Even as they're recognized for their achievements, three home gardeners say what they've done with their organic plots can be done by anyone, anywhere.
Tom and Lisa Nevin, Jen Sheeley, and Elaine and David Sedgman earned honourable mentions in this summer's Beautify
Kamloops organic garden category.
As The Daily News toured a couple of the winners' yards, it was obvious they don't consider their efforts to be all that exceptional or even unusual. That ought to tempt anyone thinking of abandoning use of pesticides and herbicides.
"I really don't understand why it's such a big deal," said Elaine Sedgman, a certified master gardener. "It's really easy. It's extraordinarily easy. What I'm doing, anybody on my street could do, quite frankly."
Known for her garden activism, including the 2011 Produce Produce fine-art exhibition and the downtown public produce project, Sedgman's Sahali yard was recognized in all categories of the contest.
She rotates her plantings so as not to deplete soil nutrients, plants for pollinating insects and uses Lacy phacelia to produce "green manure." She saves green ash leaves because they break down easily and are not diseased, and is careful not to throw clippings with mildew in the mix. This produces "fantastic compost — all the lovely bacteria and organisms that add to the soil."
She's careful not to over-compost her floral gardens, though, since it's the vegetable garden that needs most attention.
"Another secret I've learned since we moved into town is that people tend to fertilize more than they should."
While over-fertilizing produces lush, green growth in spring, there is a price to be paid. Aphids are more likely to take advantage of that growth, helped along by excessive watering.
She also plants for beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hover flies and tachinid wasps. She plants sweet alyssum, so plentiful and cheap in spring, because early bees are short-tongued and favour an open flower.
The Nevins and Sheeleys are blocks away from each other in South Kamloops with post-war homes and without the expansive gardens found in outlying areas of the city. Both have a small-plot approach to their back gardens, condensing as much variety and micro-climates as they can into tight spaces.
"I try to make a conversation," said Jen Sheeley. "That's actually my philosophy. I don't want to grow things where you have to work too hard. Not because I'm not a hard worker, but because I want the plants to be happy."
She has grown accustomed to tolerating the insects that eat holes in her white violets. Her raspberries, being raspberries, are slowly creeping over the fence with clear ambitions of expanding their territory. Let it be, she tells herself.
"These are my sad potatoes," she said, pointing to a bin-like frame containing the root vegetables.
And there are character corners, her "dreaming tree" for example, a Douglas fir that provides shade and attracts birds.
"My flowers are my pride and joy. This takes more effort."
In her vegetable garden, she has tomatoes, carrots, beets, lettuce, Swiss chard, onions. A big believer in the 100-Mile Diet, she tries to grow as much as possible in summer.
"I make a soup called Backyard Soup. It's my kids' favourite. It's quick. It's a hit every summer."
Companion planting, putting marigolds in with tomatoes, for example, is part of the organic toolbox.
"It's such an experiment. To be a good organic grower, you have to be patient and aware."
Neighbours have complained about dandelions and clover. It's not about esthetics, though.
"We don't find bees and clover at all offending. Manicured is not what organics is all about. To me, gardening is not about perfection. It's about imperfection."
The Nevins have similarly designed their garden to incorporate varied climates.
"That's really one of the big things when you're doing organic gardening — not to have monoculture but great variety," Lisa Nevin said. "The plants support one another."
There were a few trees and lilacs when they moved in a dozen years ago, so they landscaped with a river-stone wall and planted the gardens. They separated low-water plants from the more demanding vegetable garden.
Their veggie garden includes beans, carrots, beats, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli and peppers. These are interspersed with various perennials and herbs, including three varieties or sage. Sage is an early attractant for honeybees, helping to support their hive, which they've had for the past five years.
While the hive hasn't been an issue for immediate neighbours, it recently resulted in a bylaws complaint. The Nevins went before City council recently on the matter. The cost of a variance: $800. Council granted them a temporary reprieve, suspending any enforcement action until a City agricultural plan report is considered this fall.
"I'm hoping that the bylaw will be changed. I think there is a real misconception about bees. Honeybees are amazing creatures and they're therapeutic to watch."
Honeybees are docile creatures that eat only nectar and are less likely to sting, since stinging causes mortality, she noted.
"Seventy per cent of the food crops in our world are pollinated by honeybees." As the honeybee goes, so go the food crops.
"Really, it's all kind of a giant cycle."
In organic gardens, insects are not to be considered a nuisance but an ally.
"Any gardener's going to find a pest. It's how you choose to deal with it," Lisa said. Potatoes may look ugly with scabs, but they're no less edible. She picks off the cabbage moths and sprays down aphids with Safer's soap.
"My kids will go into the garden. They love to pick mint and lavender and make tea. I wouldn't feel right if I knew they were being exposed to chemicals. I want them to be free to roam in the garden."
With both households, organic gardening is a passion that goes hand in hand with a desire to raise their children without fear of exposure to chemicals.
Nevin said she doesn't agree with the current direction of environmental policy in Canada.
"This is kind of our way of flying in the face of that. We can't control what they do in Ottawa, but we can control what we grow in our yard."
UPCOMING WORKSHOPS: MASTER GARDENERS READY TO SPREAD MORE THAN MANURE
The Thompson-Shuswap Master Gardeners are planning to share their knowledge with a new series of workshops next fall.
Master gardener certification is a volunteer-based program that grew out of Washington State University 40 years ago. It’s now contintent-wide.
They’re training to give advice in sustainable gardening, said Elaine Sedgman. They’ll be offering a course at TRU’s Horticulture Gardens in fall 2013, with instruction every Saturday from September to December.
“I think it’s an amazing program,” Sedgman said. This is the third time the course has been offered here, and they’re always looking for new members.
Anyone interested should keep an eye peeled for advertisements as the date draws nearer and check the web listing on the Master Gardeners Association of BC site, www.mgabc.org.