A nudge of encouragement to cultivate a little something, to grow food for the family plate, to harvest those beauteous fruits, and then, oh yes, to relish the bragging rights. The glory, there’s no end to that – at the dinner table you can make an acceptance speech and thank everyone who helped you.
But seriously, the impression made on children who see how food is grown is profound. That food is not a compilation of ingredients off the grocery shelf, but derived from a growing living thing first; that it begins somewhere, often in the ground; that it requires nurturing and is precious. Living on rural land and farms for generations, millennia, no one had to point this out, but things have changed and we urban dwellers now have genetic farming memories to sustain.
Gardening/sustainability expert Joan Dye Gussow writes passionately and explicitly about the importance of showing children something other than grocery store aisles as a food source in The Many Wonders of Plants (fifth paragraph). Enlivening kids’ awareness could be the primary motivation for growing some food and it would be enough; in addition there’s the kinesthetic and visual pleasures of seeing, harvesting and then tasting your own homegrown greens.
Maybe plant some mesclun, the wild and spicy mix of small greens that grow easily, abundantly and then continue growing through several cuttings, the Energizer Bunny type. After about four – six weeks, (a longer growing period in early spring, less in summer) harvest a big handful, dress it and in moments enjoy salad from the backyard.
An ancient inner farmer/forager is waiting to be reawakened. Keep it simple at first, not the whole nine yards, just one vegetable to start with – spring lettuce, radishes or snow peas. Visualize growing something good to eat and get to work on that acceptance speech. (Oh, and the gown.)
About the dirt.
Our planet’s essential elements are often taken for granted: earth, fire, air, water. Gardeners contend with it all, but especially in springtime earth is a primary focus – the blanket that surrounds and nurtures plants, the food we eat. I read somewhere recently that worldwide we’re covering so-many thousands of acres with concrete daily. At least for this moment in time that soil is gone and perhaps tainted for a very long time, the very earth that allows us to produce food, to sustain life. There should be a bumper sticker: Save the Dirt! Seriously.
Soil. First, you have to have some, and then to understand that baby seeds want light, water, and minerals via that soil, their mother’s milk so to speak. Lots written about how to achieve the best soil for growing food, here’s an offering for getting started:
* You could just jump in, plant and see what happens.
* The best first addition to any soil is compost, either homemade or from a garden store.
* Next, consider slow-release organic fertilizers to amend your soil like a multi-vitamin, because plants need nutrients, especially nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, essential plant elements. Fertilizers provide a mineral boost. Some boxes/bags are specifically labeled ‘for vegetables’.
* Due to winter rains, soil in western Washington becomes slightly acidic – add lime to neutralize.
* If using compost and fertilizer, stir the fertilizer into the soil along with the compost. Packages suggest ratios – read guidelines and talk to garden store experts. You can create your own homemade mix of dirt, compost and fertilizer, but if you’re starting out and want to plant a small plot, a pot or two, you can purchase what you need at the garden store.
There are advantages to growing food in pots: you can place them for convenience and optimal sun; if they’re on wheels they can be moved around easily, in or out of more sun; they could be situated near the kitchen so that care and harvest are relatively easy. A disadvantage is that they’re heavy once filled with dirt, moisture, and plants, and become difficult to move around. With this in mind, place pots thoughtfully.
Whether it’s a plot or a pot, prepare the soil, let it settle and take some time to peruse seeds that are labeled ‘hardy’ for spring planting. That would include things like mesclun (the mixed baby greens you find at the grocery store these days), certain radishes and carrots, peas.
Tilth, is a rich resource for PNW organic gardeners, including a hotline that’s truly helpful.
Call the Natural Lawn and Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224 for a list of soil testing labs.