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"Gardenside" Chat with Stephen Eldridge of Gertrude's

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Gertrude's is the new restaurant (opened in January) at the Desert Botanical Garden and in addition to offering an expansive array of carefully chosen local ingredients, killer ambiance and a distinctive wine and spirits list, the restaurant also keeps it's own garden to complete the farm-to-table experience. It's safe to say a trip to the Desert Botanical Garden will get your inner gardening mind churning with both indigenous plant varieties and now vegetable garden envy as well.

The restaurant's namesake, Mrs. Gertrude Divine Webster, founded the Desert Botanical Garden in 1939. Since she is no longer with us to share gardening tips, Chow Bella spoke with Chef Stephen Eldridge on what it's been like growing a garden (gardens in his case) at a restaurant and tips for your garden this spring.

See also: - Desert Botanical Garden to Open AZ-inspired Gertrude's Restaurant in January - Boho Farm and Home's Caroline Van Slyke Offers Tips on Gardening in Phoenix

Chow Bella: What are you most excited about growing for spring?

Stephen Eldridge: English peas, seasonal lettuces (assorted heads and leaf) and radishes

CB: Will these items end up on the menu at Gertrude's? In what form?

SE: They will be featured in multiple areas; the lettuces will be used in our salads and some starters. The volume we are doing it is hard to keep up, so I'm buying from Maya's Farm as well!

(Examples include: diver scallop with English peas, chanterelle and English pea puree; English peas, garden radish, mint, pecorino, little gem, and lemon)

CB: Any tips for those hoping to grow an edible garden here in Phoenix?

SE: Soil is a big deal here in the valley. Our ground has great mineral content, but not much organic matter, so it's important to heavily amend the soil. Compost, potting soil, planting mulch; these are all things that will improve moisture retention and provide nutrients for the veggies one plants. People should also be mindful of planting seasons. Our growth seasons start suddenly and pass swiftly, so it's important to plan your garden accordingly. In most of the country, tomatoes go into the ground in April or May. We'll be planting ours in the next few weeks. Most of all don't be afraid to try! A garden is an amazing addition to any home or business, and even a small harvest of herbs can spruce up a family's meals!

CB: Any special features of the garden at Gertrude's?

SE: We are just starting to harvest more, so not yet, but I'm working on it. That is something I am so excited for! Lots of ideas right now, so much fun to create knowing what you are growing.

CB: How do you keep the critters out?

SE: The small critters (caterpillars, whiteflies, aphids,) we take care of with organic and biodynamic pest control measures. Ladybugs, praying mantises, and green lacewings are all predatory insects, and adding them into the ecosystem helps balance out the bugs that eat at our veggies. We also plant ornamental and pest repelling flowers and herbs around the borders of all our beds.

The bigger guys (rabbits, ground squirrels,) we keep out with more physical measures. A raised bed made of untreated redwood creates a barrier for any burrowing critters that might decimate plant root systems. An arched screen over the top of the bed keeps out anything that wants to nibble on tender young shoots.

CB: When will you begin planting for spring?

SE: We are already in the ground for spring! I also have a member of my urban farm committee starting some tomatoes in her greenhouse at Mesa Community College.

CB: Is there something you've tried to grow, that just hasn't worked out?

SE: I planted 60 feet of beets and the caterpillars took them down as soon as they started to come up.

CB: Do you garden at home?

SE: I try! It is a challenge but I love a good challenge!

CB: What's been the most surprising thing about growing a garden for this restaurant?

SE: It has all been surprising and fun. I love to harvest a carrot, wash it and eat it while the carrot is still warm from the Arizona sun!

The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you don't need to pay garden admission to dine.

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