GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2004 show16
GardenSMART Newsletter Signup
Visit our Sponsors! encore azalea Dramm
Visit our Sponsors and win.
Past Shows:

Show #16

This week we visit Crabtree Farms in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Crabtree is a unique community garden and an urban farm as well as a research and educational center. Crabtree came into being out of a unique partnership between the city of Chattanooga and a non-profit organization supporting sustainable agriculture. Chattanooga has a growing community interested in the "slow food" movement. "Slow food" is dedicated to supporting local agriculture, it's about slowing down and enjoying good, quality food with friends, supporting biodiversity and about reconnecting with one another.

Padgett Arnold is the horticulturist at Crabtree Farm. The land where this farm is located was due to be turned into a factory. It was nothing more than an empty lot when Padgett arrived in 2000, she started from scratch. The first full growing season was 2001 and that year they planted only about 1/3 of an acre. Since then it has been expanded to about 3 acres of vegetables, flowers and fruits. Crabtree is primarily an urban farm, what they call their "market garden." They produce 70 to 80 different vegetable varieties and about 100 varieties of flowers; all destined for local markets and sold locally. One of their major focuses is the marketing and outreach aspect. Crabtree is intended to promote local agriculture, to raise awareness with the general public, encouraging them seek local food, thereby establishing a local food network for other small growers in the area. All with the goal of enabling everyone to work together and be more successful together.

Sustainable agriculture is a popular term. To Padget it has four components. One, is economic. Padget feels it imperative to demonstrate that a small farm can be economically viable. It must make a profit, if not, it can't stay in business, thus not sustainable. Secondly, it must conserve natural resources. At Crabtree they minimize the use of fossil fuels and pesticides. Thirdly, it must enhance natural resources, conserving things like soil health, water quality, wildlife and biodiversity. All are important. They have over 150 crops on less than one acre, that in itself attracts wildlife. The fourth aspect is community involvement, raising awareness in the community about where food comes from.

Insect problems occur here as elsewhere. Diligent observation is their number one tactic for combating these pests. Preventative approaches are always desirable over control - things like spraying. The fact that they have over 150 species in such a small, concentrated area acts as a system of checks and balances. The plants work together and beneficial insects help. Additionally they don't have one acre of one crop in the same place year after year. This is helpful. The typical approach of mono culturing, planting acres and acres of wheat or tomatoes, for example, in the same place year after year encourages insect populations to get out of control. Crop rotation is an important example of suppressing diseases and interrupting a life cycle of pest insects. As an example, a typical gardener can accomplish this by simply moving the Tomato plants to a different location in the garden the next year. Also, mulching helps, it creates a physical barrier between the soil and plants.

Padgett has color in the garden most of the year. She does this by planting early blooming perennials, then mid and late season blooming plants. Another way is to choose plants that bloom throughout the year. Purple Cone Flower, Echinacea, is an example of this. As well she utilizes a method called succession planting. This is simply, multiple plantings throughout the year. Zinnias and Sunflowers are good examples of this. Native plants, which are essentially wild flowers in this garden, aren't irrigated, thus they need to stand on their own.

Cut flowers are always popular, many people like to have them in their homes. The sunflower is a hot item, one of the most popular in this garden, they can sell as many as they can grow. Icarus is a nice variety, it has a large head in the middle of the plant. Once it's cut the side shoots begin to form and the smaller blooms are perfect for bouquets. They get between 8 and 12 stems per plant. Zebulon is also a cut flower but the remaining heads, those they don't cut, become seed heads for bird food. Thus she gets two crops from one plant, determined by the length of time allowed for the heads to ripen. Procut Lemon didn't respond well to pinching, a method Padgett utilized in an attempt to stimulate side shoots. To ensure cut flowers last a long time, harvest the flower early in the day or late in the evening after the sun has set. To preserve freshness don't harvest in the heat of the day because that stresses the stem causing it to wilt.

Red Butterfly, Asclepius or Milkweed, is also popular with florists and is very different. It is deep red but when it opens it's gold, sort of two toned. Blue Horizon Ageratum, Amimagis, Forest Dill or False Queen Anne's Lace is also grown here. Padgett has some really different plants rather than more normal flowers, for example Marigolds and Zinnias. This is how Crabtree sets themselves apart at the Farmers Market and with retail customers.

If looking for a way to create an informal, almost rural look consider large Sunflowers. They act like a focal point, they can be used as a a cut flower and as a summer screen. If you have areas that you want hidden, especially in the hot or warm season of the year try large sunflowers. They will reach 4-6 feet tall, create a screen and act as a focal point as well.

The community garden is important to Crabtree Farms. It was started as a way for the public to interact with gardening, to learn about growing. It's an important learning tool, a platform for people to come and observe, then get their hands dirty. Senior citizens come here, get their exercise and fresh air, families with children also visit. The kids run around and hopefully learn where their food originates. There are also people who don't have space for a garden, whether they live in an apartment or have too much shade in their yard. Crabtree benefits all kinds of people and the communal experience of a community garden is valuable. People can learn from each other, they can share produce and help with each others' plots. The community garden offers a wide range of benefits.

