DeKALB – Most people aren’t thinking of gardening during the winter, but Jacob Maas of DeKalb has already begun planning. In about two months, he will start germinating seeds in preparation for planting them outdoors.
Maas, 23, is one of the dozen volunteers at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s garden, 900 Normal Road in DeKalb.
This year, the garden produced 550 pounds of vegetables, including more than 100 pounds of butternut squash. The produce was donated to local food pantries at New Hope Baptist Church, Salem Lutheran Church, Bethany Lutheran Church and to people that are home-bound.
Maas met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s garden and the year-round planning and preparation it requires.
Milton: What produce is grown in the garden?
Maas: Last year, we grew green beans, tomatoes, collard greens, kale, zucchini, squash, beets, onions, turnips, both bell and hot peppers, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, snap peas and cucumbers.
Milton: Have you always loved gardening?
Maas: One of my earliest memories was helping my grandma, my mom’s mom, plant tulip bulbs. I really got into gardening when I started volunteering with DeKalb County Community Gardens about four or five years ago. I learned a lot about gardening from them.
Milton: What are some things that you learned?
Maas: I learned that you learn by making mistakes. Sometimes, you must be ruthless when it comes to plants. Little baby plants sometimes pop up, but they can’t be there. You have to pull them out because every plant needs room to grow.
Milton: Does the garden have plans for new produce?
Maas: Last summer, we planted a raspberry patch with 30 plants. Within three years, the plants will mature and will be more established. We’re excited to be giving out raspberries soon. I’d love to have enough to be able to make raspberry preserves and jams. A few of the gardeners talk about planting an orchard of fruit trees. With each of our successes, ambition becomes easier.
Milton: What do you like the most about gardening?
Maas: I love being outside and working with other people. Gardening is very rewarding. You can take a plot of land that’s otherwise unproductive and grow fresh and healthy produce.
Milton: Do the plants start from seeds?
Maas: We mostly rely on donated seeds. Last year, some of our peppers didn’t take, so we bought a few pepper plants. We always accept seed donations, especially organic or heirloom varieties. Come spring, we’re always looking for help setting up the garden.
Milton: Does gardening for next year begin in the spring?
Maas: In the fall, we planted garlic. It will come up in the spring when the ground thaws. In February, three or four of the gardeners, myself included, start seeds indoors. I have the seeds growing on racks under lights. We plant our sugar snap peas around St. Patrick’s Day [March 17].
Milton: Why is gardening important to you?
Maas: Most young people don’t garden. I just remember growing up, seeing cornfields being flipped into subdivisions. I worried about not having food, until I realized that most of the corn grown around here is given to cattle. Having food security is very important to me. People rely too much on processed foods and fossil fuels. Local production can be very sustainable. … About one-fourth of households in DeKalb rely on SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and about 90 percent of land in the county is agricultural. Those two numbers don’t add up. We have a vulnerable food system, just look at what happened over romaine lettuce. Having small-scale, local food production is important.
Milton: What are some struggles of gardening?
Maas: Dealing with pests is always a struggle. Having a diverse insect population helps reduce pests like Japanese beetles. We have a lot of vegetables, but we also plant flowers like marigolds. Last year, we had a praying mantis chrysalis. Gardening also requires a lot of weeding. Getting the garden ready for planting in the spring is always the most work. But if you get enough people together, it makes it light work. Working together makes gardening fun.
For information about St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s garden or to donate seeds, call Jacob at 815-375-0524 or the church at 815-756-4888.