Since 2009 the Northern Neck Master Gardeners have maintained a teaching garden at the Northern Neck Farm Museum.
With the children back in school and this year’s growing season winding down, Jinny Estell and her team of Master Gardeners reflect on another successful year.
“As of August 31, 2017, this year’s produce harvest amounted to over 600 pounds, all of which we donated to the food pantry in Warsaw,” said Estell. “Just as important, we showcased successful vegetable growing techniques to Museum visitors, focusing in particular on providing children with hands-on experiences working alongside us in the garden.”
The mission of the teaching garden is to instruct children and adults in the basic principles of vegetable gardening, encourage enthusiasm for gardening in general and demonstrate environmentally-friendly vegetable gardening concepts, said Estell. Selecting varieties of vegetables and small fruits that grow well in the Northern Neck, this year the team planted cilantro, leaf lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, beets, peas, radishes, cucumbers, green peppers, green beans, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, onions, tomatillos, eggplant, sweet and white potatoes, canary melons and turnips.
The Master Gardeners employ integrated pest management (IPM) techniques to keep the garden healthy: interplanting crops, crop sequencing and crop rotation to reduce disease and insect problems; planting buckwheat, herbs and flowers to attract beneficial insects to further decrease reliance on pesticides; collecting rainwater, drip irrigation and mulching to save water.
Planning for the year’s growing season begins in mid-winter. Seedlings are started in January at team members’ greenhouses. Master Gardeners work in the garden one or two days a week from late March through November. During the summer months, children from the Northumberland Family YMCA work alongside the Master Gardeners and learn about gardening through short lessons and hands-on experience. They assist in the harvesting and weighing of the produce, as well as helping to prepare the vegetables for the food pantry.
During the growing season the garden is open to the public on Tuesday mornings or any time the Master Gardeners are working in the garden.