Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Edible Gardening - An Interview with Ben Barkan from HomeHarvest

Many of my clients ask me about integrating edible garden space into the context of their residential landscape.  Whether the trend is in response to high food prices, interest in conservation, or a general interest in producing great tasting fruits and vegetables;  edible gardens are increasingly popular.

This spring I was fortunate to meet Ben Barkan, founder of HomeHarvest, a company that focuses on the design, installation and maintenance of edible gardens  We were collaborating on a project in Belmont where our customer wanted to redesign their front yard to include native plants, pathways, a water feature, and vegetable beds.... all without any lawn.

Nilsen Landscape Design and HomeHarvest collaborate on the design for this Belmont residence
I was impressed by Ben's approach to edible gardening, so I recently got back in touch with him to ask a few questions about his experience in this field.

Andrea:  Tell me a little bit about your company HomeHarvest.
Ben:       I started building edible gardens at age 18.  Inspired through volunteering on organic farms I thought I would give it a try.  I had my bike and a couple of shovels to work with, and started marketing with one simple flier.  Just in that first year I generated at least 30 clients... and now I have an established client base of around 300 and have installed around 200 edible gardens in the area.

Andrea:  What trends have you seen in edible gardens since you've started?
Ben:       I think a lot of (the growing popularity) has to do with the media.  Certainly the organic edible   garden at the White House has encouraged people to want to grow their own food, however people have always been doing this.  Increasing awareness of conventional farming practices is also motivating people to think about what they can grow on their own property.  Many of my clients want their gardens in their front yard, to demonstrate how productive and beautiful edible gardens can be.  People are starting to think, why should I have a lawn when I can grow broccoli, garlic and tomatoes?  Why should I fertilize, spray, mow, and constantly maintain this grass when I could be spending my time growing food?

Front yard garden by HomeHarvest combines vegetables and flowers (photo by Ben Barkan)

Andrea:  What is the biggest mistake that a home gardener makes when starting off?
Ben:       A common mistake many gardeners make is forgetting to take a soil test.  Lead, a harmful neurotoxin, is common in New England and this is the first thing HomeHarvest looks for.  Another common mistake when starting out is not spending enough time planning and designing; poor access can lead to compaction and poorly spaced plants leads to disease and lower yields.  Soil health is the most important part of the garden and HomeHarvest makes sure this is regularly maintained.

Andrea:  What are three of the easiest things for a beginner to grow?
Ben:       Some easy crops to grow are beans, kale and greens.  No matter what the crop is, if the soil is neglected, the plants will yield very little and not taste very nice.  Soil health is key for success when gardening, especially when taking an organic approach.

Andrea:  What tips do you have for the urban gardener that might have limited space?
Ben:       If you have little space to grow food, then make sure the area you do have has the most healthy soil you can create and remember, creating soil can take years, so start composting today.

A raised bed by HomeHarvest shows that vegetables can be grown almost anywhere!  (photo by Ben Barkan)

Thanks Ben for all of the great insight and advice on this topic!

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