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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Pickle Mania

In the midst of my August pickling fervor, I took a moment to fondly look back at my first post about naturally fermenting veggies.  It’s hard to believe it was only a year and a half ago.  Now, pickle jars line our counters and the doors and shelves of the fridge (yes – the photos below accurately illustrate our current fridge situation.  It’s gotten a little bit out of hand.  Luckily for those who want to chill food that is not pickled, we have two fridges).  Though each member of our household has varying degrees of enthusiasm for fermentation, each person can tell you their favorite kind of pickle and how to make it.  The best thing about making pickles?  It’s easy!

Kimchi, Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Dill Pickles, and Pickled Hot Peppers.
Half gallons of Kimchi, Kombucha, Red Cabbage Sauerkraut, Dill Pickles, and Pickled Hot Peppers.
Fermented Salsa, Kimchi, Pickled Carrots, Pickled Kohlrabi, and Cucumber Pickles.
Fermented Salsa, Kimchi, Pickled Carrots, Pickled Kohlrabi, and Cucumber Pickles.
Naturally Soured Zucchini Relish, Pickled Garlic Scapes, Old Brine, Pickled Fiddleheads, and Spicy Turnip Pickles.
Naturally Soured Zucchini Relish, Pickled Garlic Scapes, Old Brine, Pickled Fiddleheads, and Spicy Turnip Pickles.

If you’re new to fermentation, make sure to take a moment to read my original “Fermenting Foods” post – I wrote it as a newbie to the process and include some more detail and background information.   Below, find quick steps for getting started – you’ll notice everything is quite flexible and open to experimentation!

Natural Fermentation Pickles:  Good for your digestion, delicious, and fun to make!

  1. Pack a wide mouth canning jar with sliced veggies.  I love using carrots, cucumbers, kohlrabi, radishes, or green beans.
  2. For each quart of packed veggies, add either 1 tablespoon salt or 1 teaspoon salt + 1/4 cup brine or whey.  Brine is the liquid you get from a previous batch of naturally fermented pickles.  Whey is the liquid you get from straining plain yogurt.  Adding these liquids guarantees the introduction of lactobacillus – the kind of bacteria you want growing in your jar.  It also means you need less salt to ensure correct preservation.
  3. Pack everything down even more.  After a few hours, the salt will bring water out of your veggies.  Some have enough water to cover themselves in liquid.  If not, fill your jar the rest of the way up with water.
  4. Leave jar in a bowl in case liquid over flows.  Make sure it’s in a place where you can keep an eye on it!
  5. Push everything down each day, allowing air to be released and ensuring that all ingredients are in an anaerobic (covered in liquid) environment.
  6. Taste daily.  When your pickles have soured to the flavor you’d like, put them in the fridge.  Depending on the temperature in your house, this can take 3-10 days.  Putting your pickles in the fridge or cold storage slows the souring process waaaaay down – they can last for a long time.  We’ve eaten some that are over a year old!
  7. If you get some white filmy mold on top, don’t worry.  You can scrape it off – it won’t hurt you.  This only happens to me when I make pickles during the really hot and humid months of the summer.
Steps along the way: fermenting kohlrabi and cucumber pickles.
Steps along the way: fermenting kohlrabi and cucumber pickles.  They’re now in our fridge, ready to enjoy.

Quick Vinegar Refrigerator Pickles:  If you’re hesitant to eat “alive” foods, but want to enjoy pickles from your garden harvest, try this quick easy method.

  1. Heat 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and whichever of the following ingredients you’d like:  sugar (try 2 teaspoons), mustard seed (1 teaspoon), pickling spices (1 teaspoon) and/or garlic (1 clove cracked).  Simmer until salt and/or sugar dissolves.
  2. Pack a canning jar (or any glass jar with a tightly fitting lid) with sliced cucumbers, green beans, or other veggies.  Include some fronds of dill or a bay leaf if you’d like.
  3. Pour your hot brine over your packed veggies.  Make sure it covers them up completely.
  4. Cool and allow to sit for at least a day in the fridge.  They’ll get more flavor the longer they sit.  Because they’re in the fridge, you don’t need to worry about all of the steps and precautions of traditional canning.

