Temple College

Temple College students Sonia Castro, left, and Diego Contreras work next to Wayne Schirner, a Bell County Master Gardener, on Friday as they planted a vegetable garden. The produce that comes from the garden will go to the college’s food pantry in the Arnold Student Union Building for students who need food for themselves or their families.

If all goes according to plans, in a few months, the food pantry at Temple College will have some fresh vegetables available for students.

On Friday, about 20 TC students, staff and members of the Bell County Master Gardeners were busy planting salad greens, kale, cauliflower, swiss chard, brussel sprouts and more, in a newly established garden on campus.

A project of TC’s Phi Theta Kappa chapter, discussions about and planning for the garden have been going on for months.

The garden was planted using a no-till gardening method.

The Bermuda grass where the garden is located was cut short without disturbing the roots. The seven beds of different sizes each had four-inch layers of mushroom compost placed on the grass and topped off with five inches of native wood mulch, said Bell County Master Gardener Marjorie Gillmeister.

The mulch and compost were in place about three months before the planting began, said TC student Theresa Anthony.

“With time, the mulch and compost breaks down and becomes a rich humus soil,” Gillmeister said.

The three days of rain the garden received over the summer and the Texas heat was all that was needed to begin the decomposing process.

“One inch of that native wood mulch had already decomposed before the planting began,” she said.

Over the summer, a Master Gardener visited the garden each week to measure soil ph, soil temperature and soil moisture, Gillmeister said.

The soil remained 10 degrees lower than the outside temperature.

Gillmeister, Master Gardener youth director, has used this method of gardening for four years with success and was inspired by Esther Dean, an Australian who introduced No Dig Gardening in the 1970s.

With time, it’s just a matter of layering on more mulch as the soil breaks down and weeds are kept at bay.

“We create biodiversity by planting herbs, flowers within each garden,” she said.

The herbs protect the vegetables from harmful insects, which are repelled by the unfamiliar smell.

The garden will not only feed the students, but will provide a beautiful space for the students to visit.

“Gardening is a great stress reliever,” Gillmeister said. “If a plant fails, it becomes a learning experience.”

TC students Sonia Castro and Diego Contreras were planting vegetables and herbs alongside Master Gardener Wayne Schirner.

Schirner said all of his gardens at home are on raised beds.

“I do use arborist wood chips because they keep the water from evaporating and they moderate the temperature,” he said. 

Though Castro and Contreras don’t have a garden at home, it’s something they have wanted to try, Contreras said.

 The TC vegetable garden needs a fence to keep the critters out and personalized pickets for the fence are being sold at a variety of prices to raise money for the garden program. 

The annual cost of a fence picket ranges in price from $45 to $75 for students, and $63 to $300 for individuals. Annual corporate memberships are $100 to $500. If the membership is not renewed, the individual or business can have their picket.  

Repairs to the greenhouse windows are needed before it can become functional.

Costs for the greenhouse repairs and purchasing supplies for the garden, such as heating mats used to help seeds germinate, are expected to cost around $2,000 and any contributions would be helpful.

Anthony said the project has turned out better than she had anticipated.

“Initially, we were just going to start planting some vegetables for the school’s food pantry, but with the help of the Bell County Master Gardeners, it has become a learning opportunity,” she said.

The people involved range from students, staff and administrators.

The honor society will continue to maintain the garden, but everyone is invited to get their hands dirty by pulling weeds or watering the plants if needed, said Sheri Hubbard, Phi Theta Kappa member.