Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Question for a Sunny Day

 My Mondays as gardener's apprentice always give me lots of answers and at least a few more questions. As we dug and talked and browsed seed packets and talked about Square Metre Gardening (the book and the ideas) and economics of starting seeds, the question arose: How much gardening does it take to make an impact on the food budget?

I have lovely herbs. I made an omelet aux fines herbes--or my own backyard equivalent of that-- this morning, but what to do with the rest of them? Oh, pesto for my basil and more walking out with my tomatoes and parsley in the protected area reliably offers itself up through most of the dark season, but drying it? Putting it in ice cubes? Trading it to friends? Giving it as pressies?  I have the luxury of not having to justify it economically, and I must never forget that is a luxury. If I am in earnest about becoming more veg-independent, do I sacrifice my land-hungry herbs or make them pay their way?

One of the things I liked about Square Metre Gardening was his matter of fact ness when considering how much of something to plant--'how much did you buy at the grocery store last week?' He uses it of course to justify his own approach to gardening--more little and often than traditional long rows all getting ripe at the same time. I wholeheartedly agree.

He argues that there are three seasons to a veg garden, which may be true down south, but I think even with polytunnels or lights up here that is unlikely. I wish it were not so, but living with the seasons is something every gardener has to come to grips with no matter where they dig their patch.

So for the moment discounting the three seasons, Square Metre Gardening says that one square metre provides enough salads for one person. Another square metre bed provides sufficient veg. He divides the metre bed into 9 squares and takes advantage of companion planting and successional planting--cool weather crops are replaced by warm weather crops and so on, including possibly some crops that overwinter such as garlic. If true, that would make a significant impact on a food budget.

The author alleges that you neeed not be a gardener to do this method--once it is set up--and setting it up is easy. I agree and I am an enthusiastic supporter. Now having read the philosophy behind it I understand better some of the things my daughter learned in her community garden workshops that are counter to what gardeners learn, most notably using only 6 inches of soil in a special water-retention mix of his own design. I have seen the benefits of such gardening in action in Chicago.

Now back to the question of an impact on a family budget.  I would love to have some friends of mine trial it. I'll get the beds made and set them up and buy the seeds and even help with the planting out. I'm mooting this idea now for next year because we cannot properly plant out now. (Though we can start our own compost for next year's soil).

I gave my tomatoes--full of blossoms and green tomatoes living the good life in the sun room--a dose of  Tomorite today because I have felt in the past couple days a decided shift into autumn. The days have been shortening since May, but we do not speak about that. The heather is in riotous bloom--a bit early but welcome nonetheless--but today I found one of those giant cobwebs stretching across plants and I take that as a sign of autumn. It is the beginning of the end of the active growing garden season and the beginning of the time to plan.


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