Fermenting hot sauces and salsas: Read more here – we’re still enjoying some of last year’s spicy concoctions!

Happy Pickling!

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Recipes

Making Pasta From Scratch

To see why making spaghetti with my students is related to all my previous posts about school gardens and eating vegetables, first check out this classic video:

Joking aside, I think that making things from scratch is important no matter what the final product – clothing, salsa, salad, or dessert.  Spaghetti and pasta are foods that students eat often but rarely stop to consider where they come from.  Does pasta start from a seed in the ground like a carrot?  Given society’s disconnect with our food system, this isn’t such a silly question.

Even though we didn’t start from wheat grains, we gained a much better idea about how pasta is made and how fun it can be to make things ourselves.  After a few test batches, I settled on a simple egg noodle recipe using regular white bread flour.  Our twenty students split into four groups, each of which independently followed the steps below, resulting in a quadrupled recipe.  The process was nice because there were enough quick steps for everyone to participate and stay engaged.

1) Wash hands and sit with your team.

2) Beat two eggs, 1/4 cup water, and 2 tsp. olive oil together in a small bowl.

3) Measure 1  3/4 cups flour into a mixing bowl.

4) Pour the egg mixture over the flour and mix, starting with your fork, and then using your hands.

5) Using a clean smooth surface, knead your dough for 5 minutes or until it feels smooth and silky.  Dust the counter with flour if it starts to get sticky.  Break your dough into four pieces.

6) Using the rollers of a pasta machine at the widest setting, roll a piece of dough through.  Then at a medium thing setting, roll through again.  It may get long, requiring you to chop it in half.  Finally, using the egg noodle setting, roll the thinned dough through one last time to make noodles (You can also use a rolling pin and knife to do these steps without a pasta machine).  Repeat until all dough is used.

7) Let the pasta boil in a large pot of salted water for 2-5 minutes.  We boiled a batch each time a decent sized pile accumulated by the pasta machine.  Drain and toss with olive oil, pesto, or sauce (my pesto recipe is at the bottom of this blog post).  We also added shredded cheese on top.

8) Sit down and enjoy as a group.

We got great reviews and had plenty of stories to tell our parents at the end of the day.  Try it yourself – this recipe really was kid tested and approved!

Categories
Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vermont is good at growing a lot of things.  Spices aren’t among them.  When my friend Jessie came back from Madagascar with beautiful whole vanilla pods, I decided to do a few experiments.  After some online research, I decided to start by making two vanilla extracts – one with rum, one with vodka.  Extracts are infusions: you soak your item of choice in alcohol to give it flavor.

I started by finding two small glass bottles, a sharp knife, my vanilla pods, rum, and vodka.  I chose 80 proof alcohols so that everything would be well preserved.  I chose white rum (rather than spiced rum) so that I could really find out what spicy flavors my vanilla pods added.

Using a sharp knife, I slit the vanilla pod open from tip to tip.  This would expose the flavorful inner flesh and seeds to the alcohol right away.  I then put the pods in my glass bottles, filled one to the top with vodka, filled one to the top with rum, and labeled each one accordingly.  And then I waited….

And waited…

Nearly three months later, they smell and taste like vanilla and have a beautiful warm brown color!  The alcohol flavor is still strong as well – that will cook off if you use these extracts in cooking or baking.  The vodka will leave only vanilla flavor, the rum will lend a bit of it’s own flavor to the dish along with a vanilla-y one.  Next time, I think I might try adding even more beans to see if I can get a really concentrated extract.  I’ll also be interested to see how they both age through the winter.  Thanks Jessie!

