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.