Wednesday, January 5, 2011
It's the 5th of January and I just picked dinner! I love living in Southern California. I get fresh vegetables all year long. There is nothing more satisfying than starting a vegetable from seed, watching it grow, and then enjoying it for dinner. But most of all, I love spending time with my kids in the garden. I find it a wonderful activity for the three of us. My 18m old loves to stick her hands way down in the dirt and smear it over her chest, and my 3.5 year old loves to search endlessly for caterpillars on the tomato leaves. I really can't think of a better activity to do with kids than gardening. You get the satisfaction of working hard for something and then rewarded with fresh, organic, tasty treats, and your kids get to be outside, with you, learning about where our food comes from while digging in the dirt. LOVE IT!
Growing your own food is not difficult. I started 4 years ago as a complete beginner. It doesn't matter if you live in California, Nebraska, or in a Chicago high rise, if you've got a plot of land or space outside, or even a freakin' (yes, I'm from Utah) window seal, you can do it. Oh, and you've got to have sunshine. Vegetables don't like the dark.
I've got two 4' x 8' raised bed gardens. I built them myself (I am now patting myself on the back.) I got the soil from our local nursery and get seeds from lots of places. If you want to give it a go, here are a few tips I've learned along the way.
Tip 1.) Start small. Let me say that again. Start small. The first year I built my boxes, I crammed the damn things with everything yummy I could think of. When things started growing, everything was fighting. The oregano stomped out the basil, the zucchini strangled the tomatoes, and the green beans just never had a chance. You want your vegetables to all get along with one another, so don't give them too mixed of a crowd. Keep it to 2-4 varieties per box. You can't have it all.
My solution is to pick a few vegetables with a good production reputation. Tomatoes, herbs and if you've got the space, cucumbers or zucchini. You'll get rewarded, and then some!
Tip 2.) Get good soil! Don't be cheap here. Get organic pesticide free soil. I like the stuff with worm castings. It just sounds fertile, doesn't it? And, don't be suckered into buying the cheap "natural" soil. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Many of the "natural" soils are composted manure and yard trimmings, and they smell bad. Good soil should smell sweet, not like manure or urine. If you open your soil and it is full of wood chips, take it back. You will pay more for your soil, but you'll save in the long run.
Tip 3.) Grow up! Not you, the vegetables! Use trellises for vine vegetables such as zucchini and cucumbers. You can use tomato cages for green beans or peas, or stick a pole in the ground.
Tip 4.) Watch out! The key to pest control organically is to look for bugs constantly. If you are constantly looking at your vegetables, you will see the little buggers in the beginning. If the problem is small, you can wipe aphids off with water, pick caterpillars, or squirmy wormys as my daughter calls them, off with your bare hands. If the problem gets a bit out of your control, use insecticidal soap and neem oil.
Tip 5.) Read up! But not too much. Don't go out and invest in piles of gardening books and magazines. It's just too overwhelming. Just take it as it comes. Got a problem? Google it. Got a question? Google again.
Tip 6.) Feed them! Your plants need food too. Give them organic food just like you like.... if you like ground up bones and blood. Gross, but it works!
Tip 7.) Be patient and enjoy the process. Sometimes it's the journey traveled worth remembering rather than the destination.
Good luck! Post pictures please!!!
Links I like:
Square foot gardening
How to build a raised bed