Friday, June 15, 2012

Deb Legge's Homestead

Today we have a Guest Blog Post from the Organic Land Care Program's Director, Jenna Messier!
“Deb Legge’s Homestead” interviewed by Jenna Messier
You may imagine that the CT NOFA staff members each have beautiful, exemplary gardens at their homes.  In the case of CT NOFA office manager, Deb Legge -this is true!  Deb has a unique and charming homestead in Wallingford which all neighbors and visitors admire.  She lives in an old farmhouse on .5 acres of land, and she has craftily utilized her space to create a mini-farm with chickens, a greenhouse, a lovely screened-in patio and flowers spanning seasons.
I thought I would interview Deb, to find out how she has created this suburban paradise, so our readers will know what is possible.

Jenna:  When did you start your garden?
Deb: I moved into my house in October 1993 and brought about 50 pots of plants with me from the house I'd been renting. I left them under a snow bank for the winter and started the first garden the following spring. There had been a vegetable garden there and some mint scattered around, so I cleaned it all up and just started planting.
Jenna: Did this design evolve, or did you always know the type of garden you were envisioning?
Deb: It's definitely evolved over time as I've taken more of the lawn out and trees have come and gone. There's just enough lawn left now to walk on and play an occasional game of bocce during a family get together.  I've always liked jumbly cottage-style gardens, so you'll find herbs in the flower beds and a stray tomato plant out by the compost bins.
Jenna:  What edibles are you growing and how many seasons are you in food production?
Deb:  With the little unheated greenhouse, I have fresh produce most of the year. Last winter was pretty mild and there was lettuce, chard and mache in there. If you plan in late summer to have things started before it gets cold, they'll start growing again as soon as the days get noticeably longer in late January/early February.
For perennial edibles, I have several kinds of raspberries, blackberries, red and black clove currants, grapes, figs, rhubarb, asparagus, Egyptian onions, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes. For the past couple years I've been adding some small tree and shrub fruits and nuts.  Two years ago I added 9 smallish hazelnuts and just this year put in a couple each of beach plums, Nanking cherries, western sand cherries and elderberries.
For the rest of the edibles, many of the usual like tomatoes, cukes, lots of greens, peas, beans, peppers. Except for the peppers, I either direct seed or start everything in the greenhouse.
Jenna: Did you have any problems with the town or your neighbors when you decide to have chickens?
Deb: My neighbors have been just fine. There are other chickens in the area, and no one seems to mind. At the risk of outing myself, I didn't even check with the town and couldn't find any information about whether there are even any ordinances for or against keeping a few hens.
Jenna: How many hours per week are you spending in your garden on maintenance?
Deb: The question that's always hardest to answer! I guess a lot in the spring, especially for a new project or renovation, but once everything is in and planted, probably just a few hours a week.  But it's my form of exercise, sanity-keeping and much of our food, so I don't even think of the time involved, except that I wish I could spend more time there!
Jenna:  Would you share an estimate of what you spend per year on your mini-farm, to cover the costs of chicken food, potting soil, plants etc.?
Deb: For the three hens, I only need to buy layer feed (organic, of course!) every few months, as they love to eat a huge variety of weeds and kitchen scraps, so maybe $10 a month for them.  As to the rest, I buy very few imports and not many plants any more.  I make compost, buy an occasional batch of mulch and lots of seeds, but still spend less than a few hundred dollars a year. Good potting soil is probably my biggest expense, and I get that once a year through the NOFA bulk order.
Jenna:  Do you have any suggestions for the aspiring gardener who wishes to have their own garden paradise on a small lot under an acre?
Deb: Start small! Even in the smallest yard you can grow a little something. And make friends with a more experienced gardener. I've never met a gardener not willing to share time, plants and experience with someone willing to ask and spent some time with them.
Thanks for sharing with us, Deb!  And Friends, keep working your soil and tending your garden dreams!


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