Growing friendship

Got a bit of rocky land? Then you might be able to save thousands of dollars, as two women in Talent have.

Best friends Cynthia Martinez, 48, and Peggy Savage, 46, used biodynamic principles and creativity to turn a 12-by-50 foot plot of land into their own personal grocery store.

"I haven't bought groceries since April," Martinez said.

People bicycle by to see what's new. Kids sneak a few of the strawberries. And the gardening pair have been victims of "drive-by baggings," in which one of Martinez' daughters was spotted "quick-pick bagging, jumping back in the car, then leaving." said Martinez, laughing.

There has been plenty of surplus to share with friends.

"We're eating as fast as we can," Savage said. "As soon as the tomatoes come we're doomed."

They planted more than 30 varieties of plants, from squashes to beans, eggplants to melons. There was an acorn squash the size of a small watermelon, and a radish the size of a baseball.

"The lettuce got crazy," Martinez said. "Think garbage bags."

Martinez' training in permaculture joined Savage's fascination with soil chemistry. The result? No bug problems, no deer raids and no need to weed.

Savage used rabbit poop and bat guano for soil nutrition. She added fish emulsion along with microorganisms to help keep pests and fungus out. She used gypsum to hold in moisture and break up clay.

Martinez decided to dig the plant beds — feet deep, so that roots would grow down instead of out, allowing starts to be planted much closer together.

"It's been cold and people have struggled to keep tomatoes warm, but ours are huddled in so closely they keep each other warm. The closeness keeps moisture in and weeds out and you have to water a lot less and you get a huge harvest," Martinez said.

They harvested continuously and cut off early buds. "We did not let the plants come to full maturity so signals to stop producing were not triggered," Martinez said.

The Talent gardeners used companion planting, letting complementary plants help each other. Nitrogen from beans fed nutrient-hungry potatoes. Sunflowers shaded strawberries.

Around the garden they planted bug-repelling plants like marigolds and calendula.

Their dogs helped, too.

"We trained them to walk in between the alleyways of the garden," Savage said. "The dog urine wards off deer and other creatures."

They experimented with music.

"The plants grow better with world beat and Latin music," Martinez said.

Each woman puts in 2-3 hours a day of maintenance work. Their total investment was $200 each for starts and soil nutrients, plus $50 in water bills for the summer.

Bulk bags of lentils and rice and gallons of condiments rounded out their diet.

"We save on gas because we don't have to drive to the store so much," Martinez said.

The friends now call the garden 'The Memory Garden' because of its less tangible harvests.

Savage said the garden began as her way of helping Martinez rediscover the joy Martinez had gardening with her father when he was alive.

Martinez said it began as her way of helping Savage clear the unsightly debris that covered the garden plot before they excavated it.

Since then, "we've sung and danced and hosed each other down and thrown mud and had food fights in the garden," Martinez said. "The amazing thing is no matter how topsy-turvy our lives are we go back and it's still growing and it's a miracle every time."

This is only the beginning.

"We're collecting our own seeds for next year," Savage said.

"We've developed a concept for a mobile orchard that uses coasters," Martinez said.

"Our project for the fall is to build a greenhouse 6 feet underground so it retains warmth, with a cold frame on top," Savage said.

"We'll have tea parties down there," Martinez said.

"We are looking into bee hives and chickens," Savage said.

"We want to grow lemons too," Martinez said.

"I think the true test is to see if we can winter the lemons. You're going to have to sleep with them in your bed to keep them warm," Savage said.

"We're gonna do it, Peggy," Martinez said.

"Did you mention that okra you're so proud of?" Savage said.

Martinez had discovered the okra &

which normally can't be grown in this region &

hiding in the zucchini-cucumber jungle that morning.

The two friends went off to fry it up in celebration.

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