Thursday, July 2, 2009
Personal "Victory" Garden - How To Get Started
The reality is that almost half of my life was lived in a high rise overlooking the Atlantic ocean. The closest I got to a garden was walking by the potted plants in the entry way of the lobby of my childhood building.
Gardening was not really a part of my vocabulary. I did love driving through the sugar cane fields in Brazil when I was a child and the many farming communities when visiting Texas. But at the time, I had no idea that I would be living that life one day.
Fast forward to 2009 - now living in Texas on a farm that once yielded large crops of watermelons, peanuts, purple hulled peas, cotton, corn and other staples. In the 50's the farm switched to Brahman cattle due to the government cotton credit program.
My artist cowboy's family has carried on the tradition of raising registered Brahmans but due to their temperament and size have become less popular in recent years. I love all of our bottle fed Brahman babies but as the economy continues to spiral downward, we have chosen to revert the cattle ranch back into a working farm with some small profitable heirloom crop production and possibly an agritourism location in the near future. Feed Me Farms will one day feed the mind, body and soul!
In order to achieve our long term goal, we decided to plant a "test" garden to see what would grow well. We took our inspiration from the victory gardens of the 1940's.
The term "Victory Garden" was coined during World War II, when food was being severely rationed. The U.S. government began a campaign for Americans to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
Americans heeded the call out of necessity and victory gardens began cropping up in the new urban areas, places where people had lost touch with living off the land. Magazines and newspapers featured articles on vegetable growing, canning and preservation at home. Beautiful, whimsical posters and artwork were part of the campaign, many depicting patriotic images and vegetables, hand in hand.
History repeats itself. Newspapers, magazines and television news have been covering stories about home gardening, CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) and local farmers markets. Even Leisure Learning, a Houston adult continuing education program has really jumped on the train. Once upon a time it was full of stock market and real estate classes but on the cover of the latest issue it touted backyard chicken and goat tending. Publications such as Mother Earth News, Grit Magazine and Hobby Farms are having a renaissance of sorts...as many newspapers and magazines are witnessing a decline, these publications readerships are growing on a daily basis.
I am happy that we are a part of this. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a little seedling take root, grow and bloom, then ultimately bare a fantastically tasting fruit or vegetable. I have lost all interest in purchasing massed produced food from supermarkets. Their waxy evenness is almost creepy. Our food sources have all been polluted with genetically modified seeds, massive amounts of pesticides and flavorless fruits and vegetables all in the name of progress.
One bite of an heirloom tomato will have you begging for more locally produced food and possibly inspire you to provide for yourself - even if you did grow up in a high rise! Yes this is my personal "victory".
How to Plant Your Own Victory Garden:
1) Start small, even if you have many acres to play with. Support companies who provide only non GMO (genetically modified) seeds. My absolute favorite company is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds @ www.rareseeds.com
Their catalog is not only beautiful but very educational. They offer heirloom seeds from around the world. I had almost 100% germination with their seeds. I boycott companies that are associated with Monsanto (GMO) seeds. Most of the seed companies sold in major stores like Home Depot, Lowe's and Walmart are NOT very good and many are flavorless.
2) Do not be afraid, just jump in. I was so hesitant and indecisive that it actually took me weeks to finally plant one seed. I read so many gardening books that I eventually got overwhelmed with information. I go back to the "kiss" philosophy (keep it simple stupid).
3) Do keep a journal, it really helps to keep things organized. I made my own gardening book. I titled pages with planting dates, first sprout dates, first harvest and last harvest dates. I also keep track of significant occurrences such as frosts, rain, drought conditions, pest invasions and lack of germination (possible reasons). Make a diagram of the garden and keep track of where you planted what. This will help if markers are washed away and will help you rotate for next year.
4) Prep your soil but do not overthink the process. Our ancestors grew tons of crops with little intervention and so can you. We use all natural fortifiers for our soil. Compost, fish emulsion and other natural infusions.
5) Do smother weeds or grass before planting. The easiest way to do this is with newspapers and tarps, allow a few weeks for the area to wilt and die and then begin working the soil. If you are doing raised bed planting then this is not a big issue.
6) Do not be afraid to plant the seed directly in the ground, especially if you live in the South. You do not need a fancy greenhouse to get those little seeds started.
7) Pick fruits and vegetables that you like and will eat. It is also important to picks seeds that are known to flourish in your climate.
8) Have fun with it, don't be upset with a few small failures. The big victories are well worth everything!