Family Roots

A glorious garden collaboration in Montgomery, Alabama.

By Denise Gee

Photography by Robert M. Peacock


Use these tips to get the most out of your harvest and extend the growing season! Shelter from Frost
To extend the growing season, Bari Levin protects her vegetables with metal hoops and frost cloth, a medium-weight permeable row-cover fabric. These protective hoop houses trap warmth near the plants, giving 6 to 8 degrees of frost protection on cold nights (or a few degrees more with a double layer of fabric). They keep out wind while letting in sunlight and moisture. Bari explains how it's done:

1. Cut 10-foot lengths of "ladder" reinforcement wire (sold at building-supply stores for reinforcing concrete-block walls) in half so that each section is 5 feet long by 6 inches wide. Bend each section of wire into an arch.

2. Place the arches 4 to 5 feet apart along the length of the bed. Insert the wire ends 4 to 6 inches into the ground for stability.

3. Cut a rectangle of frost cloth about 6 feet wide and 6 feet longer than the bed. (The cloth is also sold in large rolls, but Bari says the ease of working with smaller pieces of material far outweighs the cost savings of a bulk roll.) Drape the frost cloth over the arches, leaving sufficient material on all sides to secure it to the ground.

4. Use clothespins to clip the frost cloth to each section of wire. Hold the fabric edges snugly against the ground with wire anchor pins, stones, or lengths of pipe. Unclip and raise the frost cloth to harvest plants and when the weather conditions are more favorable.

Soft on Worms
Bari Levin uses a three-layer Can-O-Worms vermicompost bin—a holiday gift from her son Jason—to produce liquid organic fertilizer from the castings of well-fed red wigglers. This self-contained composting bin has stacking trays where the worms turn food scraps into fertilizer. Coconut fiber serves as worm bedding, and newspapers help maintain moisture.

Note: Some soil scientists recommend freezing worm castings before using them as fertilizer to avoid introducing nonnative, invasive worm species to the garden.