December 2014 Spotlight – Gardening at South Whidbey Tilth

The word “tilth” is defined as the quality of cultivated soil. South Whidbey Tilth Association is a diverse network of people working cooperatively within our organization and in the community. Our commitment is to advocate, study and teach agricultural practices consistent with stewardship of the natural world. We promote and demonstrate principles and practices of sustainable agriculture, as well as cultivate a variety of opportunities for local market gardeners and farmers.

TilthMarketDay

The South Whidbey Tilth Sustainability Campus is a community space to demonstrate and practice sustainable agriculture and to support one another’s work to steward the natural world. On over 11 acres, the campus includes a seasonal farmers’ market, community gardens, children’s garden, worm bins, a children’s play house, the forest understory recovery project, a Garry oak meadow, a landscape designed to reduce invasive plants along the State Route 525, and more.

Lesedi Farm on the Tilth campus

Lesedi Farm on the Tilth campus

Organic soil building is at the heart of what grows healthy plants. Soil with good tilth has a rich, spongy humus that holds moisture. Humus is formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material and by soil microorganisms. Soil loses its tilth when the soil is compressed or toxic chemicals are added, causing water, nutrients and soil to run off into waterways and into Puget Sound.

Water Conservation in the Garden workshop instructor Marc Wilson begins an installation in the community garden.

Water Conservation in the Garden workshop instructor Marc Wilson begins an installation in the community garden.

A water metering and irrigation system is being installed in the Tilth Community Garden plots and landscaped areas to monitor the water use from the well. The gardened areas include timers and manifolds for drip irrigation or soaker hoses, allowing water used to go directly into the soil around plants. Funding for the related educational component came through a mini-grant from Puget Sounds Starts Here, via ECO-Net, administered through Science, Education and Adventure (SEA). A Whidbey Island Garden Tour grant funded the materials.

Besides individual garden plots leased annually to individuals and families, the campus hosts special gardens, as well.

Dorcas Young shows off the interior of her high tunnel hoop house during the 2014 Whidbey Island Farm Tour.

Dorcas Young shows off the interior of her high tunnel hoop house during the 2014 Whidbey Island Farm Tour.

Lesedi Farm, an incubator farm uses a quarter acre on Tilth’s Sustainability Campus. Farmer Dorcas Young worked with the Whidbey Island Conservation District to construct a high tunnel hoop house to grow the African crops of her native Botswana. She sells produce fresh and prepared at Whidbey Island Farmers’ Markets. Water-saving irrigation is already installed on the Lesedi parcel.

The Whidbey Veterans Service Corps (WVSC), a project of the Whidbey Island Veterans Resource Center (VRC), has interested military veterans preparing, planting and harvesting two garden plots in the South Whidbey Tilth Community Garden during the growing season. The VSC mission is to provide opportunities, especially to younger vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, to apply military service skills and mission teamwork abilities to service projects for one another, their families and their community by growing some of their own vegetables, as well as providing surplus vegetables for other veterans, their families and the Good Cheer Food Bank.

Calyx students proudly show off their potato harvest

Calyx students proudly show off their potato harvest

The Children’s Garden is cultivated one day each week by the Calyx Community Arts School, where children plant, water and harvest their own food. Their chickens are cooped around the perimeter of the garden plot to keep weeds down, catch insects and provide eggs for lunchtime.

Watch for Tilth’s gardening class series this spring. Learn more at the South Whidbey Tilth website, www.southwhidbeytilth.org.