Friday, January 6, 2012

Day 26: Planting a Promise


A tended garden is a promise of tomorrow. I raised healthy, well-mannered, and good-looking kids, negotiated obstacles, and accomplished academic and career goals beyond my high school counselor’s predictions. I attribute my success to luck and hard work, and I’m thankful for folks who helped me along the way. I’ve lived a gifted life, yet there are few moments as thrilling or pride-swelling as plucking a perfect, homegrown tomato fresh from the vine.

I’m backwards like that. Simple miracles of nature move me. I’m at peace in the forest and field, and feel intimately connected to the creator when her earth squishes up between my toes. The greenhouse serves as my church, and soil under my nails provides proof of worship.

Today’s activities had nothing to do with killing and everything to do with living. Winter gardening is a challenge without a heated greenhouse, but I’m up for it. I planted seeds, lots and lots of seeds. I collect heirloom seeds, saving from my own crops and scanning the internet for unusual varieties.

I dug through the collections for cold-hearty plants. About 80% of my seeds fall into the tomato family. Tomatoes are not cold-hearty. In the remaining 20%, I selected Ruby Red Swiss Chard, Utah Tall Celery, Florence Red Onions, Long Island Brussels Sprouts, Paris Island Romaine, and Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage. The onions are not necessarily a cold weather crop, but require a lengthy grow period, so I’m getting a head start.

I started 192 seeds in front the sliding glass door of my office. Seeds need heat to germinate, so indoor planting was required. I know 192 seeds sound like a lot, but it’s not, or maybe it is. I don’t know. I over-plant, almost always. Not all seeds will germinate, of course. I run a 75% germination average, a little lower on celery and Brussels sprouts, and a bit higher on the Romaine, cabbage, and chard. Onions are a first, so I don’t know what to expect.

Now take the celery for example. I planted what I hope will be 48 bunches. Realistically, I’ll harvest about half of that, provided I get control of my slug population. Celery takes 100 to 125 days to mature. Toward the middle of April, I should be stirring my bloody-Mary with the crisp, green stalks. Celery keeps well, and doesn’t have to be picked right away. If my family eats one bunch per week, my celery should take us into September. I’ll start more seeds in the spring to ensure a winter crop.

My organic celery crop is potentially worth about $150 at a farmer’s market or down the organic produce isle. Organic produce is expensive. I never understood why, until I vowed to grow naturally. Gardening without assistance from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizer is a total pain in the ass. It requires an advance level of systems-thinking, creativity, learning best practices from more experienced and like-minded folks, and a decent amount of beer to drown failures as well as slugs.  I can’t begin to explain the demoralizing effects of itsy-bitsy slugs wiping out an entire bed of sweet peppers. It hurts more than I thought possible.

If you don’t grow your own, try to buy organic. And if organic slaughters the food budget, you might split the difference. Purchase some organics and some not. A little research will go a long way to figure out what items in your grocery store are clean and what items are potentially toxic. If you’re sitting on the fence when it comes to organic produce, check out the dirty dozen listed in an article from Huffington Post.

The article includes a link to a handy shopper’s guide to clip out and keep in your wallet. Celery is listed as #2 on the dirty list, trumped by apples and followed by strawberries, peaches, and spinach. The cleanest food in the non-organic grocery selection is onions, followed by corn, sweet peas, and mushrooms.
I don’t grow everything I want, and it’s tough to stomach premium prices of organic fruits and vegetables. I’m stunned when I see a pound of apples priced higher than a pound of beef, pork, or chicken. How can a raw, tree grown fruit cost more than an animal pumped full of corn, treated with antibiotics, slaughtered, processed, and wrapped in neat packages? Logic evades this phenomenon, and makes me wonder if I really want to know answers to such questions.

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