Call it a backyard garden on steroids.
Not that Ray and Wanda Davis would ever use anything unnatural or harmful at their Clear Creek Farm in Milton. But they have taken an amped-up approach to what some may think of as a genteel pastime.
“We’re doing intensive gardening,” Ray Davis said. “We use less water, less seed and less space to grow the same amount of plant material that you would in about an 80 percent larger garden space in a traditional garden.”
For five years, they have used a method called “Square Foot Gardening” along with technological advances like solar energy at Clear Creek Farm. This year, they are joining the Beaches to Woodlands Tour offer farm tours from Sept. 28 to Nov 3.
“It’s a guided tour,” Davis said. “We’ll be explaining to folks the various processes and introduce them to the systems. We’ll show them, even if they have never gardened at all, how they can use this system to grow food for their family.”
“Square Foot Gardening” is a type of container gardening that uses a raised wooden frame. The Davises use products and techniques perfected by Mel Bartholomew, the founder of Square Foot Gardening who popularized the method a 1981 book.
Clear Creek Farm produces about 85 different varieties of vegetables, herbs, mints and edible flowers in about 1.5 acres of space. Their fare has been featured on the menus of some of the finest restaurants in Pensacola, including Global Grill and Jackson’s Steakhouse.
“We basically build a square foot frame – a four-by-four or a two-by-eight or whatever dimension we want to build – and put a grid on top of it,” Davis said. “You define the growing area in square-foot increments.”
Vegetables, grown in various mulch mixes, can take as much room as a square foot each – like a large cabbage. Others, like carrots, are small enough to fit as many as 16 plants in one square foot.
The Davis family uses no chemical fertilizer or pesticides. Everything they use is organic-approved.
The tour will also showcase the farm’s solar power system, which generates all the power the farm and the Davis’ home requires, the rain-water collection and drip irrigation system and a geothermal energy system.
“We’re using thermal energy from a cold water spring,” he said. “The spring runs a constant temperature year-round – about 65 to 68 degrees – to keep root zones in these areas the same temperature year-round.”
The tours should last about an hour each. Admission will be $10 for adults and $5 for those younger than 18. Discounts are available for members of the military and large groups.
The couple, both of whom are 70, are semi-retired. Wanda Davis was formerly a professor at Pensacola State College, while Ray Davis was a financial advisor. Growing up in Madison County, Davis had also worked on his grandfather’s and uncle’s farms.
He said they chose to open Clear Creek Farm to keep themselves busy and to help raise awareness of self-sufficient food production.
“There are not a lot of young farmers coming a long,” he said. “We’re trying to promote the ideas and concepts that will allow people to grow their own food if they wanted to. This is a method that anybody can adapt and adopt and be successful. You don’t need a lot of tools. You don’t need a lot of space or money.
“For the first time, people can see how pesticide-free and fertilizer-free food really taste.”
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