Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Chronicles Of A Back Yard Garden- Week One

For years, I had watched my neighbor lovingly tend to his tomato garden, and taking joy in plucking every cucumber off of his vine. For as long as I can recall, I've watched my mother lovingly toil in her flower beds. During the days or weeks that she'd be gone to one place or another, I would loathe the time when I had to go outside and water (for minutes at a time, if you can believe that!) her garden.

Even more recently, I have listened to friends share their latest stories of garden pride and misfortune. Disease, root rot, giant zucchinis(and zucchini bread), monster tomatoes, fresh and tasty raspberries...

Yet, for some reason, I have never taken an interest in the thought of having my own garden, let alone investing the time and effort to caring for it.

For a variety of reasons, however, that has all changed this year. Some of these include: sustainability, my interest in learning more about gardens and farms in the hopes of WWOOFing around the globe( after graduating from college(and hopefully utilizing that experience and knowledge in the Peace Corps), the recent adoption of a much healthier lifestyle(diet included), recent readings of some vegan zines and cookbooks, a growing individualist sentiment romanticizing the possibilities that I might unleash by knowing how to grow food for myself, recent viewings of documentaries centered around food and energy(Collapse, Food Matters, No Impact Man, etc.), my love of being outside and in the sun, and also due to my attempts to support local and, whenever possible, organically grown produce.

Another central reason for this decision stems from a recent solo trip to the coast, which involved a conversation with many intelligent men and women (which, as a side note, is also the reason that I've decided to never stay in a hotel or motel again. Hostels or camping all the way!).

I recall sitting in the commons area of the hostel in Pt. Reyes, having a discussion with others from around the country on topics like the recent legislation and subsequent protests in Wisconsin, agricultural subsidies on products like corn (and how destructive and pervasive much of corn agriculture can be), as well as a discussion about energy and, specifically, oil.

The discussion on oil, in particular, centered around the notion that we are, without a doubt, locked into dependence upon it, and that, obviously, such a course in unsustainable. Many jokes about Rush Limbaugh were also made, of course, as well as many others who parade around a Grow Grow Grow economic mentality, rapidly desecrating our natural resources. But, that's another discussion(see recent blog/rant below)...

Oddly enough, I also recently discovered a documentary entitled Collapse (Netflix Watch Instantly is a wonderful resource), which is an interview with an investigative journalist whose life's work has centered around the US' energy policies and, specifically, the theory of Peak Oil.

Regardless of whether you believe that we have reached Peak Oil or not, the film reiterates how ingrained oil is in our ways of life. For example, the fact that even if we were to go purely electric on our cars, the oil needed to manufacture the tires, paints, wire casings, and body of the car would still be immense, as will the use of oil and petroleum products in things like computer manufacturing, fertilizers and pesticide production, and food distribution- all things necessary to maintain current technological advantages and demand for food.

These points simply reinstated my belief that, even if what one individual person does leads to very little in the amount of overall effect or change on society, it is, without a doubt, better than nothing, and can also lead to others thoughtfully considering your actions and, quite possibly, adopting some of your habits as well. Simply put- any little bit of money and effort that can be used to create ways not to support oil and petroleum-based products is a step in the right direction (for instance, by growing your own organic food rather than buying it from supermarkets, which rely heavily upon companies and farms utilizing pesticides and fertilizers, not to mention the transportation cost and footprint for such food).

The dominant voice in the hostel discussion, that starry night in Pt. Reyes, was a man who currently owns 40 acres in the upper Midwest. He who shared with us details about his new solar panels which power his entire living space, and about his wish to teach his children to live off the land, needing little to no assistance from any outside sources. He spoke of vast orchards, fruit and vegetable fields, and herb gardens.

This, combined with all of that mentioned above and by my recent interest in discussing gardening with my friend and coworker, helped to push me over the edge. Not an edge, really- more like a fence. A barrier. A barrier on which hung sign after ominous sign stating that "You Haven't A Green Part Of Your Body, Let Alone A Green Thumb."

Well, all those dead succulents and (forgive me) dead flowers of my mother's over the years, no doubt not aided by the droughts or over-watering sessions I gave them, be damned! They must not have died in vain! I have decided that I am going to take this seriously, that I am going to do the required research, and that I am going to utilize the free time that I have (Oh yes, I forgot to mention my overwhelming boredom, borne of a delayed start to my summer field job. I can only stay inside and read for so long...) to try my hands, and hopefully my stomach in the coming months, at my very own garden.

These photos show the transformation of what was formerly a dog pen, and which now acts as a dog exclusion fence to keep them out, full of weeds and soil that hasn't been turned in at least 30 years.

So, let's see what we can do here!

