Author Archive

Garden by the Foot

Square Foot Gardening“Square Foot Gardening” – photo from Robert Goodwin‘s Flickr photostream

Developed in the 1970s by Mel Bartholomew, Square Foot Gardening produces the same amount of vegetables and fruit as traditional single-row gardens in a fraction of the space. These small, raised beds are popular among urban dwellers with limited space, particularly since they do not require digging–they build up rather than down–and can survive well in areas with poor soil. Furthermore, Bartholomew explains in his original text (there is now a second book) that this design “conserve[s] the amount of water, soil conditioners, and labor,” making it economical in a variety of ways.

The first step in creating your own square foot garden is to obtain or create a “box,” either of wood, brick, or stone. Although wood is perhaps the most common material used in this design (they can be found in yards all around West Asheville, for instance), some gardeners are wary of rotting and prefer brick or stone for that reason (this raised bed kit made from recycled materials and sold by Sam’s club is perhaps another option). The size of your garden box is, of course, dependent on location and the amount of available space; however, the default measurements for first-time square foot gardeners is 4′ x4′. It is important to be able to reach across the garden without having to step inside the box and onto the soil, so take that into consideration as well. For those with bad backs and/or pesky pets, try a table top design.

Once the box is complete, create a grid with whatever material you prefer–string, wood, metal, etc.–of 1′ x 1′ squares. There are several factors at play in determining the plants suitable for your garden, including climate and sunlight, but once those details are squared away (punny, right?) then you are ready to plan(t)! Honestly, a large amount of planning is involved in square foot gardens, but they are worth it. Be sure to allow enough depth for crops such as potatoes, provided trellises and support for tomatoes and vertically growing runners such as cucumber, and place the appropriate number of plants in each square foot (for instance, one broccoli plant per square, but up to sixteen plants for onion).

All of this information is available on the web. There are many websites, blogs, and forums dedicated to square foot gardening, and, of course, Bartholomew’s books are invaluable. Although I grew up in a rural area of North Carolina, I’ve been an urban apartment dweller for the last five years and have been limited to container gardening. My tomato and sunflower plants grew taller than me (not a great feat, really, since I’m barely 5’1″), but it still did not feel enough like gardening to please my little rural heart. This summer, however, I move into a house in West Asheville, and my first major project involves constructing a square foot garden. I cannot contain my excitement (buh-dum-bum)!

–Britt Garrett

A Rural Haven in Urban Appalachia

Asheville Botanical Gardens from kingary's Flickr photostream“Asheville Botanical Gardens I” – photo from kingary’s Flickr photostream

During the years following World War II, Western North Carolina’s population boomed. According to the History of the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, “new housing developments, businesses, and roads [spread] across the countryside,” causing several area residents to fear the potential loss of native plant species. It was out of this fear that collaboration on a public garden between citizens and Asheville-Biltmore College faculty began to clean and craft the 10 acres that are now a part of the University of North Carolina at Asheville‘s campus. Although planning for the Gardens’ creation began in the 1950s, it was not until 1964 that planting began and over four years later that the annual “Day in the Gardens” festival was established.

The Gardens boast “over 600 species that are native to the Southern Appalachians,” and are available year round for visitors to enjoy and students to study. Functioning as a non-profit organization, the Botanical Gardens at Asheville are not funded by either the university owning the land on which they stand or tax dollars (“city, state, or federal”), but instead by “memberships, donations, endowments, proceeds from the Garden Path Gift Shop, and fees from special events and programs that are offered to the public.” According to a list compiled by a retired horticulturist for NC State University, nearly 60 public gardens exist across the state of North Carolina. Four of these gardens, excluding the aforementioned, can be found in Asheville and the surrounding area, including the North Carolina Arboretum that stretches over 426 acres.

As an undergraduate student at UNCA, the Botanical Gardens functioned merely as a shortcut from the student union to my dorm. However, after moving off of the campus and into a dull gray, poorly maintained apartment complex, I began to view the Gardens very differently. Although the Gardens close at sunset, I found myself walking to them (in the exact time that it takes to smoke one Camel Light, by the way) often when the stress of academia brought on late night panic attacks, and for the comfort it brought me on those nights I am eternally grateful.

–Britt Garrett

The Uninhabited Woman Key, FL

Woman Key, FL“Woman Key, FL,” circa 1990 – photo from personal collection

According to my mother, I am “three or four” years old in the above photograph. I have no memory of this particular day, and she has no memory of who held the camera, but the island off of which she and I are sitting is known as “Woman Key.” Located approximately 10 nautical miles west of Key West, FL, this particular island is uninhabited and approximately 317,669 square meters in area. Woman Key is also a part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, which owns nearly 200,000 acres, maintains over 200,000 more, and is administered by the National Key Deer Refuge.

One theory behind the name of Woman Key involves a group of prostitutes washing ashore from a Spanish ship, while the ship’s male sailors settled on Man Key. There seems to be no hard evidence to support this, but it is a well-known tale around the Florida Keys. What is known about this island, however, is that it was involved in bomb training during World War II:

Woman Key was originally deemed as “Public Domain” land, and given to the Army in 1944 for bombing training during World War II. When the Key West National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1908, US Fish & Wildlife was given only secondary jurisdiction over Woman Key, as the Navy had reserved primary ownership for “naval purposes[.]” … [In] 1976, … Refuge Manager Jack Watson discovered a dumptruck-sized [sic] theft of sand and major vegetation damage along the beach … [from] a World War II bomb, left over from the Army’s training occupation. Woman Key came under the primary jurisdiction of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge in 1977.

