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Gardens Versus Groceries

March 6, 2012

I’m a lousy gardener. It’s true; the most successful pepper plant I’ve ever grown bore two peppers, my rows of string beans have never equaled a meal, and my zucchinis – the second easiest vegetable to grow next to tomatoes – keep getting eaten by bugs. From a strictly monetary viewpoint I’d have been better off buying groceries with all the money I’ve spent on soil, seeds, starters, and shit (literally and figuratively, thank you very much) over the years.

I’m still trying. After all, I have a lot of theory. I’ve watched my parents grow successful gardens. I’ve studied permaculture. I’ve hauled a lot of soil for other people’s gardens which have panned out just fine. I should be able to figure it out.

Growing your own food is a basic and necessary skill for a pioneer – modern or otherwise. It’s the basis of independence. It’s the best way to guarantee you’re eating organically. And – when done right – it’s supposed to be able to save you a lot of money.

This year we’re trying a new approach. Before winter arrived we flattened all of our moving boxes and laid them around the perimeter of the yard in a beautifully curving pattern (all credit to Ann) and covered them in rich soil. It took fifteen cubic yards (again, props to Ann for hauling it all as I worked on the house). The cardboard was to kill the weeds and grass, and the soil was allowed to sit for a few months.

Straw-covered gardensToday I picked up some straw bales and spread them over the dirt. This mulch layer will keep the ground moist, the weeds from growing, and regulate the temperature as well. Dotting the straw here and there are tulips and other bulbs buried in the fall. The next step will be planting.



I’ve seen this particular style of garden planted with starters, but I want to buy as little as possible from this point on. So I built a greenhouse and plan to grow my own. I dried peas and string beans and onion seeds last summer, and found a few packages of tomato and basil seeds in a drawer. This year instead of planting a little of everything we’re planting a lot of the things we eat a lot of. It seems as good a place to start as any.

Window box greenhouse

The greenhouse – well, it’s a window box I tore out of a client’s house last summer that’s been sitting in my garage ever since. That will be an experiment in itself. It has a screened window which I’ll have to open during the days and close at night; hopefully this will regulate the temperature while allowing sufficient air flow. I’ll have to water regularly as well.

Then – a very important step – some fences will need to be erected to keep crazy Lady dog out. She’s a digger. Not to mention the cats, who will be disappointed to lose their litter box – although the straw may well take care of that problem.

If I’m telling the Girl Scouts to quit selling cookies and grow vegetables I’d better be able to do it myself, right? Though in all likelihood I have a better chance of growing salsa than I do of changing their minds about a multi-million dollar enterprise.

I think there are two areas in particular in which I need to improve. The first is soil conditioning, and hopefully that’s been covered for the upcoming year (though I’m still learning to compost, which is another blog post entirely). The second is remembering to water the plants regularly. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? It can’t be that hard to turn on a sprinkler once a day, can it?

It’s easy to get lazy when your life and livelihood don’t depend on your garden. But vegetables are like pets – they only thrive with nourishment. Unlike a pet, however, a plant can’t meet you at the door with puppy dog eyes or a cat’s whiny reminder.

I could get a timer and install an elaborate irrigation system, and in time perhaps I will. But plastic is something I’d like to keep at a minimum. Is your water still organic if it travels through inorganic tubing?

Eventually I’d like to replace the garage shingles with metal roofing and set up a catchment system so I’m not paying for the water either. Paying for water in Portland makes as much sense as selling sand in a desert. Of course I’d have to store the water for the dry summer months, and most tanks are made of plastic as well. Even wooden tanks tend to be lined with a bladder. Let’s face it – we’re surrounded by the stuff. It will probably be a case of choosing the least amount of evil possible and disguising it.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut said. If I was an absolute purist I wouldn’t be here at all. I’d be in the tropics living off fruits and coconuts. I’d be whiling my days away at the beach, probably sunburnt and emaciated. My message wouldn’t reach any farther than my voice could carry it. If I even had a message.


From → Journal

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