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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Starting a Container Garden

Do you rent?  Do you have limited if any space to grow vegetables this summer?  Are you thinking about moving apartments in June or September?  Do you hesitate to garden because you might have to buy a lot of new supplies?

Good news: if you’re willing to be creative and resourceful, YOU can have an easy container garden this season!  There are a few key items that you will need, and a few key facts that will help your plants thrive.

Key Materials:
-SOIL: The most important and sometimes most expensive item for city gardeners.  I recommend mixing a bagged organic potting mix with compost to prevent compaction and promote more even water release.  Your mix can last up to two years, but after that should be dumped on a tarp or in a bigger container, mixed up with new additions of compost, and used to refill containers.  The best way to get compost is to have a compost bin or worm bin the year before you start to compost.  If you’re a Cambridge resident (or drag a friend who is along), you can get small amounts of FREE compost from the recycling center! I called to confirm that this program still exists – it does.  Just make sure to go during their open hours and bring your own container.  If neither of these options works for you, check out the organic bagged soil options at your local garden or hardware store – then at least your dollars support local businesses.

-CONTAINERS: We get free four and five gallon buckets from Tufts Dining Services for sap collection during the Somerville Maple Syrup Project.  Usually large food-grade containers (you wouldn’t want to garden in old chemical containers!) can be found in the recycling dumpsters by large food service operations.  Keeping an eye on the streets on trash day during the spring can be rewarding – neighbors buy large potted plants and plant them, leaving the plastic containers for the garbage truck.  Make sure to get a large enough pot for your desired plant with drainage holes (can be poked or stabbed).

-SEEDS or SEEDLINGS: Both Cambridge Whole Foods (River and Prospect St.) sell High Mowing Seeds, one of the only organic options in stores.  If you’re on top of your game, you can order from seed catalogues.  This year, we’re almost past that point.  If these options don’t work for you, get what you can find in the grocery or hardware store and plan ahead next year.  Local Farmer’s markets and seedling sales support local farms and community groups.  Locally owned garden stores are also good bets for finding vegetable seedlings.  If you get seedlings, find out what local community sales or sites are planned for the spring.  Buying from chain stores is as problematic as buying food from chain stores – seedlings come from far away and are all raised together, enabling the easy spread of disease across the nation.

Key Tips:
-Plants need sun.  Plants are extremely resourceful when living in questionable situations, but you should place containers in the sunniest place possible.  I’ve grown heat-loving plants like tomatoes under a porch roof with great success, but they are on the south-west edge of that porch and get great afternoon light.
-Keep containers evenly moist.  In the middle of the summer, on hot days, this might mean watering in the morning and at night.  It also means that you should make sure that excess water can drain out holes in the bottom of your containers, especially if containers are not under a roof.  I used an awl to poke holes in the bottom of my containers before filling them, and have them sitting in large, edged plastic plates.  This keeps water from leaking out everywhere – I water until I see it start to drip out the bottom.
-If planting seeds, make sure to follow guidelines on the back of the packet.  Depth in the soil, and planting at the right time of year is key for successful seedlings.
-Make sure your pots are big enough!  I’ve seen too many small containers on porches and front stoops holding struggling tomatoes and other veggies.  The root system of a healthy plant is as big as the above-ground growth.  Use 2-5 gallon containers for most veggies.  Some herbs can grow in smaller containers.
-Keep an eye out for diseases and pests.  Most can be treated easily if caught early.  IF you notice something unusual, google it and include “organic” in your search terms.  The internet can be a wonderful and free resource!  You’ll learn as you go, don’t feel like you need to read a lot of books and become an expert before you even start.

