By Jimmy Fisher
FALLS — The Falls Active Center has plenty of ways to keep seniors busy. Gardening is just one of them.
The center has its own gardening club where members help to plant and care for vegetables, such as lettuce, tomatoes, kale, cucumbers, peppers and squash.
Twila Watkins, center director, said the idea came to her a few years ago while she was at conference.
“I had gone to a conference put on by the Pennsylvania Association of Senior Centers several years ago and another center was having a garden project,” Watkins said. “They found that when people have gardens, they stay healthier and it’s also fun to watch it grow. It’s not my thing; it’s everybody’s and we have it for healthy eating and to give our seniors a purpose.”
The plants are placed in Earth boxes on stands about waist high so the seniors don’t have to bend over to work on their vegetables.
Plastic bags are put over the Earth boxes with the plants sticking out so they do not get over-watered should it rain. A small hose sticks out of the box, allowing seniors to water the vegetables.
“The beauty of these boxes is it’s all enclosed,” said Watkins. “There’s potting mix in here with fertilizer, so you don’t have to do anything. The plastic goes on and there’s a reservoir, or water space, (on the bottom) and you water (through the hose) and the excess comes out on the bottom. It’s very easy to manage.”
The club consists of about seven people and, when it comes to caring for the garden, Jeanette Line, 66, of Falls said everybody takes turns.
“Each week we have participants,” she said. “Like it’ll be so and so’s day to check the plants and then it’ll be so and so’s day to check the plants and so on.”
Watkins said the garden project usually begins around Memorial Day and concludes in October when the frost starts.
When it’s time to take down the garden, the center members will collect salvageable vegetables, empty the Earth boxes and store them for next year.
Watering the vegetables is not the only task center members have.
“The challenges are checking them carefully for pests and diseases,” said Watkins. “You have to inspect the leaves. For the first few years, we lost quite a bit because burrowers in which a moth, or something, lays eggs on the leaves and then they make worms who burrow into the plant stems and it destroys the whole plant.”
When vegetables are fully grown and can be used, they are given to center members.
“I think the second year we did this was the best,” said Line. “We had baskets of squash, cucumbers and tomato and we couldn’t give them away. We’d asked and everyone would say no because there’s only so much you can eat.”
Although the vegetables can’t be used to make food for lunch at the Falls Active Center, Watkins said some plants are used to make snack dips.
“We’re making pesto which came from the basil,” said Watkins. “We make mint tea from the mint that we have growing. We can make things that we don’t have to cook, like the pesto. People really enjoy that.”
Watkins said even those not involved with the club can’t help but be amazed at the garden.
“It just gives us pleasure,” she said. “You know what I find? People that aren’t even involved in planting or anything to do with it, the first thing they do when they come here is they run over to see how the vegetables are growing. Before they even come in or before they leave, they come out and see what’s going on.”
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher