The best way we can become successful gardeners is by learning from those around us. With that in mind, I will be profiling a local gardener once a month from now through September.
First up is Dorene Harter, who knows all about the learning process.
“I’ve been gardening for practically my whole life,” the Master Gardener says.
“As a kid, I lived with my parents in Dishman and they had a garden. I would stay with my grandmother during the summers and help with her garden as well. I guess you could say green thumbs run in my family.”
Harter grows grapes, raspberries, fruit trees, vegetables and flowers on the 3/4-acre lot that she and husband Gary own in Otis Orchards. Despite the size of her garden, she enjoys working in it.
“It relaxes me,” Harter explains. “Back when I worked, it reduced my stress. I love to see things grow. When you plant a seed and see this beautiful plant coming up, it’s just amazing.”
One of the most eye-catching areas of their backyard is a large flower garden. Texas Bluebonnets, red Oriental poppies and stately irises provide bright splashes of color.
Harter also has a productive vegetable garden. There are six 4- by 8-foot raised beds made from 12-inch-wide cedar boards. They came from a barn that was being torn down a few years ago and are an excellent choice because cedar weathers well.
She is definitely sold on raised beds.
“They warm up a lot faster in the spring so you can plant sooner,” Harter explains. “I can cover the beds to keep the bugs out and it makes it nice and warm in there. And it’s so much easier harvesting from the beds.”
She is growing carrots, beans, beets, peas, onions, corn, potatoes, eggplants, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and pumpkins. In addition to pie pumpkins, Harter enjoys growing “a great big pumpkin” each year.
“The secret to growing the huge ones is to provide them with lots of water,” she confides. “Only let the plant have a couple of blossoms and keep the vines trimmed so the plant can concentrate on growing one or two pumpkins.”
This spring, she covered the raised beds with medium-weight floating row covers for a few weeks to keep the seedlings warm. During a recent visit, the plants looked healthy and robust.
Harter makes her own compost using shredded leaves, grass clippings and kitchen scraps. Since her soil is really rocky, the compost helps build up the soil every year.
“I bought a shredder, which has been a lifesaver for me,” she says. “I use the shredded materials for the garden paths to keep the weeds down.
“And in the paths between the raised beds, I put down landscape fabric and covered it with a thick layer of pine needles. I have an endless supply of them and they make the paths very soft to walk on.”
Keeping up with the weeding is one of Harter’s biggest challenges.
“That and my occasional frustration when the local pheasants come and eat some of my sprouted seeds,” she says. “But I really don’t mind having all of the wild birds in our garden; I just love watching them.”
Overall, Harter is very pleased with how her whole garden has turned out.
“I’m pretty well done with what I’m going to do,” she says, “and happy with how all of the flower beds have filled in.”
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