Sunday, March 8, 2009

Learning To Be More Self Sufficient

I’ve said, for twenty years, that I wanted to be a urban farmer. For many reasons, mostly due to a lack of land, my want has only been realized in small spaces, with room to grow only basic stuff.

This project of putting in a garden that is four to five times the size of the one I planted two years ago seems daunting, exciting, and a bit like a magical mystery tour..... This year, I have this space that seems large enough to accomplish most of what I want to do and I am thinking and planning before the last blasts of winter have passed and the spring awakening begins. I am ahead of Mother Nature and that feels fantastic!

The biggest questions.... What do I need to put where? What do I want to grow? Can I make room for enough of the anti oxidant bullets that fire on the stuff that might be building inside me; getting ready to send me to an early grave? At fifty-three, I need to plant, eat and grow as many of these bullets as I can.

Should I have the soil tested to insure that there is no residue of pesticides? Which chickens do we buy to get the most beautiful eggs? Should I get rabbits? What about a goat or two? Would they be good to have on my mini farm even if we don’t eat either of them? Goats give milk, what about making cheese? Can I grow enough to feed us for the season, give the animals enough room, and have food to put up for winter as well?
The largest space for my farm is 33 feet long and ten feet wide. There is another space behind the kitchen that is 25’ long and five feet wide. It is not a lot of room to work with.

I made a drawing this morning. I think I can have eight substantial beds, five large pots for flowers and herbs, and still keep the triple bin composting set up we have now. In that plan there is room for the chicken’s house and coop and a place for the rabbits. There is a small patio with trellises for wysteria and roses in my drawing. If I get goats, will they be able to live in that space behind the kitchen. If I get all these animals, will it bother my neighbors? I don’t know....

If I do everything I want, will I have enough energy to accomplish the myriad of tasks that come with the garden and the critters? All the animals have to be fed, everyday. The weeds must get pulled, the crops thinned, and there is the watering.

I can’t hardly stop myself from going overboard no matter how much work it will take. Will Jenn, for all her excitement at the prospect of having all these things, really share the load with me? If she doesn’t, am I willing to do it alone? What happens when we take that week off to go to New York?

Besides the commitment of time, the biggest issue is cost. I want to do this project with as much free, used, and recycled materials as possible. It is not that I can’t afford new, I just want to be as Green as I can in putting this garden together. I have been trying, with a some degree of success, to either not buy at all, or buy used goods. I figure that having a large garden is not enough of a green move and to make it as Earth friendly as possible, I need to beg, borrow, and Freecycle my way to completion of the hardscape.

Can I get bark dust, or wood chips or nut shells for free from the city? Can I find low cost willow branches and tree branches to make into the trellis’ that will hold up the beans and peas and form the frame of the patio? What can I use to make the floor of the patio that is not concrete, or expensive pavers? Is there gravel laying around some where for me to find? Can I get the soil tilled and prepared by trading my cooking skills? Barter would be the way to go..... I do things I can for things I can’t. It seem silly to buy a roto tiller when so many people in this town already have one and know how to use it. I wonder if you can barter for organic seeds too?

So many questions.... so much to learn, so much to do in a few short weeks if I hope to start getting plants in when it best suits them. Two years ago, my non-gardner of a girlfriend and I put in a small plot out back that was pretty successful. It would have been more so if we had gotten off our duffs a bit earlier in the season. We did get some decent corn from our three little rows. We harvested enough green beans and cucumbers to keep Jenn happy for most of the summer. There was an abundance of basil. We raised two pumpkins, and enough tomatoes to eat some fresh, and cook some up for the freezer. We had enough green tomatoes, due to us putting them in late, and a short growing season that year, to supply a southern restaurant for a week.

Now, I want to make sure that we get tomato plants in the ground on time, as to improve my chances of having an over abundance of big heirlooms that I have to push off on my neighbors and friends because there is just no more room in the pantry and freezer. I want to harvest enough from my garden so that I need to learn how to preserve food in those lovely Mason Jars. In all my years of cooking and working in restaurant kitchens, I’ve never canned or pickled a thing. I never paid attention when I was growing up to learn from my Auntie Ruth. Silly me. I was too involved in running around like a wild Indian during the summer.

I am excited by this project. I am excited soon be able to look up from my desk and see life starting to poke it head up through the dark earth in the beds and furrows. Now, to find those branches for the trellis. Wish me luck!

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