The Mountain Gardener: Mountain retreat brings joy to the farm
by Jan Nelson
Apr 25, 2013 | 1107 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

If you've ever eaten a Camp Joy cherry tomato, you'll know why I was excited to get a tour of the new seedlings in the greenhouse by Jim Nelson (no relation to me), the creator of this beautiful, organic family farm.

Since 1971, this nonprofit farm has provided educational, creative programs for kids and adults. It is an example that encourages others who wish to begin their own sustainable farms.

It was a warm, spring day when I visited, and Jim was gently watering the herb, vegetable and flower seedlings by hand using water from a large can that had been warmed to room temperature so it gave off any chlorine present in the water.

The seedlings will be up for sale during a Camp Joy event coming up April 27th and 28th and another on Mother's Day weekend, and Jim was pleased with the plants’ progress. They grow proven varieties that do well in our area.

Outside the greenhouse, which was decorated by group paintings done by charter school children — we were accompanied by Jim's two dogs, Ruby and Rownya, as we admired the garlic crop that will be braided after harvest and offered for sale in the fall, along with dried flower wreaths and onion braids.

Walking along a path bordered by phlox, aster, oregano, iris and nigella, we admired a blooming Buff Beauty rose that covers an arbor. Jim planted this, as well as his favorite Madame Alfred Carrier, 42 years ago when he first came to the property. His friend Alan Chadwick at University of California, Santa Cruz, introduced him to it. The soft fragrance blended with the blooming lilacs and wisteria.

To maintain fertile soil, a cover crop of fava beans that was just starting to bloom has been planted in several areas. Ladybugs were plentiful on the flowers. The beans will be cut down, Jim explained, in about a month. Members of the farm will eat some of the beans while young and sweet and let some mature so they can save the seed. The goats also enjoy fava beans at the flowering stage.

Next we visited the Kid's Garden. Art, cooking and gardening projects are ongoing in this area. Wholesome, healthy food and beautiful flowers are all part of the farm. The plot of godetia was setting bud and will be offered as cut flowers during the upcoming sales.

Everything is grown with care at Camp Joy. Jim explained that compost is regularly added back to the soil and used to start seedlings in a special blend of "real soil," allowing them to transplant and do well in the garden. He sometimes uses kelp and fish emulsion as fertilizer, but mostly it's the compost that makes the seedlings so strong.

Camp Joy offers many classes for kids and adults alike. Family members and interns are passionate about the farm and enjoy sharing. On this beautiful day, we were greeted with a smile by the person spreading compost.  It was clear that there is a respect for the cycles of the earth and the changing seasons at the farm.

The farm offers a Camp Joy Cooperative each week for children 3 to 5 years old that encourages them to explore their surroundings using all their senses. Garden tours for school-age children or groups of any age are also offered.

Everyone at the farm is happy to share what they've learned about growing and preparing food, saving seed, bees and other insects, goats and garden crafts. And there is always something to be picked, harvested, weeded or just enjoyed while having lunch in the gazebo.

There is a fundraising art program, called Kids for Kids, in May to help improve the goat barn and yard.

Take advantage of the Spring Plant Sale at Camp Joy. Bring the family and walk through the garden. Visit their website for more information about events and classes. 

- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at, or visit to view past columns and pictures.


At a glance:

What: Camp Joy Spring plant sale

When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28, and May 11 and 12

Where: Camp Joy Gardens, 131 Camp Joy Road, in Boulder Creek

Info: 338-3651 or

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