After years of being asked: “Do you grow your own food here?” I’m able to reply, “Yes!” This past summer, Howard Bridgman and George Neil, two of Mepkin’s volunteers and Master Gardeners as well, offered their help and experience of gardening in the Low Country to restore a vegetable garden to the Abbey. The site of the Abbey Garden is next to St. Benedict’s cottage where the monks did vegetable-gardening years ago. Here we plan to grow as much of our food for monks and retreatants as we can. We also hope the garden will become a “demonstration garden” for Master Gardeners and tourists. It will also serve as an outdoor classroom to teach “sustainable gardening” in small spaces.
One of our benefactors helped us by sending a crew to double-dig 12 beds for vegetables. “Double-dug beds” are ones which have been cultivated and worked with compost 24 inches deep. This process is called “Bio-Intensive” gardening. It allows plant roots to grow down instead of sideways, thus enabling vegetables to be planted closer together, with the resulting effect of producing more vegetables in smaller spaces.
When you visit this garden site you will find a “see-through deer fence” surrounding it. Brother Joseph tells us that when he goes for the paper at 4:30 AM, there are about 20-30 deer under the trees at the entrance to the garden, taking sanctuary from the hunters. They stand there salivating over a lush green patch of cowpeas they can’t get to.
One volunteer, Barry Foster, and his cousin, Roy Beasley, master welders, offered to weld recycled trellis-work from another garden era at Mepkin into a gate that makes a beautiful entrance to the Abbey Garden itself. A number of autumn producing vegetables have already been planted and more will follow when it gets cooler. Fr. Joe, our cook, is already looking forward to a bountiful harvest, hoping he can find some volunteers to assist in vegetable preparation for our main meal.
I, with some of our volunteers, have been studying the principles of “Permaculture” this summer, hoping to incorporate them into our garden. These principles will make it as sustainable as possible, less labor intensive, and incorporate herbs, nuts, fruits and flowers into the garden. Maybe even chickens next year! We have a ComposTumbler2 and a Chipper/Shredder on our “wish list,” as our “Earth Healer” compost, which we stockpiled while we had the chickens, is being depleted. These will help us to have ready compost in two weeks from the waste of kitchen and garden. That compost will return to the garden soil to feed the next season’s vegetables.
I hope that on your “soon to be” visit to Mepkin Abbey, you will take time to inspect the garden and, if you are a retreatant, to enjoy some of its tasty produce.
Fr. Guerric Heckel, Gardens Director