic pests will always attack the weakest plants first, so a bug infestation is a good indication your plants lacking nutrition, or there is an imbalance in the ecosystem (yes, your yard is an ecosystem!). Just like our own bodies, if we are not well nourished, we will get sick also. 

Unfortunately, weeding is my best recommendation for getting the soil ready. However, instead of pulling them out, cutting weeds just below the soil level and allowing to roots to remain there is a good way to maintain soil structure. Next season those roots will break down into food for your next crop! After the plot is cleared, adding compost or a good organic fertilizer will help replace nutrients that have been used in the previous season. I also recommend taking a soil test once a year so that you can know what needs to be put back in (we offer this service along with mineral prescriptions for peoples lawn and gardens). 

The best thing one can do to have a healthy garden is to mimic nature as much as possible. The Redwood forest can grow 400ft trees that live for thousands of years with no need for fertilizers or anyone tending to it. If we do our best to setup a similar system in our gardens, nature will do the hard work for us!

2. It's already mid-September. What are the best plants to plant now from seed? What about from a purchased start? 

We are getting close to the end of our planting season, but you can still get your fall garden started! Because we are so close to the ocean, we are lucky enough to get an extra 2 weeks to plant! 

From seed you can still plant Cilantro, Collards, Kale, Lettuce and just about any type of greens, mustard, turnips, rutabagas, beets, salad radishes, Daikon radishes, onions, carrots. You may also be able to squeeze in some snow peas.

If you are transplanting from starts you can also still plant: Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, Bok Choy, squash, hardy herbs like mint, thyme, and rosemary. 

You can also plant garlic and asparagus crowns from now until November for spring harvest!

3. I know there are better plants than others for cool-season gardening. Is there any hope of growing something like peppers or tomatoes in a fall garden? 

There is! If you can find transplants of peppers or tomatoes that are at least 5-8 weeks old you should be able get production right up till the first frost. If you have any plants that survived the heat of summer, pruning back dead growth and giving a good organic fertilizer, or some of our free compost tea, can bring them back to health for a second harvest!

4. Are there any plants that will thrive throughout the whole winter in North Carolina?

Yes, depending on how harsh our winter is, you can have plants make it right through spring! Last year I had cilantro, lettuce, broccoli, onions, and parsley survive all winter. You should also be able to maintain other greens like Kale, Collards, Mustard greens and arugula. 

I find it works best if you cover the plants on the first few hard frosts with something simple like an old bed sheet. Even a thin layer of insulation can keep the plants above freezing. Also, amending your soil with lots of compost and watering well on days you know there will be heavy frosts can do wonders at keeping things happy even in cold weather. 

We are also working on developing methods for people to intercrop plants in between seasons; I actually harvested my cilantro seeds (coriander) that were planted last September in mid-summer of this year, during spring they acted as a bug repellant for my young tomatoes that I had planted nearby.

5. We want to connect with other green businesses in the community to help educate the public and to help bring business to companies that we like. Is there anything you guys are doing right now that you would like us to talk about? 

We currently offer a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) through Cottle Organics, customers pay $300 and for 12 weeks they will receive a box of organic produce that is delivered right here to Progressive Gardens. The produce is picked on Mondays and delivered here on Tuesdays, Starting October 4th. We also work with another farm Copper Guinea Farm & Kitchen who provides fresh milled breads, baked goods, salad dressing and other goodies! People receive a weekly menu they can order from and have delivered to Progressive Gardens. 

Free Compost Tea:
In addition to that we offer classes every month through the store and always give away a free gallon of compost tea, so anyone who brings in an empty milk jug can get a free gallon every day.

The Coolest Thing Ever - Urban Farming:
We are also trying to form a collective of people interested in being urban farmers and using their lawns to grown food in. We are trying to organize a group, similar to an “orchid society” that will be a platform for people to offer ideas and teach others how to sustain themselves with only a small plot of land. We don’t have anything in place yet, but we’d love to gauge the interest around town. This will also be an opportunity to approach the town in regards to local restrictions and ordinances for things such as chickens, or having a garden as your front yard.

So if you have any questions about fall gardening, compost tea, CSAs, or Progressive Gardens, leave a comment below, and we'll make sure it gets answered.

Also, check out the garden party for more gardening ideas and tips:

1 comment:

  1. Great tips for how to rescue the garden that we let go in the heat! We're too far north for a fall garden - but we need to deal with it before next spring!