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Mix of methods is key to year-round gardening

Bud Neville passes on expertise in ARD class
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Gardening doesn’t have to be a seasonal activity. Bud Neville, owner of Quail Mountain Ranch in Auburn, coordinates indoor hydroponics with outdoor plantings for year-round production. During spring and summer he tills vegetables and has a strawberry patch, trellis blackberries and six fruit trees on about an acre at the 2,800-foot elevation in Foresthill. Each November, Neville takes cuttings and places them in deep-water culture hydroponics systems to overwinter. “I can start those in soil containers and transplant them into the garden in spring,” he said. “So no artificial light is needed at all.” One of his tomato plants grew to more than 8 feet tall last winter. “It flowered, but it didn’t have enough sun for fruit production until March,” he said. Neville explained that by using cuttings from the strongest plants, he’s strengthening his garden by cultivating the those that do best in his particular garden environment in terms of soil, sun exposure and temperature ranges. His store specializes in hydroponic growing systems. He and his wife opened in last November, after three years of very successful Internet sales. The success has continued at the shop, with the couple recently adding 1,600 square feet from an adjoining space. Recently, Neville began teaching an Auburn Recreation District class on organic and inorganic gardening year-round. ARD Recreation Services Manager Sheryl Petersen discovered Neville when she visited his store earlier this year and was impressed by his gardening expertise. “At that time, I asked if he’d be interested in providing a class on year-round organic gardening and he agreed, saying that was part of his plan — to expand his shop to do some teaching and demonstrations,” Petersen said. “A lot of times, when I’m going through the community, I’m talking to different people about different things and I always have an eye for (for people who) have a passion and knowledge to share to the community and Bud struck me as that kind of person.” Neville’s three-session class, which began Sept. 23 and ends today, covers propagation from seeds and cuttings, plant lighting basics, grow-room environments, plant nutrition, container gardening and introduction to hydroponics. The focus is on food production, using soil containers, greenhouse and hydro methods. “This year-round gardening thing is superheated,” he said. “I see the future in it. I see it as taking over conventional farming techniques.” One of hydro-gardening’s big selling points is the water savings. “We’re facing some serious water shortage issues in coming years,” he said. “In hydro, you can reuse your water and it is in an enclosed environment. Basically, you can produce year-round and any (water) that evaporates, you can recover.” The special solution used in hydro growing is also environmentally friendly. “When that has finished its usefulness, you can put it through a filtration system and use it again,” Neville said. “In outdoor gardening, water just flows away and is lost. Plants use what they can at the moment and the rest evaporates or goes into the ground.” In hydro gardening, you can be very frugal with water, giving plants only what they need. Certain plants do better than others for indoor growing. Herbs and greens do particularly well because they don’t need a lot of light, he said. “One thing to keep in mind is balancing the value of your product versus the energy it takes to produce it,” he said. “Because what happens with fruiting plants, such as peppers and tomatoes, is they require a lot of light. You have to use high-wattage bulbs to get good production.” Greens and herbs are easy to grow using only low-wattage florescent lights or by placing them in a south-facing window, he said. For indoor growing, environment is the most important factor, but fruit-bearing plants also need pollination — something taken care of by nature when the plants are outdoors. “When you have an indoor garden, you have to help in the pollination process,” he explained. “Sometimes I’ll nudge the flower because pollen will fall directly on it and it can pollinate that way. But I also use a soft paintbrush to spread pollen among the flowers.” For hydrogardening, you’ll also need a medium for shielding the roots. Neville recommends hydroton — a lightweight clay-pellet aggregate. “It’s good because it absorbs water and nutrient solution and helps sustain the plant,” he said. “There’s also coco fiber, the actual fiber off coconut husks.” Hydrogardening doesn’t have to be expensive. “If you have a good southern exposure, you can set up something for under $30 for greens and herbs — things that don’t fruit,” he said. “You can have a herb garden in your kitchen if you have enough light.” With the arrival of fall and cooler temperatures, Neville is turning his focus to winter greens — kale is a favorite — and asparagus and artichokes. The asparagus and artichokes started out as an experiment and did very well. “The (artichokes) seem to overwinter just fine (at that elevation),” he said. “They come back every year. Once they die back in the late summer, they’ll regrow. They reproduce from same rootstock and by late fall, you’ll have beautiful pale green shoots. They even survive snow and freezing.” Asparagus has been a success story, too. “Its crowns come out from the same rootstock,” he said. “I’d never heard of anyone growing asparagus (in Foresthill). So I tried it and it just does wonderfully.” ----------- Quail Mountain Ranch Where: 230 Palm Ave., Auburn Phone: (530) 889-2390 Anyone with specialized expertise interested in teaching a class through ARD can contact Sheryl Petersen at (530) 885-8461 ext. 15