Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Backyard Gardening: How I learned to stop worrying and start growing tomatoes!

We all know those woes of the grumbling stomach; the way our insides tighten and coil as we glare enviously at the television screen while it plays what must be the 102nd commercial of the hour involving food-stuffs flying through the air (and often times water to “bring out the shine”) in slow motion. How many times have we looked longingly at our backyards and thought to ourselves how much simpler life would be if we could grow a magical tree that dropped money instead of acorns, just so we would have enough spare cash to go and grab a bite to eat? 
The first time this train of thought hit me I immediately knew that something was amiss in my life. So conditioned was I to be nothing more than a consumer that I didn't even acknowledge the absurdity of the “Money Tree” for the more sinister overtones it presented; I had taken my fantasy of food and directly applied it to my wish for wealth, and in not being able to have said Money Tree I had immediately dismissed the shockingly simple (and logical) solution.
Say it with me: “You’re going to have an easier time growing (and eating) food than you are with money.” As obvious of a statement as that is, you would be amazed at the amount of people who go through their day-to-day lives with massive, beautiful backyards, who just pay unbelievable prices for “apples” that have been passed from hand to hand, state to state, and sat in cold storage for up to a year. When you take into consideration that the cost for starting (and maintaining) a garden is exponentially less than the cost of purchasing your veggies on an “as needed” basis then it seems like a mystery as to why every family doesn't have a garden!
At least, that’s what I say now after having done research on the subject. Suffice it to say if you go into your backyard with a garden hose, a shovel, and the results of a sporadic 3AM trip to the Online Seed Catalog, you may either have a terrible time because you’re not entirely sure what you are doing planting a garden at 3AM, or you may have a fantastic one because you are trying something new. Failure is powerful experience to have, and when you’re sitting on the edge of your roof looking down at what is essentially a mud-hole, it’s hard to not feel discouraged.

Dear Reader, allow me to share my gained knowledge with you.
  1. Super-Duper Basics:
    1. What are the legal ramifications of your plan?
      1. Every city, county, and state has different laws regarding what you can (and cannot) do with your property and the things you choose to grow/raise on it.
        1. If you don’t want to have your hard-work ripped out but you suddenly have seven chickens when your county has a “5 chickens only” rule you can apply for a special exception called a “Variance”, just check with your local county representatives.
    2. How many people are you realistically going to feed and for how long?
      1. Chances are that if you live in the United States you have 3.5 people in your immediate family (that .5 isn’t as tricky as it looks) in which case you’re going to want between 10-12 rows for a single season.
    3. Do you want to use the soil already present, or do you want to build your garden up with a raised bed?
      1. If your soil is crummy, or your state’s version of “soil” is rocks mixed with sand and broken dreams, then you may want to do a raised bed.
        1. No seriously, if you have toxic soil you will have a toxic yield. Your local City Hall should have the ways listed to get a free soil sample (which should be done regardless).
      2. If you have good soil as it is, then you may want to till it and save yourself some expense and time.
  1. Placement:
    1. You’re going to want to find a spot with consistent sun exposure, at least 6 hours a day.
      1. If you can manage 8-9 hours of direct sunlight you’re golden, Ponyboy.
    2. Don’t plant too close to trees
      1. The shade will kill your garden.
      2. The trees themselves will kill your garden.
      3. The animals in the trees will kill your garden.
      4. Pretty much everything will kill your garden.
  2. The Research:
    1. As my briefly-alluded-to experience with a sucking mud-hole can confirm, you’re going to want to do your own research before jumping in.
      1. Ask your family what they like to eat and see when those plants are in season.
      2. Your specific part of the world has a specific harvest calendar -- learn it in regards to what you want to grow.
    2.  Everybody likes animals… Right?
      1. I touched on this earlier but it bears repeating: find out what you are, and are not, allowed to have on your property as far as farm animals are concerned (if you are planning on having any).
      2. My assertion that “Everything will try and kill your garden” especially extends to small animals that are often considered cute. Before you go coating your entire property in rabbit-poison (which I’m pretty sure is probably a thing) do your research and find alternative concoctions you can whip up that aren't likely to make your cabbage glow bright green once the sun goes down.
        1. Same goes for insects.
    3. Oops, you accidentally planted an invasive species!
      1. There are plenty of ways to safely remove a species from your garden without destroying the other plants, go surfing before you go digging! There we have it, a comprehensive list where nothing is ordered in any semblance of importance! This is not meant to be a go-to guide to starting your own garden, but rather a culmination of the things I wish somebody had asked me before I created a sinkhole. Always do your own independent research before you plant anything, and have a fantastic time growing delicious foodstuffs for yourself and your loved ones!

About the Author:

Damien Marty once tried to be a pioneer in domesticated Yellow Jackets; now he and his horrifically swollen face sit at home and write informative articles about food and science, other other fascinating topics. If you ever need a helping hand with a hard-to-remember factoid, or are interested in having him (terribly) sing at your doorstep, simply yell loudly out your window and he'll be there when he can.

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