Tech. Sgt. P. Amy Harkins and Master Sgt. Jim Bauman are the winners of the inaugural Go Green Challenge.

Sustainable Fort Bragg selected Harkins and Bauman as the winners because their entry — a rain gutter garden — is an epitome of environmental stewardship and incorporates sustainable land use, water conservation and material reuse into one project.

Harkins and Bauman are both with the 18th Weather Squadron at Pope Field and are originally from farming Families in the Northwest. Harkins hails from Idaho. Bauman was raised in Oregon. “We should have been successful gardeners here in the South,” Harkins said. “However, we faced unique challenges at Fort Bragg. Our gardening season last year was fraught with disease, battles with insects, hot temperatures and over- or under-watering,” she explained. “There were new weeds, insects and diseases. Toward the end of the season, we threw in the towel and vowed to find a better way. After tons of research, we decided that a shift to more sustainable living was in order. Instead of tilling the ground and planting our garden in the earth, we built a sub-irrigated rain gutter garden.”

Bauman used lumber and rain gutters left over from other home projects to build raised platforms in a tent-style greenhouse as a birthday present for Harkins. The raised greenhouse prevents insect infestations and thus reduces the need for chemical pesticides. The plants were installed in buckets, and the buckets were then placed over the rain gutters, allowing them to absorb water through their roots by a process called capillary action.

According to Harkins, the benefits of sub-irrigation are numerous. “The typical in-ground garden requires indiscriminate watering of a large area,” she said. “With sub-irrigation, only one particular plant is watered. Over a growing season, the potential water savings could be in the thousands of gallons.” In addition, the sub-irrigation system protects the ground water supply by lessening the run-off and the potential release of contaminated water into the aquifer. Harkins also believes that plants raised in this system are healthier, more productive and more uniform. “By watering from the bottom up, the leaves will stay dry, which means less disease.”

There are a myriad of vegetables in the garden: three types of tomatoes, three types of cucumbers, four types of bell peppers, Habanera peppers, Jalapeno peppers, green beans, peas, zucchini and squash. Harkins and Bauman will eventually have an herb garden as well.

“We love having fresh vegetables from a trusted source,” Harkins said. “What better source than your own backyard? We don’t worry about pesticides or genetically modified organisms. We also enjoy sharing the harvest. Our friends and colleagues can expect us to bring in things like salsa or zucchini bread or a big basket of vegetables for them to take home,” she remarked.

In addition to the rain gutter garden, Harkins and Bauman employ other sustainable practices in their lives. They use a solution of dish soap, water and oil to eliminate insects. For weed control, they use white vinegar and oil. The Family also composts, carpools and creates their own dog food.

“We are far from perfect as sustainable living practitioners, but we are always open to new ideas and enjoy implementing them,” Harkins said.

Harkins and Bauman received a $100 gift card from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service for their efforts.

Other entrants in the Go Green Challenge included:

Mike Deveault of the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security for his use of a Smart Strip for energy conservation
  Suzanne Geiss for her use of cloth diapers instead of disposable diapers for her daughter, Cara
  Wolf Amacker and the Range Support Team for their sustainable practices on the range

For more information on green living, visit sustainablefortbragg.com or www.facebook.com.