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The Joy of Gardening – A Call to Sustainability

For the first time in my life, I am really beginning to comprehend just how wonderful it is to plant and cultivate a garden.

For the last few years, I’ve been working on getting my garden to a point where it is thriving and producing each year. Last year was a pretty good season; for the first time I saw my plants yielding vegetables to the point where we had something to eat almost every day. I was able to triumph over weeds and diseases that would have otherwise claimed my vegetables.

This was a great feeling.

How did I do it? I’m no expert, but I know that fertilizer and enriched soil is a key to successful production in the garden. I bought just one bag of Happy Frog soil conditioner/fertilizer last year and tilled it into the soil of our raised bed. It made an enormous difference – it was the difference, in fact between the previous year of pulling weeds several times a week out of the bed and being disappointed in tomatoes with rot on the bottoms as well as my other plants just not producing, and no weeds, healthy tomatoes, and my other plants producing last year.

Our garden consists of a 7 x 7 raised bed, surrounded by railroad ties we got on sale very cheap at our local garden store about 4 years ago. One of the biggest advantages to raised gardening is greatly reduced soil compaction. Plant roots need oxygen, and they receive more in a raised bed environment. Soil conditions, water, compost, and mulch can be controlled much easier, and raised beds drain excess moisture better than other types. Raised beds can also produce up to 2 times more yield than ordinary beds due to the aforementioned advantages.

We have also a new compost bin in our back alley, constructed by my talented husband, and we are building up our supply of soil for our yard and garden in the coming years.

We do have a few other plants growing in pots, which have some of the same advantages as raised bed gardening because you can control soil, water, fertilizer and other factors much more effectively.

We bought seeds from Heirloom Acres Seeds. I spent just over $20 and got a nice variety of seeds – 10 different vegetables – cucumbers, broccoli, zucchini, red leaf and romaine lettuces, Swiss chard, carrots, celery, peas, and squash. There were plenty of seeds for us and some for our friends, and we put the rest in the freezer for next year. I bought heirloom tomato and pepper starts from a local organic farm and our farmer’s market. Buying heirloom and heritage seeds and plants is important because the destruction wreaked by modern farming has cause massive damage and loss of biodiversity in our soil.

Now that I understand the great value of having healthy soil, I know that growing produce naturally without chemicals and pesticides is possible. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with pests or other challenges in my garden. Just three years ago, I planted pumpkins and zucchini only to learn that squash bugs had found my plants, and proceeded to suck them dry.

For several days I did research about how to destroy them, and spent some early mornings on a killing spree. I grew to loathe the sight of them – their lumbering, almost prehistoric appearance drove me nearly to the point of madness as I stopped at nothing to wipe them out of my garden for good. But my efforts were to no avail and they succeeded in eradicating my entire pumpkin patch, which was a fairly good size.

Here is a picture of the squash bug:

You may have seen some of these lurking in your garden (but I hope not!).

The squash bug and squash vine borer not only suck plants dry of their precious moisture, they also inject a toxin that causes the leaves to wilt, blacken, and die. These nefarious pests can cause more damage to small, immature plants. Certain species of pumpkins, squash, and watermelons are more vulnerable to this scourge. They lay their eggs in the soil (over the winter) and on the backs of leaf stems. For more information about the squash bug, visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.

This year, to make sure we not not taken over by these pesky insects, I am going to buy some fabric covering and earth staples to keep them in place. You can also use hoops to support the fabric up above the plants. Diana from A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa suggested these, and they sound like a great solution. Thanks Diana!

Heirloom and heritage seeds
This past weekend, I decided it was time to put my seedlings in the ground that my husband, son, and I had so carefully started back in early April. Our frost season has been late this year, so we kept our plants in our back room of the house which has a lot of tall windows for light.

We bought seeds from Heirloom Acres Seeds. I spent just over $20 and got a nice variety of seeds – 10 different vegetables – cucumbers, broccoli, zucchini, red leaf and romaine lettuces, Swiss chard, carrots, celery, peas, and squash. There were plenty of seeds for us and some for our friends, and we put the rest in the freezer for next year. I bought heirloom tomato and pepper starts from a local organic farm and our farmer’s market. Buying heirloom and heritage seeds and plants is important because the destruction wreaked by modern farming has cause massive damage and loss of biodiversity in our soil.

Heirloom and heritage plants, on the other end of the spectrum, are those that have been around for a long time, and passed from generation to generation. Heirloom seeds allow for the propagation of many varieties of plants. With an F1 hybrid you will probably only find one or two varieties of watermelon, whereas with heirloom there are thousands.

