BR couple looking for healthier lifestyle gets back to nature through gardening

Roger Shaw’s garden started with a detached retina.

“You have to lie on your stomach for a month,” he said. “You have a lot of time to think.”

To help pass the weeks, Shaw, a local optometrist, brought in a massage table with a face hole and rigged up his laptop and a flat-screen television.

One day, while looking through Netflix titles, Shaw found the documentary “Food, Inc.,” an expose on the food industry in America. The movie focused on modified food products, including the use of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides in modern farming.

“That’s what you’re buying in the stores,” he said.

“Food, Inc.” and several other documentaries got Shaw thinking about starting his own vegetable garden, especially since his wife, Jan Shaw, had been urging her husband to adopt a healthier diet.

At about the same time, Hurricane Gustav took down a huge tree in the Shaws’ backyard, giving them the sunlight needed for a vegetable garden.

The couple worked together to design a garden that would fit into their beautifully landscaped yard near the LSU Lakes. They enclosed their garden in a white picket fence to blend in with the yard’s original plan.

The Shaws developed the garden in seven raised beds.

“I drew out what I wanted, built all the raised beds, put in a water system, all from scratch,” Roger Shaw said. “The thing I didn’t want was a garden with a lot of work.”

To eliminate much of the weeding, Roger Shaw built the beds on a base of plastic sheeting.

He separated the raised beds with 4-inch-deep pathways of cypress mulch.

“No weeds,” he said.

The raised beds are of varying sizes with soil levels of varying thicknesses. Roger Shaw plants vegetables with larger root systems in the deepest beds. The shallow beds are planted with crops like kale, beans, watermelons and squash. The picket fence is lined with raspberry, blueberry and blackberry plants.

“We have a year-round garden,” Roger Shaw said. “The winter has some of the best crops like asparagus, artichokes, carrots, beets, cabbage and greens.”

In the summer, he plants “the classics,” including tomatoes, eggplants, green beans, squash and melons. Jan Shaw has an herb garden in a bed outside the kitchen, and they almost always have green onions growing.

The newest addition to the garden is a Cape Cod Cottage chicken coop with four Rhode Island Red hens.

“The man who sold me the chickens said that if they have just an average year, we should have about 1,000 eggs a year,” Roger Shaw said. ”If they are prolific, we could have as many as 1,200.”

The backyard is also planted with an assortment of fruit trees, including several large citrus trees.

Lining the driveway are orange, grapefruit and lemon trees, all loaded with ripening fruit. In the garden area are peach, blood orange, satsuma, apple and nectarine trees. Roger Shaw also grows bananas, which he freezes for later use.

Jan Shaw is the harvester. Her job of picking, cleaning and storing the vegetables is one of the biggest chores in the garden.

“I don’t know whether I like being a farmer’s wife,” she said with a laugh. ”It takes so much time picking and cleaning.”

The Shaws eat much of their produce from garden to table, but freeze some of it to use in their “green” breakfast drinks — a blending of kale, lettuce, spinach, apples, bananas and cucumbers, with added seeds and oatmeal.

“That’s what we eat as opposed to eating bacon and eggs or pancakes,” Roger Shaw said.

“It’s filling and delicious. It’s almost like a malt,” Jan Shaw said.