Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snowy Beginnings

There is nothing like a late February snow to make you think about vegetables. After an hour of shoveling, the most wonderful thing in the world to look at is a picture of a fresh, green garden. Not to mention if we don't want to have to pay an arm and a leg for transplants, we need to get seeds going soon! This is going to be my first planting season in my new house, so after I thawed out, I started planning out this seasons garden with Marcus.
Our initial plan of a raised bed started sounding.... stupid, after we remembered that we rent, and our landlord probably wouldn't appreciate us digging up the back yard. Even if it is just a poorly mown field of crabgrass. Best case scenario we will put in a lot of work for a garden we will only use for a season. After some poking around on Pinterest, the answer came clear - a container garden. Most of the vegetables we are looking to grow will do just fine in containers, and for those that wont (namely potatoes) we can make a smaller bed that we wont regret having to leave behind. 
Our planned garden, although we may swap out the broccoli for brussle sprouts. 
Marcus's mother grows more tomatoes than her family can possibly eat, so we skipped those, which is great considering we have a plot about 16' by 6' to work with. Our goal is to grow exclusively heirloom seeds, organically, and with as small an environmental footprint as possible. What is wonderful is that growing a vegetable garden not only is better for your pocket book, but it reduces your carbon footprint by reducing the amount of food bought from the store. Yes, we are still going to go to the store every week, but instead of our vegetables coming 1500+ miles on a truck to our plate, they will be coming less than 5 feet. To save water (and our water bill!) we are going to set up a rain bucket to water our plants from. Since we are planting in containers we will have to hand water, lest we waste a lot of water, but conversely, we will have very little weeding to do. 

Why are we going heirloom and organic? The organic is obvious; we have a dog, who will eat anything he can put in his mouth, regardless of if it is actually food or not. Since we like Max, we don't want him to get sick nibbling pesticides and chemical fertilizers. (And we don't particularly want to nibble them either). We are opting for heirloom seeds over GMO (genetically modified or hybrid seeds) for a couple reasons. First, we've gotten a number of them free from our local farmer's markets. Heirloom growers like to share what they do, and we have made some great vegetable connections that way. The Beaver Dam peppers we are putting in is on the verge of becoming extinct, so we plan on sharing the seeds from what we grow with as many people as we can as well. The second reason, is that heirloom vegetables are easier to grow without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Heirloom vegetables have been raised through open pollination for at least 50 years. That means they have a larger DNA pool than hybrids that have been intentionally pollinated by humans. Similarly to why animals bred to closely can have genetic defects, plants with small DNA pools are more susceptible to disease and pests. There is nothing wrong with GMO plants, but they take more cost and labor to keep up, and we are going for easy and tasty. You can get heirloom seeds from local farmers markets, but also from garden supply stores and hardware stores. They are frequently in the same display as the GMO seeds, so read labels carefully. And remember, if you save seeds at the end of the season you don't need to buy any next year!

To keep the planting cost down we are planning to upcycle a number of containers to put into the garden. Old buckets, coffee cans, and recycled wood are all going into the container build. There is a huge potential for waste, both financially and environmentally, with container gardening, but we are thinking the trick will be in solid containers that can travel with us to our next home, and be used again there. Oh, and ideally cheap or free now. As a cost bonus, we did learn today that we can get free mulch from the village! All the tree parts that are chopped up when they collect brush is piled at the village lot and residents can come and take it away for free and use in their gardens! Why don't other cities do this? The mulch will keep a working path amongst the containers free of grass, and help our plants keep water in their pots and the weeds out. 

So how about you? What are you growing this spring?

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