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June 2012
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Small space gardening can produce big results

By DAVID ZOELLER dzoeller@paducahsun.com

Gardens created even in the smallest of places can yield big results.

No matter where you live - or how much room you have - small space gardening can brighten up your surroundings and help you eat healthier, according to Bud Qualk of Paducah, a Master Gardener through the University of Kentucky's Cooperative Extension Service.

Small space gardening "has been growing for quite a few years," said Qualk. "People don't have big farms like they used to have. And even people in town can have a spot in their yard for a garden. They're even doing it in back of the White House, where they've made a little vegetable garden.

"You can even grow them in your flower bed. Some plants look good in a flower bed," Qualk said. "A lot of people are doing raised bed gardening where they take some 2 by 8s, put them in a rectangle and grow them in there."

Qualk estimates he has 200 textbooks and also lots of magazines on gardening. However, it doesn't take an extensive library to get started, according to Qualk.

"It's about reading a book and then trial-and-error," said Qualk. "If you don't know a thing about gardening, you can ask a friend that does it. But the most fun is buying a couple of books and reading about it. There are a lot of books out there that can get you started. They've even got them in the library, you don't even have to buy them."

Qualk has a variety of vegetables growing in his back yard. At one time, he had 16 raised beds. Since he moved into a new house, he is slowly building his backyard bounty.

"My tomato plants are about 5 feet tall," he said. "I've harvested some onions, broccoli, lettuce and some little green onions. Next year I'm going to add more beds and a little bit more variety."

Live in an apartment? Don't have a backyard? No problem.

"I've got some containers that have herbs and stuff like that," Qualk said. "You can grow just about anything in a container if you want to take the time and trouble. It is a lot of watering."

According to the UK Cooperative Extension Service, another solution to working with limited space is to plant several mini-gardens in vacant spots around your yard.

Possible sites include near the kitchen door, along the sunny side of the house or garage, around the outdoor grill, along a walk or fence. Vegetables placed this way serve a dual purpose as both food and landscape plants.

There are health benefits to gardening, no matter the size.

"What does a small garden bring you? Exercise," said Qualk. "It gets you out in the sun a little bit, gets you some vitamin D, and some fresh air. It also brings you some satisfaction when you pick that tomato and take it in and eat it, and not have to go to the grocery store and buy it."

In addition to the satisfaction, there are nutritional benefits, too, according to the Master Gardener.

"My son is really into this, too. He lives in California," Qualk said. "He quoted a statistic that the average person, when they sit down to eat at night, the food on their plate probably averages about 1,500 miles (shipping, processing, etc.) before it gets to that plate."

When you grow your own vegetables, "you know exactly how many pesticides you put on, or if you put any pesticides on ... you know exactly where (those vegetables) came from," Qualk said.

Paducah and western Kentucky has a climate conducive to growing things, according to Qualk.

"We're in Zone 7, the rest of Kentucky is in Zone 6, so we grow some things a little bit better," Qualk said. "We're the warmest part in Kentucky, really.

Gardening has always been popular in this area, Qualk said.

"At one time Paducah had 26 garden clubs," Qualk said. "I called it the Garden Club Capital of the World, per capita. I don't know if there's still 26, but I think there's at least 20 or so."

According to Qualk, you don't have to be a Master Gardener to enjoy gardening. All it takes is a little time and effort.

"It's not rocket science," he said.

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