Natalie Wojinski Part 3: Gardening in small spaces

Previously, I have described my epiphany in France and getting my students to think about why we want to frequent businesses that sell locally grown produce or other foodstuffs. In this post, I will continue my evolution from hapless consumer to backyard gardener.

DSCF0401.JPGI know that my parents were growing veggies in the backyard before I was seven, but the first garden I really remember was the large, organic patch we had in our Livermore, CA yard. We had tomatoes, green beans, squash, asparagus, carrots, and much more. I remember encouraging the family dog to eat the tomato worms and helping to set out pie tins filled with beer to attract the slugs that were eating our crop. As I grew, my family continued to grow gardens that supplemented trips to the grocery store. Once I got out on my own, however, I never seemed to have the time or the space for gardening.

Over the past few years, my husband and I have grown tomatoes and a few herbs but with the downturn in the economy we decided it was time to become more ambitious and expand our garden. We’ve learned a lot over the past few months about gardening in small spaces, composting, and how far we can go to change our shopping habits.

While conventionally started tomato seedlings and basil plants from Trader Joe’s are fun and easy to grow, we wanted more. But how, we wondered, would this happen? We live in a townhouse with a postage stamp-sized backyard in a San Francisco Bay Area suburb. The back yard is covered in brick which we really had no desire to remove. Our answer? Containers!

While frugality ruled the day in choosing our containers, we found that we could grow a variety of plants. We started this season with our requisite three tomato plants purchased from the Home Depot nursery. I also got Japanese eggplant, three varieties of peppers, some squash and cucumber seedlings and a boatload of organic seeds (including oat grass for our indoor cats). My mother, a prolific gardener who lives in a damp climate in Humboldt County, brought us two heirloom tomato plants and I’ve managed to start bush beans in a small strip of dirt about six feet wide and eight inches deep.

DSCF0402.JPGBecause I’m working in containers (filled with organic potting soil and compost) I don’t get many weeds so maintenance amounts to watering. I do check for bugs, but haven’t caught any in the act. I’ll add some organic fertilizer at the end of the month, but that will only take a few minutes.

We do compost our kitchen garbage whenever possible. Even though I grew up with a compost pile, I never took the time to learn anything about it. We’ve had to do quite a bit of reading to learn what goes into a compost pile, but it’s coming along. Our container is from Earth Bin. It’s relatively large, but we have it in one corner of the yard. You might be wondering about the smell. We started it in the winter and for awhile it did smell a little when we took off the lid to add more scraps, but once it started heating up the smell dissipated. We do turn the contents of the container fairly frequently, so that help keep everything decomposing along.

DSCF0399.JPGAs we near the end of June, I’m already on my second crop of radishes and we have itty-bitty tomatoes just forming. One of the cucumbers had a blossom last weekend and the bush beans are going crazy with blossoms. Even though I will have fabulous fresh vegetables, I will still frequent the farmer’s market for those things that I am not growing (like fruit) and, yes, I will probably still purchase some veggies and fruit at the grocery store. Though my evolution is not complete I am being much more careful about my choices and try to buy only what is in season. I am enjoying my journey to becoming a more thoughtful and more earth-friendly consumer and I’m looking forward to the next stage in my adventure.

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