I love gardening. You should love gardening. Everyone should love gardening. For me the adoration began at an age I cannot even recall because as far as I know, my Dad has always had a garden. Spring was alway so exciting for me because it meant garden time. Weeks before we would sew the first seeds we spent preparing the garden: tilling, weeding, tilling, sifting away rocks (an endeavor that seems endless for the first few years of a new garden), adding compost, tilling, raking, irrigating, buying the seeds, working, learning, loving.
Year after year so much pride came out of garden with the harvest of each vegetable or fruit. There is nothing better than walking barefoot through the garden and eating the first ripe tomato off the vine or stealing a green bean off of the plant (those were always my favorites). So pure and fresh! It would be years from my first remembered garden before I would realize how precious our crop was for memories, health, and even our finances.
I would say sometime around the age of 14 or 15 I really started to become aware of the organic foods movement. We were never really much of a processed foods family; we ate fresh from our garden when we could; our meat was either venison that my dad – and later – I had hunted or fresh, farm-raised, grass-fed, grazing cows from the guy down the road from us; and every year the limited amounts of boxed foods we did have in our household slowly and slowly diminished. But this organic foods thing interested me and I spent months delving into news articles, video clips, documentaries, whatever I could find that was exposing the industrialized food industry and revealing to me the horrors. Let’s just say, Food, Inc.
With that it became clear to me that local, fresh, organic food was the only way to go – and it’s the way I had been raised all my life. My real challenge came though when I moved into a second floor apartment in the town of Beaver where there’s no grass to be had. So came the talk of “container” and “urban” gardening. Yay (hint the sarcasm).
I was not completely thrilled about growing in a container on the front porch, it sort of took away from the romance of gardening for me, but when land isn’t available, you make do with what you can. Since this was a first time endeavor, I chose to buy transplants rather than the seeds because germination just added some extra risk to the scenario (Note: I did actually sew spinach seeds and as you can tell from the picture above, they’re doing great so far!). I also wanted to choose herbs and the few veggies I did because I wanted something I was familiar with and easy; planting something like carrots or zucchini just sounded ludicrous. I also had to take to learning how to mix the perfect soil and the size and type of container each vegetable would need. Thankfully, I found this fantastic link through Texas A&M that answered everything and has made the process so much easier: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/publications/guides/e-545_vegetable_gardening_containers.pdf
In just six, short pages I had everything I needed to know from container selection, crop selection, and growing medium. Hopefully, you could even find something useful in there as well.
Some things I learned through the process that this link didn’t tell me though:
1. One life, one pot. Make sure you start the vegetable plant out in the pot that it’s going to stay in. They’re not like flowers or herbs that can withstand multiple transplants.
2. They really do grow big and fast. I know that sounds obvious and stupid, but being in a pot compared to the ground, they seem so much bigger.
3. Keep the pots stationary. We had some frost fears a week after we planted them and we kept moving them in and out of the apartment at night and day…a 5 gallon pot full of dampened soil = heavy.
4. Beaver has a community garden. It costs some to buy your own plot, but I ended up choosing against it because I just know I’m not responsible enough to make the trip every day.
5. What I can’t grow on my porch, I can buy at the Farmer’s Market. There are a lot more Farmer’s Markets in the area than I realized and not enough people utilize them. It’s a great way to meet and support local farmers and get fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, honey, bread, etc. Plus, they’re super cheap. I bought a bushel of basil last year for $2. I didn’t know what a bushel measured to when I purchased it, but what I ended up with was a vase of basil in my kitchen for almost two months. Awesome.
It has been such a fun experience delving into a new type of gardening and making fresh, organic foods available to me and my family even in an urban setting. This experience has helped me to realize how much “urban gardening” is really taking hold in cities and towns and I think it’s great for anyone to consider. I love walking through Pittsburgh and passing the house where the lady has three chickens enclosed in the tiny plots he owns; the college students tilling the 15×5 front “yard” they have in Oakland; and the homes in Squirrel Hill who have a garden wonderland as a backyard. Healthy sustainable choices are awesome and I always get a sense of pride when I realize what I’m trying to accomplish here, and so should everyone else who tries as well.