Tour the Fruit & Vegetable Garden

Go Organic

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Distance: .35 miles  Time: 40-50 mins

Stop 1: Build Healthy Soil

In 2007 we made a commitment at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden: to grow all food here organically. On this garden walk you'll learn how the organic/sustainable practices we've put into action here can translate to your own fruit and vegetable garden at home.

What happens to the food grown here? Every year more than 2,500 pounds of fruit and vegetables are harvested by the student farmers of our Green Youth Farm program; the produce is sold at farmers' markets (including ours!) citywide.

At this first stop we are going to ask you to do something unusual: take a good look at the soil.

Healthy soil is THE #1 ingredient for growing tasty vegetables.

We've worked hard here to improve our heavy, clay soil. No digging, double-digging, or roto-tilling: instead we: Layer on 1-2" of well-composted manure in the spring, add 2-2½" of leaf mulch in the fall and top-dress plants all season long.

These practices build the soil from the top down—you can do the same in your vegetable garden.


Stop 2: Provide for Pollinators

Look up: two bat houses are mounted high up on the wall. Bats are the unsung heroes of the garden, both for pollinating plants (especially fruit, such as bananas and mangoes) and for eating insects - a single bat can eat thousands of insects (including mosquitoes) per night.

While bat colonies often hibernate in caves, they can roost in dead trees or in bat houses like these.


Stop 3: Provide for Pollinators

Bees are the workhorses of this garden - they pollinate most of the fruit and vegetables grown here. Proper pollination requires two hives per acre; with nearly four acres of crops, we needed eight hives to get the job done (the other four are located in the Nut Grove).

Always keep a respectful distance from beehives - bees make a beeline straight for the hive as they return from flower-feeding.


Stop 4: Practice Integrated Pest Management

Great view of the Smith Fountain at this secluded spot!

About the apple orchard: apples are notoriously difficult to grow without chemicals (they're #1 on the "dirty dozen" list of fruits/veggies grown with the most chemicals). Our Integrated Pest Management team is using non-toxic, natural substances to control pests and treat plant diseases instead.


Stop 5: Consider Growing Fruit

You are now surrounded by fruit. Above you are Concord grapes. To one side are the bramble fruits (raspberries, blackberries). To the other are espaliered fruit trees: apples and pears in rows, plus stone fruits (peaches, plums) on the wall. Once upon a time, every home had at least one fruit tree, a small orchard, or a bramble patch. Time to grow your own?

Stop 6: Conserve Water

Rainwater is precious. Instead of sending it into your local sewer system, direct rainwater into your garden, or collect it in a rainbarrel as a backup for hot, dry days. This model has a handy spigot for filling a watering can, as well as a hose attachment.

Stop 7: Two Organic Practices in One Spot

  • On the garage roof are solar panels that power an irrigation system for the orchard.
  • See the small, round structure tucked under the eaves? It's a bee house that encourages native mason bees to settle here.

Stop 8: Plant Heirloom Varieties

In the 1800s, 7,000 apple varieties were documented in America. Today there are fewer than 100. We grow 26 varieties on the Fruit & Vegetable Island.

Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, apples: whenever you plant heirloom varieties, you're supporting biodiversity.


Stop 9: Plant Heirloom Varieties

The historic Newtown Pippin, also called the Albemarle Pippin, was once grown by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and is said to be one of the tasties of all apples. Its history can be traced to a farm in Newtown (now part of New York City), where it was harvested in 1730.

Stop 10: Compost, Compost, Compost

Every home can compost. Yard owners can build an open-to-the-sun, two- or three-bin composter for lots of capacity, while urban dwellers can use a compact and efficient enclosed unit.

Got compacted soil, or no yard at all? Build a raised bed. Our carpenters built these 4' x 8' beds from long-lasting, untreated cedar. They're filled with a compost-rich soil mix.


Stop 11: Support Your Local Farmers

The #1 question asked in this garden: what happens to all the fruit and vegetables grown here?

The student farmers in our Green Youth Farm program harvest produce weekly, then sell it at our farmers' markets (yes, you can purchase it there!).

Better still, be your own producer: use these ever-changing beds for ideas on what/how to grow vegetables for three seasons of the year.


Stop 12: Plant Herbs Outside Your Kitchen Door

The triangular bed just outside the demonstration kitchen (site of our summer-long, weekend Garden Chef Series) is filled with herbs that require little to no care. Tarragon, sage, chives, and oregano are kitchen staples that can thrive in a sunny spot for years, since they're perennial. Easy-to-grow annual herbs include basil, parsley, and marjoram.

Stop 13: Maximize Your Space

Window boxes. Cold frames. Hanging baskets. Raised beds. Vertical walls. There's a way to grow vegetables in any size garden. Vegetables grown here are all compact varieties that don't overflow into precious space. Note the construction of our cold frames: easy to build at home, they can extend the growing season well into winter here.

Stop 14: To Learn More…

Check out what's growing in the greenhouse, peruse the books and tools at the Wheelbarrow Gift Shop (open Thursday-Sunday, May 26-October 7), then head to the Lenhardt Library at the Regenstein Center to learn more about organic gardening.