The first day-

Day 2

Day 3 (before the rains)

While shoveling, I hit something very hard. After digging it all out, I noticed that it was an old post hole and an engine block covered in cement. Welcome to West Sacramento!

Prepping for the rain...

Day 4

Calling in reinforcements, because a shovel alone just wasn't cutting it...

Day 5

I decided to tear up another section of yard near the shed. String Bean section, anyone?

Day 8

2011 Summer Garden Inventory
Beefsteak tomato, Sweet 100 tomato, Roma tomato, Pole beans, Soy beans, Denver Half Long Carrots, Garden King Hybrid Carrots, Mavras Bell Pepper, Sweet(Yellow) Bell Pepper, Ichiban Eggplant, Rosita Eggplant, Sunflowers, Cucumber, Yellow Crook-Neck Squash, Zucchini Green Squash, Basil, Cumin, Oregano, Rosemary, Mesclun lettuce.

Initial gardening thoughts(written shortly after working in the dirt)

The already stiff, dry hands callousing after the use of a shovel and hoe. The gentle tugs coming from your back muscles reminding you of what you just did. The smell of earth on your clothes, evident even after a wash and when relaxing in your room. A pride in knowing what you’ve done, excitement for what you’ll do tomorrow, and the hope of what’s to come in the weeks and months ahead.

A pair of doves resting on a high branch in our tree in the front yard. Watching the soil become finer as you rake and dig and hit and rake and crunch and dig and rake…
Clods disintegrating in your hand. Mockingbirds on signposts. The clear blue sky before the day’s coming rains. The knowledge that this all used to be weeds, trash, and clods and mud, but now I have “tamed” it. Sure, it’s just a tiny (read: real tiny) portion of land. It’s not like I molded tunnels into mountains or deepened a wide river. It’s not like I’ve got 40 acres to care for. And it’s, of course, nothing like the dozens or hundreds of acres so painstakingly worked by the hands of much more experienced and hardened men and women.

But it’s a start. It’s a good start. And that’s just what I need.

More thoughts, day five
Listening to the birds calling in the trees above me. Smelling the turned soil after the umpteenth time of tilling it (finally, I got my hands on a tiller!). The feeling of fine soil, mixed with mulch and manure, as my bare feet parade around on it, sifting for small roots and bits of grass. The excitement for the following day’s arrival so that I can, again, plot a course for the day and work toward planting this summer’s harvest. The realization that I need to start getting creative with the upcoming menu, or I’ll be pretty damned tired of tomatoes, squash, cucumber, eggplant, beans, carrots, and peppers by the end of this year. Damned tired, indeed. The feelings of overwhelming satisfaction after placing the first basil and cumin seeds in the dirt, followed by a much needed shower and hearty (and tomato-y) ravioli meal.

If full, genuine smiles are as healthy as I’ve heard they are (the brain’s chemical equivalent of 200 bars of good chocolate, or of receiving ~$25k in cash), I must confess that I have been a healthy man as of late. A very healthy man.

From Garden to Goals

- Though I had to rush the initial cultivation process for this season, I hope to learn more about the proper methods of soil preparation for future seasons.
- To constantly learn more about the basics of garden care, and to watch with vigor the process by which the food I have eaten and will eat goes through until full maturity (some varieties of which I've eaten for years, others I have despised only until the past year or two). I, like many, have gotten too used to buying from the market and not even knowing what an eggplant or a soy bean plant looks like, let alone the time, effort, and knowledge it takes to successfully grow them.
- Learning some of the basics of soil chemistry
- Spending more time outside and with my dogs on my days off.
- Learning a great deal about patience, something I've not always been blessed with. If anything is going to drill "You Can Wait" into my head, it's going to be planting seeds and slowly tending to them before their fruits (literally and figuratively) become my meal.
- To reduce my footprint by decreasing(and eventually eliminating) the number of meals eaten out as well as those derived from store-bought products. Even if my garden amounts to only a dozen meals in total, which I'm somewhat confident it will surpass, that is twelve meals that I saved by not needing to buy trucked in products to eat.
- Expanding my culinary repertoire, which will be absolutely necessary given how many eggplants, squash, cucumber, and tomatoes I'm going to have to work with.
- Combined with the goal above, I hope that this garden will aid in helping to better my diet and widen the variety of healthy snacks and meals I can work with.
- Having a productive learning experience this summer so that I can continue, with greater ease and understanding, to plant for many seasons to come (Oh, I can't wait for spinach and broccoli this winter...)
- Being more "in the moment" more often throughout the day. I've already noticed this transition while sifting dirt and watering. It's hard to think of other things while you're so focused on how much to water and when you're concerned how each plant is doing after each passing day.

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