We’re seeding a trend here…

Maybe a collective spring fever is making its way around the Internet, but I’ve seen and read more about gardens lately than I have in a long time.

If you somehow missed the hubbub this past week, Michael Pollan published a piece in last Sunday’s New York Times titled “Why Bother?” Addressing the issues of climate change, he acknowledged the enormity of the problem and the overwhelming impact it can have on individual action, and in following the lead of one of his (and my) heroes, Wendell Berry, he encouraged readers (among other things) to take the enriching step of planting a garden and raising their own food.

Pollan’s comments echoed a couple of recent articles at Grist (by Bill Duesing and perennial Ethicurean favorite Tom Philpott) and generated further commentary and discussion over the week. For those who haven’t ever grown their own fruits and vegetables at home, the simplified suggestion that we can save the world by growing produce might seem naive or ludicrous, However, I suspect that many gardeners would agree with some of the Grist comments and explain that by participating more directly in the food cycle, we gain a clearer perspective on our role in nature and become more aware of other changes we can make in order to reduce our carbon footprint — or at the very least, our “foodprint.”

Extolling the benefits of producing food at home in the face of a national or international crisis is hardly new (though Kat’s tongue-in-cheek talk of a “terroirist plot” over at Eating Liberally is hilariously modern). Although war or victory gardens had a limited lifespan during both World Wars and for a brief period thereafter, the purposes behind them — to reduce dependence on industry, to save money, to reduce waste, to feed those less fortunate, to teach basic skills and self-reliance — remain relevant today.

We on the Ethicurean team may not always keep all these purposes in mind when we garden. In fact, probably most of us approach the garden with a mixture of the dread facing work that must be done and the hope of enjoying the peace of a little plot of earth that will produce good food with a seasoning of joy. But as we continue to prepare the garden beds and start sowing seeds, we’re doing something more. In the words of Pattie over at FoodShed Planet (where this year’s Victory Garden Drive got started), we’re declaring victory over our food supply — at a time when that food supply is looking more and more shaky.

What’s growing on?

Earlier this month, Peter (aka Nosher) came out of “hibernation” to share his seed-starting in Montreal with the rest of us. At the tail end of winter, any speck of green can refresh the spirits, but nothing more so than the hope expressed in the lines of a tender tomato seedling. We look forward to hearing more about Peter’s community garden plot once the weather warms up north.

Despite Montana’s late April snow, Charlotte has been working hard behind the scenes to get her garden ready. Over at her LivingSmall blog, she posted about starting seeds indoors back in March as well as about the annual cleanup of last year’s remains. (Somehow, there’s always something left to clear just before spring planting…) She’s also spent some time reworking her compost system and is waiting for another thaw in order to build a two-bin system (“so far it’s just a pile of pallets in the back alley, and two still-frozen piles of compost-in-progress”) at the back of her lot so that it will be easier to turn the compost as it’s ready.

The late snow has deterred John (Man of La Muncha) from much progress on his Seattle garden as well. He spent some time sketching out the raised beds he hopes to install, but the weather really hasn’t inspired him to get out and build them.

Elanor reports with great excitement that she has snagged a 20′ x 20′ spot in a Berkeley community garden (a photo of it before it was cleared is at top), and though it’s located in the shadow of a Target store and has not been previously cultivated, she reports being “really, really psyched” about having the space. In preparation for the growing season, she’s been reading “How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons and has “checked out” seeds from the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library, with the understanding that she’ll return some seeds at the end of the growing season.

She adds, “To date, I’ve planted the following things from seed and have seen them all peek out of the soil with varying degrees of vigor: kale, chard, lettuce, arugula, carrots, beets, peas, leeks, spearmint, cukes, cauliflower, rosemary, thyme. The basil is dying. My tomatoes are hanging on but the looming Target is really putting them to the test… My pepper plant, which I should have waited to put in (along with the tomatoes and basil — I was just so excited! But I’ve learned my lesson…) is being eaten by snails. But for now, fingers crossed, 13 out of 16 ain’t bad.”

Kathryn (Corn Maven) started pulling weeds earlier this year and was slowed down by a sprained ankle, but she’s working her way back into the garden. She notes that she has yet to prepare this year’s tomato plot, but adds that “where I planted most of my tomatoes over the last two seasons is now a sea of poppies… In a couple months when the poppies die back, I plant to put in fava beans or clover, in my attempt to restore the soil’s nitrogen balance.” In another example of thinking forward through multiple garden seasons, Kathryn adds, “After being so disturbed by Colony Collapse Disorder, I have planted even more bee-friendly plants: lavender, Mexican bush sage, pineapple sage, etc. to accompany the bee-luring poppies.”

Though she swears she’s not a gardener and doesn’t have a garden to share with us, Janet has recently taken her lush rosemary and bay laurel outside to breathe in the fresh spring air and the beautiful sunshine. Just the sight of her herbs makes me feel like the growing season is well underway!

Bonnie confesses to feeling “totally lame” because she has not done anything toward the two raised beds she wants to put in, but she is determined at least to stick some tomato seedlings from Spiral Gardens in last year’s container pots. Soon!

