Monday, May 21, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 4 - Grow Food

Now there are so many good reasons to grow your own food that it seems silly to list them, but I will anyone. No melamine. No carcinogens. No GMOs. You know where it came from, and where it has been. Your kids can pick a strawberry or tomato and pop it their mouth without wondering whether they'll get cancer. Oh, and it tastes better, is more nutritious, fresher and nicer. And it doesn't burn fossil fuels, warm the planet, or require a hog manure lagoon. Really one of those win-win situations.

If you haven't been paying attention to the contamination of our food supply, you might want to check out these two articles, detailing the simple truth - the melamine isn't really all that unusual. What's abnormal is that we noticed.!Q2ANignppiNjdd,NdfNjQ25NpBQ5CuQ5CpuNjQ251n(xQ60yuPWiQ60Q7B

Now some of us already have big gardens, and some of us are just getting started. This week's project is to grow more of your own food - in many places, now is a good time to start your garden. If it isn't - if now is your dry season or your winter, just hold this thought and revisit during garden season.

Now if you don't grow any of your own food, the step up from 0 may seem like a big deal, but it isn't really very hard. Get a windowbox or two. Or a pot. You don't have to buy it - cut off the top of a big tin can that you get from a restaurant nearby, and poke holes in the bottom. A 5 gallon bucket (again, with holes), or just about anything will do. Put it in a sunny spot. Add dirt, and your own compost if possible. Plant some food. Put in a few basil plants and a head of lettuce. Or if you have a big container, like a 5 gallon bucket, put in a cherry tomato, with a few lettuce plants underneath. In your window boxes, plant some gem marigolds (good in salad), nasturtiums (even better in salad) and arugula - voila, a decorative salad. Pat Meadows, who knows more than anyone I've ever met about container gardening (she used to run a seed company devoted to container-friendly varieties) has a great container gardening yahoo group - well worth joining by sending an email here:

Or you could join a community garden and get a plot of land. There's no better way to learn to garden than hanging out with lots of other gardeners. Community gardens are cool, and one of those plots is a great way to learn to maximize your return.

Or perhaps you can start on your own lawn. You might consider checking out the books _Food Not Lawns_ and _Micro-Eco Farming_, not to mention Toby Hemenway's wonderful _Gaia's Garden_ about home scale permaculture. Maybe replace some of your foundation plantings with blueberries while you are starting your garden. You don't have to dig raised beds or do anything fancy - just lay some plain cardboard or newspaper over the ground, wet it thoroughly, put some compost, grass clippings and maybe composted manure (or whatever you've got) on the ground and plant right into what you've made. It really isn't that much work!

Don't have enough lawn? How about growing in a neighbor's yard and sharing the proceeds. Aaron has a terrific article about how he did just that with an elderly neighbor. This could both give you more food and improve your community. Here's that article - well worth a read, and one of his best.

If you've already got a garden, what about expanding it? Consider adding fruit trees and bushes, or if you mostly grow food for fresh eating, how about dry corn for cornbread and dry beans? Perhaps you simply need to grow more potatoes or apples or cabbage or onions to last you through the winter? Or maybe if you built a simple coldframe, you could have fresh greens for salad through the whole winter. Perhaps you are one of those people who puts your garden in on Memorial Day and harvests everything before the first frost - you could have fresh food for months more on either side in many cases, with simple season extension techniques like cold frames and row covers.

Or maybe you already do all that. Well, how about a bigger challenge. Maybe you've already got a small farm and livestock. Do you grow any food for your animals? What about some small grains like buckwheat, oats or corn for your hens and your family? You can grow all small grains like grasses in an ordinary garden plot and thresh and eat them - or just give them whole to the hens or goats or whathaveyou. Or maybe you need to expand - maybe you grow all the food you need - could you start a small CSA? When people hear the word "CSA" they think "must be a big farm." But that's not true - we started with 5 customers, and a CSA can be as simple as "I'll grow enough veggies for both of our families if you'll buy the seeds."

There's a huge range of possibilities, depending on where you are. But everything you do to produce your own food makes you more secure, your family healthier and improves the state of the earth. All you need is dirt and a seed to get started - you can grow as you go.



KMH said...

Good post. I'm curious what size garden does everyone have? I know this next questions depends on several factors (soil, rain, zone) but what size would be needed to realistically feed a family of 4.

We garden in raised beds with intensive planting. We have about 900-1000 square feet of garden space and plan to double that in the coming year. We are in zone 5 with plenty of rain April-June, tolerable rain in July-August, and plenty again in September.


anna banana said...

i have a container garden with more than 24 plants, and yesterday i noticed that we have green tomatolings and tiny yellow squashlings already! this is our first year with a garden at our house, so we stuck to things i knew were easy to grow: lots of tomatoes, zucchinis, yellow summer squash, green peas. i may hit up a local restaurant/deli for a couple five gallon buckets and try to get some dry beans in before planting time is up.

we also found a lot of nice plantlings at the farmer's market and thus have an experimental herb collection (cilantro, kentucky mint, spearmint, thai basil, rosemary) and three plants each of jalapeno peppers and green bell peppers. i smell some salsa brewing ;)

i'm in queens, nyc. not sure what zone that's in. we get some nice rain up until june and then more come september/october/november.

