When Northrop Grumman partnered with REAL School Gardens, it seemed like a straightforward corporate social responsibility effort.
Tom Reese, who works with the Corporate Citizenship Team, said “Northrop Grumman supports STEM education, the environment, and giving back to the community, so a partnership with REAL School Gardens made perfect sense.” Little did he know they were about to create a lean, mean, gardening machine.
In addition to sponsoring a volunteer day where 30 employees enhanced an existing school garden by adding a weather station and cleaning up the vegetable beds, Northrop Grumman also hosted REAL School Gardens for an employee Lunch & Learn session. REAL School Gardens educators went out to the Northrop Grumman campus and gave employees demonstrations of simple planting and growing techniques, as well as free seed packets.
Deirdre Pollock, an Executive Assistant and self-described “Type A” personality, attended the Lunch & Learn event and became inspired to try her hand at gardening. She’d never thought she had what it takes to create a garden, but the staff broke it down for her. Did she have seeds? Sunshine? Soil? Water? That’s all it really takes for a small simple garden.
So with seed packets in her hand and a song in her heart Deirdre was off to plant! But she quickly realized that the soil in her yard wasn’t ideal, so she set her sights on a couple raised beds. Sure it was a little bigger, and a little less simple, but it would be better. And instead of just starting with one, she decided that perhaps five raised beds would be more fun.
She spent months killing off patches of grass and building five raised beds from pieces of lumber she salvaged. She even had enough left over to add a wildflower box.
Beds assembled, she used square foot gardening plans to properly space out what Deirdre called “a little herb garden”. And by little, Deirdre meant five kinds of basil, cilantro, three bushes of rosemary, sage, lemon balm, oregano, lavender, and dill. Deidre says she didn’t even know how to cook with most of them yet.
But herbs are just seasoning, Deirdre thought it might be nice if the garden produced, well, produce too. So she planted tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, spinach, and three different kinds of romaine lettuce… and chard… and kale. Don’t forget the catnip and sweetgrass for her cats.
Now, how to keep everything watered? Deirdre got to thinking and recruited her son to help her build a rainwater harvesting system out of a 33 gallon trashcan. Simple, straightforward, and very effective. But that didn’t quite capture all of the rainwater she wanted, so she added another trashcan, and another, and another, until she had five in total. The system was still fairly simple, but to prevent wasted overflow during a big downpour, Deirdre had to bail bucket after bucket of water from one barrel to the next. Deirdre reports that lifting and moving 165 gallons of rainwater mid-deluge is an excellent rainy day workout.
With the water collected, Deirdre turned her attention to finding the most efficient way to get her hard won water to her growing plant population. So she researched different methods and ended up building her own ollas, which are clay water containers buried underground that seep water directly to the roots of the plants. She took normal terra cotta pots, sealed them together rim to rim, painted their tops to prevent evaporation and put them to work in the soil.
Speaking of soil, Deirdre wanted to enrich hers with fresh compost. To make her own compost from kitchen and yard scraps, she built a three bin system, in which every other month or so she “simply” shoveled piles of compost
from one bin into the next to speed along the decomposition process.
In between the building, the bailing, and the shoveling, Deirdre pulled weeds and defended her plants from the birds above and the slugs below.
When the garden produced its first ripe cherry tomato, Deirdre treated it like a star. Gently picked, carried inside, carefully washed, and photographed from every angle -- that little tomato got more attention than most people’s pets. Luckily, that’s where the similarities end, because it was then placed alone on a plate and eaten whole, the first of many delicious summer tomatoes from the well-fed, watered, and protected garden.
Jealous of the attention the tomatoes received, the other plants began to produce fruits and vegetables en masse.
Soon, crops of spinach, potatoes, cilantro, basil, carrots and lettuce kept Deirdre busy harvesting something new every day. When they became too much to eat, she started sharing her crops with friends and neighbors. Deirdre’s lettuce went into salads around the block, her cilantro went into her friend’s special Mexican soup, and her tomatoes made bacon take a back seat in countless BLTs. There were even rumors that extra tomatoes made it in to work, though sadly, Tom Reese says he’s unsure if those rumors were true, because he didn’t make it to the kitchen in time to get any.
Although it certainly wasn’t a simple little plant/water/grow experience, or perhaps because it wasn’t simple, Deirdre loves her new garden. These days, she spends every morning and evening outside enjoying both the interesting challenges and satisfying work the garden gives her, as well as the food and beauty it provides. Deirdre says, “Every time I go out there, things impress me with how much they’ve grown, how beautiful and useful they are, and I feel a little closer to God and Mother Nature. I feel like this effort has revived me.”
If she’s feeling “revived” now, can you even imagine what she’ll accomplish next now that she has even more energy than when she started? Brace yourself world, Deirdre Pollock has become a gardener.