Day 93–Gambling With a Garden

Four coloured 6 sided dice arranged in an aest...

Gardening is gambling with dirt.–Mark Twain

I am, typically, not a gambling person. I don’t buy lottery tickets, never been to Vegas, and don’t play bingo. Probably, much of this is because I do not have that “winner’s luck” required to succeed at games of chance. My mother has it. My brother has it in spades. Clearly, it skipped me. But still, I do get “the fever.”

You see, my gambling fever strikes me each year in February (no, not March Madness; my gambling there is with my pride, not with money). In February, we have the onslaught of the commercial seed catalogs. By the late winter months, I have forgotten about the bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the 95% humidity of a North Carolina summer. I have put last year’s gardening behind me and am staring at leafless trees and a brown landscape. Then, I open my mailbox in early February, and see color photos of beautiful, lush gardens, perfect flowers and tomato plants so full of juicy tomatoes that they need heavy-duty staking. It’s seed porn and it has me hooked. I am ready to take the risk. I mean, this could be the year, right? Right?

Betting on the success of our Cinderella garden, we spent the weekend organizing our gardening space to increase the odds of our success. We used the garden planning questions from the Dig In! conference to seriously think about what we have, what we can give and what we need from our little garden. Our garden is not large–just four raised beds–3 are 6′ x 3′ and one is 3′ x 3′. Not so much that we will get overwhelmed, but enough to keep us in the game. Here are some decisions we made using our planning questions.

  1. We know we hate to tote water around the yard. Knowing that watering is a chore in the heat of summer, we moved the raised beds from the scattered patches of sun in the yard to one central area, close to our rain barrels. This was helped greatly by the loss of a huge oak tree last fall. We may be eaten alive by mosquitoes come summer, but at least the sacrifice will be quicker.
  2. We are planting to save money and shopping time. In looking at what fresh items were the most expensive at the store and market, we planted the herbs that we most commonly buy–several kinds of basil, oregano, mint (in pots), lemon balm, rosemary, dill, flat leaf parsley and chives. These are typically pretty expensive and sometimes hard to find. In addition, many of these herbs overwinter here or at least re-seed themselves, so hopefully our investment will be seen over several years.
  3. We know what we want and we want fresh salads. Instead of buying a huge assortment of vegetables that we don’t consume in great quantity, we bought what we like to eat the most–cucumber, several tomato varieties, green peppers and eggplant. I’m betting (!) that we will get out and water in the heat if we know that the goal isn’t just random vegetables, but better salads.
  4. Our garden will be organic. I have never used pesticides other than insecticidal soap and I don’t plan to now. With that in mind, we understand we will need to be extra vigilant for bugs, bunnies and other critters that find our garden as appealing as we do.
  5. We want our garden to look nice. All our beds are now in a side yard that is easily visible to our neighbors. They are terrific neighbors and don’t complain, but we’d like the garden to be attractive for them when they look out their windows. We also want it to be a contemplative space for us. So, we’ll be adding a mulch path, some butterfly friendly flowers and other decorative elements as we go through the spring months.

Maybe our gambling luck is turning in our favor. Hours after filling our beds with compost and planting our initial garden, we had a very scary storm that included hail. “Good grief,” I thought, “you have got to be kidding me.” (Tom can attest that my words were, indeed, stronger than “good grief!”) Lo and behold, the next morning we checked on the garden and not a plant was touched by the hail.

If I were a betting girl, I’d say that was a sign…

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Two of our raised beds in their early stages!

Day 55–Community Gardens

Austin TX

“It is what it is, but will become what you make of it.”  Pat Summit

Spring is just around the corner here in North Carolina, and we are looking forward to planting our garden. I have mentioned before that we have some challenges (some extreme shade, some hot spots, horse-sized mosquitoes and LOTS of tree roots). I’m not only interested in having a successful gardening year for our family, but I am also interested in expanding access to fresh food. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been rewarding to find new local sources for our food and to post recipes and blog about our journey, but a larger issue is nagging at me. While I’m frolicking at the farmer’s markets, packing organic produce in my “green” Trader Joes bags, other families are having trouble finding any access to healthy, fresh food. Living in “food deserts,” these families, children, elders are often dependent on highly processed, overpriced foods available at local convenience stores. And there are many more folks who might have access to fresh food, but have no idea what they are eating (e.g., me six months ago). Food access and food literacy. Two huge issues affecting the health of many families in my area.

So I can let it nag at me, or I can see this as an opportunity for another part of our journey. Maybe I just have the zeal of the newly converted or maybe this is where I’m meant to go. Hard to tell at this point 🙂 In any case, an opportunity came our way and we are seizing it and we will see where it takes us.

Advocates for Health in Action is hosting a “Dig In” workshop focusing on building, maintaining and sustaining community gardens in our area. Topics for the 1/2 day program include garden planning, school gardening, legal issues, fundraising, organic gardening, bee keeping and more. The program looks like so much fun that our whole family is going! I feel fortunate to have this level of enthusiasm for not only improving our garden, but helping with a larger community gardening initiative. The event is in March and we will definitely blog about what we learned!

Taking this locavore journey is shaping us in ways we never expected (but I guess that’s why it’s a journey!). And taking up Lady Vols coach Pat Summit’s challenge, we will see what we can make of it.