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What do occasional gardeners do?

By Paulette Henderson

What to do when the clients with vision loss in the Garden Group want to get out and plant, but it rains at every meeting?

The early plantings of vegetables and herbs in the Vision Loss Resources straw bale garden seemed to sit and sulk, while the volunteer mushrooms added height with every downpour.

4-H veteran Joe led the Garden Group in St. Paul on a recent drizzly Tuesday. Some folks couldn’t get into the modest garden because of the mud. So Joe got adaptive.

He brought a portion of a straw bale indoors and put it on a tarp.

The bales had been conditioned by adding fertilizer and water at prescribed times. The idea behind that is that once the bales are prepared, they will support plants just as soil would.

The clients were appropriately skeptical. Everyone wanted to smell the conditioned straw and touch it. Then they agreed it smelled like potting soil.

Joe and the Garden Group previously had planted seeds in Jiffy pots. Some folks took them home, but others donated their plantings to the straw bale garden, and the plants were ready to pop into their new homes.

But how to space these Jiffy pots when a person has low or no vision? One technique was Joe’s planting board. That’s a 3-foot-long wooden board with holes drilled every 6 inches. Clients can place the board on a straw bale, and tell by touch where each Jiffy pot should be planted.

Clients also marked seedling locations with chopsticks, and placed the chopsticks flat on the straw to help measure spacing of the plants. They tried different tools to see what worked best for making planting holes in the straw, and chose a narrow putty knife/paint scraper to make wedge-shaped openings.

Since the plantings are in straw bales, weeds are very unlikely to pop up, so there’s no reason to tag the plants to distinguish them from weeds. But if a gardener with low vision wants to do that, the gardener can take a tip from the Kent Association for the Blind in England (http://www.kab.org.uk/help-a-advice/adapting-to-sight-loss/in-the-garden.html) and put plastic milk bottle rings around new plants, to tell them from weeds.

Our next step at the Vision Loss Resources garden in St. Paul is to add mulch around the bales. That way, clients can tell by the sound of the mulch, and the feeling underneath their feet or wheelchairs, that they’re right in front of the straw bales.

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