The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Grow Your Passion for Gardening

Da’Shack Farmers Market, Urban REAP Give Readers Helpful Gardening Tips

1 year ago

By Avery Ballmann

Cultivate your Curiosity for Gardening

One of the reasons I love Waco is the growing garden community. We now have three weekly farmers markets that provide fresh-grown food to Wacoans and composting is becoming a valuable resource to ensure that everyone has access to healthy foods. My love for gardening is rooted in my childhood family farm in Riesel, Texas. On the many acres we owned, we grew wheat and corn and had a beautiful garden that my parents tended to. Now, I live in a college apartment complex with no yard. Where I lack the space for a garden, I overcompensate with house plants, but having my own personal garden kept tugging at me. So, I explored Waco to find resources on how to start your own garden, whether that be in the backyard or in a windowsill.

I ventured to Da’Shack Farmers Market on a rainy Friday. It was sprinkling and humid, perfect for the plants but not for my hair. As I walked through the oasis of plants, I spotted lettuce, peppers, herbs, grapes and dragon fruit, all grown on the same plot. Seeing the variety of fruits and vegetables, I began rethinking gardening in Central Texas and what I could grow in my own garden.

Owner of Da’Shack Donna Nickerson grows a variety of plants in very peculiar places. She even grows garlic in an old blue plastic toy car. This method of gardening is called container planting; if your container has drainage holes, your plant will be able to grow. Nickerson encourages people to ask questions about gardening in person or through their social media accounts.

“We’re not just going to send you home with a plant,” Nickerson said. “We’re going to encourage you to grow and educate you.”

Nickerson said most people give up on gardening because they don’t understand the importance of soil health. Plants take away nutrients from the soil, thus impacting the soil health and your plant’s growth. A way to combat this problem is to compost. When I think of composting, my first thought goes to rotten, stinky food that I didn’t want to deal with in my small apartment. For those who don’t have the space or the time to create their own compost, Urban REAP has a program that makes composting a little less daunting.

Garden Tools for Success

Urban REAP, a garden center operated by Mission Waco | Mission World, has a compost subscription program. This program is a monthly fee that includes a compost bucket, 10 percent off plants, books, supplies and 25 percent off the finished compost. The beauty of this program is that you can drop off your food scraps any time of day and will be guaranteed a clean bucket to pick up. This program removes the smelly work most people don’t want to deal with when composting.

Program Director of Urban REAP, Marisela Cruz-Arredondo, said that 25 percent of our food waste goes into landfills, and this extra waste can be diverted into our garden beds.

“I definitely see composting as something very important, but also very gratifying,” Cruz-Arredondo said. “Composting actually happens already without us even knowing. With composting, we’re just aiding nature’s process.”

Urban REAP has a machine that can compost large amounts of food waste in a faster time. As I walked back to the wooden shed it was housed in, the humid air hit my face along with the smell of hot compost. Cruz-Arredondo opened the silver metal door to a vast supply of rich compost. It was astonishing to see Waco’s food waste turned into something that can benefit all of our gardens.

Da’Shack has its own composting piles, but it is not sold to the public. The piles take one to two months to produce usable compost. Nickerson said during their season from March through June, they offer educational classes to the public on topics such as composting. If you’re curious about other composting methods, read our feature, Cultivating Change, in our May Home & Garden issue and get yours started.

Another common misconception Nickerson said people have about gardening is that people can’t plant anything in the summer. Nickerson advised that gardeners start off with herbs such as basil, rosemary, dill, peppermint and lemon balm. According to the Central Texas Gardener, people can plant tomatoes, squash, chard, peppers, pumpkin, okra and watermelon from April through June.

The Farmers’ Almanac, the bible of gardening, suggests implementing companion planting into your garden. Nickerson uses this practice at Da’Shack by placing roses next to her grapes to attract pollinators. Gardeners can also plant basil next to tomatoes to deter pesky bugs.

Reap What You Sow

Nickerson and Cruz-Arredondo provided me with many helpful tips, but they also left me with advice that goes beyond gardening.

Cruz-Arredondo said the most important thing to consider when you start your garden is to find your motivation behind it. Do you want to begin gardening for health benefits, sustainability or because you love zucchini bread and you want to try making it completely from scratch? Whatever your reasons are, be sure to find it and remember it when you are struggling to grow something.

“Sometimes, humans can feel a little invincible with our machines and our tractors,” Cruz-Arredondo said. “But at the end of the day, it really is nature’s call and just going with the flow.”

Nickerson and Cruz-Arredondo both found their passion for gardening in their childhood. Nickerson owes all of her gardening knowledge to her mother, Melba Wesley. Wesley is from the Philippines and brought her tradition of gardening with her. Nickerson recalls her large backyard garden and sharing its yield with her neighbors. Cruz-Arredondo also reminisced with me about her time growing up on her grandparent’s farm in San Luis de La Paz in Mexico.

Gardening is a hobby but it can grow to be so much more. It’s a way to bond with family, to find joy and pride in the fruits and vegetables plucked straight from your own backyard or containers.

It’s important to remember that gardening doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to have a successful garden. It is trial and error, but at least it comes with a tasty reward. If you have a passion for wanting to start your own garden, use the resources around you and be patient.