Local Producer Spotlight: Sundew GardensApr 08
“I’ll give it to the chickens,” says Tom Carey, owner of Sundew Gardens in Ovideo, Florida, as he demonstrates a head of lettuce gone to seed. “These leaves will taste way to bitter for people to enjoy.”
It’s a warm Spring morning that is quickly becoming hot, and Tom is explaining his techniques for soil cultivation, pest control, and planting cycles, while leading a quietly curious group of ten or twelve individuals around his property. His lion-maned ginger cat is following us, seeking out idle hands that could be better used for scratching her ears.
The group just finished picking carrots, the knobby roots almost glowing with betacarotene. The more adventurous eaters have brushed off bits of earth and are gnawing their prizes like Bugs Bunny impersonators.
Tom offers periodic tours of his farm, open to anyone interested, as a way of marketing his Harvest Garden program. But that seems to be a happy by-product more than a primary goal. From his self-demeaning humor, his willingness to answer questions, and his genuine passion for growing plants, it’s clear that his true desire is to meet other gardeners, to encourage potential gardeners, to raise awareness for local food in general, and to open discussion about farming methodology.
More than a simple romp around the farm, Tom’s tours are like nature walks, stopping every few feet to admire a native plant or point out a symbiotic relationship between flora and fauna. That clump of tall, brown grass is actually a highly-valuable reed called vetiver, used for thatching roofs, basket-making, and perfumes. This austere tree is a turpentine tree, still scarred by the tools the tar babies used to use to extract the sap a century ago. These twiggy masses are flowering high bush blueberries, heavily laden with small, ripening fruits.
With an awkward sort of grace and a practical air, Tom explains how he plants, how he harvests, and how he improves his soil. He shows off his modest flock of chickens with lovingly exasperation and introduces what he calls his mid-life crisis — a still-shiny John Deere tractor — the same way. Later, he demonstrates how to properly cut a grapefruit, using a fruit from his own tree, and throws pieces of the rind to the eager chickens. There is no doubt that he is smitten with his semi-rural life.
“I’ve produced a method of gardening that I call Sundew Gardening,” Tom tells his tour groups, with a flourish of his hands. “So look around, ask questions, and figure out how you can use these methods in your own garden.”
If you are interested in touring Sundew Gardens, look for it on Facebook, where Tom voraciously posts about his activities, including scheduled tours. The cost is currently $10. Once you’ve been on the tour, you may choose to become a member of Harvest Garden, Tom’s U-Pick program, but if that doesn’t work for you, you can purchase his produce through Homegrown Co-Op.
Disclaimer: We are not affiliated with Sundew Gardens professionally, nor are we paid or reimbursed in any way for writing this or creating the accompanying video. We are simply interested in raising awareness of local producers and opening discussions of gardening, farming and general self-sufficiency.