Summer time or moving into a new place are both great reasons to want to spruce up the outside of your home Oftentimes, that can include the desire to start a vegetable or flower garden. We found one Austin artist who came up with a neat idea that benefits her and the lucky folks who sign up for her volunteer project this summer.
Anne Woods is an artist, sculptor and freelance designer. She also happens to be an avid gardener who believes strongly that every backyard vegetable garden is a small miracle. According to Woods, gardens restore the soil, cut down on the water and chemicals used to maintain a typical lawn, and lessen the need to truck in produce from far away. Gardens create food and shelter for bees, butterflies and birds, and help prevent runoff during storms.
Looking to combine doing her part to help the local Austin ecology, helping others discover the joy of raising their own food and getting a great workout at the same time, Woods started her own volunteer project: Double Dig Dare Me. For the months of August and September she'll be volunteering to dig new vegetable garden beds for folks in Central Austin who'd like to start one. Double-digging fires up tired soil so it can support a new garden by fluffing up the soil, adding nutrients and oxygen, and allowing water to seep down to the roots.
Genuinely doing this service for free and for fun (though, she does accept breakfast tacos as a tip), we asked Woods some questions about this interesting project she's started:
How did you think up this volunteer project? Are you the first one to do it?
I don't know if I'm the first person to come up with the idea, but I haven't heard of anything like it. There are a ton of amazing things going on with urban food growers in Austin, though, so who knows. Basically, I was looking for a fitness goal that would inspire me. I know that growing food at home and buying sustainably-raised food from local farmers helps the environment in multiple ways, and that was very inspiring to me. And I know what great exercise digging is. So the two just naturally came together as a way to get fit that would benefit the environment while I was at it.
The other thing that really inspires me about this project is that I get a chance to motivate and help out people who want to raise some of their own food. It seems like a lot of people want to start or reclaim veggie gardens but are held back either by the thought of having to dig a bed by themselves, or by not knowing where to start. This gives me a chance to help them get up over that little hill. And once they're bringing tomatoes and basil in from the garden every morning, they'll be hooked. The more of us, the better.
How many of these volunteer digs have you done so far, and how many do you expect to complete over these two months?
I've done three so far and have about 10 more on the books. There are still some openings, so I'm hoping more people will sign up.
Should someone who doesn't know anything about veggie gardening or plants allow you to dig up their yard? Can you really set them up with enough information to get them started?
Ha! It's a pretty low-risk deal. Even if we dig a new bed that never gets touched, the improved soil will still soak up and hold a lot of water on the property and the grass will very happily cover it over in no time—no harm done. But what I've experienced is that people look at brand new garden space and are so jazzed that they run right out to buy plants and get going.
Raising vegetables and herbs is really pretty easy—and you don't have to know everything to get started. You just add some good compost, plant at the right time, water consistently and cover the soil with straw mulch. I talk each person through all those details as we dig. I also give them a planting plan for the first season and a sheet about how to handle any problems organically. I also provide a lot of links to online information and local nurseries. There are so many experts online and in Austin who want to share what they know. Just type "central texas vegetable gardening" into YouTube to see what I mean—it's stunning.
In Austin and want to get Woods to come help you dig a new vegetable garden bed? Check out her Facebook page for more information about what you need to do, her service area and more. Not in Austin but know of similar programs/volunteer projects in your area? Let us know!
Photos: Adrienne Breaux, Anne Woods