To start a community garden a lot of space isn't needed. The plots in this garden rent for $70 for the season. The plot is 200 square feet. It is fully spaded, Padgett uses special equipment to dig rather than a tiller. A fully stocked tool shed is available, compost and 4 spigots for irrigation are also available. Everyone can select what they want to grow and how much they grow, thus providing the ultimate food security for community gardeners. Many gardeners will trade with each other, sharing and benefiting from others' gardens. Here there are gardens with herbs, vegetables, flowers and other items. Most want to grow food, they like fresh produce for their family. One gardener is particularly dedicated, she's there every week without fail. Her garden doesn't have many weeds and it is well organized. It has a highly diversified herb section, in the front she has chives, sage, parsley and companion plantings of basil and cherry tomatoes. The basil attracts beneficial insects that help deter pest insects from attacking the tomatoes. Not only does this person use the width and depth of her plot she also takes advantage of the height. That is important for gardeners operating on a small scale. She's trellising cherry tomatoes with sticks, probably found in the woods. Cucumbers are also climbing on to the trellis. As well this garden has carrots, summer squash, beans and radishes. She harvests the radishes several times during the season, increasing yield.

Another plot indicates the gardener is interested in vegetables. She has corn planted with beans and squash. This is the ultimate in companion planting. Here each plant benefits the other. The squash is low growing with large leaves, these provide shade keeping the weeds from encroaching. Next are the beans, they not only provide food but fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it back into the soil which helps feed the corn because corn is a very heavy nitrogen feeder. The corn benefits the others by providing the trellising for the beans to climb. Native Indians referred to this method as "the three sisters." Together, by working together, they create more than they could individually.

These small plots can produce an enormous amount of crops - vegetables for example. One gardener claims that during harvesting time she gets a pound to a pound and one half every other day of all the different vegetables she grows in her plot. To accomplish this succession planting is important. Remove the early crop once it starts to decline, put that plant in the compost pile, then replant with a transplant - tomatoes, peppers or beans. This will maximize yield at the end of the season. In the middle of the season as soon as a crop like beans, for example, starts to fade put another plant in. That way two crops can be harvested in one season.

Watermelons are always a favorite in a garden and they do well in this community garden. We notice several baby fruits developing. Watermelons need a lot of moisture so the fruit can form. However, keep moisture away form the fruit while it's forming. Set the fruit up on a rock or brick, anything to keep it away from the soil. This will help eliminate diseases as the plant develops. It also helps keep slugs off the plant. The key to a good garden is good soil. Padgett adds a lot of compost, this increases the water holding capacity tremendously and helps keep gardeners from irrigating as much. Although not the prettiest part of the garden, the compost pile is an important part. Their active pile, the pile gardeners are currently using to add their plant refuse or weeds is turned about once a month. This adds air as well as adding some of the native soil which acts as an inoculant for microorganisms which in turn breaks down the material in the pile. The whole process takes about 1 year to break down, resulting in something useful for the garden. This years active pile will be next years finished compost, that will then go back into the plots to enrich the soil. The compost pile is a big factor in ensuring everything here looks good and lush.

A compost pile will help provide the best possible environment for vegetables and flowers. However, it takes space and time and can be unsightly, on the other hand it may be simpler to buy a prepared compost material. Be sure to get a product with peat, manure, something with a nutrient charge or fertilizer. Instead of creating your own compost, consider buying one already pre-made. With a good product you'll not need worry about weed seeds and it will be a great addition to your soil.

Padgett believes that to have a good community garden it isn't necessary to have a lot of money or a lot of equipment. A little space, plenty of sun, committed people who will see it through and healthy soil; with these ingredients people will keep coming back.

There are a lot of unusual plants in this community garden. One is Creamer's Amazon, it's a type of Wheat Celosia, it is prolific, loves the heat and reseeds itself easily. Deleachos Lab Lab or Ruby Moon Hyacinth Bean is interesting because it's a climber. It needs to be trellised, has gorgeous ornamental purple blossoms, a long stem therefore it can be used as a cut flower. The pods bloom after the blossoms die and they're edible. Tithonia is another good cut flower. It loves the heat and will reseed itself readily. Foxy Mix, Foxglove, is a biennial. It is late in the season to see this plant bloom but due to the protection from the heat, because of the covering Celosia and the Hyacinth Bean it is still blooming. They attract insects, the little spots act as a nectar guide, pulling insects into the plant. Burgundy Amaranth is a grain in South America. This type is the ornamental type called Scarlet Runner. Its' pods are edible, its blooms are orange-red and add color and a vertical element to the garden. A new variety of Coreopsis is a deep burgundy. Normally we think of this plant as yellow, thus this is different. Borage is an herb that has an edible flower that is sort of Periwinkle star shaped. Its' flower is blue and can act as a garnish for a salad. Finally we view a Hollyhock, this is a double variety with a nice rose coloration. It grows to about 8-9 feet tall.

Dr. Rick is impressed with the diversity of plants in this garden. They help the environment and the community garden helps people test their limits and try new things. Thank you Padgett for showing us Crabtree Farm. Hopefully this will be a learning experience for others and empower others to start a similar community garden.

Links ::

Chattanooga Choo-Choo
Crabtree Farms

Back to Top

GardenSMART Featured Article

Photos and story by Monrovia Nursery Company

Lavender is the on-trend plant for gardeners this year. Click here for an article that details a top-tier selection of lavender that ensures success.

  Click here to sign up for our monthly NEWSLETTER packed with great articles and helpful tips for your home, garden and pets!  
Copyright © 1998-2012 GSPC. All Rights Reserved.