Check out other blogs!  There are a lot of innovative people experimenting with container gardening.  A few I’ve enjoyed recently include:
http://www.urbanorganicgardener.com/container-gardening/
http://lifeonthebalcony.com/
-http://containergardening.about.com/

My first urban porch tomatoes, on Boston Ave. in Medford
Herbs, leafy veggies, and tomatoes in containers in back. Front: using the warm summer weather and direct sun to revive my indoor plants

 

Porter Square porch garden harvest


Categories
Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Seeds vs. Seedlings

With these early warm temperatures, many people are starting to think about summer vegetable gardening.  And it’s the perfect time to start your own seeds!  I usually start tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in the second half of March and most other seedlings after that.  But should you start your own seedlings?  The answer isn’t necessarily yes.

Many great local farms and community organizations sell seedlings.  Even if six packs are more expensive then seed packages, remember your money is going to a good cause.  If you’ve been growing vegetables for a year or two (or more!) and are looking for a new challenge, go for it!  It also is often worth the effort for folks with very large vegetable gardens or farms.  But remember, strong seedlings are the key to success for a healthy summer vegetable garden.   You’ll need the right equipment, enough time to care for the seedlings, and an attention for detail to raise strong seedlings.

The first key thing to find out is which plants should be grown into seedlings indoors or in a cold frame.  Some seeds hate being transplanted and should simply be directly sowed into their final resting place – be it a container garden or in the ground.  I always direct sow beans, carrots, cilantro, corn, cucumbers, dill, summer squash/zucchini, baby lettuce greens, beets, leeks, spinach, other greens, onion “sets”, peas, potatoes (pieces of potatoes, not seeds), radishes,  and pumpkins/winter squash.

Head lettuce, kale, and chard will need to be transplanted.  However, I’ve had good luck planting them in outdoor beds, rather than indoors in seedling trays.  After they’ve grown their second set of leaves, I then spread them apart by transplanting them into their final summer resting place.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, kohlrabi, broccoli, and cauliflower are best started indoors or in a greenhouse.  If you want to grow these from seed, make sure the following pieces are in place!

  • Be sure not to get in over your head.  Start the number of plants you can care for.  Try starting one or two of your favorite varieties of a veggie listed above if it’s your first year.
  • You’ll need really strong natural light.  If you don’t have a sunny southern window, consider buying a grow light (or put a full spectrum fluorescent bulb into a regular fixture).  You can see my set-up from last year below – the grow light is propped up on containers from my pantry.  I substitute in taller containers as the plants grow.  You can see that the light is quite close to the seedlings – keeping light this low prevents seedlings from being leggy – one of the most common weaknesses of home-grown starts.
  • Buy seed starting potting mix.  There are organic soil mixes available at most garden stores.  These mixes keep moisture even, contain the nutrients young plants need, and don’t compact like outdoor soil will.
  • You also will need warm temperatures for certain seeds to germinate (65-75 degrees).  Sunny windows can be warmer than the rest of your house.  Anything with a motor, like a refrigerator, can also provide extra warmth to specific places in your house.  If you don’t have any particularly warm places, you may need to buy a heat pad to get tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and basil to germinate.  I bought one from Johnny’s that worked well for my eggplants.
  • Timing: You want to start seeds so that they are the right size when it is warm enough to plant them outdoors.  UMass Extension has good guidelines (and many other resources for Massachusetts gardeners), or you can search for other charts online.
  • Make durable labels.  You need to know which plants are which.  I suggest popsicle sticks with permanent marker.  You can also cut strips out of recycled plastic containers and write with permanent marker on them.
  • Pay attention!  Even water is key for healthy seedlings.  Lights should be kept close to the tallest leaves, but you don’t want these leaves to touch the bulb.  Once you see plants developing their second set of leaves, you may need to transplant them into lager containers so they do not become root bound.  Keeping a close eye on your spring babies will set you up for success.
There are many websites offering advice for first time seed starters.  Check them out if you want more informaiton!  I found Mother Earth NewsNational Garden Bureau Organic GardeningAbout.com,  and Gardener’s Supply interesting and informative.

