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  • Judith Rice-Jones

Grow Your Own, Grow It Up

By Judith Rice-Jones • Photos: Debra Othitis:

Pandemic Gardening & Colorado Springs’ Garden Father

New gardeners & families pick up their felt planting bags, soil, seeds & fertilizer in Colorado Springs. Photos: Debra Othitis
New gardeners & families pick up their felt planting bags, soil, seeds & fertilizer in Colorado Springs.

Backyard gardening and hunger have grown during the past year. Studies show that those with insufficient food and diets, often composed primarily of shelf stable food, increase susceptibility both to Covid 19 and to worse outcomes if they have the virus.

Enter Colorado Springs’ most celebrated gardener, Larry Stebbins. A retired teacher and principal, Larry has devoted his post retirement life to teaching thousands in Colorado Springs to successfully grow some of their own food. In addition to starting a dozen or more community gardens, he teaches the vagaries of gardening in Colorado in highly entertaining annual classes at a local middle school, and helps various churches and other groups start their own edible gardens.

In a later iteration, Larry, as the Garden Father, began sharing his gardening tips via a FB page allowing readers to follow season by season how he successfully grows a large quantity of food in our sometimes difficult environment.

This year Larry developed an idea to reach many who have not had the opportunity to learn to grow their own food (CS is particularly deficient in school gardens). Researching systems that could work for those with small yards or only balconies or porches to grow some food, Larry concluded that felt planting bags might be the best solution. He researched options for the optimal soil mix to fill the bags and approached Scott’s Miracle Grow, who generously donated raised bed soil. Rick’s Garden Center was willing to provide space and accept vouchers for participants to choose seeds and, after May 1st, plant starts.

Taking his idea to Irene Shonle, Horticulture Specialist at CSU Extension, El Paso County, and a number of Master Gardeners, he found enthusiasm for the project. Given Larry’s positive results with edible gardening in Colorado Springs, donations came in quickly to meet the goal to serve 40 families.

In late March, new gardeners and families picked up the felt pots, ample soil to fill the pots, a choice of seeds, small bags of fertilizer and extensive directions with options for planting designs. Master Gardeners will work with the new gardeners as mentors to encourage and address any issues which may arise. After May 1st, the gardeners can take their vouchers to Rick’s Garden Center to pick up starts for later season plants such as tomatoes, basil, peppers.

Those involved are pleased to have introduced additional folks to the many pleasures of backyard gardening and the joys of fresh food in season. Visit for updates about the program and excellent tips for gardening in our region. Master Gardeners working on this project and serving as mentors include Debra Othitis, Loretta Martinez, and Judith Rice-Jones.



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