Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why We Should Consider Growing Our Own Food

Last time, I told you I would explain why I think we should all attempt to grow at least some of our own food.

The most basic reason is cost. When you buy a loaf of bread a day, like we do here, you suddenly find that you've spent nearly $9.00 in one week on bread. The way we buy our milk, in bags totaling 4 liters, $5.89, and that lasts us roughly a week. Cereal, $3.49. Butter, $3.99. A package of 4 tomatoes, $4.00. A 10 pound bag of potatoes $3.99. Right there is $30.36. and all the signs point to the price of our food going up.

Now, I've generalized here, and I haven't talked about the cost of a salad if you buy the fixings from your corner store. I haven't talked about how it might pay to shop around; because that's not the point of this post. My point is, most of us can grow at least some of our own food, and do it more cheaply. Granted not everyone can grow their own wheat and sugar; I certainly can't. But I can make good use of the bread maker that is sitting behind me. My plan is to make two loaves a day. One in the morning, which should be ready by mid-afternoon, and another right after that one comes out. Carefully timed, the last one should be ready by the time I'm ready for bed. Yes, I have to buy the ingredients, but this way i can control what goes into my loaf. I can mix whole wheat flour with white or flax or whatever I like that week. Not only will I know my kids are getting better bread but in the end, it's cheaper to make our bread than to shell out $9.00 every week. I certainly wouldn't be spending that money every week on flour, eggs, oil, etc, even with the price of eggs! So, by making my own bread, I'm giving my family better nutrition, I have more control over what goes in our bodies, and I'm saving some hard earned money.

I don't have 4 acres to grow all kinds of wonderful things. I have a patio on the dark side of the building that faces north. Not a great growing climate. But, I'm still attempting to grow carrots, peas, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes and a few assorted herbs. Why? Well, not only do I get to play in the dirt and satisfy the gardener in me, but I also get the satisfaction of knowing I can produce at least SOME of the ingredients of my salad. Then there is the added perk of being able to offer my family veggies that actually have some TASTE to them. S will finally know what lettuce TRULY tastes like, never mind the romaine he THINKS he knows. Tomato sandwiches are a whole different experience when you can pick one, step inside your door, wash it and eat it right then. Nothing comes close to the taste of peas right out of the pod. I could go on, but you get the idea. So, I've spent no more than $1.99 each on those seeds. So for roughly $9.00 (the weekly cost of bread, remember) I have enough seeds to last me for approximately 3 years. With that amount of seeds, I could get an enormous number of tomatoes, peas, radishes, carrots and lettuce. And with only a smidge of creativity, I could grow repeat crops of most of those plants all year long. Yes, all year long. So while everyone else is paying terrible prices for lettuce, we could be eating our own.

Remember, we live in an apartment, on the dark side of the building, facing north.

If I can do this, why can't more people?

Many do.

Many want to but think it's too big a job.

To them I say...nah. Start small. Don't start with tomatoes if you don't want to. Start with radishes. They're easy to grow, can be grown indoors most of the time if you have a light source like a full spectrum bulb, which you can buy at your favorite hardware store. Don't like radishes? No sweat, what about lettuce? It can be grown in a planter, it's easy to grow and grows fairly quick so you don't have to wait months to get yummy results.

The hardest part of any of this is making sure you have enough light while they're indoors.

When we have sunny days here, I haul all the plants outside to get sun and fresh air. the hard part then is making sure the squirrels stay out of them. I have a plan for that too, I just need to get to the hardware store. (More on my squirrel-proof plant cage later) With only a little creativity and very little work, I'm growing some of our own food. Convenience (I can harvest in my pajamas if I like), cost saving, more control over what we eat, less reliance on our local grocery store, and I am assured of no pesticides or growth hormones.

Seems like a bunch of good reasons to grow what we eat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Learning and Trusting Yourself

I saw a quote recently in my email, “Garden like your life depends on it, because it does!”

This will be a harsh reality for many, and I’m learning all I can now so that when we are in the position to feed ourselves, I’ll be able to. I want to give us the best odds possible, so I learn and experiment now.

I’ve taught myself about green manure crops in theory, now I want to be able to grow my own soil amendments. In pots, on my patio. Why?

How many times have you nursed something through life in a pot on your patio or balcony, or even in your yard, harvested it and wondered what to do with the soil. A lot of apartment dwellers have. Here’s my answer, grow a legume until just before flowering, then take garden scissors and clip as much of the greenery into as small pieces as you can manage. Take a trowel and cut into the soil, break it up well and then turn the greenery under the soil. You’ve just “tilled” your crop under. Now let it sit for a month.


Because this will encourage the breaking down of the plants. The root systems of legumes have already brought nitrogen to the upper layers of soil and once the greenery starts breaking down, it will enrich the soil. You’ll want to turn the soil every now and then with your trowel, just to make sure things are breaking down the way they should. Now, instead of soil that’s been stripped of nutrients, you have a richer soil, one more ready to help you grow bigger, better radishes.

Now what?

Now you find radish seeds you like, heirloom preferably. Why? Because as much fun as garden catalogues are to look at, I don’t want to have to buy seed every year. I’d like to provide my own seed. Why should I give my hard earned dollars over to some big seed company? Anyway, soak your seed overnight on some moist paper towel. Some folks say that the paper towel isn’t a good idea because it may have chemicals in it that would suppress the seed’s ability to sprout. It’s a valid point, but I’ve never had that problem so far, so I carry on with what’s worked. I moisten the paper towel, and start as many seeds as I think I can handle planting the next day. I can’t always buy soil when I’d like, so I’m faced with two considerations: do I have a pot and do I have soil? Let’s assume I have both. My moist paper towel is in an aluminum pie plate, waiting for my seeds. Why one of those pie plates? Because I have them. You know the pies folks bring as a holiday contribution? I wouldn’t feel right just throwing the pie plate out, so I re-use them as seed starting plates. so with however many seeds I want to sprout, carefully spaced on the paper towel, I root through my closet for a plastic bag. I always seem to have at least one clear one, so I’ll grab it, put the pie plate inside it and make the top surface as snug as possible. This provides the seeds with a mini-greenhouse environment. Now they have moisture and humidity, and they happily send out a tiny root.

The next day, open the plastic bag, peel back the paper towel that covered the seeds and plant these in the re-enriched soil that held the legumes only a short time ago. Cover the seeds with a small amount of soil, so you can’t see them anymore and mist the soil gently. If you can, place the pot(s) in either a sunny windowsill or under a lamp. I don’t have sunny windowsills, but I do have a full-spectrum craft lamp on a goose-neck. So I put my seeds under the lamp and have the light a mere 6 inches away from the soil. In less than a week, I have green sprouts. Seems pretty easy, right? Radishes are among the easiest seeds to sprout. They’re forgiving and eager, and it won’t be long before I’m crunching into little red goodness.

Next time, why I think we should all learn how to grow our own food.