Food and Family

'Gardening is spiritual, physical, mental and emotional' for the Stout family
Carlyle Stout tends his Ashland garden.Photos by Jamie Lusch

Kevin Stout followed in his father's footsteps to become an attorney.

When it came to planting and tending a vegetable garden at the family's longtime Ashland home, Stout had his own ideas.

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"He wasn't very sophisticated," says Stout, 31, explaining that his father, 63-year-old Carlyle Stout, still used many techniques learned decades ago in the Peace Corps.

Kevin Stout wanted more from his father's vegetable patch, consisting of 10 raised beds in the farthest reaches of the backyard. Starting in the winter of 2009, father and son began an expansion that ultimately tripled the planting space over two seasons and allowed the Stouts to grow "way more stuff." This season saw 34 beds bordered by cedar planks — 4 feet by either 8 or 10 feet — and planted in vegetables. Four more beds are devoted to berries.

"That's a manageable size," says Carlyle Stout. "You can harvest from either side."

The Stouts' work didn't stop there. They put in a drip-irrigation system with sensors that calculate humidity and transevaporation to water accordingly. The system, they say, is not only efficient; it inhibits weed growth.


After Kevin Stout researched ways to extend the growing season, he built cold frames that open and close automatically when the sun heats up wax inside cylinders incorporated in the main panels' hinges. The setup allows the Stouts to start most of their plants from seed in early spring and purchase just a few starts for onions, peppers and tomatoes.

By August, the garden is awash in tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, squashes, corn, green beans, potatoes, cabbages, onions, lettuce, spinach, carrots and beets. Perennial boysenberries, raspberries and Marionberries that ramble up trellises produce a quart of fruit daily, along with blueberries and strawberries, beginning in mid-June.

That month, the American Association of University Women featured the Stouts' approximately 5,000-square-foot garden, which is backed up to a vacant strip of Carlyle Stout's one-acre property on Otis Street, on their annual garden tour. Tour participants obviously appreciated the father-son effort, says Stout. But a bit of recognition is just the least of the Stouts' rewards. Both are impassioned about literally "reaping what you sow."

"I think gardening is spiritual, physical, mental and emotional," says Carlyle Stout, calling the pastime "therapy" for all life's stresses.

"If more people were gardeners, the world would be a better place," he adds. "Plus, you get to eat."

"Pretty much April through October, I never buy produce at the grocery store," says Kevin Stout, who lives just a few blocks away from his parents. "I wish everyone could get into it like I do."


The Medford attorneys also speak fondly of the contrast between their confining desk jobs and the summertime freedom of grabbing a beer and strolling around the garden to admire the fruits of their labors and pluck a few for dinner. Carlyle Stout says he doesn't worry if the value of the food covers his cost for materials.

"The value far exceeds anything ... you can put a price on."

Not even an infestation of cucumber beetles that decimated their namesake crop, along with some winter squash and melons, can put a damper on Stout's enthusiasm. Instead, he braids the rest of the garlic harvested in June from three beds. Broccoli and cauliflower were sown in August for the family's winter garden. And this year, the Stouts plan to dedicate two beds to perennial asparagus.

"This year, we're going to plant even more," says Carlyle Stout, explaining that they add compost and topsoil every time they turn over the beds.

If they wanted to, the Stouts could push the garden's boundaries onto the rest of the property, where the family has lived since 1984 when Carlyle and wife Barb, now 61, built their house with a view of Mount Ashland. After constructing gardens in 1973 at schools in the Guatemalan highlands with the Peace Corps, Carlyle Stout says he never doubted he'd install one of his own. According to an article in National Geographic, he adds, locales with the longest-lived human populations also boast home vegetable gardens.

"I think gardening is one of the greatest joys in life," says Stout. "Every year, we learn something.


"Gardening is kind of like fly-fishing in that way: You can never, ever master it."



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