By Caroline Brooks, Bexar County Master Gardener Intern
I used to think avid vegetable gardeners must be magical. How else could their gardens reap a bounty of such beauty while mine struggled every season? After I was selected into the BCMG Class of 65, I fully embraced a new, exciting role: student.
During my three decades as a high school English teacher, I regularly engaged my students with sentence imitation exercises: they would study patterns written by literary masters and then imitate those patterns with new content in order to improve their own writing skills.
This spring, I decided to use that same “imitation of the masters” strategy while volunteering at the Hardberger Park Children’s Vegetable Garden (CVG). But first, I needed to prepare a proper space at my home.
Designing A New Raised Garden Bed Ahead Of Day 1 Of The Spring Session
In January, I selected a neglected but sunny spot in my yard for my culinary garden. Grass had grown over what was once an area covered with thick plastic and gravel. I contacted the “Ask a Master Gardener” Hotline for expert advice about how to remove the plastic and grass and heard three terrifying words: Get a shovel.
A month and more than a few tears later, the space was cleared, and my desired curved design for the raised bed was ready. Thanks to what I learned about soil preparation during the BCMG in-person classes for interns in the fall and from my Texas Master Gardener Handbook, I prepared the bed with an additional 8 inches of soil enriched with compost and then eagerly awaited Day 1 at the CVG at Hardberger Park.
Learning by imitation: Taking Lessons Home Every Tuesday For Immediate Implementation
After every volunteer shift, I imitated the tasks in my home garden. Thanks to the “Guide to the Vegetable Garden” Spring 2023 handbook that was given to all participants and volunteers on the first day, I was able to look ahead and prepare the necessary supplies at home.
The handbook detailed week-to-week planting plans and a specific fertilizing schedule with easy-to-understand explanations of why and when to add a slow-release granular fertilizer, a water-soluble fertilizer, or rock phosphate, such as when planting seed potatoes and transplanting tomato plants in order to help with root development due to the cooler soil temperature in the spring.
Planting demonstrations by BCMG’s Kathy Breniman and Linda Cace, with weekly discussions about how to identify and address inevitable problems with pests and unpredictable weather, quickly enhanced my knowledge. It was wonderful to see how excited the children were to return to their garden beds each week. I was just as excited and rather quickly, the once empty plots and my home garden were filled with broccoli, cabbage, radish, potato, pepper, lettuce, cilantro, tomato, bush bean, cucumber, and zinnia plants.
The fruition of my culinary garden was a dream come true, resulting in immense pride and new confidence. When friends and family recently visited my garden, I heard the word “magic” used to describe the space, which made me laugh. “No,” I said, “this is not magic; the success you see is a direct result of the education I received from BCMG.” Thank you Kathy Breniman, Linda Cace, and all Bexar County Master Gardeners for a transformative experience. Being a 55-year-old “kid” in the garden sure was fun. I can’t wait to start again in the fall!
Learn more about the Children’s Vegetable Garden programs
All photos by author