Biodiversity encourages health by making the strongest species survive and thrive. Genes in heirloom seeds essentially ensure life for the future.

Heirloom seeds are more likely to survive and thrive because of their diverse genes, especially when they are given a good start in rich, organic soil from compost and carefully-chosen organic fertilizer.

How modern hyrbridization harms health and the environment
Many of the seeds in our environment now are first-generation hybrids, are pollinated by hand, are patented, and in many cases are sterile and genetically-modified. These seeds and plants are ubiquitous; most multinational seed companies sell this variety. Bioengineered seeds are rapidly contaminating the state of the global seed supply on a wholesale level. They threaten the purity of seeds everywhere. What’s more disturbing is that the DNA of the plant has been modified. As one example, a fish gene might be introduced into a squash to make the plant frost-resistant.

Hybrids and genetically modified seeds cannot guarantee life, as they are sterile. Farming with these kinds of seeds causes damage to the environment since it fails to perpetuate the precious cycle of life. The only guarantee present there is in allowing large corporations to dominate the market and make a lot of money.

A family project: planning and cultivating our garden
One of the things I love about growing my own food is that our entire family is involved in this process. It gives us togetherness doing something from which we’ll all benefit, and some time outdoors, getting our Vitamin D. It allows us a sense of purpose, a bit of struggle (in the heat, for several hours, toiling in the soil), and gives us a bit of a sense of what our ancestors did when they fought for life in a harsh world where everything they did was about survival and making it through.

People everywhere used to have to cultivate, plant, harvest, hunt, slaughter and produce their own food. I have gained an appreciation for the work and effort necessary in doing this, however small by way of comparison my efforts are compared to theirs.

What’s next?
Our next project in the world of urban farming is to build a chicken coop and buy chickens. I’m already scouting out heirloom and heritage breeds on Craigslist and other local resources on the Internet. I’ve had some great advice from folks on Facebook and in real life. I am so grateful for these resources, and can’t wait to have our own fresh eggs (and maybe a roasted chicken or two) sometime later this year. Our yard is too small for more than about 3 chickens, and we live in the city limits, so the imposed number for city dwellers is the same number. But I’m looking forward to it nevertheless.

I’m hoping as time goes on, our family and others who strive to live sustainably can endeavor to deserve this amazing planet given to us by God the Creator, which is most capable of beginning and continuing life when given proper stewardship. I’m thankful for my piece of dirt!

For more information on heirloom seeds, visit the Seed Savers Exchange.

Want to take action against companies who sell genetically-modified and hybridized seeds? Join the Millions Against Monsanto Campaign on Facebook.

Donate money to help toward this effort on the Organic Consumer’s Association web site.

Look at what these farmers in Haiti are doing – burning Monsanto seeds!

Do you have gardening tips, experiences, or ideas you’d like to share?

8 replies on “The Joy of Gardening – A Call to Sustainability”

Great pics of your family and your garden, Raine!

I’m so excited about ours this year too. We’re getting the soil to fill our two new 10×4 beds this coming weekend. We have a nice compost pile that is 4 years old to supplement the boxes. I have cucumbers, banana peppers, bell peppers, chives, parsley, dill, basil, and several types of tomatoes that I started from seed ready to go in. The arugula, spinach, romaine and mescalin that I planted in containers are coming up great and will be ready to start eating soon. We also got peas, carrots and radishes in about 3 weeks ago that are looking great. I picked a radish yesterday, and it was so good! They’re still small, so I’ll wait a little longer for the rest, but I just couldn’t resist trying one. 🙂

There are so many more things I want to grow. I’m keeping a list for next year. We’re also going to give fall, and possibly winter gardening a try this year. If all goes well, we’ll be scaling up big time next year.

I LOVE spring planting time!

Hi Jen – Nice to see you here! Gardening is so much fun, I just never thought I’d enjoy it the way I do. But I’m glad that I put in the time to get things going. It did take a few years, but it’s been worth it! I hope all your starts do well and that you get a good yield. I’m actually a little worried about our starts as I finally put them in last weekend, and now it’s getting cold again. 🙁 I’ll just have to remember to cover them at night, which historically, I have not been really good at remembering to do.

The cold weather varieties are definitely apt to do really well right now, so hopefully all those will at least make it through the chilly weather. Did you use any organic fertilizer with your garden or just your compost soil? Our compost pile is still growing and in a state of change right now as we have been adding a lot of matter to it since the post I wrote about it, so it may be a few more months until we are actively using our dirt.

