David Edwards’ garden at Ijamsville’s Fingerboard Country Inn is new, but his farming techniques, heirloom vegetable varieties and historic garden space are not. With passion and patience, Edwards began building his garden this winter—enlarging the garden space, adding soil and grading, and distributing 12,000 shovels of mushroom compost before planting his first crop, the heirloom Myanmar sweet potatoes, on April 30.
His inspiration came from a desire to grow the food that his family eats, he said. A New Orleans native who moved to Maryland after Hurricane Katrina, he began in 2008 with a container garden on his back patio, growing tomatoes and peppers. This desire eventually grew into a plot in a community garden and then, last year, helping his uncle with his large garden in Croom, Maryland.
He continues to help his uncle this year, but he also wanted a garden of his own that was closer to home. And he needed land that had not been treated with herbicides and pesticides.
Research led him to Fingerboard Country Inn, an Airbnb located at 10240 Fingerboard Road that opened for guests in August 2017. The updated circa 1789 stone manor sits on 25 acres, and its garden is more than 100 years old, according to proprietor Dawn Gordon.
While he is not organically certified yet—something that Edwards said he is working on because he feels it’s very important to offer this assurance to his customers—all of his farming practices are organic. He appreciated that Gordon had not used any pesticides, herbicides or fungicides on the garden.
“I fight my battle with bugs with essential oils,” he said, “tea tree, peppermint, clove and citronella. You take this and mix it with an equal amount of neem oil and some soap to emulsify it. They call neem the tree of life. One of the stories goes that there was a huge locust problem in India hundreds of years ago, and they ate everything but the neem trees and that’s kind of how they started learning about neem.”
Edwards sprays his plants in the evening to give them all night to absorb it. If sprayed during the day, the oils form prisms on the plants that magnify the sun and lead to burning.
He’s careful about what he adds to his soil, too. “The only thing in my soil is kelp meal, crab meal, a little bit of alfalfa,” he said. “There’s a method called Korean Natural Farming and you make all of your inputs—you make your calcium and phosphorous, for nitrogen you would make it from fish. … It was started by Master Cho from Korea. It’s a lot of natural inputs.”
Beyond the science, there’s the art of it all. Edwards is intrigued by names like Scarlet Globe, French Breakfast and Cherry Bell, and he grows a variety of radishes and other vegetables to please different palates. “You can’t have all of these varieties and they all taste the same,” he said. “I like not just saying, ‘Here’s a radish.’”
He has 12 varieties of tomatoes and peppers. All of the tomatoes are heirloom except for the cherry Sun Golds and Sunrise Bumblebee. He also has okra, zucchini, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, watermelon, cantaloupe and assorted herbs planted.
You can find Edwards Produce at the Urbana Library Farmers’ Market every Sunday, 11 a.m. Look for all-natural bath and body products to be added to offerings soon. Edwards’ wife, Stephanie, will be making soaps, body scrubs and face scrubs using ingredients grown in the garden.