Andrea Bithell of Oak Cliff Organics shares her passion with customers and the Dallas - Fort Worth community
By Minnie Payne
Andrea Bithell, 42-year-old owner and sole employee of Oak Cliff Organics, goes at breakneck speed and could be considered a power ball in her field. Bithell, who grew up in the farming community of Prosper, started Oak Cliff Organics in 2009 because she loves sharing her knowledge of growing organic gardens, so that her clients, too, can also live healthier lives and improve the earth.
Bithell, pregnant with her now 6-year-old daughter Ella, was taking medication for various maladies until she started eating organically and realized that she could be medicine free. “If you have even a small plot of land or just a pot, you can grow an organic garden,” Bithell says. “I can give you detailed instructions as to how to get started and maintain your garden and will even babysit it while you’re away. “Not only will you find it therapeutic to grow your own produce and fruit, but you, too, can live a healthier life by doing so.” (photo: Oak Cliff Organics)
Home gardening is just a part of Oak Cliff Organics. five or six days a week, Bithell can be found at Paul Quinn College serving as farm manager to a two-acre organic farm that now occupies the space of Paul Quinn’s former football field. In 2011, Bithell and Paul Quinn students harvested an enormous of food, portions of which were donated to the community, school cafeteria, and the remainder sold to chefs, including some in Oak Cliff. The biggest client is Legends Hospitality Management that provides food for Cowboys Stadium. All monies earned go back into the farm and Bithell has been successful in acquiring bees, chickens, a greenhouse and an aquaponics system onsite from the profits. ( Photo: Paul Quinn College)
A garden at the Smoke Restaurant, as well as gardens at two Dallas ISD elementary schools, also profited from Bethell’s expertise.
According to Bithell, to start your organic garden, first choose what you would enjoy growing most, be it vegetables, flowers, herbs, a wildlife habitat, a butterfly garden. A few tips for creating and maintaining an organic garden are to plant in a compact grid pattern rather than sprawling conventional rows. Sub-divide into accessible 12-inch squares, each devoted to only one or two types of plants. Choose a spot that gets six to eight hours of sun each day, preferably morning sun. Working in native soil mixed with good compost and amendments works as well as raised beds. Plant what you enjoy eating, according to the planting season.
For raised beds, Bithell prepares the soil by putting down newspaper to block out weeds, then builds a frame from untreated wood and fills it with an organic mix of soil, compost and amendments. A frame can also be made of stone or cinder blocks. An in-ground garden requires more digging and amending existing dirt. The size of mature plants determines how many plants in each square unit. For larger plants, there should only be one plant per square. A 12-inch square will accommodate as many as 16 small plants such as radishes. Don’t overwater. Apply a top layer of mulch, such as crunched-up leaves and decomposed shredded bark.
In addition to Bithell offering weekly services like weeding, bug checks, foliar feedings, plant maintenance, as well as suggestions for seasonal plant replacements, she has an online blog in the Oak Cliff Advocate, will offer gardening classes the second Saturday of the month, starting in August, at Repotted Organic Nursery in Oak Cliff, and is a Region Four instructor for the Texas Organic & Gardening Association.
“My parents and grandparents passed invaluable gardening
information down to me, and I love sharing that knowledge with my clients,” she says.
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Minnie Payne is the food reporter for Green Source DFW, focusing on DFW stories that include agriculture, green grocers, community gardens, green restaurants, etc. She’s open to all food story suggestions from readers. She was a writer for Pegasus News and presently freelances for Living Magazine and Frisco Style Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org