Lorri Mason grows vegetables with love and organic practices, right here in Douglasville. Stems n Roots is her garden, her passion. It's something she should be very proud of. Mason has been gardening for sixteen years and this year has cultivated her largest garden yet with multiple raised beds and greenhouses.
“I was ninth out of ten kids,” Mason explained. “My mother always kept a garden and I was always on her heels. I’m the only one who took up gardening.” To further her skills, she attends conferences, organic programs and reads articles online. She calls herself “basically a backyard gardener,” but one tour through her garden and you will see how accomplished she is.
What are the benefits of raised bed gardens? Mason replied with a quick answer – weed control. They also warm up faster so plants will produce earlier and end later in the season. “We have such a big advantage in the South [with our weather],” Mason explained. “We can move our farming out of the old Southern mentality” with techniques she employs. Her raised beds can be deftly converted into greenhouses, furthering her quest for more growing more of the year. The raised beds have a wood chip layer as the base then top soil. “By the end of the year, the wood chips breakdown and attract big worms,” she described. “It will take over a year to stabilize a bed.”
Virtually all Mason buys is top soil. A local ‘tree guy’ discards his wood chips for the beds. Her chickens help with fertilization but otherwise she uses seaweed- and fish-based products mixed with water and sprayed on the plants. No manure purchased or needed here!
Mason studies the gardening wisdom of Eliot Coleman, a farmer in Maine with an experimental garden that produces vegetables year-round. Coleman is nationally recognized for his support of small-scale sustainable agriculture. Mason wants to try growing rhubarb, comfortable only in northern climes. I told her I will import some rhubarb plants from Illinois next month so she can start her experiment.
I learned a lot more during my visit to Stems n Roots. For one, different types of chickens lay different color eggs. ‘Easter Eggers’ lay grey, blue or pink eggs. A Leghorn’s eggs are white. But if you see a chocolate-brown colored egg, it probably came from a rare French Wheaten Maran, a beautiful chicken with feathers on her upper legs that resemble soft fur. Mason raised ‘Mulan’ from two days old. The day I met Mulan, now six months old, was the day she laid her first egg. Mason describes Mulan as “dainty, finicky” and says “she thinks she’s better than the others.”
“People always ask me if my chickens are free range,” Mason said. “I really can’t leave them out all the time because I live in a community. They are let out every three days before dusk to roam the garden. They won’t leave the yard.” When she hears people say, “You can’t train chickens,” she replies, “You haven’t seen mine.”
A new venture for Mason is raising bees. After six months of training, she is getting ready for her first batch of honey. She started with three pounds of honey bees from UGA’s bee-breeding program. That is about 10,000 bees. Her brood has now nearly tripled in size. These bees can yield 60 pounds of honey every 14 days! Luckily, Mason didn’t need to don her bee suit while I was there. It wasn’t four o’clock when her bees become active, leaving the bee box to cool off.
What’s on the (near) horizon from Stems n Roots? “There are so many tomatoes beyond the red variety,” she said. She’ll be harvesting white, striped, and sweet pea tomatoes. How about a two-tone tomato called Purple Smudge? I was eager to try orange beets from her garden. I couldn’t wait to get home to transplant my basil. I look forward to peppers in purple or chocolate hues and white, orange and green eggplants.
Mason enjoys mentoring ‘wanna be’ gardeners. She offered these ideas for the layman. A grow bag system can be easily done at home. “Black potato sacks are perfect for capturing the heat and have good aeration,” Mason explained. Another option is to use the black buckets thrown out by nurseries. Mason cautioned, “They will heat up and get very hot, so they need aeration holes.” She is experimenting with barrel gardening, too. When it proves successful, it could be easily replicated. “Not everyone can put a raised-bed garden in their back yard,” Mason said. “But they could put a barrel garden on their patio.”
“Every family needs a farmer...do you know yours?” is one of the stickers on the back of Mason’s van. If you see her around town, say “Hi! I read about you on Patch!” Give her a call for a garden tour on Sunday afternoons or find her at various Farmers Markets such as Café 10:10 Farmers Market at Crossroads Church. Don’t know what to do with an unusual vegetable? Check out the recipes on Stems n Roots’ Facebook page. You won’t be disappointed.
As my tour wrapped up, I had one burning question for Mason. “What is your favorite vegetable?” Her immediate reply was sweet peppers.