Friday, August 15, 2014

The Importance of the Gardens

Kale and Chard.
I love trees and perennials. Anything that's happy dumping massive amounts of food on my
head every year (and there are so many plants happy to do this) is bound to be a winner in my book.

With that said though, the majority of what can be produced in a hurry are annual crops.  I look forward to telling many stories about all the future surplus tree crops that will be raining all over the farm someday, but for now those are "someday" stories.  The crops gracing the table right now, the production we rely on today, are annuals. And most folks plant their annuals in the garden. (continued)

Little pumpkin?  Time will tell.
The importance of the garden cannot be overstated.  I've long since decided that I don't want to pay a fortune for these things.  Never mind that the quality of a home grown tomato, herb, or green is almost always so much better, fresher, more vibrant than what you find sitting under the misters, florescent lights, and shrink wrapped packaging of the modern produce department.

Basil, can never have enough basil.
I don't know if it's the decades the industry has spent selecting for shelf life over flavor, the miles and miles these foods travel to get from where they are grown, or the fact that as a general practice many fruits and veggies are picked before they are ripe so that when they arrive at their destinations days (or weeks) later they have finally limped their way to "ripeness" off the vine.  It's no wonder my truly ripe produce surpasses them in every way.

A lot of people talk about "Food Miles" these days.  This is literally referring to the miles it takes to get from field to plate. This takes time, and energy, it may take a course that is unpredictable or inefficient, it may even be exceedingly wasteful. It is also not the reason this is all so important to me. Zero food miles translates into better food quality, which means better food taste.

Yes, for me it's all about the taste.  I've read that the reason our brain thinks good food taste good is based on nutrient density, or the carbohydrates, or the fats.  I do care that food is good for me, that it has the vitamins, or minerals that I need, that you need, that my family needs.  If I am going to suffer through a salad I want FULL and COMPLETE health benefit otherwise what am I wasting my time for? That's a bit dishonest of course.  I have no trouble enjoying the salads I've grown myself but I do find the "salad bar" to be an over hyped waste of time.  Food has changed a lot over my lifetime.  Even more so if you go back just a bit more.  What my Grandfather considered to be food as a child looks very different from what most people feed their children today.  The reverse is often also true.

Important questions like: what makes this leaf food and that leaf gross?  Is this one that we eat the roots or the greens or both?  Can I save this until tomorrow or do I have to eat it today before it goes bad? These are all concepts we are completely out of touch with.  Skills that used to be taught by daily life and self preservation given a back seat in favor of "born on" dates, "best used by" dates, and the assumption (or lie) that if we obey such guidance we are safe and we ignore it only at our peril. After all, the health inspectors said these were good still, right? All those regulations make it impossible for this to be bad, right? It is saddening to see how much thinking has changed on this in 100 years.

"Argentina" Peppers - literally a family
heirloom variety.
My garden puts me back in contact with the vast complexity of life's myriad forms, it puts me back in touch with my health, it puts me back in touch with lessons my Grandfather learned young and my Father would benefit to know better. When I mulch, or compost, or add manure somewhere it is not the plants I feed, it is the soil.  The soil, and its incredible diversity of life does the rest.  An integrated food web that puts the trophic cascades we observe in non-microscopic ecosystems to shame harvests, moves, transforms, and refines nutrients and minerals in a complicated dance between different players.  All so my tomatoes, and peppers, and cabbage, and kale, (and oaks, and apples, and pines) can get what they need from the minerals that make up our planet.  Feeding the soil feeds me. You too, but hey, mostly me.

Beautiful (and delicious).
For the price of a few seeds, and some time, I can transform bare earth or unpalatable grass or a thicket of bramble into lush abundance.  There are gardeners I know who will be flabbergasted. After all, there are no rows, no labels, no easily hoed straight row of the ubiquitous "American Garden" as seen on TV here.  Would you believe mostly things grow better this way? It doesn't matter if I remember where I planted that squash, or that tomato, because I will not accidentally harvest either after mistaking it for the other.  There may be places where a radish gets left behind or a carrot remains un-dug but that's just a down payment on future fertility.

No kidding, if you want to see incredible changes in soil quality sow radish, carrots, and daikon heavily in your planned garden bed. Let them grow undisturbed all season, cut down the greens to apply as a surface mulch right before winter and leave the roots to rot in the ground.  If you're the type to till or double dig your beds you will be amazed just how much biomass you built in that time, and just how different your soil there will be the following year.  You may also have chunks of root crop left but it is all going to the same place in the end (a microbe's gullet).

One thing I often catch myself thinking, though I often try to stop myself when I do, is just how much all this impacts the bottom line. It becomes hard not to take this production for granted in the middle of the season. In the winter I will miss it, in the spring I will crave it, but during summer I get to have it.  How quickly the days march on. At the store steaks look expensive individually and "expensive" foods like lobster are even worse but I shudder to think how much I would be paying to put just half of what we've already consumed from the garden this year into the shopping cart. As the season progresses and the produce continues to mount up it begins to approach the absurd. I could not afford to feed myself as well as my garden manages to feed me already, and manages to do so for so much less.

I haven't even begun discussing all the other things it does. The flowers and plants in it are beautiful, as you saw, I hope, in our many photos Last Friday. They attract hummingbirds, pollinators, and sometimes even appreciative visitors.  Bugs, pests, or other baddies get sent to the chickens.  Ugly, damaged, or undesirable bits can feed the pigs, poultry or compost depending on who that bit would serve best... assuming one of the dogs doesn't get at it first.  I have to consider the pasture and grass to the be the first, biggest, and most important contributor to feed on the farm but the garden is definitely the second, and much tastier at that.

There are many more photos I'd like to share as Mrs. Farmer took at least 40 for me this afternoon, but they would not really help illustrate my point further.  I am also going to tease you a bit with the prospect of perhaps sharing them with you another day.

Do you garden? Do you have a particular plant variety or gardening method that you really love or performs very well for you?  If not, have you considered gardening before?  Are you planning to start one next year?  Share with us in the comments and start a conversation.

Thanks for stopping by.

1 comment:

  1. I'm doing my first winter garden this year. Baker creek sent a whole bunch of seed to try this winter and I'm excited to give it the good old-fashioned college try.