Anonymous said...

We have a front yard that's maybe 100 square feet, that currently has some basil seeds that seem to have failed (maybe I'll get some actual seedlings, since those seem to be more successful; this was a bit of an impulse buy), and some assorted wildflower seeds, and a rhubarb bush that I just planted with three tiny little leaves already! I also have a takeout container full of hot pepper seedlings, some of which that might be ready to transplant by next week, and another full of sunflowers that our landlord won't let us plant in the yard (nothing higher than the hedge, he says, which really covers most non-grain edibles, so that seems fair). Can you grow sunflowers in pots?

I'd be more intensively trying to plant veggies in the yard, but we also have a CSA share, so we'll really have as many vegetables as we can deal with at the moment :-) I'm going to try to aquire some herb seedlings, and maybe marigolds, but otherwise I'll just do planning for next year. We eat more basil and hot peppers than the CSA will possibly be able to give us. Next year I'd like to see if I can get okra to grow, along with some other things the CSA farm doesn't do. Ideally, I want asparagus, but that seems like a rather advanced project and not really worth it in terms of the amount of food we'd get. We're in Waltham, MA.

anna banana said...

i've heard that asparagus is acutally not that difficult to do, plus it's one of those plants that comes back year after year (i forget which is which between perennials and annuals). in northeast ohio, my grandma has wild asparagus growing in the ditch by her driveway.

of our herbs that we started from seed (before the last frost, d'oh!), i think the basil is the only one that didn't come up. i think a seedling is a good idea!

Jana said...

I am all over this one! I just posted some recent photos of our garden. There are 10 roughly 4'x12' beds finished. This space for 2-5 more, but they will have to wait until strawberrie are done so we can move those out of the way. This is out second year with this size garden and it was not a huge success last year. We are Zone 6 I believe.

We put in 3 blueberries this year and two apple trees last year. Slowly, but surely.

Anonymous said...


A perennial is a plant which, had it not died, would have come back year after year. That's was I was taught in my MG class.

Sharon, one of the things I love about your suggestions is that they are open ended. I have a garden, but I can keep going. I can try spuds in gunny sacks, or peas up the compst bin, or a comfry patch to feed the compost... it just gets better.

KMH said...

Asparagus is actually quite easy. It takes a little work to get it started, but then you have 15 years to enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Basil can be direct seeded once the weather is warm. With the cool wet spring we've had its not yet warm enough. I have direct seeded basil but I prefer to start the seeds inside and transplant out.
Anna banana my friend's daughter lives in Queens I get to visit now and then :).
Lime Sarah we are neighbors I am in central Ma.
I got to make a check mark against many of Sharon's suggestions but I love to extend my season and I want to grow some of my chicken's feed this year.

going on 10 years as a smallish CSA whose in preseason gitters due to lousy spring weather delaying many plantings :)

Anonymous said...

I'm having a good ol' time with my sprouts again. Even though I have to buy the seeds, I figure if they grow on my counter they are "local" when edible!

These are easy to do, make great additions to salads, stir-fry, mostly I put them on sandwiches in place of lettuce-like stuff.

This requires 1 glass jar and water. SproutPeople (I have no relationship with them) have great and creative mixes, or you can just buy something like mungs. You can buy fancy sprouters, but I have an old bell jar and some lids. That's it.


sealjoy said...

I am new to this blog, came from the "making home" blog by jess. I love your ideas, and a not for those in a place that has a lot of sweet potato farmers (I am in NC) you can get a few from their plots after they harvest and grow your own from the slips that grow out of them. I have an entire row of sweet potatoes that I grew from just two potatoes. I love gardening, but often the hardest part is when to harvest.

How hard is it to grow and make the grain for your own flour for bread and stuff... that would save me alot. Me and my kids are the only ones who eat veggies and fruit as my husband doesn't eat a lot of that. so I share my abundance with my neighbors so there is little waste. I am trying peanuts this year for my husband as he likes them... and found a place online that will sell a coffee plant... that will save me a bundle!!!

Thanks for your good posts, I am definitely bookmarking to this blog.

MSquirrel said...

KMH asks us what size of garden does everyone have?

I never really looked into the square footage of our garden space. However, we live on a "small acre" (7/8ths of an acre). And every year, another peice of our lawn gets eaten up by the garden monster, while the front yard has already started to become a place for ornamental edibles...two blueberry's, two blackberries, and a grape. And there's a neighbor's mulberry tree that hangs over our backyard that we get berries from every year.

I still consider myself an amateur at it, but our cellar shelves still have a few cans of cherry tomatoes, salsa, mulberry preserves, and hot pepper jelly left, and we are already getting all of the fresh greens and green onion tops we could want.

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