Grow Your Own Food … Even if You Think You Can’t

May 28, 2010, 08:00 am  Posted by Lark

I have some rather vivid memories of myself as a child, foraging through the tangled beauty of our tiny backyard garden. I recall pink-hued stalks of rhubarb taking up house right next to a knot of bountiful bean plants. I remember the beautiful red orbs of fresh tomatoes ripening on the vine, knowing that my mom would likely be tossing them into a simmering pot of soup or sauce later in the season. It wasn’t much, just a little rectangle in the dirt off our back stairs, but it was a favorite place to sit and watch the changing of the seasons. Even though my family certainly partook of our share of processed foods that magically birthed from cans and boxes of every shape and size, we still saw the value in tending to your own little patch of food.

I forgot about it until just a few years ago when I found myself inspired to jump on to the gardening bandwagon.  At the time I was becoming more mindful of the ways in which nourishing the earth can also nourish ourselves and our communities. Living in the thriving Foodtopia of Asheville, brimming with farmers’ markets, restaurants specializing in local food, and organizations such as Slow Food Asheville and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, it’s hard not to get swept into the farm to table foodie fantasy.  “But I can’t even keep a common houseplant alive,” I thought. “How would I, Queen of the Black Thumbs, possibly be able to tend to an entire garden?” Well, I’ll tell you. What happened surprised me to no end, and continues to fill my life with a sense of wonder and delight.

urban garden before shot

Sometimes inspiration strikes in the least expected places.

Living in a large, urban building surrounded by asphalt and alleyways like I do, I assumed my gardening adventures would be limited to a few kitchen containers filled with herbs or perhaps a windowbox or two. Sure, that’s a great start for a newbie. But inspiration struck, and I opted instead to transform the neglected, weed-infested patch behind our building into a functional gardening space. There’s nothing quite like a creative challenge.

As you can see, I didn’t have a lot to work with. The awkward canvas measuring just three feet by thirty feet might intimidate even the most optimistic of gardeners. But I armed myself with some incredibly helpful resources, including You Grow Girl, which helped build my confidence. And I learned that the south-facing placement and proximity to a brick wall might just be the perfect spot. With the plot weeded and new soil spread, I planted my first year of veggie and herb starts and crossed my fingers. There also happened to be plenty of mindful watering, meticulous observance, and lip-biting optimism along the way. To my amazement, my first year’s attempt was vibrant and thriving. Succulent tomatoes! Glorious, bushy basil! More squash than I could possibly imagine coming from one plant! After that first harvest, I was absolutely hooked. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.

urban garden after

It may not look like much now, but in a month this will be pretty lush. And please excuse the graffiti embellishments. Perhaps a good reason to start taking the gardening in a more vertical direction?

Every year the garden has gotten more ambitious in size and scope. I’m starting to get the hang of what works (anything sun loving) and what doesn’t work (lettuce). After learning how to can last year, I’ve planted some cucumbers that are destined for a batch of bread and butter pickles. And my tomato lust pushed me to plant a happy dozen this year in a number of varieties that will find their way into sauces, sandwiches, salads, and more. The eggplant and peppers? Perhaps some experiments in Indian cuisine. And the lemon verbena and lavender? They’ll show up in exotic cocktails and herbal infused condiments. I’ve got my very own gourmet market right outside my door.

If you’ve never had a garden right now is a fabulous time to try. Gardening edibles is a valuable lesson for yourself, your family and your community in food systems, water and draught awareness, self-sufficiency, neighborhood beautification, and so much more. Besides, there is something really satisfying about to snipping fresh greens, harvesting zucchini right from the plant, whipping up fresh pesto from fragrant basil you grew yourself, and the absolutely divine taste of sun-ripened tomatoes.

You don’t need much:  a container or plot of land, some good soil, a little (or a lot) of sun, a dose of helpful encouragement, and some persistence. Dip your nose into one of the many great books out there right now: Grow Great Grub, Garden Anywhere, Food Not Lawns, The Bountiful Container, Starter Vegetable Gardens. Chances are you’ve got someone in your life already with a wealth of skills (and seeds!) they would be more than happy to share. Whether you’ve got a windowsill or fire escape, small yard or expansive rural retreat, you can do it. I’m living proof.

So if you’re yet to try your hand at growing your own food, what would you like to start with? Already fully equipped with a green thumb? Then let us know by commenting below what you’ve got in this year’s dirt.

Some Helpful Links:

Mother Earth News article on the value of growing your own food

Food Not Lawns site, focused on transforming lawns into gardens, gardens into communities

Garden Girl’s helpful site, packed with videos, links and an entire section devoted to edible landscapes

Design* Sponge article by Homemade Living series author Ashley English about Container Gardening


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