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

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At January 19, 2008 3:00 AM, Blogger moaltd said...


At January 24, 2008 6:23 AM, Blogger ericswan said...

There is a book out called "The Seeds of Destruction" with many excerpts posted on the net. It's definitely one you need to read. Here's a link to the author's website.

At January 24, 2008 9:45 AM, Blogger Jade said...

Hey there ericswan. Thank you for the link. While I haven't read the book, I am familiar with the topic. I believe it is important to preserve heirloom vegetable crops and for small growers to save seeds. For those who are similarly concerned, I would recommend buying seeds from small, like-minded seed companies.

At February 12, 2008 6:29 PM, Blogger Hedgewitch said...

Useful, interesting and inspiring!

I wish you luck with the eager new gardener :-)

At February 15, 2008 4:19 PM, Blogger Jade said...

Welcome hedgewitch! My eager gardener finds himself busy, but also fortunate. :) Someone handed him some dormant mason orchard bees. Keeping them was one of his ambitions this year, so he is on top of his game now!


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