By David Wall.
BSA Troop 101 in Mt. Pleasant, TX, is now in its 6th year of raising vegetables to support the needy. Five of those years have been organic. Starting with less than 100 vegetable plants, the garden has steadily grown to this year’s 1,000 plant size.
Scouts have to do service projects for the community, and this is a way for them to provide that service as well as see the results. Led by Dave Wall, local gardening activist, merit badge counselor and garden manager, troop members have planted, grown, and picked over 125,000 vegetables in five years. As of early August this year, the garden has produced over 20,000 vegetables weighing over 2,500 pounds, sticking with several varieties of the basic four of tomatoes, peppers, okra and cucumbers.
New varieties this year include the tycoon tomato and Armenian cucumber. Tycoons are a semi-determinate that is a heavy producer of large fruit that continues to produces in the summer heat. There are two varieties of Armenian cucumber; white and green. Both grow to 24+ inches and weigh anywhere from 2 to 6+ pounds. Participants were at first reluctant to take these large cucumbers until volunteers cut one into slices and had them taste it. Now, they ask for the large cucumbers!
The garden itself is a model type garden using black plastic mulch with drip irrigation. Plant support is provided by home built 48” & 60” cages, while store-bought cages support peppers. Cattle panels, string netting and string running from pole to pole are also used to provide plant support.
Ground cover is provided by straw from two round bales and weeds; yes, weeds. As long as the plants get sufficient water and nutrients, weeds don’t seem to bother them. At the 2016 TOFGA conference, a Texas AgriLife Extension speaker admitted that weeds can be an acceptable ground cover!
For five years, the Titus County Sheriff’s Department allowed the Troop to use their impound lot to grow vegetables, but this year, Northeast Texas Community College in Mt. Pleasant made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Even the Sherriff said it was too good of a deal to pass up. Rene McCracken, Director of Agriculture, bent over backwards to help the troop, providing black plastic, drip tape, and all the water the plants need. Additionally, they turned over a third of their greenhouse the Troop needed to start seeds. In return, the Troop grew extra plants for the college to sell, and provided a small quantity of vegetables for the college to sell at a local farmers’ market.
Last year was the worst year for gardening many in the Mt. Pleasant area had ever seen, but though conditions are much the same this year, the improvements at NTCC have ensured great results. All in all, it has been a great deal for all concerned.
The college greenhouse, with most of the plants on the right half belonging to Troop 101.