For the past 15 years, Susan Van Deren dreamed of owning her own garden and providing produce to the community. Now, she’s harvesting her vegetables from her garden just north of Windsor Lake and selling them on site and at the Windsor Farmers Market.
In March, Van Deren began Blue Bench Farms — a name she took from the blue bench in her basement where she started her seeds — after leasing just under an acre of land at Breniman Farms. Now, a scarecrow couple seated on a blue bench in the garden catches the eyes of passersby.
“This is a 10-year-long dream of mine,” Van Deren said. “I owned a garden center for 20 years up in Cheyenne, so I’ve been growing for about 30 years. I’ve been trying to decide whether to do it or not, and I finally just jumped in head-first in March. Getting to this point is really exciting.”
To get the site ready, Van Deren built a greenhouse, found a truck for moving compost and removed more than 15 tons of rock. She tested her soil at Colorado State University, where it tested high in salt but low in nitrogen, precluding her from using any manures. Instead, she found alternatives — food waste, such as spent lettuce heads and tailings leftover from brewing beer.
Everything is grown organically at Blue Bench Farms, where Van Deren employs a technique called no-till gardening, or lasagna gardening, in which the garden is grown flat under layers of woodchips and compost.
“Woodchips hold moisture, act as a weed-suppressant and when broken down, will create the beautiful, loamy soil,” she said.
Some of the Van Deren’s vegetables include the standard corn, onions, radishes, and 17 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. She also grows a variety of off-the-beaten-path veggies, such as beets, orange and purple carrots, purple potatoes, two kinds of pickling cucumbers, three kinds of regular cucumbers, basil and other herbs, summer and winter squash, zucchini and 500 peppers. “I’m growing some heirloom varieties and some funky beans,” she said. “I’m kind of experimenting with what’s popular and trying to get away from the run-of-the-mill vegetables and find a more unique niche of produce.”
She said gardening has been her lifelong passion, especially teaching others. She said in the future, she’d like to host educational gardening events at the farm. She also said a long-term goal of hers is to open a farm-to-table restaurant.
“When I was little, there was a retired colonel, and I would go over to his house. He seeded everything in his basement, and I was like a sponge,” she said. “I’ve always been drawn to the earth and growing things.”
Van Deren sells her produce at the farm every day of the week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is letting people come out and pick what they would like. She said she plans to have a stand set up in the next few weeks.
“To be honest, it’s been a gift,” she said.