Over the course of two years, Shelby Stec — with the help and support her partner Skyler — has been gradually building what is now Dog Day Gardens. Dog Day Gardens is an organically managed nursery, market garden, and composting business, serving the St. Augustine community.
What is Dog Day Gardens about? We concentrate on building, teaching and growing gardens in St. Augustine and surrounding communities. Our demonstration garden and nursery are located on our half-acre homestead. The garden supplies us with food but also acts as a place to experiment with new seed varieties and organic gardening techniques. We sell our organically grown, heirloom or open pollinated seedlings to local nurseries and the public.
What services and resources do you provide? We strive to provide all of the resources local residents need to grow their own food through teaching, offering organic seedlings, creating garden plans, and installing gardens. We offer our services year-round but definitely have a high and low season. Our main concentration is vegetable gardens but we also install pollinator gardens and herb gardens. We also help set up home composting systems and collect compost scraps from apartment dwellers to help lift the burden on our landfills.
What’s one of the biggest growing challenges Northeast Florida residents face? We have no soil and a lot of pests here, which deter many people from growing food. By building beds properly, composting, and dedicating part of your garden to pollinator plants you can be extremely successful. That’s where we can help.
How long have you been gardening and have you always wanted to have a business of this nature? I started gardening in 2009 when I took over an abandoned community garden in Tallahassee. I went to school to be an anthropologist and planned on working in the nonprofit sector; however, I fell in love with gardening and knew it was what I wanted to do immediately. I’ve worked with community gardens, on organic farms, and in food policy, but I’ve always had a passion for teaching so an education-based business made the most sense for me.
What about the plant-growing world inspires you? I never wanted to have a career that compromised my morals or forced me to work in a system that was failing our community, and food always felt so intertwined in the arenas that mattered most to me. You can address social justice, the environment, animal rights and so much more through the production of good food. From a daily standpoint, there is no better feeling than spending a full day outside and watching nature’s small wonders. Have you ever seen seeds germinate? It still gets me every time. I also feel like there is no end to the road in gardening. I can always learn more, serve better, and reach for new goals. Plus, once you eat from a garden, grocery store food tastes awful.
Tell us about your composting services. We offer three different compost programs: we collect compost from local restaurants, we offer a drop off for five gallon buckets with compost scraps, and we help install composting systems in home gardens. For the five gallon bucket program, an individual signs up, is given two five gallon buckets with screw top lids ($35) or provides their own buckets with screw top lids. Then they drop off a full bucket and pick up an empty bucket. This program is primarily for apartment dwellers or individuals without gardens. We encourage our garden customers to compost at home.
What products do you sell at the Farmers Market? We sell seedlings, plugs (smaller seedlings that haven’t been up-potted), seeds and shrub (a cocktail and soda mixer that we make on the side).
Tell us about shrub. Shrub, or drinking vinegar, is something I’ve been making for years for friends and family. I originally started making it because I had so much extra produce coming out of my gardens. It was a huge hit so I kept going. It’s not for everyone, but it’s great for a hydrating, healthy soda in the summer and makes a delectable craft cocktail. We only use Florida grown, organic produce and make everything in small batches, based on produce availability.
I’m assuming dogs might be as much a part of your life as gardening? We have three dogs who basically rule our life. Skyler and I both love to travel and realize that if we hadn’t acquired the pups we probably wouldn’t be here. We honored them in our name for that reason and because when you visit our garden everything is fenced in, blocked off, and covered in dog toys.
Can the public come visit your nursery and garden? Our nursery is open to the public, but since it’s located on a homestead we ask that visitors schedule an appointment first.
961 Graham Street, by appointment only. www.dogdaygardens.com
To keep up with workshops and other offerings, follow along with Dog Day Gardens on Facebook.