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Couple ‘got serious’ about gardening — and have the harvest to prove it

November 2, 2013 Updated: November 5, 2013 at 3:02 pm
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Carol and Greg Guinta enjoy the work and yield their expanded garden provides. Carol Lawrence, The Gazette

For more than 10 years, Carol and Greg Guinta were "weekend garden warriors." They never suspected they would become urban homesteaders.

The term, which shouldn't be confused with urban gardening, refers to city-based micro-farms that produce a significant amount of the residents' food in a sustainable, environmentally sound way.

The couple studied and planned, and tackled a new gardening lifestyle they had never dreamed of before. It was a success that will feed their family all year as well as leave a benign carbon footprint.

Up until now, the Guintas had container gardens, flowers and a couple of raised vegetable beds at their Southwestern-style west-side home. They also had a lush, Kentucky bluegrass 154-square- foot yard tucked along red rock formations.

Discussions of city water restrictions gave them pause. "With restrictions on watering we couldn't maintain that plot of grass. Not just for the aesthetics of walking barefoot through it," Carol said.

That's when the Guintas "got serious" about gardening, she said. Carol, a Gazette photographer, and Greg, an engineer specializing in technical writing, were hooked.

They dug up the bluegrass turf and replaced it with pea gravel. Using his experience working for a sprinkler company during college, Greg designed raised beds with an irrigation system that used minimal water and eliminated water loss through spray. The beds have bottoms, making them mobile if the family would ever want a lawn again, Carol said.

The beds, which are 3 feet by 12 feet and a foot and a half tall, cost about $130 each, which included wood, stain, liner, soil and water drip line. They can be made any height as long as the dirt's depth can hold the root length of the plants that are growing, Carol said. Bent half-inch PVC piping provided a hoop frame for hail netting and later for Visqueen for frost protection.

One of the couple's first major challenges was coping with the area's difficult, cement-like clay soil. They combined peat moss or manure with their own compost to create loamy soil.

The southern-exposure yard was ideal for fruit and vegetables.

Greg "puts everything together," says Carol, and she handles planting the seeds and caring for the seedlings. The major exception is pumpkins. "They are Greg's territory," she said, laughing. He had been checking out the giant pumpkins at the Old Colorado City weigh-in each fall and Carol is sure he has his sights set on producing his own competition-size Great Pumpkin.

This season's rains gave the Guintas a banner garden year and a major harvest, said Carol. "We'll eat out of the garden all year."

Bryce, 18, and Maggie, 16, are vegetarian for the most part, says Carol, and come snack time they could always head out to the garden. Lettuce was eaten as it grew. There was zucchini for bread, fritters or stir fry and spinach, peas, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, Brussels sprouts, basil, cilantro, onions, chives, carrots, peppers and beets.

As the weather turned cooler, most everything had been harvested. When freezing temperatures were forecast in October the peppers were kept warm using a string of Christmas lights.

There were some learning experiences. The Guintas will probably plant fewer Brussels sprouts next year, Carol said, "because the plants got huge, really huge." Beets, too, will likely be limited because she discovered "there are only so many things you can do with them and that's enough."

For Carol, this is a return to her childhood in upstate New York where her father was an organic gardener "way before it was cool." They always maintained a compost pile. "Dad gardened and my mother put up the harvest and made jams and jellies. I had never had commercial jam or jelly until I was away from home and wanted to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

Although she's not ready to tackle jam and jelly making quite yet, her parents would be proud. Neighbors and friends have marveled at the Guintas' own gardening success and requested they teach others how to urban homestead Colorado style.

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