Blackberries at the BELL Garden

Every once in awhile it’s fun to get a great surprise. This weekend I answered the call on our local NextDoor app to help pick blackberries at a local non-profit farm and got a sweet one! Tucked behind the local middle school here on the west side of Nashville is the coolest garden project I’ve seen in a long time.

The Bellevue Edible Learning Lab garden is an oasis of a garden that shows off the beautiful volunteer work, company sponsored structures and an explosion of color. As you walk up to a wisteria- covered, rough-wood gazebo you are greeted with piles of produce that are for sale to the public on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Baskets of garden gloves are ready for willing hands and Miss Deborah is happy to direct you to a task. Saturday’s conscription was to pick beautiful blackberries that lined the western edge of the 1 acre garden guarded by a flock of purple martins.

The garden provides opportunity for all to invest in something bigger than themselves. Whether you’re young or old, there are jobs to be done and lessons to be learned. The BELL Garden provides an opportunity to everyone in the community to come together and even encourages the students at the middle school to take part. My mom would have loved this! She was a pioneer in her day of teaching the value of the garden in her fourth grade classroom in Upstate New York. I remember her writing grant proposals for garden beds outside her classroom and using some of that money to purchase red wigglers to demonstrate composting with her students. Ellen was a garden trailblazer and she would have drooled over this opportunity.

If you’re local, stop by the market on Tuesdays from 4-6pm and Saturdays from 9am-noon or check out the BELL Garden website for information on volunteering! If you’re not in the Nashville area, check out your local agricultural extension for information on projects near you. You might be surprised by what’s around your corner!

Mango Garlic Vinaigrette

This is quick fresh mix of simple ingredients but adds a punch of flavor. Use your fruit infused vinegar!

  • 1/2 cup mango vinegar (or fruit vinegar off your choice)
  • 1/2 cup avocado oil (any good oil works well but I like that avocado oil doesn’t disguise the fruit flavor)
  • 1/8 t. Salt
  • 1 cloves garlic finely chopped

Combine ingredients in your favorite salad dressing bottle and shake well. Refrigerate for up to a week.

Kale… It’s what’s for breakfast

My mom was amazing at a lot of things but one of the things I remember most about her gardening was that she found a way to use everything she planted. What wasn’t fed to us, or friends, was given to the horses or compost bin. Nothing went to waste. Instead of horses I have chickens but the challenge is still alive. It is mid-winter here in the mid-south and while picking is slim we are blessed with plenty of kale, carrots and crimson mustard greens. The carrots are a yummy addition to any meal and while the mustard greens are pretty and abundant, my family has deemed them best as fodder for the chickens. It’s time to put the kale to good use.

Stir Fry Kale

  • 4 cups fresh kale (torn into bite sized pieces)
  • 1/2 T Butter
  • 1 T Nutritional Yeast
  • 1/2 t Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 t onion salt (Trader Joe’s is my go-to)

Heat your pan on medium high and melt the butter. Add your kale and top with the dry ingredients. Sprinkle the ACV over the whole lot and stir fairly often for 4-5 minutes so your seasoning mixes throughout and your kale doesn’t burn.

Serve with eggs or eat alone. This recipe makes two portions packed with vitamins A, K, B6, C, calcium, potassium, copper and manganese, fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, antioxidants, amino acids and B-12. Whew! You just thought you were having breakfast!

Dreamy (Almost) No-Dig Vegetable Garden Project

This past year has been a wild one but afforded our family the time to start our first serious garden project at this house. I started the plans in November when my boys were out of the country with no idea that we would have ALL THE TIME WE COULD WANT to get it off the ground (or is that “in the ground”?)

We’ve completed SO many indoor projects in the past four years (I promise that one of these days I will post about our hall bathroom, game room and basement bathroom remodels), but it’s time to head outdoors. Our goal was to have a big enough vegetable garden to provide for our family with dreams of having plenty to share with friends and neighbors. Honestly, I also wanted a project big enough for my three children to be able to pitch in as well! Hard work is a great teacher and so much fun.

We planned for 32′ x 18′ of fenced space for annuals (I’m not interested in sharing with my wild neighbors) with an additional 3′ on each side for perennials. We’re starting this experiment with Charles Dowding’s no-dig approach. (As a side-note: if you need a way to escape the craziness of life, Charles Dowding’s YouTube videos are inspiring and really restful.) Now, let the digging begin. No, no digging. Well, we did dig the holes for posts but I think our garden still qualifies. My oldest daughter, Annika, and I got the holes dug for the posts in about a week. Not bad! We chose 6′ cow fencing for our sides and left a 4′ space on the east end for an entry gate.

Next we posted on NextDoor for cardboard boxes and were able to collect plenty to cover the entire garden area. Our walkways and entry area needed a solid mulching so we sent a request to ChipDrop and got a beautiful FREE load of wood chips from a local arborist. We found a local landscape company that had a February special that would deliver garden soil if we purchased 5 yards so $150 later, we were set. We spent a few days with the wheelbarrow and placed the materials in a pattern of rows that I planned out with the help of the Farmer’s Almanac online Garden Planner tool. We were ready to… wait. It was only the end of February. Our last frost date isn’t until April 27th dang it! Patience is a virtue and indoor seed starting is about to become a new skill.

My husband thought I needed a little shed-type entry area to hang tools and provide some shade for our house critters that like to visit the garden with me. He built a 4′ x 6′ garden hut that is perfect for all of us. That’s Misty the dog and Winter the bunny taking advantage of the shade – getting a break from their hard work.

Overall we have been extremely pleased with the results of the project. We were amazed at the amount of vegetables we have harvested and the fun it has been to cultivate. If I were to start this again there are a few things I would change. First, I would have made sure there were NO exposed seams in the cardboard. The weeds we had in the garden (namely: Bermuda grass, wild chive and dandelion) all came up through the spots that we did not layer the cardboard at the seams. We continue to weed those spots but hope with diligence that they will clear out eventually. Second, we would have dug a trench round the whole project. Because Bermuda grass spread with runners as well as by roots and seed, we are now digging a trench that will be maintained to spot those stragglers. All in all, it has been SO worth it.