Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Grow Your Own

Whether you have some acreage or just a balcony, you can grow some of your own food.  How much knowledge and experience do you need to raise a portion of your own food?  Surprisingly little.  Plants will take care of themselves.  All they need is good soil, adequate water, and 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.

Most people have busy lives and traditional gardening methods can be time consuming and require all sorts of tools and equipment.  Traditional (long row) gardening methods were developed by commercial growers to produce uniform products, all ripening at the same time, and using as much mechanization as possible because labor is expensive.  The soil is mostly depleted by over-intensive production and they rely on chemical fertilizers for plant growth, herbicides to control weeds, and pesticides to control insects.  The veggies are harvested before they are ripe so that they can survive the long transport time from the field to your house.  What you get is a mostly tasteless crop, devoid of nutrients, and nearly sterile soil.

When the communist masters took over China and Russia, one of the first things they did was confiscate all the farmland from the original owners and then established farm collectives.  They managed the land like it was a factory and assigned laborers, who had no experience farming, to work there.  The central committee established crop quotas, planting schedules, production goals, etc.  The land was intensively worked, all under central control.  The result was widespread starvation, pollution, erosion, and destruction of soil. This is why the Soviet Union was one of America's biggest customers for farm products, especially wheat, even though they had twice as much farmland and a lower population density.

After millions of people had died from starvation over several decades, the Central Committee started allowing people to farm (really garden) their own small plots.  Nearly every family had a garden plot out in the country or on a small piece of public land.  When I was stationed in Korea I saw this there as well.  There were small family garden plots in between the railroad tracks, on the banks alongside roads and canals, etc.  I had read a report sometime back in the early 1980s that these small garden plots in the USSR actually produced more fruits and vegetables than all of the collective farms did.  How could these little family plots produce so much food?  Simple. They were intensely cultivated; the people could not afford chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and so the soil was alive and fertile. By economic necessity these were organic garden plots.  During WWII, Americans were encouraged to create "Victory Gardens" to supplement the meager food coupons for fruit, vegetables, eggs, and poultry. 

A well managed garden plot of 20x20 feet can produce almost all the veggies a family of four would need through the growing season and produce a few weeks of stored crops like carrots, onions and potatoes.  "Well, I don't own any land" you might say.  Ok, not everyone does.  But there is access to land suitable for gardening almost everywhere.  Many towns offer community garden space and many land owners will rent small plots out if asked.  Unused lots are often available for the asking.

Even if you don't have lots of space you can still grow food to supplement your food dollars.  Onions, radishes, lettuce, and beans take very little space.  They can be tucked into almost any available scrap of ground or grown in containers.  The advantage of container gardening is that you can move them around to take advantage of micro-climates and available sunshine to extend the growing season.  Any large container that can hold soil will work. 
Ok then.  This is just an introduction to the subject.  In following blogs we'll go into more detail on growing your own food.  I have had gardens at almost every place I have been stationed in the past 33 years; some big and some quite tiny.  But all of them produced edibles for my table and helped me to save money.

Until next time...

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