There was a time, in recent human history, when every family knew where their food came from. For many families, much of that food came from their pastures, fields, and backyard gardens. For others, a local market. The introduction of the commercial grocery store, pre-packaged meals, and electrical household luxuries (such as the electric blender, iron, and crock pot) changed the way we eat in a big way. Struggling family farms collapsed over time to give way to commercial agriculture growing operations that have frequently stripped minerals and nutrients from top soil from greater demands to produce more, more, more! As our natural ecosystems have begun to collapse, pests, weeds, and bacteria have begun to kill and contaminate crops, causing food prices to rise and occasional food shortages. The introduction of increasingly toxic pesticides and herbicides into our food may be causing increased rates of cancer, allergies, and autoimmune diseases. The fact that we process most of our basic food ingredients to the point where they become food-like substances instead of real food, does not help.
As our household has transitioned more and more into buying only organic foods, we’ve seen a sharp rise in our grocery bill. Although we feel that paying a bit more for non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) fruits, veggies, and meats is worth the cost, that sharp rise in our grocery bill is still a bit painful. While we don’t have the space to raise cows or even chickens, we can tackle a backyard garden.
Our extra-deep backyard planter made our Facebook page last month when it snowed in Tucson. Luckily, the seeds we’d planted the week before did just fine and are looking great now. We chose an above-ground extra deep planter partly because our topsoil is not very good, and also to avoid ground-dwelling scorpions and snakes slithering amongst our produce (we have several types of poisonous snakes here, and I do not care for them ONE BIT!). This will also allow tubers plenty of room to grow beneath ground.
If you live in a warmer climate, it’s probably about time to start planting. A few things to consider:
1) Climate. Many vegetables have different varieties that may work better in warmer climates versus cold climates (and vice versa). Blueberries, for example, do require a certain amount of cold weather to produce fruit. While some varieties require several hundred hours of freezing temps, others may only require 60-80 hours of freezing temps. However, these warmer weather blueberries may not survive a long hard freeze in a colder climate. Your climate will play a big role in how long your growing season lasts, and which plants you’ll choose. Taking note of when your last and first frosts typically occur, as well as other weather-related issues will save you heartache. Arizona, for example, has a much milder growing climate and longer growing season, but since summers are so hot and dry, special measures must be taken to protect produce against withering and dying in the height of summer.
2) Effort. How much energy do you want to devote to this project? If you’re OK with more weeding, watering, and pruning, a large garden may be a welcome addition to your home. If you’re more of a backyard minimalist, perhaps a few tomato or strawberry plants in planters on your back porch may be more appropriate. Keep in mind that adding raised beds will be more labor intensive than adding a few hanging baskets or clay pots later on.
3) Money. How much do you want to invest in this project? Maybe your family eats a lot of tomatoes and that’s all you want. A packet of seeds, a few pots, and a bag of potting soil are affordable on nearly any budget. Maybe you want to introduce your kids to some new foods (studies have shown that children are more likely to eat vegetables when they help grow them). Or maybe investing $10 into herbs from your garden supply store will be sufficient. Then again, you might want to invest a few hundred dollars into raised beds, organic soil, and a composting system that will last for many years.
4) Picking Plants. Once you’ve determined your growing climate and how much money and energy you’re willing to invest in growing your own food, you can start picking out plants. Perhaps you want to harvest all your produce around the same time this summer- about 60 days from now. Or maybe you want to rotate through a few different harvests throughout the summer and fall with different plants ready for harvest at different times. If this is the case, you’ll want to stagger when you plant produce with a shorter growing time (such as lettuce) with produce that has a longer grow time (like pumpkins and melons). There are a number of interactive tools on the web that can help you figure this part out. I personally like the one at Mother Earth News. There is also a great tool at Sprout Robot for determining which plants will thrive in your area (great for novice gardeners!) and when to plant.
5) Pests. If you live in an area with deer, bunnies, and other herbivores, it may be necessary to surround your garden with chicken wire, or perhaps even a wood or metal fence to keep animals out. Keep an eye out for bugs. Some bugs are beneficial to plants (like bees and butterflies), while others can nibble and destroy (like aphids). Create a plan of some kind ahead of time as to how you’ll deal with pests.