Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow your own fresh, organic produce—but then stopped yourself at the thought of adding another chore to your already-busy day? Have you ever wished there was someone who could take care of all the hard work so you could relax and enjoy the delicious rewards? Well, you’re not alone! For years, I’ve been listening to friends and clients talk about how the added labor was the only thing standing in their way—which is why I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered Love & Carrots!

If you want to eat fresher and more organically but cannot find the time shop often enough—or feel that organic food is too expensive!—then I urge you to consider this opportunity. Love & Carrots is all about taking gardening and making it accessible—whatever that means to you!

Read on for a fascinating interview with Meredith Shepherd, the founder of Love & Carrots, and a glimpse at what this incredible local company can offer you!

Meredith: We’re all about people who really want to eat more healthily and grow their own food, and maybe teach their kids about it, but really don’t have the time or the know-how. We’re about enabling them to take off and do this in a sustainable way. A lot of times people have time for an initial push, planting the garden in the beginning of the year, and then a lot of times, the garden will just fall by the wayside. Also people don’t quite understand what you can get out of a home garden that is maybe pretty small, perhaps they don’t have time or know-how to do the research on how to do crop rotation, what crops to put where, how often to plant. We’re about getting people starting, getting them going and enabling them to plant that first garden so they can grow their own healthy food. In addition to that we’re about sustaining the garden and teaching them in a continued way how to get the most out of it.

Joanne: You offer a pretty broad range of services!

M: It starts with an initial installation, where we’ll install the garden for people, and sometimes folks just don’t have a truck to bring in lumber or soil and they might just need help with that during installation, so we can help with that. Then we’ll come up with a crop plan and help them plant the garden with the stuff they actually want to eat, not just whatever seeds they found available in the garden store or Home Depot. And we’ll help them plant the garden in a way that makes sense as far as crop rotation and companion planting are concerned. Post installation, after it has been planted we will offer three services.

The first is garden maintenance, where we come back every two weeks throughout the season with everything that the garden needs to help it thrive: We provide seeds and starts, weeding, we’ll harvest for people– for the folks who don’t have time to do it themselves. They can have the satisfaction of a homegrown meal by opening their back door and the harvest is sitting there, on the back step.

The more involved service is garden coaching and that is for the people who are really interested in learning and eventually taking over the garden care all by themselves. For the coaching service we provide all the same stuff as the maintenance, but we schedule the maintenance visit at a time when they can be there and then our urban farmers work with them in their own garden and can teach them what they are doing, step by step. So there are small lessons throughout the season, sizable bites of one or two concepts per visit, and within two years, these folks can be even more equipped than master gardeners to take care of their own garden. They have not learned it in a book but have actually seen it all in action.

The third service is a crutch for avid gardeners who have the time to spend with maintenance and who probably already have a fair amount of know-how and maybe just want help with the planning to take it up to the next level. They’re maybe looking for sourcing, for starts, as we do all our own vegetable starts. So we can provide seasonal planting, where we’ve come up with a crop plan and we visit once in the early spring and again in the summer and then in the fall to do seasonal planting in a way that makes sense.

J: Tell me about the starts, are they organic?

M: Yes, the starts are all organically grown.  Everything from the soil mix to the seeds that we use is organic. We use only organic sprays and pesticides. We are as organic as you can get without having the government seal on it. That carries over into how we treat everything that makes up the garden. We’re all about having healthy, organic, and living soil that doesn’t need a lot of fertilizers and pesticides. We set up the ideal situations for the soil ecosystem to take off and thrive. If you have healthy soil, you have healthy plants and more nutritious foods. We also plant a lot of pollinator gardens or companion gardens near the vegetable gardens to attract butterflies and bees and other beneficial insects, as that can be necessary to maintain a garden in an urban environment. It is really a holistic approach.

J: What should a person plan to spend on a small garden?

M: Sometimes you can start with just a few pots on a deck! Our smallest gardens—other than the ones that are a couple of pots on a window sill—are usually one or two 3×7 beds (the ideal would be three or four), and they fill up fast. We often start with an existing garden and expand. An hour of two a week would be plenty, not counting the planning, getting supplies. If you don’t have irrigation, you need to water every day, in the summer, in order for them to do really well.

J: What about people who don’t have a suitable lawn or garden area? Could you really do a garden in pots?

M: Yes! We do a lot of deck and rooftop gardens as well! Sometimes people have a lawn but no sunlight. Success of garden is directly correlated with how many hours of sunlight you have in the garden.

J:  What if someone has a garden but it’s not working for them? Would you be able to help them sort of revamp them?

M: Yes, we do! We call them revamps! That would usually start with an advisory consultation and could even be a one-off consultation. I might even come and spend an hour or so looking at the garden and evaluating their circumstances, so that I can troubleshoot, I can provide advice for the remainder of the season. I might even take a soil sample. And then if they want us to step in, provide a coaching program or help with maintenance, we do that too.

We end up undoing a lot of landscaped gardens. We might help shift things around to make them work better, have more access. Or sometimes we see really nice gardens where they have just fallen by the wayside as people have a busy summer and don’t have the time to tend to their garden.  And then we will step in.

J: What could one expect to produce from a small garden in our area?

M: At least enough to pick something for dinner every night! Volumes are all dependent on the crop.  We help people plan what makes sense. In a two-bed garden you could have more salad greens then you could ever eat, you would have to be giving it away. So, if you plant one bed full of tomatoes that will be enough for you but maybe not enough to share with the neighbors. Crop planning is important so that we can help tailor the list so that it makes sense for the size of the garden and what you can use. We also focus a lot on continual harvest crops, like Swiss chard or kale or tomato, as opposed to a carrot, which is a one seed, one plant harvest and then its over. In short, a two-bed garden would be enough for a family of two to have something to harvest just about every night.

J: I’ve been told that there are three growing seasons in our area. Is that correct? When would be the optimal time to start a garden—or is there an optimal time?

M: Of course it is weather dependent but we aim to start in late February or March. That’s when we are cleaning out the winter crops. And I would argue that there are actually four seasons in DC. Spinach, peas, and arugula have a cold germination temp, so they go in early and first. And then you ramp up with more greens and alliums in early Spring and then mid-Spring is when you want to plant perennial gardens. Tomatoes and summer crops start phasing in in late April, and early May through June. It’s not one date… We’re planting something every two weeks and harvesting something every two weeks. It’s a lot a phasing in and phasing out and it goes all the way to mid-October and then in November you plant garlic and mulch the garden over and plant cover crops and our regular maintenance season ends at the end of late November, just before Thanksgiving. The last thing we do is ensure that the winter crops that we planted, like hearty winter kale and spinach, mace and other hearty salad greens, and alliums have germinated well and then we have a 4th season. We come back once a month to be sure that they are not covered in snow or check cold frames if we’ve put them in. We have harvested broccoli and arugula in January, in mild seasons.

J: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me! This has been enlightening!

At the end of our interview, I had a brief moment to ask Meredith about her service work in Guatemala. For years, she spent her winters there, working in an orphanage with kids ranging from ages five to 17. She spent much of her time with them teaching basic botany and composting, and while she’s going to miss that experience tremendously, she feels it greatly enriched her life, and has fed directly into the work she does today.

Thank you for taking the time to read this interview with a truly remarkable woman, and I hope many of you will consider working with Love & Carrots in the future!

– See more at: http://joanne-schneider.healthcoach.integrativenutrition.com/blog/2014/10/interviewwithloveandcarrots#sthash.64vOXj4t.dpuf

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