Although the above photo is (merely) twenty-one years old, my family was island hopping and visiting Woman Key back in the 1970s when my youngest aunt was born. My mother vividly remembers her elementary school years spent on boats and sandy beaches when my grandfather served in the Navy. As a child, I cared little for the history of the island nor its possible connection to my grandfather’s past career–I simply thought it was a pretty place to visit and it had a strange name (the strangest, though, being No Name Key).

–Britt Garrett

Jasper: Town, Park, Little White Dog

Town of Jasper, Alberta, Canada“Town of Jasper, Alberta”photo from tjgiordano’s Flickr photostream

In the summer of 1997, when I was eleven years old, my mother hesitantly let me spend nearly a month traveling with my grandfather and great grandfather. The trip began in Key West, FL and paused in Tennessee on our journey north to South Dakota where we camped by a lake for a few days. I have vivid memories of the Adventuredome theme park in Las Vegas’ Circus Circus Hotel, being unimpressed by the Grand Canyon, and making friends with local kids in New Mexico. The place that was engraved in my memory, however, was the small town of Jasper, Alberta–our only stop in our short visit to Canada.

Jasper’s population rests below 5,000 and the town’s website refers to it as “the little town in the big park.” According to the Canadian Rockies Vacations Guide, Jasper National Park is the mountain range’s largest national park, “covering 10,878 sq kilometers” (approximately 6,760 miles for the metric challenged). The Canadian Encyclopedia boasts “some 3 million visitors each year” hoping to catch a glimpse of Jasper National Park’s bears, golden eagles, and mountain goats. Many park-goers travel to Jasper to visit the Columbia Icefields, which the Canadian Rockies Vacations Guide claims  “are among the few icefields in the world that are accessible by road.”

My memories of mountain goats sunbathing on hillsides is almost entirely overpowered by the panic I felt as our truck hugged the winding mountain roads, my grandfather reminding me all the while that “it’s not the fall that hurts you, but the sudden stop.” At eleven years old it was not the park that resonated within me, but the small town. The residents were friendly and inquisitive–genuinely interested in its visitors and their histories–and Jasper as a whole seemed to be enveloped by a calm that I can only imagine comes from living within view of those breathtaking snow-capped mountains. Despite the size of the national park and the tourism that it attracted, the town amazingly retained a non-commercial, semi-rural feel, and nearly fourteen years later it still stands out in my mind as the most welcoming location along our summer trail.

Back home in North Carolina later that summer, I named my newly adopted Shih Tzu/Poodle after that town: Jasper. Throughout his life many people inquired about the inspiration for his name, and every time I felt moved to educate them about my favorite (albeit only) Canadian mountain town.

–Britt Garrett

Coal, Activism, and Western North Carolina

Mountain-top Removal Mining, from the Sierra Club's Flickr photostreamMountaintop Removal Mining, from the Sierra Club’s Flickr photostream

Last year, 2010, was a big year for coal mining. On April 5th in West Virginia, an explosion took the lives of 29 coal mine workers, and within a week environmentalist protesters were on the scene. Throughout the year and across the country protesters called out Bank of America for supporting “dirty energy” and, as one protest sign in Asheville, NC read, “funding filthy futures.” Coal causes pollution and health problems, and damages the area surrounding the mine both environmentally and economically. The industry itself, however, is a powerhouse that provides approximately half of the energy consumed in the United States and thousands of dollars to various politicians and companies. Such a complex issue begs for global input, and the first step to joining the conversation is to become informed and remember: “think globally, act locally.”

Last week, mountaintop removal was discussed at Western Carolina University by Tricia Shapiro, activist and author of “Mountain Justice: Homegrown Resistance to Mountaintop Removal, for the Future of Us All.” Mark Mattheis of the Western Carolina Journalist covers the event and provides readers with a YouTube video of Shapiro’s talk with WCU Assistant Professor David Henderson, a link to a recent documentary titled “Low Coal,” and information on “the next major event in the campaign against mountaintop removal.”

For those interested in local coal issues, one source to check out for a basic overview of mountaintop removal’s impact on rural Western North Carolina is “Writers & Mountains,” a Web Exhibit from UNCA’s D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections Gallery:

There is no coal surface-mining in western North Carolina, nor wholesale removal of mountain-tops in Western North Carolina. … Steep-slope development has been foreground in environmental concerns in western North Carolina … [as] many homeowners are watching their investment [their homes] slowly move down-hill with a deep, slow-moving landslide. … Only a few pockets of coal can be found in North Carolina … in the central section of the state … Yet, Duke Power in North Carolina is one of the most significant players in coal extraction.

And for the digital community, Greenpeace is currently protesting Facebook’s reliance on coal and counting down to Earth Day 2011—click here to find out more and join the fight.

–Britt Garrett