Radishes, Swiss Chard, and Kale, Oh my! by Tessa Wolff

Many students are unaware that UCA has its own organic garden on campus. It’s called the Dee Brown Memorial Garden and it’s named after Dorris Alexander “Dee” Brown. Dee Brown attended Arkansas State Teacher’s College (now known as UCA) from 1928 to 1931. He is well-known for his influential book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” which chronicles the history of Native Americans in the early western U.S.

​This semester, my classmates and I had the opportunity to learn about the impact and history of gardening in our world today by attempting to grow our own organic garden. “Organic” horticulture incorporates sustainable, environmentally friendly methods of gardening by eliminating synthetic pest and weed controls, chemical fertilizers, and GMO seed varieties. In contrast to today’s industrial agricultural habit of monoculture, organic horticulture attempts to mimic the natural world by promoting the integration of various types of plants and animals into a single garden ecosystem. It also requires a lot of work, which my classmates and I were soon to realize. We started out with thirteen empty garden beds, from which (we hoped) would soon flourish many fall crops. To prepare the beds, we added compost from our campus compost pile which provided a foundational amount of nutrients for our baby plants. Then, we took to our hands and knees and began to plant seeds and seedlings in the fresh Earth. We planted Swiss Chard, Cabbage, Lettuce, Radishes, Broccoli, Kale, Spinach, Carrots, and my favorite, “Baby Bear” Pumpkins (which, unfortunately did not do well this season). We added Pansies and Marigolds to attract pollinators and add to the beauty of the garden.

Many hours were spent watering, weeding, amending the soil with extra compost, and inspecting for insects, all in an attempt to make sure our harvest came to fruition. Additionally, we planted three beds with peas to prepare them for the next growing season. Peas are nitrogen fixers; they take nitrogen from the air and return it back to the soil. This is an important step in preparing beds for future vegetables that require high amounts of nitrogen, such as tomatoes or squash. Over time, our baby plants grew into mature plants and finally started producing vegetables! The leaves of Swiss Chard and Kale can be harvested as they grow and the plant will continue producing leaves for further harvest. The broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, and pumpkins take a bit longer to produce fruit, but patience is a virtue! As we wait for the rest of our veggies to grow, we continue to learn about the benefits of organic horticulture to humanity and the environment. We’ve learned that agricultural costs aren’t strictly limited to monetary ones. By not using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, organic gardeners and farmers are reducing agriculture’s harmful impact on the Earth. For example, synthetics can cause soil depletion, increased insect resistance, pollution, and may even have long term, detrimental health effects on humans. By gardening organically and selling locally, farmers reduce the use of oil in transportation and preservatives in shipping. They also promote the growing of fruits and vegetables during their proper growing season and preserve the important heritage of heirloom seeds, which are natural, non-genetically modified seeds that have been preserved over generations.

​I came into this class with what I thought was a pretty good amount of gardening experience and knowledge. The first day of class, we were told to rate ourselves on a scale of 1 to 10; 10 meaning “gardening genius” and 1 meaning “clueless.” I rated myself a 5. The fact was, I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did and I have certainly had a bit of a wakeup call when it comes to the astonishingly far reaching effects that food production has on our world. My classmates and I are proud of our little garden, knowing that our hard work paid off and that we did our own small part in treating the Earth respectfully.

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