In the dead heat of last summer’s scorching drought, there was at least one lawn in Charlotte that never lost its beautiful green color. Due to hard work and their love of the environment, Dr. Lisa Griffin and her partner Carrie Gault were able to protect their piece of earth from the damaging dry spells that plagued 2007.
It takes a lot of love and a lot of work to garden, says couple Lisa Griffin and Carrie Gault, but they believe going organic is worth the effort.
The secret, Lisa says, is to stay away from chemical-based fertilizers for your lawn.
“Chemical fertilizers are like sugar,” the green-thumbed psychologist explains. “Without the chemicals, plants’ roots will grow deeper and get to the water further beneath the soil.”
Their strict no-chemicals policy has paid off, for both their lawn and their garden — which is completely organic. From lettuce and other leafy greens to tomatoes and asparagus, their garden keeps them well-fed and healthy.
For the couple, their gardening techniques and theories are just a part of their overall outlook on life. They strive to be health-conscious — eating healthy foods, exercising, recycling and making their home energy efficient.
Growing their own organic vegetables is a symbol of their devotion to maintaining a healthy environment. There’s no need to waste gas and cause more pollution by driving to the store to buy organic foods — that have already been shipped across the country — when you can grow the same great product at home with far less negative impact on the earth (and your wallet).
Lisa and Carrie’s “growing season” begins at the traditional April 15 frost date. “I suspect that date is moving a little earlier because of global warming trends,” Lisa says.
In the weeks leading up to planting time, they till the soil by hand, without the assistance of large or mechanized tillers. The hard work pays off by avoiding “tiller pan,” which occurs when soil is pushed further and further down and densely compacted under the weight and movement of the tiller. The dense soil sometimes stops the growth of roots, making it harder for water to get to the plants and diminishing crop production.
“It certainly has been a labor love,” says Carrie, an architect. “And it doesn’t all happen at once.”
Lisa says that their organically-minded gardening isn’t much more difficult than going the non-organic route. “Plus, our plants are healthier,” she adds, noting that some fruits and vegetables, particularly those with thin skins, sometimes retain many of the chemical pesticides, fertilizers and insecticides used to grow them.
To grow their plants, Lisa and Carrie use a mix of commercially produced organic fertilizers and natural products such as bone-meal and other compost.” It doesn’t always smell great,” Lisa says, “but it provides the nutrients the plants need.”
They plan their crop rotations on a three-year cycle and never plant the same crop in the same spot on consecutive seasons. The rotation helps to ensure natural nutrients and minerals in the soil aren’t depleted. The rotation also helps with controlling insects that prey on certain types of food. For instance, if your squash is never in the same place, hibernating or yet-to-be-hatched insects that eat squash will die out when they have none to eat after the long winter.
Gault and Griffin have turned their home into an organic, sustainable environment — and its lush beauty certainly doesn’t hurt.
The couple’s biggest hassle is keeping away larger animals, such as rabbits, deer and raccoons. Because they use no chemical pesticides or other deterrents many of their plants have to be secured with a fence.
“Corn and soy beans are the worst,” Lisa says. “If they aren’t surrounded by a fence, you’ll go to bed one night and they’ll be gone in the morning.”
Some plants can be grown all year, like leafy greens. But due to the fact that both women have full-time jobs and winter brings shorter days, they prefer to plant only in the spring and summer months. They also do a lot of preserving, much of it in the form of sauces for use in cooking through the fall and winter.
“Most people are really impressed with the food we grow and serve during meals,” Carrie says. “It is ironic it looks so impressive when it is so easy to do.”
“I think it is fun to cook foods people might not have ever seen or tasted before,” Lisa adds. “There is so much variety and so many types of food that are just so unique.”
Through their gardening and healthy living, Lisa and Carrie strive to live up to the ideal of creating a sustainable world. As Carrie explains, their goal is to improve sustainability in each of three areas: ecologically, sociologically and economically.
“All three parts of sustainability work together as a system,” Lisa concludes. “If any one is absent, you aren’t working as a whole.”