For this assignment, I interviewed Professor Maggie Douglas on her perspective and experience as a home gardener. I already knew about Prof. Douglas’s opinions on large scale agricultural production from taking her agroecology course last semester, however, I was interested to learn more about her connection to food and food production.
In this blog post, I will discuss what I learned from my interview with Prof. Douglas and will use a combination of my own photos as well as ones I have found to visually support the interview.
Question 1: When did you start home gardening? Was there always a garden at your property or did you have to create one?
Prof. Douglas explained to me that she, like many students in the agroecology class had experience gardening and farming growing up, and had worked on several smaller farms before and during college. After school, when she was living in D.C., she was able to use the roof of her apartment building to create a small garden. Prof. Douglas described these experiences as not only a good way to produce some of her own food but as a great way to connect with her neighbors and do something relaxing.
Fast-forward to her move to Carlisle, Prof. Douglas explained that her now home garden started as a simple flower bed, which she and her husband have turned into what I understand to be a pretty impressive and productive garden. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible on the day of the interview so we did not walk over to see it.
Question 2: How do you manage pests in your garden?
Example of a large pest that might plague a garden. This groundhog was captured after eating everything in my own garden.
I asked this question because as an entomologist, I was sure that she would have an interesting answer as to how she keeps bugs at bay. Sure enough, Prof. Douglas was able to delve into a rather scientific discussion about the different pests she experiences in her gardening. She said that for the most part, she will handpick the bugs off of the plants since she can very easily recognize them. She also discussed how sometimes she will just let the bugs eat the crop if she knows that she will have more than she can eat anyway.
For larger pests, Prof. Douglas has installed a chicken wire fence to keep out groundhogs and rabbits. Apparently, rabbits run rampant in her neighborhood and will eat pretty much anything and everything.
Question 3: What do you consider to be the benefits of home gardening?
Happy agroecology students post-seed planting!
In response to this question, Prof. Douglas said that she enjoys home gardening as a creative outlet that allows for a lot of stress relief for her, describing the act of gardening as almost a meditative activity. She also discussed how she loves the fact that with home gardening, you can grow exactly what you want, especially hybrid varieties that you couldn’t even find at a farmer’s market. To this response, she gave the example of the green seed pods that you get from letting cilantro go to seed. You cannot find this anywhere in Carlisle but she described that she likes to add them to her dishes, especially when cooking Southeast Asian dishes. The final benefit of home gardening that she described was that it is the best way to get to know your neighbors. She said that her neighbors will stop her and say hello whenever they see her out gardening and have developed a comradery between other neighbor gardeners by exchanging tips and tools.
Question 4: Do you save your seeds?
Coriander seed pods
This question I asked purely out of curiosity. In our agroecology class, we discussed seed saving a lot and I was interested to see how it was done on a smaller scale. To this question, Prof. Douglas responded yes, but only ones that are easy to save, usually dried beans, lettuce, and melons. As mentioned previously, she likes to experiment with hybrid crop varieties and seed saving is a great way to do that. She also discussed how their garden gets a lot of volunteer crops anyway, so most of the time she will just let some plants go to seed and see if they come up again the following year. Sometimes she will even find volunteer crops growing out of her compost pile.
Question 5: How much of your diet are you able to supplement when your garden is in peak season?
Peak season harvest
To this question, Prof. Douglas answered probably not a lot in terms of calories because they are not growing any grains, but they are pretty much able to supplement all of their vitamins and minerals during peak season. She also discussed how one year she decided to weigh all of the food that she and her husband produced just out of curiosity and it ended up being a significant amount. She also discussed that most of the time they can’t even eat all of the food that they produce so they will either give it away or preserve it for later use. According to Prof. Douglas, they produce about a half-year supply of potatoes and are able to can enough tomatoes and peppers to last them year-round.
After the interview, Prof. Douglas and I chatted about our respective gardens. From what I concluded from this discussion is that her garden is much larger and more thought out than my own. That being said, I believe that we have many of the same values and struggles when it comes to home gardening. I too find gardening to be a great creative outlet where I can relax. In addition, we had a very lively discussion about our different pest stories, mine involving a recurring groundhog problem and hers rabbit overpopulation. I also found that there was a lot that I can learn from Prof. Douglas and her gardening endeavors in terms of using crops in new ways as well as how to manage a larger garden.
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