By Sandy N, Master Gardener Volunteer
Welcome to my post! I’m Sandy N., and this is my fourth year as a Master Gardener. This is also my third year as a volunteer at the Benton County Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden (known affectionately as “the Demo Garden”), and that’s the topic I will tell you about today.
The Demo Garden is an instructional garden that illustrates best practices for sustainable home gardening in our area. The garden was started in 1995 at the Benton County Fairground in Corvallis and is located on the South side of Fairground, just inside the fence and to the West of the ticket booth entrance. The garden covers more than 115′ x 40′ — plenty of space to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables suitable for our climate and soil while allowing us to showcase a variety of plants and gardening techniques. Here you will find vegetables ranging from asparagus to zucchini (including a few exotic crops, like hops), as well as herbs, fruits, and berries that are all well-suited for growing in our area. We also display a variety of gardening techniques in the Demo Garden — espaliered fruit trees, several types of raised beds, several types of compost bins, a variety of row coverings, dry land gardening, drip irrigation, non-toxic pest control, winter cover crops and more!
During the summer we work in the garden once a week, tending our crops and weighing our harvest. We often sample our produce to evaluate flavor, texture and usefulness in cooking (e.g. are these tomatoes flavorful enough to make good tomato sauce?), but the majority of our harvest is donated to local food banks and to the Fairground employees who keep our water flowing and our animal pests under control.
In normal years visitors are welcome to walk through the garden whenever the Fairground is open. During the annual Benton County Fair we staff the Demo Garden with volunteers who can answer questions about gardening, as well as entertain young gardeners with garden-themed games. We also sponsor evening “Walk In the Garden” events, again with Master Gardeners available to answer questions.
But last year when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the Fairground to close, the public could no longer visit, and only a small number of Demo Garden volunteers were allowed to work in the garden — while social distancing and wearing masks. Only about half of the garden was planted with crops, and as the pandemic worsened our volunteers decided that all of the produce that was harvested should be donated to food banks in Corvallis and Philomath to help families experiencing food shortages. By the end of the summer, over 750 pounds of fresh produce had been donated locally!
Sadly, the Fairground is still closed, so we can’t invite you to visit our garden quite yet. In mid-April Master Gardener volunteers were allowed to return to the garden to prepare the soil for planting, and this year the entire garden will be planted with produce that we will donate to local food banks to help families in need.
Even though the Fairground is closed, we would like to keep you informed about our activities in the garden, so one of my colleagues will post a short, weekly garden update to this blog, describing what we did in the garden and (once we start harvesting) how many pounds of produce we took to food banks that week. In addition, several of my colleagues and I will write posts that describe some of the techniques we use in the garden.
We are looking forward to the day when we can welcome you back to the Demo Garden, but until then we hope our posts will prove to be interesting and useful to you– just look for posts with the words “Demonstration Garden” in the title!