Edible Monterey Bay

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There’s a veggie garden within your grasp


Photo by Ted Holladay

The mid-summer bounty is on full display at Warren Knox’s Scotts Valley home. In his front yard, between bamboo plants and brightly colored ceramic flower pots, stand attractive cedar and redwood planter boxes that, at three feet high, reach most people’s waists. One is filled with marjoram, thyme, parsley and oregano. Larger boxes overflow with squash, cucumbers, watermelons and several varieties of tomato plants. The plants flourishing in one of the boxes, Knox says, come from very expensive seed that, come fall, will yield giant pumpkins.

“These are not your average raised beds,” says Knox, a 56-year-old man with a cheerful face, infectious optimism and a deep pride in his beloved creation, the Knox Garden Box. “They are built like battleships and literally take gardening to a whole new level.”

The “new level” that Knox is referring to is not just a wink at his boxes’ unusual height, but also a reference to the mission behind their long legs: to put the joys and healthful benefits of gardening—particularly vegetable gardening— within the reach of as many people as he can. “I always have loved growing food and just really believed in people being more self-sufficient,” Knox says.

Think no stooping, no kneeling and no knee or back pain. Imagine walking right up to your garden and gliding it on its casters in or out of the shade. This is gardening for everyone—a huge gift to gardeners in wheelchairs or fraught with simple back problems or arthritis in their hips or knees. The boxes also make gardening more practical for the young and agile who are just strapped for time or space for more conventional gardens.

When Knox was a teen, he watched his grandfather, a timber and logging man, kneel to work in his boxed vegetable garden made from old wooden railroad ties. He thought, why not make it easier for granddad, and so at16, he built his first elevated planter box. With his grandfather’s blessing and $10,000 already saved from odd jobs such as grafting grape stock in the vineyards and cleaning around his dad’s sawmill, Knox started building the boxes during a summer break from Ukiah High School. He invested in supplies, started manufacturing, and then travelled up and down the Central Coast seeking garden centers willing to stock his boxes.

Yet by the time summer ended, no calls.

Knox also knew he had to get back to that small business of finishing high school. “You know,” Warren says resolutely, “these things don’t happen overnight.” He was perhaps a little ahead of his time, and eventually ended up with a lucrative roofing business.

Thanks to farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture programs, school gardens and farm-to-table chefs, we are slowly recognizing what Warren’s granddad knew all along: the fresher the tomato, the sweeter and more nutritious, and there’s no fresher tomato than the one you grow yourself.

The boxes come at a price of $35 for an 8-by-24-inch model to $629 for the 4-by-8- foot one—more than the cost of your average, simple, wood-framed, ground-level raised bed, if that’s all you want and need. But aside from their convenience, Knox boxes have other features. They require less water or soil amendments than in-ground gardens, and their good drainage helps eliminate overwatering, They’re rot and insect resistant enough to last up to 25 years, Knox says, and they produce bountiful, healthy plants.

The elevated boxes also offer a bonus that would be valued by anyone who has watched a plant yanked down a gopher hole —a chance to reap your harvest without tangling with the tenacious rodents. “Why not let the gophers have their way, and I can have mine, too?” asks Knox as he guides a visitor around his gardens. “This way everyone is happy. Right?”

There’s a good chance that Knox’s planter business’ time has come, and that in coming years, Knox will be making a lot of people happy. With aging baby boomers expected to double the population of Americans who are ages 85 and older by 2030, Knox boxes could allow them to keep getting their hands dirty long after their backs and knees have given out.

Anina Marcus has lived on the Monterey Peninsula since she was 2 years old. When she isn’t cooking, she is thinking about what to eat and if she can stave off hunger, she writes.

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At Edible Monterey Bay, our mission is to celebrate the local food cultures of Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties, season by season.