The section of Central Point where Charles and Lucille Olson call home is in a part of town that used to be filled with orchards. Although many of the fruit trees have long ago made way for new homes, traces of the old neighborhood still remain, especially when the Olson property comes into view.
"I bought this place in 1973, when a lot of the pear and apple orchards were still here," Charles says, reminiscing about the days when Central Point was largely a farming community. The house and barn had been built in the 1920s and at one time there had been a nursery on the site. He sold off some of the property he originally acquired to developers over the years, but the two acres that remain reflect a love of gardening that, according to Charles, "you either have or you don't."
Compost, a mixture of decaying organic materials used to fertilize land, can be the most efficient and economical way of feeding your entire garden. And with more and more emphasis on "going green" in as many areas of our lives as possible, composting some of your kitchen and garden debris makes more sense than ever before.
Charles Olson has developed a system of composting that has served his garden well for many years. At any given time, he has three or four compost piles going, composed of the usual garden debris that feed most compost piles, and in various stages of readiness for use in the garden. "You need nitrogen for good compost, so I put sulfate of ammonia in each pile which gets the process going," he explains, adding that there's no need to water or turn these piles as is necessary with traditional composting systems.
The Olson system of composting takes a bit longer than many other methods — about two years a pile. But by keeping three or four piles going all the time, compost from at least one of the piles is available for use at any time.
In addition to pine, sycamore, walnut, pecan, and apple trees, the two-acre lot includes around 100 rose bushes, assorted shrubs, spring and summer flowering bulbs, perennials, and in the warmer months, annuals. "Perennials are great, but they don't give you those bright spots of color that annuals bring to the garden," Charles explains, adding that the mums, echinacea, lilies, and daisies are accented with pots of petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other annuals during the summer. Charles winters over geraniums in the "Eating Room," a large covered and enclosed patio area which looks out on the entire backyard and where the couple eats most of their meals.
As if the flowers and trees weren't enough, the Olsons grow an extensive vegetable garden starting in the spring which lasts into October. "It's enough to feed us, our neighbors and then some — we grow so much now that we end up selling some of it," Charles says. In the spring, cooler season vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage are grown. "But by June, it's over for those crops," Charles says. Next come bush beans, assorted squash and peppers, corn, pumpkin, and the 'Medford' variety of tomatoes. "They ripen in 70 days and are best suited to the Rogue Valley climate," Charles explains. Additionally, they grow strawberries, cantaloupe, and grapes.
The garden includes four fountains in the flower garden and a water wheel over the pond in their small front yard, built by visiting grandchildren several years ago. "The kids had to have something to do, so they built the wheel," Charles explains with a laugh. Throughout the flower garden both store-bought and homemade garden ornaments can be found. One clever use of inexpensive materials used to great effect are the large planters made from two plastic trash cans assembled together, then painted red.
A greenhouse on the property is put to good use year round for wintering over plants and for starting vegetables like tomatoes from seed. Charles strongly believes that seeds need to be started in the seed planting mix available at most nurseries. "Regular soil doesn't work nearly as well," he says, adding that soil from the yard usually contains weeds and bugs, whereas the seed starting mix does not. Vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers can be planted from seed and grown indoors for a few months, then planted in the garden in late spring, along with squash, cantaloupe, beans and corn which can be planted directly into the soil, Charles explains.
Good irrigation is essential to maintaining a large garden and Charles has constructed his own system with plastic piping that delivers water to each plant. "It saves a lot of water and keeps the weeds down," he explains, adding that beginning in late March and into October he turns the water on every night for 10 minutes.
Charles and Lucille do all the gardening themselves, working up to 12 hours a day during the growing season. Why so much time? "Well, Lucille's a Nebraskan, and she loves the summer heat," Charles says. Although they really don't need to put in such long hours, "It's good for the soul — and we just love being outdoors." Indeed.