Saturday, March 03, 2007

The City Gardener Returns

The above photo proves that every living creature loves fresh grown vegetables-- Even better if we can agree to love different parts.

There is no time like the present to begin planning your garden for the coming summer. My wee bucket garden (see last year’s progress here) will make a comeback this summer with some much needed reinforcement from the local CSA I’m helping to start up in my neighborhood. I am happy to report that the farm my CSA chapter is pairing with is located in wine country and perhaps with a little convincing, I can get my farmers to set me up with a wine supply! If not, I am happy to visit the farm on strawberry picking days and swing back to the vineyards for some bottles on the way home.

For those who are unfamiliar with CSAs, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is available in and around most cities. A community gets together and pairs with a local farmer, agreeing to pay the farmer in advance to receive a "share" of produce throughout the growing season. With this system, the already expensive and laborious process of organic farming is ensured to be profitable for the farmer, allowing them to concentrate on farming, not worrying about the possibility of selling land to developers or something else.

The greatest benefit is that the local CSA chapter gets to know their farmer while building a community that is often lacking in urban areas: you know where your food is coming from on a more personal level than a green market, you are supporting a local farmer, you're eating healthier, fresher food, etc etc. If there is an excellent season and a bounty, each CSA benefits. The downfall is if there is a drought, flood, etc, you suffer just as much as the farmer. Also, there is less choice than a greenmarket: you get whatever the farmer is growing. I still believe the benefits outweigh the negatives in this age of industrial uncertainty, and besides, fresh food just tastes better.

Local Harvest provides additional information on CSAs and how to find one in your area.

This summer, because of my CSA, I can concentrate on growing some of my favorite items that my farmers will not be offering me. I still must keep in mind tomato thieves and the more unusual chickenwire thieves (which I now suspect might have been for a Meth lab)— how the imagination wanders when perpetrators lurk nearby.

Last year, with some advice from a fellow blogger, I ordered seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom. They have a fabulous variety of basic and more unusual (heirloom) plants. My radish plants did fairly well last season and I will order more of those, though I might try a new variety. Final order report tk in the coming days.

When ordering seeds, keep in mind the amount of light your space gets. My outdoor space is fairly shady and I have to make due with this. No worries, there are plenty of plants that do well in low-light conditions and should be mentioned in the plant’s description, my favorite is arugula. Also, don’t forget to check your planting zone and match it up to your seeding times. This also helps when finding plants that will grow in your area.

If you live in an urban area and are looking to start your own bucket garden, Texas A&M’s Agriculture Dept offers some pointers with hilariously outdated computer clip art. Another good site I found has great tips for more unusual growing containers (from discarded tires to wading pools and feed sacks). The site really encourages community gardens, though the information can apply to setting up a personal garden in limited spaces. Keep in mind that the site is a bit old and can get a little hard to navigate. The National Gardening Association is another great resource with tons of general information.

If you have a large space for a proper garden. I’m jealous-- Go find your own help! (Or use some of the references above.) Get excited for the growing season to come.

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