Despite limited space, Germantown Kitchen Garden continues its growth

Germantown farmer Amanda Staples surveyed her half-acre plot on East Penn Street, which has everything from peaches and gooseberries to chard and carrots, and offered an assessment.

“It’s bustin’ out,” she said.

Working at least 50 hours a week on the urban farm that Staples and her husband Matt McFarland launched three years ago, Germantown’s home-grown fruit and vegetable maven can admit some of the problems that arise when one spends so much time in the garden.

“Sometimes, I get sick of the color green,” she recently told NewsWorks on a drizzly Monday morning.

Then, she shared plans to put a more colorful wildflower garden in the rectangular plot’s southwest corner, where she hopes tall-growing flowers will help to minimize eye-level run-ins with the busy honeybees from the farm’s four hives.

A growing farm

Nearby, there’s a major upgrade to the property in the form of a large, sturdy garden shed with a brand-new walk-in cooler to store produce. That addition helps support this year’s increased clientele.

While she worked a part-time job outside the garden last year, Staples and McFarland, who continues his full-time job as a computer programmer, had 10 community-supported agriculture (CSA) customers. They also held a weekly farmer’s market outside the front gates.

This year, the CSA customers — who pay a fee to the farmer for a weekly box of fresh produce from March through late fall — increased by five.

The audience for the farm’s produce has also expanded into the restaurant business: Germantown Kitchen Garden now provides fresh arugula, spinach and herbs to Fishtown’s Pizza Brain.

So, Staples decided to dedicate herself to the farm full-time.

The Germantown Kitchen Garden weekly markets are gone, and the CSA roster is full, but Staples said that locals interested in any extra produce should join her e-mail list for notice of additional fruits and veggies for sale.

Bugs and rain

The challenges of gardening for a living can be unexpected, moment-to-moment battles, like when Staples dashed out into the garden early Monday morning to harvest as much lettuce as she could before a sudden downpour pummeled it to the ground.

Some challenges last all summer.

After losing most of last year’s squash and cucumber crop to squash bugs, Staples decided to order these in from another farm for her CSA customers this year.

“Germantown, for some reason, has crazy squash bugs,” she said.

But Staples is a tenacious gardener, and determined enough to give it another shot with nature-based pesticides.

“I’m gonna try,” she said, having just finished digging seven new beds for this year’s squash, under long white covers. “I’m gonna try really hard.”

Good eating

Now that it’s early June, the garden has started offering delicious snacks to its caretakers, including juicy, sun-warmed organic strawberries and sweet, crisp sugar-snap peas.

For lunch, Staples loves a head of lettuce with oil and vinegar and a fresh soft-boiled egg courtesy of the resident chickens.

“I have plenty for myself,” she said of enjoying the garden’s bounty. Even the eggplant.

“I have to sneak it in there,” she joked of putting it in the CSA shares, adding a recipe (or five) so her customers will know what to do with it, since “nobody likes eggplant much.”

Contentment in the garden

Despite well-meaning visitors who suggest the garden should be an educational site were local school-kids could participate, the peaceful, solitary work environment suits Staples.

She drily pointed out that she wouldn’t urge turning somebody else’s office into an elementary-school classroom while he or she was trying to work.

In the future, she looks forward to more peaches, apples, figs and pears from the nascent orchard, and maybe a greenhouse.

“On paper, a half-acre is a lot of space,” she said of realizing how quickly the farm has filled up since its inception.

Since more space would be too much for one worker to manage, she’s content keeping it just the way it is for now.

“It’s limiting,” she said, “but at the same time, I’m happy.”

Anyone interested in learning what crops are available to buy from week to week can join the Germantown Kitchen Garden list by e-mailing germantownkitchengarden@gmail.com.

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