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A greener year: Local family keeps growing garden through the winter months

By Staff | Jan 11, 2019

Effie Kallas prepares to plant a bulb of garlic in her backyard garden on New Year's Day, one of the many foods she grows in her garden throughout the year. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — While many community members slept in on the first day of the new year, Shepherdstown resident Effie Kallas was putting her green thumb to work in her backyard garden.

Kallas and her husband, David Hammer, may have busy work weeks, as they are both lawyers, but they make time to maintain their garden throughout the year, according to Kallas.

“I have been doing my backyard gardening for the past eight years,” Kallas said, mentioning this is her first garden. “It’s incredibly gratifying to grow and cook and eat food from your own backyard.

“I cook most of our meals at home,” Kallas said, explaining this arrangement works well for the family of five. “I never think of it so much in the regard of saving money, so much as ‘I grew it, I cooked it.'”

However, Kallas said there are obvious benefits to having a garden.

Pictured in front of the blackberry bush in their garden are, from left, Evie Hammer, 21; David Hammer, holding 11-year-old Gizmo; Roula Hammer, 14; Effie Kallas; and Asa Hammer, 14. Kallas maintains a garden throughout the year, with the help of her husband, David Hammer. Tabitha Johnston

“Your produce doesn’t have pesticides, so it’s cheaper than buying organic produce at the store,” Kallas said. “I mean, gardening is just easy — at the store, an organic garlic bulb costs about $2. If you put a bulb of garlic in the ground, each clove will give you another bulb.”

Along with being pesticide-free, the garden also benefits from rich, composted soil.

“We have done a lot to compost over the years, with leftover vegetable matter, coffee grounds and egg shells,” said Hammer. “Anything but citrus, protein or bones.”

According to Kallas, gardening has presented its challenges over the past year. Not only has bad weather ruined her plants — her thyme and tarragon were killed by the heavy rain — but hungry animals have also eaten her seeds and produce.

“I’m always annoyed at how the squirrels can dig up the seeds as soon as you can plant them,” Kallas said. “Honestly, I’m feeding the squirrels of Shepherdstown — and the deer. You wouldn’t think we would have it here, but my neighbor saw one eating my Swiss chard.”

Throughout the year, Kallas grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, with the help of Hammer, who built her a cold frame along the side of the tool shed in the backyard. This winter, Kallas was not able to use the cold frame, as one of its glass panes needs to be replaced, but she has continued growing food in her other gardening areas.

“Garlic’s pretty hardy, it’s not fussy,” Kallas said, before showing the carrots, beets and kale that are growing in her garden.

According to Kallas, although plants grows slowly during the colder months, many of them continue to create produce for the family to eat year-round. But for the plants that are not currently growing, like her apple tree, blackberry bushes and grape vine, Kallas looks forward to the warmer months, when she can share their fruits with her family, friends and fellow gardeners.