If you think you need a lot of space to grow a productive garden, take a lesson from Andy and Margaret Smith.
Residing on a city lot in northwest Spokane, this couple has 14 bountiful raised beds and enjoys sharing their excess produce – and gardening skills – with their community.
When they married several years ago, the Smiths started transforming the backyard into a food factory. Andy Smith’s woodworking skills have come in handy for building the beds, trellises, a greenhouse and even the garage.
“I like to go around to local lumberyards and buy discounted lumber to save money,” he said. “Our raised beds are made from cedar and redwood and they’ve been oriented so they get the most sun.”
The beds are spaced about 16 inches apart, which the couple find sufficient for tending them, and they range from 11 to 22 inches high.
“We prefer the taller beds because they’re easier to work in,” Margaret Smith said. “I’ve found that kneeling and bending are overrated.”
The couple have come up with an equitable division of labor in the garden: He starts the seeds, plants and tends the seedlings, and she deadheads the spent flowers, weeds and harvests. If an insect problem comes up, they deal with it using organic methods. This year, aphids have been the most challenging for them.
During a recent visit, I particularly enjoyed seeing the diversity of the vegetables they’re growing: potatoes, pole beans, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, kale, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots and eggplants. They’ve mixed in herbs, sunflowers, marigolds and zinnias along with a red-flowering vine (cardinal climber) to attract hummingbirds.
As Andy Smith pointed out, they pick produce daily from their garden from April to late October. But they don’t keep it all to themselves. Margaret Smith enjoys giving baskets of produce to others.
“For people who don’t like to garden but like to eat fresh produce, we put together baskets to share,” she explained. “I try to arrange a variety of colors and textures and pair things based on the type of vegetables each person enjoys, but I mostly base the baskets on what is abundant at the moment.”
The morning of my visit, she had artfully filled a basket that they planned to deliver to a friend. It contained a captivating mix of kale, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, beans, garlic, eggplant, carrots, herbs and blackberries.
The generosity of the Smiths goes beyond those thoughtful baskets, however.
“Starting last year, we made a pact to donate everything people need to have a garden: a raised bed, including the dirt, and the plant starts,” Andy Smith explained. “As we encounter people who want to garden, we do this. We’re going to try to give away two beds a year while we’re able.”
“And getting the culled lumber makes it really affordable to do,” Margaret Smith added. “We want to encourage and promote this activity because gardening is a great family activity and it’s a great way to augment your grocery budget.”
While it was enjoyable walking through the Smith’s impressive garden, knowing they understand the importance of giving back to their community by sharing their harvests and talents was especially heartwarming.
“Doing this is very rewarding,” Andy Smith said. “We are trying to make a difference of some sort. For me, just helping the little kids is a big deal because it’s how I got started in gardening.”
Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Susan@susansinthegarden.com. Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow A Garden” video on youtube.com/c/susansinthegarden.
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