Gary Crist was pulling the seeds off a spent cilantro plant when we found him outside his restaurant, Fireside Restaurant and Pancake Inn.
He explained he was preparing his garden, which abuts the restaurant, for next season, putting up seeds from herbs and tomatoes that are beginning to bolt.
In little more than the length of the house-like building that is the main restaurant, he shows off the garden and explains that it’s a teaching exhibit with the benefits of supplying some fresh food for the restaurant.
“Eventually, I want to grow everything for the restaurant,” he said. “I’m a beekeeper, and I want to get some free-range chickens. We have a farm, too, nearby, along with the greenhouses.”
The garden next to the restaurant is meant to explain five farming techniques, he said. He started it only last year, but it’s a hit with customers, and already produced a bounty of cherry tomatoes, salad greens, squash and beans, several varieties of herbs, fennel bulbs with greens that he juices – even horseradish that someone gave him to try.
“Here’s the bale method,” he said, pointing out tomatoes and beans growing from the centers of bales of straw. “You don’t use hay- use straw,” he said. The bales are first heat-treated by dousing with nitrogen and soaking them to kill the harmful organisms; the plants with soil are set deep into the bales. There’s no weeding, and so no need for harsh chemicals to kill them.
“I’m so for getting rid of glycosphates. We’ve got to do something about them. They’re poisoning the environment.” He referred to the broad-spectrum weed-killer used globally, banned in many countries already.
Next to them is the newpaper and straw technique. Over the soil, layers of newspaper are set out, then covered with wood chips. It’s a good way to grow in drier conditions; moisture is held in the ground by the mulch, he said.
“These are methods everybody should be using,” Crist said. They are sustainable, natural and organic growing practices that emulate nature. “Everyone should watch the video (Back to Eden).”
Along a back fence was the Mittlieder garden: Closely spaced plants were growing in a medium of sand and sawdust – materials that work in countries where soils and water retention substrates are poor. The high-yield garden, developed by Dr. Jacob Mittlieder, is intended to be grown in vertical boxes or containers, but requires weekly tending with nutrients. “It’s a method being taught in Third World countries,” Crist said. Adapting it to different conditions and situations is changing how much-needed food is grown in some places, he said.
He pointed to the aquaculture garden – mostly tomatoes – planted in a high box bed, the plants growing in river rocks covered in water from a fish pond below it. The plant beds fill up with water from a pump, then drain off into the pond. The koi in the pond feed on the plant runoff and bug larvae in the water, and the fish waste produces nitrogen and nutrients to feed the plants, pumped back onto the rocks. It’s a symbiotic growing method.
A traditional garden, planted for contrast, has plants growing in soil that is turned over each year onto itself. It requires much more tending – and more water and nutrients than the other methods. It was producing herbs and vegetables.
Crist keeps bees on his farm, and brings honey in for the restaurant. The chickens will supply the eggs for his noted breakfasts, and vegetables from the farm for his salads.
He admits, however, that once you add in the costs of growing, including labor, he won’t see much profit in running the restaurant from the farm.
“When you multiply the time, and materials, it adds up,” he said. “But the food is all about health and the environment.”
Florida Food & Farm visits farms and restaurants using farm-fresh products whenever we travel. Find Fireside Restaurant and Pancake Inn at 295 Sugarloaf Rd, Hendersonville, N.C.; (828) 697-1004, firesidepancakeinn.com.