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Dubbing their group “The Garden Club,” the organizers have recruited 30 or so Janelia small-scale farmers, with expertise ranging from novice to certified Master Gardener, to take part in the communal effort. A one-time initiation fee of $20 goes toward the 1500-gallon water tank that feeds the irrigation system as well as chicken wire and tools. An additional $10 lays claim to a 4×4-foot plot for one year—the organizers hope to lower that by half next year, as new members come on board.
“It’s amazing what you can get out of these plots,” says Nyce.
Biochemist Jonathan Marvin took a particularly strategic approach, constructing an elaborate trellis that, according to calculations, will quadruple the yield from his heirloom tomato plants. Janelia group leader Bruce Baker, a year-round gardener, converted his eight plots into tiered raised beds, using precisely stacked lumber joined at mitred corners.
Susan Michael, a histologist who grew up in the country, has four plots this year. “It’s kind of a compulsion,” she says. “Once you start, you can’t stop.” This season, she added gladiolas to the mix. “Gotta have a little food for the soul.”
Water is a primary concern to the gardeners. Last summer’s low rainfall had them organizing bucket brigades to carry water from the main building. Midgley, a software engineer at Janelia, designed the gravity-flow irrigation system that now keeps the garden lush, despite this month’s triple-digit temperatures. He also designed and built the compost bin, which receives a daily delivery of produce scraps from the Janelia Farm kitchen.
Midgley says he’s met people out in the garden that he wouldn’t have met inside the building. “It’s hard to get people to break away from their intense work,” he says.
For Susan Michael, it’s a real highlight. “You work in the sciences, it’s kind of sterile. So it’s nice to muck around in the dirt and create some little miracles.”