New campus garden on Big Creek's flood plain yields 150 pounds of produce

Campus Garden 2015

By Sophia Rose Young
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- The totals are in from the new Fort Hays State University campus garden; more than 150 pounds from 17 different crops.

Victor E. Garden is located east of the Robbins Center on Big Creek's flood plain.

Seeds went into the ground for the first season after the spring 2015 construction. The garden flourished with peppers, tomatoes, tomatillo, eggplant, onions, cantaloupe, watermelon, corn, okra, beets, radishes, green beans, kale, Swiss chard, spinach, collards and herbs.

"We had a nice harvest," said Luke McCampbell, a senior sociology major from Hays. "Just our zucchini and squash got demolished by squash bugs. It was hard to get ahead of the infestation. I sprayed probably five or six times, and it did nothing. I even went to each individual plant to get all the eggs but they just reproduced way too fast. Next spring we plan on spacing plants out more and having more of a variety in the beds for companion planting."

Next spring McCampbell aims to try "Three Sisters Planting," which will help to eliminate the squash bug problem.

"Three Sisters" is a Native American style of planting corn, squash and beans. These three plants compliment each other nutritionally. Also, planting the corn first gives the beans something to vine up, adding stability, he said.

McCampbell estimates that the garden produced 10 to 15 pounds of tomatoes, 30 to 40 pounds of potatoes, 30 to 40 pounds of sweet potatoes, 10 to 15 pounds of peppers, 10 pounds of spinach and 30 pounds of watermelon.

"We had two to three watermelons that were massive and they were a pain to carry up the hill," said McCampbell.

McCampbell harvested a Swiss chard leaf 31 inches long and 15 inches wide from the garden last week, which survived two frosts.

"We are trying to extend our growing season with cold frames and the greenhouse," said McCampbell.

Currently growing in the greenhouse are herbs, arugula, spinach and Swiss chard.

More additions to the garden will start in the spring 2016 semester with a shaded pavement area and seating to function as an outdoor classroom.

One major difference between the old Victor E. Garden and the new one is the raised garden beds.

"We are using raised beds as opposed to sowing directly into the ground. It helps us control the water and eliminates weeding. Also, it allows us to use our compost more effectively," he said.

The Victor E. Garden roughly takes up a space of 110 feet by 70 feet with multiple 4-foot-by-12- to16-foot raised beds for produce, and 4-foot-by-4-foot raised beds for flowers. The space includes the cold houses, greenhouse and a 10-foot-by-12-foot shed.

McCampbell's brother, Brendon, biology graduate student, also tends the garden. They both started in 2010 when the campus garden was still located behind the Grounds Department.

"The first year we had to fill up 5-gallon buckets and walk them over individually to the garden just to water the plants," said Luke. "It would take two hours."

The new campus garden has an automatic irrigation system. The water comes straight from a well, and all they have to do is set timers.

Much of what the garden produces goes to the food pantry on campus and to those who tend the garden. Recently the garden distributed 30 pounds of potatoes on Fresh Food Friday, an initiative that provides fresh food for students every week.

The McCampbell brothers' inspiration to garden ties closely to the memories of their grandmother. Luke recalls many times spent on his grandmother's ranch and never wanting to leave.

"Also, I just simply enjoy gardening and hope to grow all my own food one day," he said.

A healthy-living grant from the Kansas Health Foundation helps fund FHSU's Campus Food and Hunger Initiatives, which includes the Victor E. Garden, the Tiger Food Exchange and educational programs. The grant helped to pay for the gardens infrastructure and three student workers.

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