Idea for Instant Garden Sprouts Income for Poway Woman

By: PATTY McCORMAC - For the North County Times

More and more these days, consumers can't be sure where their food originates or how careful the growers and manufacturers are with health rules, ingredients and procedures.

In addition to Chinese melamine that recently poisoned American dog foods, let's not forget the E.coli outbreak last September that sickened 276 people in 26 states who ate tainted spinach from a Salinas farm.

But Lisa Singer of Poway feels secure about her vegetables, at least.

 

"During the spinach scare, I knew my spinach was just fine," said Singer, inventor of Gardens to Gro, a ready-made, raised-bed vegetable garden system that she says is critter-proof, practically self-sufficient and attractive enough to place in a landscaped backyard. And one of the best things about the system, she said, is that you don't have to have a green thumb to grow a variety of organic vegetables.

"You pretty much can't blow it," said Singer, who runs the business with her husband, Steve.

Her invention was born of frustration. She said she had tried to grow a garden in the past, but with little luck.

"The rabbits and gophers ate everything before it was ready to be picked," she said.

She decided she needed to figure out a way to outsmart them. She hit on the idea of building a raised garden with wire fencing on the sides and a bottom to make it critter-proof.

Her new garden was such a success that neighbors and friends wanted one, too. It didn't take long for the Singers to realize there was a market for this product.

In 2004, Singer set up Gardens to Gro at a home and garden show. They were a hit, and the business took off. She keeps so busy nowadays that she gave up her law practice to devote all her time to Gardens to Gro.

On a recent August morning, Lisa Smith of Escondido was busy directing the landscaping project in her backyard but was more than happy to talk about her months-old Gardens to Gro system.

"It's bringing a little piece of Ohio to California," said Smith. "I grew up with a huge garden. I want to share my love of gardening with my children."

She has the 8-by-12-feet model, which is the largest and costs $2,110. In it she has planted tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, spinach, squash, peppers, corn, beans, chives, radishes and herbs. The crop will easily feed her family of four, and her children have helped with the project.

"Kids are more willing to try stuff they have grown," Singer said.

Smith also has a Girl Scout troop, and she plans to do some garden projects with them.

Singer said one of the gardens has been installed recently at Shoal Creek Elementary School in Poway, where gardening will be part of the curriculum for second-graders.

"It's important for them to know that vegetables don't come from grocery store shelves," she said.

The gardens come in three sizes: 8 by 8 feet, 6 by 12 feet and 8 by 12 feet, models that are designed to fit into a backyard as easily as a child's swing set.

A professional can assemble them on-site, but if you're handy, you can do the job yourself, Singer said. "Some people like to make it a family project," she said.

The gardens can be assembled on dirt or sand. Most are made from the highest grade of redwood, which can last 15 to 20 years. Models in white, gray or green plastic also are available.

Customers can plant the garden or it can be done for them, but the Singers recommend a special type of soil that contains worm castings, rock dust and an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer that Singer calls "rocket fuel."

Indeed, the Smiths' garden, which had been planted for one month prior, was thriving: The corn was -- almost -- as high as an elephant's eye.

The customer can water it or the garden can be set to be watered automatically, even if the gardener needs to be gone for several weeks.

Locally, the growing season is not over after the summer harvest, because San Diego County has four growing seasons. Besides the traditional spring and summer gardens, fall and winter are perfect to grow a variety of vegetables, including artichokes, cilantro, onions, spinach, blueberries, brussels sprouts, beets and broccoli.

"In San Diego County, it is always a good time to start a garden," Singer said.

To learn more about Gardens to Gro, call (877) GRO-VEGGIES, (877) 476-8344, or visit www.gardenstogro.com.

Patty McCormac is a freelance writer.


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