Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Learning To Garden

What if we forgot how to grow food?  Maybe that wouldn't matter so much if others were willing to grow it for us.  If others were unwilling, though, or became distracted or if catastrophic events made it necessary to return to the practice of gardening and farming our own food, then it would be a pretty good idea to know how to grow our own. 
Michael Pollen has observed that hundreds of thousands of acres in our most fertile Midwest is now dedicated to growing an industrial corn product that is essentially inedible.  Land that could bring in copious harvests of rice and beans and wheat and vegetables is out of service.  Land that could be used to pasture beef and swine and poultry is unavailable. We should cherish our knowledge of gardening and our richest farmland.
I learned how to grow food from my father in Ohio.  That experience was reinforced in my grandmother's mammoth vegetable garden (she called it a 'patch'), and in helping my Uncle Johnny harvest for market.  Then I 'forgot' gardening and returned to it much later in life.  It came back pretty quickly, after I made a few longitudinal and climatic adjustments.  In the interim, hundreds of great gardening books have been written, experts have emerged, technology has changed, and the internet offers guidance, advice, scholarly papers,tools, equipment and seeds galore.  You can even subscribe to weekly podcasts about gardening from people in every American climate zone.  You probably won't get a PhD in gardening, but you would certainly benefit from any of the Master Gardening classes offered through county extensions in every state of the union.
There are some essentials.  You do need a patch of ground and some sunlight.  You can arrange pots and containers to mimic a garden in the ground, but sunlight is pretty hard to fake.  And you will need water.  Probably less than you think, but water nonetheless.  If you are a rank beginner, a mentor would be good, or a good book with pictures.
I like to recommend THE ALL NEW SQUARE FOOD GARDENING by Mel Bartholomew and GOLDEN GATE GARDENING by Pam Peirce.  Both of these books address the challenges of the smaller garden and, in the case of the Golden Gate Gardening book, challenges of the coastal climate.  My fathers' garden was enormous and planted with the goal of putting food by for the winter.  Since we can garden most of the year here, storing food isn't quite so important; having fresh food from the garden year round is.
If you are new at this gardening business, give it a try.  Start small, start with easy plants that provide quick gratification.  Grow radishes!

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