I’m with you, there are a lot of things I still want to grow too. I’d really like to get things like turnips, parsnips, potatoes, onions, and radishes going, and some beets. For fruit I’d like to get some strawberries that actually produce. We had some plants from our local nursery, along with some raspberries, and none of them have ever done well. The strawberries produced lots of green but very little fruit. The raspberries have been really anemic and I think are finally on their way out. Hopefully I can find a suitable spot for some new plants, maybe next year, and try again. This year I finally ripped out all the strawberries from the raised bed because they were starting to take over and weren’t doing anything but taking up space. I need that space for plants that actually produce! 🙂

I know what you mean about the cold! It’s finally warming up here, and the nighttime temps are steady in the upper 50’s. I’ve been hardening off my starts for a few weeks now, so hopefully they will survive when we plant. Right now they’re living at the edge of the garage door (regular door, not for the cars) that opens into our fenced back yard at night with the door open. I drag them out into the yard during the day for sunlight, then back to the edge of the garage for windy or rainy weather, and at night.

We haven’t used any fertilizer so far. The bed (not raised) in our yard where the radishes, peas, carrots, tarragon and oregano are planted has always been excellent without anything but compost worked in every spring. There used to be a bunch of ugly shrubs there, and we ripped them out 4 years ago to plant. We couldn’t get all of the deep roots out, and we’ve wondered if those somehow helped fertilize the soil as they broke down. Whatever it is, that bed has always produced extremely well! Since the raised beds are new, I’m not sure how they will do. For now we’re just going to work in the compost. If we have low production or any other trouble, we’ll add organic fertilizer in the fall.

We made the mistake of planting strawberries and raspberries along the fence line we share with a neighbor. Shortly after, we noticed the dreaded sign in his yard from a company that does lawn fertilizer… not organic. 🙁 We cut the raspberries way back, and plan to move them to the other side of the yard. We’re going to move the strawberries as well. We sort of let the strawberries get overrun with grass though, so we have to find them amongst the overgrowth. 🙂 Hopefully both will transplant OK, and we’ll have a good crop of berries next year.

Good luck getting some successful berries next year too!

Love your site and articles. Your loathing of squash bugs matches ours. My husband and I have been improving our organic/sustainable gardening skills slowly but surely. We have a very large garden and it is unfortunate that you are in the city and cannot have guineas (they are too noisy) instead of chickens. Our guineas do not do the damage that our chickens do to our garden. Our lettuce, bell peppers, and spinach have been eaten to the ground during the past week by our chickens. Just too tasty! The chickens also steal my strawberries before I can get them. The guineas are worth their weight in gold and we have not used insecticide on our garden for 5 years. We have occasional disasters – our chickens and guineas were all murdered by predators on 3 occasions – and the garden flopped as the bugs took over, but otherwise, it works well. You may want to opt for banties since you have limited space. Best of luck!

Thanks for mentioning me Raine!! What a great garden you have. I can’t wait to see some more updates! I have always wanted a gardening hat like you have on, that is such a cute picture!!

Mici – that is interesting information about the chickens, I will have to look around and see if I can’t find some farmers who have guineas when we get our piece of land (paradise) someday. Until then, I’ll have to just get chickens since we are in the city! 🙂

Diana – thanks for stopping by! I am actually really worried about my garden because it has been so incredibly cold here, and I had to plant my seedlings because they were getting way too leggy (I learned that from your blog!). So I was kind of between a rock and a hard place. I covered the plants a couple of times when it got really cold, but now it’s just chilly instead of cold and it’s hard to cover everything because the tomatoes are surrounded by their cages and everything else next to it is low to the ground. Also, something has been eating my cucumbers, peas, and squash (and it’s not squash bugs). I know I need to get some row covers, but haven’t done that yet. And my seeds are not coming up, probably because it’s been too cold.

I hope it warms up soon so everything has a chance to survive! I guess I need to do some reading up on how to helps plants through cold snaps and keep pests away. Maybe I’ll check out your site and look! 😉 Hope you are doing well, and blessings to you and your family!

I love seeing more and more people taking up gardening. So many people have huge lawns and no gardens. I have 11 raised beds that I plant to sustain us year round. I put all my plants in the beds a few days ago after starting them inside. Then it was so dry. This morning we had a real nice gentle rain and now my plants are standing at attention.

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