Big bed: Hands-on help multiplies yield

Looking at magazines with “Garden” in the title can start almost anyone wishing for their own piece of Eden. Glossy pictures and simple descriptions make one feel that with just a little help from a few packets of seeds and a hoe, that designer “dream” garden could be just around the corner.
Well, Martha Stewart has a posse of employees making her creations look fun and effortless, so clearly a little extra help will go a long way in bringing forth a prolific bounty in your lower 40, too.
Gardening in Virginia can bring much joy. We have a wide variety of plant choices hereabouts, but often enthusiasm dampens when unseasonable weather patterns hit and fluffy foliage crinkles to dust. Jim Quarles and his team members at Harvest Shelter provide much needed know-how to prevent such calamities from happening. On his 7,000-square-foot raised-bed garden in Free Union, volunteer master gardeners teach about a number of topics including but not limited to, why organic?
Botany, building good soil, composting, irrigation, and controlling insects and disease are a few reasons. Basically, the fundamentals that they teach can ensure years and years of continued success with herbs, vegetables, and flowers.
But the mission behind Harvest Shelter goes a lot further than creating abundant crops for your own pleasure. As anyone knows who has ever grown zucchini, some vegetables need no care and little incentive to proliferate beyond one’s wildest dreams. Quarles, as the sole progenitor of Harvest Shelter, hopes that teaching novice gardeners some basics will yield a crop big enough to share with those in need.
Surplus vegetation from Harvest Shelter including flowers is delivered all over town. The Thomas Jefferson Area Food Bank, homeless shelters, and assisted living facilities are major recipients, but Quarles makes no bones about where they’ll deliver.
“Anybody who needs it,” he clarifies, is eligible. The pickin’ parties, as Quarles describes them, that happen several times during the summer are a celebration of all Harvest Shelter stands for, honoring both our responsibility to the earth and what it provides as well as taking care of those less fortunate or unable to provide for themselves.

Harvest Shelter is located on 200 acres in Free Union. Workshops are free and held every Sunday from 9am-4pm through the end of August. Do not bring tools, just a notebook, picnic lunch, and enthusiasm. Contact them at to choose your weekend.