Howard Magazine - Page 39 - Home Grown (2)

Howard Magazine
- Page 39
Home Grown (2)

by Mike klingaMan Howard Magazine
pHoTos by karl MerTon ferron

 

At 70, Kent Phillips could have thrown in the trowel. Two knee replacements last year challenged him to grow vegetables. But Phillips, of Columbia, soldiered on. Rather than kneel, he’d let the garden come to him. Raised beds it would be.

 

“Taking care of a 1,500-square-foot garden became too onerous. It was time to downsize,” the certified Maryland Master Gardener said. “This [140 square feet] is more manageable.”

 

Now the peas, carrots, Italian kale and other crops flourish in four neat wood-framed plots set as much as two feet above ground outside the home Phillips shares with Mary Patton, his longtime partner.

 

“There’s no reason older people can’t grow food,” he said. “Northing is better than picking a fresh head of broccoli and steaming it the same day. And the sugar snap peas, well, they never make it out of the garden.”

 

For 42 years, Phillips has raised his own lipsmacking organic produce. For nearly a decade, since completing the University of Maryland Extension Service’s Master Gardener class, he has shared his know-how with others, addressing Howard County schools, garden clubs and library groups on the highs (and woes) of growing edibles. A retired federal economist, Phillips is a volunteer spokesman for the university’s Grow It! Eat It! outreach program. In his landscape philosophy, the lawn comes last.

 

“Nobody in our family eats grass except Taffy, the dog,” he said.

 

Phillips’ own spring garden mirrors his presentations. The rich loamy plots face south where, sandwiched between a full-grown maple tree and several leggy pin oaks, they get 10 to 12 hours of sun daily— the minimum needed for fruiting plants, he said. The peas climb a trellis on the west edge, so as not to shade others.

 

The raised beds, with their deep friable soil, sustain intensive gardening, allowing plants to snuggle closer. To that end, he squeezes lettuce between the broccolis, whose ample leaves offer a welcome canopy to the greens on hot days.

 

“Once, while harvesting, we found a mother rabbit and her babies curled up among the lettuce,” said Patton, 71. “We left them alone; we have plenty of lettuce.”

 

A gardener herself, Patton works alongside her partner, weeding and cultivating favorites like Tuscan kale, whose bumpy leaves she harvested in early May to make a rib-sticking sausage, potato and kale soup.

 

When one crop is done, another digs in. Brassicas yield to tomatoes; lettuces give way to peppers. Succession planting is routine in a small raised bed garden.

 

The key? Rich soil. Aside from adequate sunlight, soil preparation is the most critical part of a bountiful harvest, Phillips said.