Thursday, July 5, 2012

Waist-High Gardening on a Grand Scale in Iron Station, North Carolina

And now for something a little different here on Mobile Studio Travels. Neither ElderCamping nor ElderHiking. Not even ElderKayaking. This is ElderGardening.

I don’t have the patience, skills, or optimism necessary to garden. So, ElderGardening is unlikely to become a regular feature here.

But my Dad up in Iron Station has all three. Raised on a side-hill OverHome farm, he knows what it takes to pull food up out of the dirt. And he’s recently applied those skills to a plot in Iron Station, North Carolina.

Garden-Rack SystemTraditional gardening can be hard on the back. It requires a lot of stooping and pulling. Not as easy as it once was when your 90th birthday is just weeks away. But there are alternatives. You you may have heard of “waist-high gardening.”

The principle is simple. Makes sense. Raise a patch of dirt from ground level to about waist height. The photos above are taken from the GardenRack website. One of the best waist-high gardening sites on the Web. Click here for a look.

There, Victoria, the Frugal Gardener, offers all sorts of information and encouragement. Just a few square feet of soil a few inches deep is all you need!

That’s what I expected when during a May or June phone call Dad mentioned he’d started waist-high gardening in the back yard of his Iron Station, North Carolina home. A few square feet of soil; maybe a watering can nearby. Not much fuss.

Well, after all these years I should have known better. With a wonderful neighbor from across the road as co-conspirator, Dad now is cultivating a “waist-high garden” fully four feet wide and twelve feet long. The dirt is one foot deep, or a little more, throughout.

That’s 48 cubic feet of dirt! Now, at between 75 and 80 pounds per cubic foot, that’s at least 3,600 pounds of dirt! Before adding water, fertilizer, and plants. Don’t forget weeds. Though I suspect few of them will survive.

Imagine how sturdy the frame of this “waist-high garden” has to be to support all that weight. No worries there. It’s built like a brick …. ah, …. brick patio.

07 bottomHeavy, treated lumber bolted together, with gravel and perforated iron sheeting at the bottom to facilitate drainage. What a project!

Speaking of drainage, here’s the irrigation system. A hose runs from the wellhead directly to the garden. Buried underground most of the way, of course.

Here you see America’s oldest living garden moisture meter. Sold not long after the invention of water, it seems. “Waste not; Want not!” Still working, though. Dad keeps close track of soil moisture with this. At all levels.

Tools so far are elementary. Here’s one of the most important. Now, I expect to see modifications in this department during future visits. Just too much temptation! Mechanization? Steam engines? Miniature tractors? I wouldn’t be surprised …. But for now, just simple gardening tools.

So, does all of this work? You bet! Below are just a few of the plants already producing.




With plenty more to come.

So there you have it. Waist-high gardening on a near-commercial level. Special thanks to Ron across the road who designed, engineered, and constructed this remarkable facility. Waist-high gardening indeed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Visit to Chester State Park, South Carolina

Last week I was able to spend some time at Chester State Park. Sort of a vacation. I’d planned a different outing, but at the last minute couldn’t resist the thought of a few peaceful days at this beautiful getaway. That’s site # 4 you see above. Just about ideal. Flat; pull-through; solid surface; great view of the lake. Electricity and water, of course. Now, how can you beat that?

01 Security LightOh, that’s the latest addition to the Aliner. A security light that turns on only at night, and then only when it senses movement near the Aliner. A “Mr Beams MB360.” Works like a charm. And only $20 or so.

The light runs on four D-cell batteries, so it’s pretty heavy. Had to place it with a combination of “extreme” Velcro, a supplementary hook, and a short length of bungee cord. it’s easy to mount and dismount with the passenger-side “A” down.

Now, have a look at this. A group of 4H students enjoying their annual camping outing.

Twenty-some campers with ten or so chaperoning adults, at least when I checked. They set up their tents and equipment down by the lake.

What a nice group of kids. Quiet, engaged in their activities, and not a sound from them after 9:PM or so. Gathered from four South Carolina counties. Camp Host Mr. Sonny told me all of their sites were clean as whistles when they packed up and left. And Mr. Sonny’s fussy about his campsites. Maybe there’s hope for this country after all!

Just a few words about the Park. Somehow, Park Manager John Wells and his assistant, Brandon Bowers, between them keep everything spic and span. Lots of personal investment from both of them supplementing what has to be a limited budget. And it shows.

Here’s an example of that personal investment. And initiative. The lake at Chester has a nice boat ramp. But last time I visited there weren’t any parking spaces long enough to accommodate trucks with their trailers attached. So John and Brandon recently carved these spots out with some borrowed earthmoving equipment!

Cost? Gasoline, a few more hours on the equipment, and a healthy investment of what OverHome we used to call “elbow grease” from John and Brandon. Another “high-bang; low-buck” project here at Chester.

Oh, and speaking of “high-bang, low-buck” projects, here’s another one. Look carefully at this trailhead. Give it a click so you’re able to see the rails and steps more clearly. Also notice the stone wall. That’s part of the original stone wall laid up by the African-American CCC Company 4475 that built this Park. Here’s a link to more information about their work.

Expensive, right? Not hardly. If I remember correctly, this trailhead is a local high school Junior ROTC group project. They supply the labor and materials. The Park provides the supervision and encouragement. Another means of stretching scarce Park budget dollars. I mean!

I could go on and on. But just a couple more examples. Click on the photo above. That’s part of the original Chester State Park sign. From the 1930s! Discovered while cleaning out a maintenance shed.

John and Brandon decided to rescue it, mount it on a background made of boards from the original building, and hang the completed display on the wall of the new office. Now, try putting old boards together to make a smooth mounting surface sometime! I look forward to seeing the sign hang in the new office.

Speaking of the new office building, here it is. Not the largest in the system, by any means. But space is allocated inside so they’ll even have room for a small retail section!

One other nice thing about Chester State Park is its proximity to the City of Chester. Chester’s one of those places in South Carolina that seems determined to take advantage of its history and heritage. There’s a lot to see, so try to save a full day to look around. Check the website link above for detailed information and events. Lots to learn, and wonderful food.

There’s a great Bi-Lo store nearby too. Just 3.7 miles. One of the biggest in the State, open 24 hours a day. Handy whenever you run out of milk, peanut butter, or other Life Essentials.

I’ve written before about the importance of Camp Hosts. Trish and Sonny Walker, now at Chester, are fine examples. As you might imagine, with so few personnel at the Park, they both stay busy as one-armed paper-hangers. But if you can catch them with a few minutes free be sure to ask about the surrounding region. Both were born and grew up nearby.

So they’re both great sources of information, and as helpful as can be. When’s the last time you had a Camp Host call to say you’d left a piece of equipment on your site, and that he’s holding it for you? Well, I got just such a call from Mr. Sonny on Friday.

So, thanks again to Park Manager John Wells, Assistant Brandon Bowers, Camp Hosts Mr. and Mrs. Walker, Sonny and Trish, and the latest staff arrival, Miss Kayla in the Office. You folks all made a wonderful vacation even better. Hope to see you again soon.