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Collective garden making impressive use of small space by replacing lawn with vegetables, next for Open Garden Days

Posted July 31, 2013, at 7:44 a.m.
Last modified Sept. 28, 2013, at 1:53 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Location: Seacroft Garden, 87 Bayside Road, Northport, Maine

For more information: Diane Allmayer-Beck; 207-338-3105; belfastgardenclub.org

BELFAST, Maine — The Seacroft Garden began two years ago when Elizabeth Garber bought the renovated Methodist church (complete with bell tower and stained glass) with the intention of creating a cooperative home and garden space. Today 5 people share the residence and garden-work, collectively striving for a sustainable way of life, achieved by simple living and growing as much of their own food as possible.

Many of the larger shrubs and trees surrounding the front of the home were already established when the current manifestation of the garden was taking shape. At the time, most of the ¾ acre property was lawn, much of it soggy and unused. The garden got off to a tremendous start in 2011 when a large group of volunteers gathered for a “Permablitz” day on the property, converting that lawn into edible gardens! Matthew Scala, a resident at Seacroft who heads up the vegetable portion of the garden, recalls that effort. “Most of the infrastructure of the garden was done on that first day. Some people laid cardboard, hay and seaweed, some assembled raised beds, some cooked good food for the workers… ” The land took on a productive character.

Today stone pathways are an invitation into the garden, leading the visitor through the established shrubs which are integrated with new beds of aromatic herbs; bee balm, Echinacea, creeping thyme and lavender. Several large stones are placed throughout as visual and physical resting spots. Strawberries are planted directly into a bed of seaweed and stone dust on a blanket of cardboard, leaving the bed virtually weed free!

As you round the corner the vista opens in a sea of edible green. Raised beds stretch the length of the house, brimming with cabbage, tomatoes, kale, onions, brassicas, cucumbers and more. The property is situated on a very wet clay slope. One of the challenges to growing plants here is finding out which can handle this type of soil, and to plant and eat a lot of those vegetables. In some of the wetter areas the group has enjoyed success with the gnarly root Celeriac (celery root) which tastes great in winter soups. Plants that need a much dryer environment are put in raised beds to stay above the clay. A small pond has been hand dug to help drain away excess water and wetland grasses and plants have been incorporated with the natural vegetation surrounding the pond. The group is watching this section to see how it will grow without much interference. Potatoes, corn, onions and winter squash are planted directly on ground on the far side of the pond.

“We are preparing for a different future…becoming adaptable,” Matthew explains. The idea is to eat what is in-season locally and what grows well in their particular type of soil. The garden is worked primarily with hand tools. Neither plowing nor rototilling were necessary in creating these garden beds. The garden employs the “Lasagna method” of bed creation. Cardboard is laid directly on the ground, killing the grass below. On top, layer upon layer of aged manure, hay, leaves, compost, grass clippings, seaweed and hay mulch create a rich and inviting soil structure in which the plants thrive. The collective uses a 3-bin compost system as well as a chicken composter to create a healthy additive for their soil. 5 laying hens break down food and yard scraps, and eat lots of hand-picked cabbage worm, Japanese beetles, and cucumber beetles from the garden and adding their own waste for a terrific compost for this no spray garden.

The garden produces an impressive amount of food in a small space. In only two years, the collective finds they can put up most of their own food for eating in the winter by making use of a solar drying machine or by storing food in their root cellar. Strawberries, plums, blueberries, elderberries, raspberries, and blackberries round out their fruit offerings, and there are plans for peach and pear trees as well. “The property is about half planted, there is room for more,” Matthew reports. He hopes to incorporate techniques of Permaculture gardening; growing food at different levels, in the shade of trees and under plants, in the near future. Visitors will enjoy seeing new beds being prepared with lasagna method. Thistle, Daylilies, and annuals provide summer blooms. See how sustainable gardening is done right. A “how-to” handout will be available.

Directions to 87 Bayside Road, Northport: From Belfast, take Route One south. Turn left on Bayside Road at Dos Amigos Restaurant, house is on the right. Watch for Seacroft’s black mailbox and tall wooden fence, before the Drinkwater School. Garden club arrows will be out on the day of the tour to help guide visitors in.

The next BGC Open Garden Day will be Friday, August 16 at John J. Coughlin Memorial Park, *526 Bluff Road (*note incorrect address in brochure), Northport. Towering trees and dappled sunlight surround frog pond with 24 ft. fountain. Fairy houses along paths cut out in the forest.

For 8 consecutive years, Belfast Garden Club has presented Open Garden Days, a Friday garden tour series, which will feature 11 gardens in the Belfast area this year. From backyard experimental plantings and ornate Master Gardens, to cooperative gardens and vegetable plots visitors can expect to see brilliant blooms, unique and rare plants, sculpture, exquisite views and ponds. Several gardens will feature special presentations by the gardeners, and at least two will have farm stands to peruse! While many of this year’s gardens are new to the tour, several of past years’ favorites are returning to Open Garden Days so that viewers will be able to see what changes have taken place! Proceeds from the 2013 Open Garden Days will benefit the Club’s civic beautification projects.

For more information about Belfast Garden Club’s Open Garden Days call

Diane Allmayer-Beck at 338-3105, email belfastgardenclub@gmail.com, or

visit www.belfastgardenclub.org .

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