After a cold and snowy March, I’ve finally been able to get out into the garden myself. Though plans were delayed by the late winter weather, the friend who is hosting my garden finally shored up a bed in the backyard with a lovely stone retaining wall (above), and just this past weekend he filled it with soil and the compost I had supplied. Since the bed fell short of the original intended specifications, he went ahead and laid out a second bed for me to use for vegetables. On a warm sunny afternoon this past week, I planted the first seeds in those beds — carrots, two kinds of lettuce, pac choi, black garbanzos, scallions, amaranth, and a handful of herbs — and checked on the growth of my fava beans and the first plantings of carrots and lettuce. The remaining seeds, along with organic tomato seedlings from one of my favorite farmers and potted herbs from another farming friend, will have to wait a few more weeks until we’re past the threat of late frosts.

I think we’ve all seen that our gardens require a good deal of hard work and dedication, even before seeds get planted. So, why bother? We all know the excitement of watching seeds grow into lush plants laden with fruit and vegetables, and we all know the great satisfaction of eating something simple and fresh from the garden. Will our gardens change the world? Maybe not on the whole, but we’re certainly changing our own little worlds, and with any luck, we’re inspiring others in our neighborhoods — real or virtual — to do the same.

7 Responsesto “We’re seeding a trend here…”

  1. De in D.C. says:

    I loved this post.  I’ve been gardening since my mid-teens with varying degrees of success.  Now in my late 20′s, it’s exciting to see some of my friends try their hands at growing some of their own food.  I’m also a confidant enough gardener that each year I can branch out and try a new technique or plant (okra this year!).
    Chalk everything up to a learning experience (Elanor obviously has).  If slugs eat your spinach; read up on slug control.  Determine which crops do best in your area – I can’t grow sweet peppers since I don’t get enough sun, but hot peppers do fine (go fig).  You will never stagnate as a gardener from lack of learning opportunities.

  2. Nicole says:

    An excellent article. Hooray for all the attention lately on the home garden. And for those interested, in these times of rising food costs it’s good to consider your local food bank’s Plant-A-Row program. Put in a few extra tomatoes, squash and greens, then deliver the additional bounty to the food bank, where the fresh produce can be shared with those who need it. It beats canned beets any day!

  3. Rich says:

    Great post! It finally got nice enough here (VT) over the past couple of weeks that we were able to get started doing something garden-wise. The big addition to our garden this year is a 3×6 cold frame, which is currently full of little pots, but no seedlings yet. I’ve started a lot… hoping my follow-through does it justice. The desire to kayak over weed is great mid-summer. :-)

  4. Jenn says:

    Great post!  I am a total novice who was inspired early spring (after reading Animal Vegetable Miracle) to start a little garden in raised beds in my backyard.  (Square Foot Gardening method… very easy and fun, if a little expensive in startup costs for vermiculite, peat moss, compost, and cedar for the bed surrounds.)  So far I’m growing spinach, carrots (2 kinds), lettuce (4 kinds), mint, oregano, basil, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, sage, and several different kinds of tomatoes and peppers.  And climbing french beans.  And the thing is, it’s the most fun I’ve had in years!  I’m so proud of what I’ve done that I want to start helping other people do it. 

  5. Leah Koenig says:

    I think you’re completely right on that there’s been a bit of a gardening movement “sprouting” up online – and it definitely has something to do with Michael Pollan’s Times article.  It bums me out a little to live in a small apartment with no plot of land.
    I do have my little pots of herbs sprouting on the windowsill, but I wish that I could “rip out my lawn” and plant a suburban corn field and vegetable garden, like this man did:

  6. De, it’s great to know that people of all ages are taking to gardening.  I’m trying to get my nephews started at the toddler stage so that maybe they’ll grow up wanting to garden.  You are absolutely right that gardening is a never-ending learning experience!  I read this winter about using crushed eggshells to control slugs, so I’m going to give that a try this year.
    Nicole, thanks for the reminder about the Plant-a-Row program.  Food banks all over are hurting right now, but if we can share a little of what we grow, it can help someone else.
    Rich, I’m quite envious of your cold frame… I’ve wanted one for years!  And I understand about that urge to kayak instead of weeding… I’ll have plenty of other activities calling me away from the garden this year, so I hope I can stay disciplined once in a while!  :-)
    Jenn, you’re not the only person who has cited AVM as inspiration… so glad to hear you’re trying so many good things!  Keep enjoying it!
    Leah, can you “borrow” a friend’s yard or garden, or are you too deeply into the city to be able to do that easily?  I’m really happy to have friends who are willing to let me take over a chunk of their yard as they feel like newbies at gardening and want someone to guide them into doing it a couple years down the road.  (I don’t think I could get them to rip up the entire back yard and put in fields of grains, though!  I wish!)

  7. Becks says:

    Leah – I feel your pain. For years I’ve been unable to start a garden due to apartment living. But this year I found friends that have a house in Berkeley and a huge back yard. I’ve been working in the garden for several hours every weekend. I’ve learned a lot and we recently harvested our first batch of lettuce, chard, and a variety of herbs. I had one of the best salads yesterday with lettuce I had picked only an hour earlier.

    Also, if you don’t have a friend with space, you should look into community gardens. There’s one just a couple blocks from me.