By Hannah Porter
In early June my childhood friend, Kelly, stopped through St. Augustine to visit for a few nights on her way out into the “real world.” Travelling from Fort Meyers to Virginia, Kelly was, at that time, a recent graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, pursuing her passion of working on a residential farm with a family committed to horticulture and growing their own food. Kelly graduated Magnum Cum Laude with a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in Biology, which inspired her during her time as an undergraduate to create the Food Forest at FGCU, a tremendous accomplishment for not only her, but also for her alma mater (check out their website!).
When she stopped by to see me, she brought a pumpkin squash from the Food Forest to share at dinner. After the feast, she took all of the seeds and dispersed them around my yard. She also planted them in my tiny herb garden on my railing and in several of my flowerpots. After only spending a few days with one another, I was sad to see her go, but she encouraged me with those few seedlings in the yard and her passion for gardening to plot and start growing my own garden and food.
A few weeks later, the little seeds she bestowed on me were starting to sprout leaves, letting me know they needed a little bigger plot than what they had been given. In the back right corner of my palatial yard that will barely grow grass, my boyfriend Matthew and I made a ten by ten foot box out of wooden planks and filled it with a ton of dirt. It was a lot of sweat and shoveling, to say the least, to make the garden box that we did, but it was so worth it. We planted cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cantaloupe, sunflowers, and just about every herb we could get our hands on.
After vacationing home frequently throughout the summer and leaving the garden unattended, the squash plant that Kelly had given me began to take over my garden in early July. After thinking the plant was at its end when I was forced to replant it in the yard after it had taken over, the squash plant is now bigger than ever and has made it really hard to mow, which in turn has really boosted my green thumbs’ dwindling ego. Many of my beloved plants perished with the tremendous amount of heat and rain we got this summer, which was really discouraging after all of the time I had spent with them. The most significant loss was the cucumbers, which I was looking forward to pickling when they got to the right size. Now that things have started to cool down substantially, I have replanted some peppers and other leafy greens to compensate for the defeat over the summer.
All of this said, going into this, even with Kelly’s wisdom, I had never realized how time-consuming growing your own food really is. And although I started the garden as a summertime hobby, it has become more like a summertime baby who is now more work than ever–but the reward is worth the sweat. I fertilize the garden once a week and weed it about everyday (because you wouldn’t believe the invasive vines and weeds St. Augustine offers to threaten your garden!). I also started composting: I have a handy bin that I put all of my kitchen scraps into after I cook, which is almost every night. I haven’t started composting in my garden yet, but I figured when I go to replant next year, I will have some really healthy soil.
After checking on my garden this morning after the rain we have had, I found four tiny, green, Heat Master tomatoes looking plump and eager to grow. There are about forty green beans that have sprouted, and my new leafy seedlings are starting to chase the light, with their tiny twin green leaves peeking out of the dirt. Seeing this new life makes me so happy; although I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this new hobby, its incredible how much there is to be learned from plants, our ecosystem here in North Florida, and the food we can grow and eat in this region. Though Florida Gulf Coast University is far larger than our little Flagler College, the idea of the Food Forest intrigues me and would be something worth pursuing here at Flagler in the future.