Friday, January 18, 2008

January Challenge -- Seeds of Change

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m hoping to offer, every month, a suggestion of a small change we can all make to help conserve resources and green our corner of the planet. Often we will find that these same changes in our lives will help us conserve our own financial resources as well, which is an added bonus.

This month’s challenge was an obvious choice for me, as it was my own challenge to myself – ordering seeds to start this year’s garden. My husband also wants to join in the gardening in 2008. Like any new gardener, his aspirations are high. I have done my best to talk him down to starting small, with easy crops, so that he can get a few successes under his belt before he tackles more challenging crops. I also encouraged him to choose plants that will be successful in our short and often relatively cool growing season. Perhaps the most important lesson a gardener can learn is to grow those plants that suit one’s local conditions best. Otherwise gardening may become more of a disappointment than a delight.

Based upon my discussions with my own eager new gardener, I thought it would be helpful to outline a list of vegetable crops that most beginners, will have a good chance at growing well. For a brief outline on how to get a garden established, you may want to read the following article from the University of British Columbia. Even those of you living without a yard can join in the fun, as all of the suggestions below will also grow contentedly in containers. For a primer on container vegetable garden, you may want to read the following PDF from Iowa State University extension.

Need further incentive for this challenge? Salad greens and lettuce are extremely easy to grow and require only relatively shallow containers for those who don’t have garden space. As with all vegetables, green leafy vegetables are most nutritious when eaten shortly after harvesting. Yet how many of us are accustomed to purchasing our salad greens in those dreaded plastic containers that have flown in from California and then sat on the grocery shelves? Some of those same greens are fairly tolerant of extreme weather and can be grown early in the spring as well as well into late fall or early winter without added protection in some northern climates. With protection you may find yourself with fresh greens well into winter, even in harsher climes. Since salad crops grown in California are absorbing rocket fuel – which is disruptive to the human thyroid – you might also find your self-sown salads leave you feeling healthier and with a bit more energy. Bag the rocket fuel and grow your own rocket (more commonly known as arugula), which is a wonderful addition to any salad and has all the health benefits of the broccoli clan – technically it is a cruciferous vegetable and not a lettuce crop.

What many new gardeners are surprised to learn is that not all traditional vegetable crops grow well during the summer months. In fact, it seems that most of the easiest to grow crops thrive during the cooler months of spring and fall. The advantage of this is clear – your time and labor will be spread out fairly uniformly over the entire growing season. You will find yourself capable of growing a few crops in the spring, several different ones in the summer, and then be able to either repeat some spring crops in the fall or grow something completely different that will tide you over until winter encroaches. And speaking of winter, one gentleman has a fairly simple plan for extending his harvest well into the leaner months.

You will notice some of my links suggest using more conventional growing techniques. I recommend substituting organic methods.

Herbs are also easy to grow, especially mint, oregano, garlic, and Italian parsley. Some herbs will attract beneficial insects and all of them will save you a bundle at the grocery store.

Now for the cast of characters (this list is by no means exhaustive):

When: warm season
Where: full sun; well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter*
How: in garden, or in a container at least 16” deep
Why: high in antioxidants, as well as a good source of iron, zinc, and protein for vegetarians and vegans

When: cool season crop (spring/fall)
Where: full sun; well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter*
How: in garden, or at least a 2 gallon (10” wide) container
Why: nutritional superstar, high in vitamins A, C, D, and also a good source of calcium

When: cool season crop (spring/fall)
Where: full sun; deep, loose, well-drained soil with plenty of nutrients
How: in garden, or at least a 2 gallon (10” wide) container
Why: antioxidants and carotenes

When: cool season crop (spring/fall)
Where: nearly any soil, but well-drained with plenty of organic matter* is best
How: in garden, or at least a 6” deep container
Why: good source of vitamins A, C, K; folate, manganese, chromium, and fiber

When: warm season
Where: full sun; light, loose, well-drained soil with organic matter* added during previous growing season
How: in garden, or in containers at least 16” deep
Why: high in potassium, high in vitamin B6 which is necessary for building the nervous system and may alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women

When: warm season
Where: soil with abundant nutrients and organic matter*
How: in garden, or in containers at least 16” deep
Why: good source of vitamin C, beta carotene and potassium

When: cool season (spring/fall)
Where: loose soil with plenty of organic matter*
How: in garden, or in at least a 2 gallon (10” wide) container
Why: moderately high in vitamin C and K, also has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties and is beneficial to cold and flu symptoms

* Organic matter is best added to the garden in the form of finished compost

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ushering in 2008

Despite my silence in the blogosphere, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and planning in my life lately. 2007 was a mad dash from start to finish for my husband and I, ending with the inevitable crunch of the holiday season. Besides feeling reclusive, and protective of what little spare time I seem to be losing my grip upon, I am experiencing a strong seasonal urge to get my life organized, and in a way cleansed. Our recent downsizing of our living-quarters has made this need even more acute. I’ve discovered a great website for inspiration called Zenhabits, for anyone else who is similarly inclined.

Zenhabits got me thinking about goals. The author mentions that in order to actualize a goal in the time-frame of a year, we need to be very specific about attaining only one goal in one arena of our lives. This speaks to me, because I find myself pursuing so many interests that I never make any big breakthroughs in anything I’m applying my time to. Small ones for sure, ones that add up over time, but nothing monumental.

My first reaction was to find it somewhat confining to limit myself to one overriding goal for the year. But I knew what that goal would be almost instantly. It was somewhat pre-ordained. I need to get my organic garden established. So that will be my focus in my life.

Zenhabits also mentions cutting out the clutter in our lives – the things that distract us from our goals, regardless of our enjoyment of them. As much as blogging holds value in my life, it has never been a priority. I think I just need to be honest about that. That doesn’t mean that I will stop blogging. What this means is that I will limit my blogging to perhaps a monthly installment. I don’t see how I can commit to more than that. It may well be that I surpass my commitment and overload my archives, but I think I would rather keep things pithy for the most part.

What you will see here over the course of 2008, will be a monthly installment outlining small changes we can all make in our daily lives to ease the burden on the earth and offer hope for future generations. I may extrapolate through the month on my chosen topic, and I may interject some personal news here and there, but I will devote my blogging to my main goal.

I do hope these changes are to your liking. Feel free to let me know.

Every year I try to make a year-at-a-glance calendar with a photo and a quote. By the time I got around to it last year, I only needed to include the last 4 months of the year. This year’s quote, from an unknown source, is: “Always remember the beauty of the garden, for there is peace.” I hope re-reading this bit of wisdom, as I glance at my calendar, will inspire me to stay focused on my goal.

Cheers to all for a productive and awe-inspiring 2008!