January 3, 2013

The Fruits of Your Labor

It's January and, as always, I've just received my gardening catalogs in the mail waiting to tempt me with their bright colors and juicy fruits. It always works. I'm not even thinking about a garden because of the frigid temperatures and the frozen ground but once those catalogs come, I'm planning the gardens of Versailles.

I've always had a very small garden. I am very limited in what I can grow so I normally have two small raised beds with tomatoes, green peppers, green onion, etc. and one raised bed of experimental vegetables. Last year, my experimental vegetables were leeks and onions. The leeks grew nice, but if I was to do it again, I would buy plants instead of starting from seeds. The leeks take two years to reach a good cooking size. The onions didn't grow as planned. They sprouted a lot of leaves but stayed tiny bulbs. I don't know what I did wrong, but probably won't try again until I get more space.

This year, I think I'm doing away with the experimental bed and just planting herbs like I've always threatened. No, really this time. :) Then again, half of the fun of gardening might be those plants that are planted just for fun.

Did you know that I was afraid to eat my garden produce for a long time? Yes, I know that's crazy. I used to think that I might have done something wrong and it would kill everyone. I thought that the produce you get at the grocery store must be grown in tested dirt and cleaned a special way to make it safe. :) As much as I laugh about that now, I'm not surprised that a lot of people think the way I used to. Maybe it's the fact that you see dirt on the vegetables that you pick yourself and at the store it looks squeaky clean. However, I also feel that society as a whole tends to perpetrate a myth that grocery store produce is somehow safer than homegrown food.

It also doesn't help that there have been a lot of ridiculous government incidents recently involving homegrown/cooked food, raw milk, privately raised meat etc. Those news articles about people having to pay huge fines for growing their own food are scary but what can be more natural than growing what you eat? You see it from seed to plate. My only limitation is my tiny plot.

Tips for people with tiny gardens:

1. Practice cooking vegetables. This sounds silly but once you have a lot, you'll have to use them in everything. For the time you don't have a big garden, collect recipes that include a lot of the produce you wish to grow someday. 

2. Grow what is cost effective or what is fun. If you aren't worried about cost, you can grow what is fun. If you have limited means grow things that grow easy in your area and are cost effective. Plants like lettuce, green peppers, tomatoes can typically be grown with little effort and are a lot cheaper than they cost in the store. I've never had luck with veggies like carrots so they've always been cheaper for me to buy. 

3. Think creatively about what can be used for planting. I've long had a deck garden of tomato plants in various plastic tubs. Herb plants can be grown in small pots in the kitchen. Plants can be grown in hanging pots. I've even seen some creative "vertical gardens," such as this one made in a shoe organizer. I'm not sure I'd grow tomatoes in there but that would be perfect for keeping herbs away from small critters. 

4. Borrow space. See if your local 4H or park has a garden club or gardening space for rent. If you are really lucky, you may even be able to borrow some land from a friend. 

5. If allowed in your area, consider edible landscaping. This would be my goal, if I had a yard of my own. I've always wanted fruit trees. A house nearby does a little bit of edible landscaping, their driveway is lined by rows of veggies, from smallest to tallest having root veggies in the front and corn in the back.     

Is anyone else starting the garden plans already? I am even more intensely inspired because I read an account of a woman who recreated the historical colonial gardens where I work, back in the 80s. The colonial accounts from women she included were interesting and made gardening seem like the natural way of things.  

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