This month - A new program takes gardening to a whole new level
Salad Tables Keep the Joys of Gardening Accessible by Regan Carney
A "salad table" may sound like a big spread of greens at one of our local
pot lucks, but it's really a raised bed of growing vegetables that is wheelchair or handicapped accessible.
Former Bay St. Louis resident Shelby Cochran had a salad table built while he was in an
assisted-living facility in Georgia three years ago. He was an avid gardener - as
the grounds of his Washington Street house could attest. When Shelby moved into an assisted-living facility, he felt
starved for growing things. He felt that by growing some part of his own foodand sharing it and the tables with the other
members of his community, he was adding to the happiness and connection of this
oddly thrown together group of people.It really helped his quality of life.
That was my first real experience hearing about a salad table - also called a "garden table."
Around the same time, the Pine Belt Master Gardeners (PBMG) of Hattiesburg were
receiving a call to help make a handicapped accessible garden by the Lamar
County Extension office in Purvis, Mississippi. Paul Cavanaugh of the PBMG came up with
a plan and built two.
Not satisfied with the look, he called in a friend and
master carpenter, Ken McCoy. Ken polished the design and used the idea as a
class project at the Lamar County Vo-Tech, where he was an instructor. Those first
two went to the Windham House Assisted Living Center in Hattiesburg. These were built out of treated pine covered in black plastic to prevent migration of harmful chemicals into the soil.
Two weeks later the master gardeners got a call from another senior citizens center.
Paul Cavanaugh (L), at a PBMG garden table building workshop.
One hundred and seventy tables later, they have cleaned up the design even more and started using cypress as it is rot-resistant. As a result of lots of research, they've switched to rough-cut lumber. The group also found a supplier (Arcadian Hardwood and Cypress)that will give them “shorts,” or boards that are less than 8 ft long on the cheap. They are now making them in a local master gardener/carpenter’s shop.
Pine Belt Master Gardeners is an all volunteer organization of the MSU extension service with a mission to help people to understand how to grow and care for plants. The group charges only a little over the cost of production for the salad tables, allowing them to turn around and donate one out of every six tables they build. Recently, they won the MS State Master Gardeners Best Project of the Year for 2013 and are working toward the International Project of the Year for 2013/2014.
The group has shipped the salad tables to Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Chicago, Virginia and of course, around the state of Mississippi. Twelve of them have landed here in Bay St. Louis, in the new Community Garden on Keller Street that is currently under construction.
Talking with Bay St. Louis Beautification volunteer Katharine Ohman aboutthe tables, she was excited about the first test planting that they are doing. She said that onion sets, winter vegetables and herbs just went in December 15. She is looking forward to an early spring opening for the Garden.
She mentioned that the tables were paid for from funds collected from the Recycle Fashion Show which was part of the “Keep Bay St Louis Beautiful." Talk aboutfull circle!
Now why would you want to use one of these tables? Paul Cavanaugh believes that it's importantfor people to grow their own food.
"You know exactly what is on your food if you grow it yourself in your backyard, especially if you grow it from seed," says the master gardener. He points out that digging in the dirt and helping things grow also has positive mental health benefits, sometimes known as "Horticultural Therapy."
The Master Gardeners have tested these tables for 2 years and have found that plants grow well being “crowded." The bottom of the growing box is made from a durable cloth and a metal mesh, so the roots - given plenty of water and a light potting soil - breath better and therefore produce more greenery.
Gardening in salad tables have another advantage. While pests here on the coast love warm weather, the tables are made from cypress. The wood has a naturally occurring gas that acts as a repellent to many pests.
And because the tables' height eliminate the constant bending over that good gardening requires, they're also a boon to those with limited mobility or complaining backs (like mine). Table gardening helps keep people connected with a hobby that's been proven to be healthy for both body and mind.
Plans to build your own table are available from the PBMG, see our sidebar for contact information.
You can get salad table plans from the Pine Belt Master Gardeners. Contact them through Mississippi State University Extension Service Forrest County office (601) 545-6083 Lamar County office (601) 794-3910
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