Paul Sollie of Medford explains the virtues of his homemade chicken trolley. You can learn all about them at the Master Gardener Spring Fair. - Jim Craven

Green Spring Fair

This year's Master Gardener Spring Fair is all about being green — a green veggie garden to help green the planet and put more green in your pocketbook.

Responding to skyrocketing demand for tools, skills and plants for homegrown food, the Jackson County Master Gardener Association's 30th annual Spring Fair will feature an array of new green strategies, including growing upside-down tomatoes, planting veggies in straw and building a chicken trolley.

What's a chicken trolley? It's a portable cage. You stick a few chickens in it and move it up and down your rows of veggies, allowing them to eat all the bugs at the same time they fertilize the soil, says event chairwoman Maryen Herrett.

And the upside-down tomatoes? Well, instead of growing them on the ground and fussing with bugs, snails, mold and trellises, you hang them from your patio rafters and let them grow their fruit downward, says Master Gardener chairwoman Charlene Kimmons.

Not all veggies have to be planted in soil, she adds. At the fair, you can learn how to plant them in straw, to which you can add the proper fertilizers and get good mulching at the same time. They'll also teach how to make pots out of newspaper and capture rainfall from your roof for garden use.

Other demonstrations will show how to do container gardening, build raised beds and involve children in gardening. There will be a wine tasting, booths on hardscapes, fertilizers, companion planting (what grows good next to what) spas, well water — and someone to test your water. A range of plants, starts, shrubs and trees will be for sale.

For space-challenged gardeners, there will be a demonstration on how to get maximum food out of the smallest space, including growing in window boxes, as demonstrated with the façade of a house they've built.

If there's one area of the economy that booms in a recession, Master Gardeners have learned, it's the growing of vegetables. Their classes on basic gardening at Oregon State University Extension used to attract 15 or 20 people. Now, they're pulling in 70 or 80 and turning people away as they add more classes to meet the demand, says Master Gardener Susan Bowden of Rogue River.

Bowden will demonstrate Aracana chickens, who hatch green eggs. She says the fair's green theme is vital, not just because of savings, but because homegrown food is more nutritious. With more and more seeds being genetically modified and patented, it's important for gardeners to use and preserve heritage (original) varieties, she adds.

Herrett says the economy may be driving gardening now but, more importantly, "people want to have good food."

She adds, "Interest in gardening has risen very dramatically to a huge number of people wanting to learn it in their backyard or in community gardens. Several more of the community gardens are starting this year in the valley. Vegetable gardening has exploded this year. Anything to do with growing vegetables is up 50 percent, especially in organic gardening."

The Master Gardeners labeled this year's fair "Let's Go Green," not just for the color of most vegetables, says Herrett, but "to encourage sustainable living and help save the planet. It's a nationwide phenomenon."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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