February 24, 2017

How to Grow Vegetables

"Honor the face of the old man; stand up in respect for the old..." Leviticus 19:32

We are well into the spring time here in the northern hemisphere. With the possiblity of a mild end to winter, many thoughts turn to the growing of things. It may be the green spaces alive in your town square, it may be the return of the farmer's market and the lovely spring abundance it brings for you and your table.

For most all of us in terms food, our choices are actually limited: we must buy food from one source or another. We are indeed absolutely dependent upon those sources for our very lives. Who grows our foodstuffs? Why not us? Why do we think it fine to pay others to do the manual labor of bringing fresh, healthy food to us for the table? Have we really ever thought about it at all, thought about the lifestyle that necessarily results from tolerating, accepting, even encouraging this practice of others raising our food? One thing leads to another, like a slippery slope.

In these days of rising concern of stewardship for the air, the land and the water, do we suppose that we have relinquished all that to the approximately two percent of the population who (feeding more than 98 percent of Americans and a vast percentage world-wide) are indeed the oligarchs? Are we okay with that, or should we react? How we react depends a lot on us, and our current lifestyle.

Some while never thinking about it, work like vassals to a "state of consumption" in which they participate. Yes, we are called consumers, but aren't we more than that? And what if the farmers rebelled, went on strike and demanded their homage? To a serious threat like that, then what are we? While in a civil society something in just that form may not occur, many other potentially damaging disruptions may well be affecting our daily lives in myriad, subtle ways.

Take for example, the price of sugar, oil, wheat and corn. These commodities have been greatly on the rise the past few years. Why? Agricultural economists explain it in several ways: weather, market "forces," export demands, domestic consumption and yes, things like ethanol driving up prices. Farmers as a group are notorious for growing crops which bring the highest return. Who can blame them?
And when they all do, an overabundance may result, actually depressing prices. Then producers are on to the next "big thing," and lately that has been corn. Remember there is only so much land for all crops produced. A balance of supply and need produces price stability; overproduction in one crop results in shortages in others. You pay the difference.

Corn may be used to produce many,
many foodstuffs and meats. Most recently it is used to produce not just grain alcohols such as whiskey but also a product they call "ethanol," a less efficient, grain alcohol used to fuel gasoline powered engines. The result is that millions more acres are now being taken to produce this product and not grain to feed you or produce meats or oils for your table. Did you ask for that? Did you clearly know that certain demands for a better environment would be answered by big business in this way? Did they ask any of us? Well, yes and no. Regardless, we all now pay ever increasing prices to those who grow for us. This topic is ongoing. It's another chapter in the politics of food.

So back to you and me and the springtime garden. Yes, we can grow some, or most of our own food! It's not hard, doesn't require a lot of money or equipment and just may be the best tomato, potato or peach we've even eaten! There is a time investment however; also a time and fuel savings too. It takes time to garden, but the time you'll spend at the store shopping, driving or commuting to places where you obtain food can be used in your own garden. If you have land, own a house, you have space and can garden. Others may take advantage of community garden space, or start a community garden in their neighborhood. Grow some tomatoes, herbs or miniature fruit trees on your apartment balcony or grounds.

Nature has a lot invested in the success of your garden. For example, seeds are adapted to your environment. Choose the ones for your area. Plant them according to the package directions, water and they will grow! Weed your garden and provide nutrients. Grass clippings, compost made with the waste produced in your kitchen, leaves chopped or composted in the fall will all provide food for your plants and mulch to conserve water as well.

Choose vegetables you like
, those that are your favorites will be best. You will not be pleased with an abundance of vegetables you prefer on occasion. Plan your garden space accordingly. It is not necessary to have a large garden. For many families a space of eight feet by ten feet will be sufficient. Many vegetables may be grown both spring and again in fall, leaving the hotter summer open for others like tomatoes, melons and eggplant.
Don't forget fruit trees.They are pretty with flowers in the spring and luscious with fruit afterward. They also produce at different times. For example, cherries in May and June, apples as early as late July, peaches and pears in August and September. From them you will have fresh fruit, pies, jams, or anything your appetite inspires.
For a family of four, two "dwarf" to medium sized trees each of any type of fruit is plenty, and may be too much some years. Don't forget small fruits like strawberry, raspberries or grapes!

Many locales now permit small numbers of chickens, ducks or rabbits; some allow goats; if yours does, you may be able to almost entirely feed your household like many of our great grandparents did. Enjoy the satisfaction of your own home grown table. Enjoy the calm of the garden, the reduction of time spent as a consumer shopping, driving, and always be confident about your food. After all, you grew it and you know how! Goodness is in the garden.

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