23 March 2011

Environment: Container Gardening

The Spring Equinox was last weekend - indicating the allotted time to plant our garden.

I spent the first seven years of my life on a small farm. My mother maintained a sizable vegetable garden and had many creative (and sometimes labor intensive) methods for preserving, storing and using our bounty. She made pickles - both sweet and dill - from our cucumbers. She canned lots of other veggies, and even made her own tomato sauce, paste and stewed tomatoes that we enjoyed year-round. She was an avid proponent of organic gardening long before grocery stores put a "9" in front of the SKU number for produce.

Organic produce can be quite costly and I thought I could grow my own at a significant savings. Additionally, because we rent the home we live in, we didn't want to make any costly or semi-permanent changes to the landscaping. To resolve this dilemma, we explored container gardening.

My mom, the ultimate green thumb, told me about the Earth Box and recommended it as an ideal solution for container gardening. She mentioned seeing them for the first time at a home & garden show and bought several to share with my grandparents. That first year, they picked over 10 pounds of tomatoes from their plants.

I like container gardening because I can control all the variables: soil, water, fertilizer. Also, with the design of the Earth Box, I don't have to worry about weeding, though occasionally, I do need to put out snail and slug bait (that is safe & non-toxic to other animals). Set-up is quick and easy; you can have an entire box planted in about ten minutes.

We have since gone on to add dwarf citrus trees in large pots and potatoes, peppers and salad greens in grow bags. I now have lemons, limes and oranges almost year round. The potato plants yielded enough yukon gold tubers to last almost two months.

Not only do I get to enjoy fresh produce, I draw all kinds of lovely critters to my yard. Hummingbirds are here daily, sampling from the lemon blossoms while bees buzz around the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash and the flowers I plant to draw them in.

We also maintain an Aerogarden indoors for culinary and medicinal herbs. This year, we planted cilantro, chives, basil, calendula, lemon balm and dill. I cook a lot of both middle eastern and Thai food, so between the cilantro, dill, basil and kaffir limes, I stay pretty well stocked.

This year, we decided to add water barrels to our garden. Summers in Silicon Valley can be very warm and it's easy to lose thirsty vegetables like cucumbers if you don't keep them watered. In an effort to save on our water bill this year, we took advantage of the rainy season by collecting it in large barrels. We were able to acquire two large barrels from a friend and make our own rain barrels. If money is no object, you can buy some lovely ceramic rain barrels like the ones here, but we were trying to save money, not get featured in Sunset magazine.

The benefits are multifaceted and I recommend that even apartment dwellers take up container gardening. It makes your patio, yard or balcony beautiful; it relieves stress to play in the dirt and it saves money by providing delicious, organic produce that is as locally grown as you can get. It puts you directly in touch with Nature and the agricultural cycles which we, as Pagans, celebrate. Last but not least, it's really fun and satisfying to enjoy that which you have sown.

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