Now, admittedly, when Carrie and I first began to see each other as a couple, she DID already have a garden out back. It was smallish, it had poor soil, and due to an incident the previous spring involving leaving seed packets outside unattended, it grew nothing but haphazard zucchini plants. She knew I loved growing things and before frost had even killed off those zucchini plants that fall, she and I began talking about plans for expansion and improvements in the spring.
Last March, while the ground was barely thawed, she built me a cold frame where I could plant early, cold hardy vegetables, and they would be protected from frost or late snows. One sunny weekend in April, we tilled up all of the original garden and then some, adding many additional square feet to it’s size. I had some fantastically fertile leaf mold compost delivered, amending the soil. In May, the kids and I planted seeds and a few transplants. We painted little signs from wooden stakes identifying our various crops- beets, carrots, kale, cucumbers, peas, lettuce, parsnips, and of course, zucchini. Carrie and I went to Costa Rica again in June for two weeks, and while we were away Carrie’s mother watered for us. When we returned, we could hardly believe how huge everything was!
We easily ate out of our garden every day last summer, and well into the fall, too. We enjoyed fresh summery salads with the lettuces and kale. When it was time to thin out the carrot patch, the kids munched on baby carrots by the pool.They picked peas and ate them, pods and all, while running barefoot through the yard. I pickled more jars of cucumbers than I could count. I found 1000 new ways to prepare zucchini and summer squash, sneaking it into everything from meatballs to brownies. I froze the rest. Carrie ate plate after plate of freshly sliced tomato, layered with fresh mozzarella and basil, drizzled with balsamic and olive oil and sprinkled with salt, declaring it to be delicious. We loved every minute of it and started thinking…. what if we could meet the majority of our produce needs ourselves? Eating healthy foods, including lots of vegetables, is very important to us. We also want our kids to appreciate fresh, healthy food and understand the work that goes into producing it. Last, we want to reduce our food costs, but at the same time high-quality, organic food is expensive.
Enter: our 2018 garden expansion plans! Folks, we are taking a risk (you know how much she and I love those!) and taking our garden talents to the front yard, too! Now, we live within the city and I am very much aware that there have been people who have been met with some opposition when they attempt to utilize their front yard for food production. Maybe not where we live, but it has happened. If you ask me, it’s about suppressing the individual’s ability to be independent of our greedy capitalistic society, but… that’s a chat for another day. We’re going to take that calculated risk, and try to mitigate it by making sure our front yard garden is aesthetically pleasing. We’ll be building two raised beds in a currently unused portion of side-front yard. One bed will be about 24 ft long, the other 21 ft, about 4 ft wide and about 1 ft high. We’ve looked into various materials, from concrete to metal to wood and weighed out the pros and cons of each, and I think we may have settled on wood. Earlier this winter, Carrie and I read a book by a man named Mel Bartholomew, called All New Square Foot Gardening. Many of Mel’s philosophies on gardening, including efficiency and working smarter, not harder- really resonated with both of us. We’re going to give this method a try with our new raised beds, while continuing to grow crops that take up quite a bit of space in the original garden area out back.
In addition to the raised beds, we’re going to try another novel way to grow food: In self-watering containers. Using a bunch of our now vacant storage totes. On the roof. What?? So, this idea came, in part, out of thinking about what to do with all of these empty storage totes that we have hanging around now (thank you, minimalism!). I knew that many vegetables could be grown in containers. I’ve actually had really good success growing heat-loving things, such as tomatoes, in pots. In fact, I grew all of our tomatoes in pots last year; I could make sure to place them in the sunniest, hottest parts of our deck. When looking for where else we could grow food in our yard, we took a look around at our garden, garage, patio with our outdoor kitchen, shed, fire pit, deck, pool, wood-burning pool heater, and 15-ft. trampoline and had to admit: we were running out of space. Then Carrie looked up. The roof over the patio and outdoor kitchen, which she built last spring, has only a slight pitch. It also gets full sun, all day long. What if we used the totes up there? I agreed, with the understanding that she will have to get up there to water and harvest stuff. I don’t do heights.
As of this writing, we’ve already ordered all of the seeds we need from Baker’s Creek Heirlooms. I’ve used Baker’s Creek for several years now- they have lots of unique, old fashioned varieties to chose from. They’ve made improvements to their website (very easy to use), as well as their packaging/shipping which means I received my order pretty quickly. You can find them at www.rareseeds.com. I love not only growing our own vegetables, but also growing something different than what we’re all used to seeing in the grocery stores. Did you know that you can grow carrots in a rainbow of colors- from white to a nearly black variety that is so full of richly pigmented anthocyanins, it stains your hands and mouth when you eat it? Some vegetables will get directly sown in the ground this spring, for others, we’ll be starting them indoors. Last weekend, we began making individual origami pots out of recycled newspaper. These will help reduce costs (nothing to buy) and waste, as the whole thing can be placed in the ground when it’s time to plant. At last count we have about 60 done… we need close to 300!
Also on the “to-do” list for the month of March: construction of a temporary, outdoor greenhouse, to house all of our seedlings for this year, prior to them being put in the ground. We simply don’t have the space inside for all of the seedlings we’ll need to grow! This is the kind of thing that is right up Carrie’s alley, and she’s been busily drawing and re-drawing plans, as well as researching what kinds of materials are best to use. The plans for now include using recycled pallet wood, some PVC that we have laying around, and heavy-duty clear plastic film.
Are our plans aggressive? Sure. We just might be biting off more than we can chew. But we’re also determined people and ready to learn from our mistakes. I’m also more than willing to share it all with you. Here’s to food independence!