Growing Your Own Food: Green, Cheap, and Delicious
“The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.” ~Hanna Rion
There is no doubt that human beings have become far removed from the natural world. It could be that this separation from nature is a root cause of many of society’s problems. When we deny ourselves access to the natural world, we lose a part of ourselves, our culture, and our sanity. Want to get it back? One of the simplest ways to reconnect with nature is to dig right in and grow something.
Gardening, on whatever scale you can, is a rewarding activity in many ways: not only will you get some sunshine and exercise, you can save a bundle on your grocery bill, and be in complete control of how your food is grown, from seed to plate. In a time when most of our food comes from halfway across the world, growing your own food right in your own backyard is a bold, but simple, step to reducing your carbon footprint and eating more sustainably.
With the economy in dire straits, more and more people are turning to gardening to save money on food and simplify their lives. Growing your own fruits and veggies is a great way to save on your food budget, and has become so popular during the recession that even the Obama family is gardening—right on the White House lawn! So whether you have a sunny windowsill or a few acres, now is a great time to start a garden. What follows are some tips on getting started in growing your own organic produce
I got bit by the gardening bug as soon as I had my own place to grow one. That first tiny backyard garden yielded a lot more than tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and herbs, it taught me a lot about the ways of nature, self-reliance, time management, and the value of hard work. When I moved to the coast of Northern California, where it’s possible to grow at least some things year-round and organic gardening abounds, my love of working the earth was renewed and I have moved on to a full-on gardening obsession. In January I moved into a place I’ve been dreaming about for years: a cottage in the redwoods with a huge fenced garden that has been organic for several years. There’s plenty of sun, good soil, and all the space I need to grow a good chunk of the produce we eat.
In the coming months, I will write about the process I am going through in turning our garden from a neglected field of grass and weeds into a bounty of organic food.
Before starting a garden, you first need to take stock of the space and resources you have. Anyone can garden, no matter what your circumstances, with a little creativity and work. For an apartment dweller, a garden may be a balcony, roof, or sunny windosill full of veggies and herbs in containers. For anyone without much garden space of their own, community gardening is a wonderful option, or you can grow indoors under lights. If you are blessed with your own yard, you may have to sacrifice some of the lawn for a garden (don’t worry, you won’t miss that water-hogging, rather unsustainable lawn).
Once you’ve figured out where you’ll grow, the next step is figuring out what to grow. This is the fun part! Begin by thinking of the produce that you buy and eat most often. Make a list of your favorite fruits and veggies, and then begin researching what it takes to grow them. The most important consideration in your research should be whether the plant can survive in your climate: sorry, but unless you live in a tropical climate, you most likely won’t be able to grow bananas and mangos. First, look up your Hardiness Zone. Most seeds and plants are rated for hardiness zones based on what climates and temperatures they can withstand. Narrow down your list to those plants that grow best in your area and find out where to get seeds or starts of those plants.
The next step is planning your garden: aquiring necessary tools, scheduling your planting times, and allotting the space you have to the plants you want to grow. Some great resources for gardening are gardening books such as the Sunset Western Garden Book, How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons, or The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food. If you can find books written for your specific area, those will be very helpful. It also helps to get to know other gardeners in your area: ask at farmer’s markets, garden stores, look online, or just walk around your neighborhood. One online resource I’ve found invaluable for garden organizing and planning, not to mention connecting with other gardeners, is Folia.
Absorb as much gardening know-how as you can before you start out, but don’t let a lack of knowledge or experience stop you from trying gardening. Like most things in life, you’ll learn as you go along!
I’ll discuss more garden planning, where and how to get seeds or starts, starting seeds, preparing the soil, and much more in upcoming articles. Check back weekly to get your gardening fix!
Photo taken by myself: my first batch of seedlings this spring get some sun on my back porch.