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Root Offers Tips on Organic Growing

May 31, 2017 07:00AM ● By Marjorie Turner Hollman

Shown at the senior center (L-R) are Lena Rogers, Penny Brunderett and John Root looking over the perennials he brought to the presentation

A small but interested group of people gathered May 9th at the Bellingham Senior Center to hear John Root—the name is coincidental—offer tips about growing plants organically. Root began his presentation by asking if anyone thought they had a green thumb. Audience members quickly assured him they were convinced they had brown thumbs—that plants always managed to die under their care. But he turned the question around and assured us all that what is most important when caring for plants of any kind is to pay attention.
“If you pay attention to your plants, you will do more with them,” he assured us. “Gardening is an excuse to get outdoors and enjoy the birds and what is growing in your yard. Paying attention will motivate you and help you find pleasure and joy in spending time outdoors.”
Root offered some advice about mulch, and perhaps his most important advice was to use it! “Last summer,” he related, “I was the only one in my condo who had mulched, and I didn’t have to water—everyone else had to because of the drought.”

A hands-on farmer himself, Root became animated when talking about soil, compost, and beneficial microbes. “You cannot get enough compost,” he said. Root works at the Tripple Brook Farm in the Amherst area ( He offered lots of information about different methods of preparing compost, including making compost tea from kitchen scraps. “Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste that ends up in landfills,” he noted.

Earthworms were another topic touched on during the lecture. When asked what to do if soil lacks worms, he suggested that there is no need to go out to buy more worms. Rather he urged the group, “Invite worms to your garden by making your soil more attractive to them. Earthworms are nature’s plow.” Adding compost, loosening the soil, using raised beds that reduce soil compaction, rotating crops between legumes, vegetables, and cover crops are all ways to make your soil more inviting to worms, while also providing a healthier environment for plants to grow in.

We saw pictures of “before and after” on a small spot in Root’s neighbor’s driveway that, in the “before” picture looked completely barren. He explained that the neighbors then put down multiple layers of newspaper and cardboard that were thoroughly soaked, and then planted a garden using “no till” techniques, simply planting seeds into the layers of materials. The lush squash vines spreading out across the same driveway several months later attested to the success of his neighbor’s “no till” efforts.

At the end of the presentation audience members were invited to look over a wide selection of plants that Root had brought from the farm he works at in western Massachusetts. Raspberry, blueberry, thornless blackberry and various other perennials covered two tables in the dining area of the Senior Center.

Root offered several websites with helpful information for those interested in learning more; is one website with extensive information about organic gardening, and has loads of information about compost—both the benefits of and how to create it. To learn more about John Root, visit his website,
This program was supported in part by a grant from the Bellingham Cultural Council, a local agency that is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.





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