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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: Putting the Garden to Bed

This post is a bit overdue, we put the garden to bed the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Given this year’s temperatures, we could have done it on New Years Day!

Putting a vegetable garden to bed in the fall isn’t truly necessary, but it makes things much easier in the spring.  It will allow you to plant earlier, when soil is still quite wet from melting snow.  Your garden will also look cleaner and more attractive to neighbors and housemates in urban settings.

Choosing the right time can be tricky, especially when first frosts are coming later and later in the season.  This year we had our first frost on November 2 in the city, leaving everything but chard and kale limp and dead.  These hardy greens, however, often get thicker sweeter leaves in the late cool fall, so I like to leave my garden intact until I’ve finished eating them all.  However, I also try to get my garden tucked away for the winter before it gets so cold that outdoor work becomes a painful chore.

Once you’re ready to unearth your veggie plant stumps and skeletons, gather a shovel, pruners, soil rake, a place to put your compost-ready plants, and some sort of mulch.  Leaves offer a free option, but these often blow away.  Salt march hay or straw (make sure it doesn’t have seeds) stay in place better and can be bought from a garden store.  First, pull out all your old plants, chop them up into 4″ pieces and put them into the compost.  Keeping compost additions small will ease in turning your heap.  Next, turn over your soil to kill any small weed plants and aerate your soil.  This is a good time to add completed compost or soil amendments so that everything will be ready in the spring.  Once you have raked your soil flat, add a layer of mulch over the top.  It can help to water the entire garden after mulching it to weigh down the mulch and keep it from blowing away.  Mulch will prevent weed seeds from sprouting early in the spring and will keep soil from blowing away or eroding during the winter.

We sifted completed compost out of the bin, re-layered its contents with our new dead plants, tilled the new compost into our garden soil, and mulched the garden with leaves in about 45 minutes!  Plenty of time was left for some pick-up basketball during the unseasonably warm late November weekend.

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Get Involved! Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Composting Webinar Online!

Ok, ok, I know my friends are probably sick of me talking about compost.  I have just a few more things to say about the topic, then I’ll leave it be for at least a few months…really!

First, last week’s webinar went really well.  Thanks to all who attended, especially those who asked such interesting and probing questions!  I could tell that everyone in the “room” was really thinking about getting started and thought deeply about addressing any concerns or roadblocks in their way.  Could’t attend?  Don’t worry!  You can view the webinar recording (click on the image below) to learn the basics of urban home composting and listen to the question and answer period that followed.  Thanks to the Environmental Leadership Program for making this available.

Click this image to check out the webinar!

Are you a more visual learner?  All examples of composting methods pictured in the webinar can be found at the Somerville Community Growing Center.  I’ll be leading the last of their compost trainings THIS Saturday June 25th!  If you live in Somerville or in the Boston area, I’d love to see you there.  I would also be very appreciative if you could pass along this free opportunity to folks you think might be interested.  Read below for more the details in a letter sent recently by the “Compost Caretaker Team:”

We’re happy that the Growing Center can facilitate Somerville residents in reducing their waste stream and creating healthy soil.  However, simply bringing your food waste to the center is not the only step!  If you wish to compost at the Growing Center, you must attend an FCGC volunteer orientation AND a Growing Center composting workshop. 

Our last COMPOSTING WORKSHOP of the season is on Saturday June 25 from 12-1 pm: Join Groundwork Somerville’s Gardens Coordinator for this practical workshop.  Have you wanted to learn about urban composting or had trouble managing a healthy compost bin? Come learn the basics of turning yard and food waste into a valuable soil amendment in one of the most rewarding ecological activities that fits well in the city. Learn a few simple guidelines and see a range of options. This is a great opportunity to trouble shoot, ask questions, and create a viable plan to reduce household or office waste! 

Our compost bins are managed by Friends of the Community Growing Center (FCGC) volunteers and the labor of those who wish to use the bins for their food scraps.   Thank you for your help!

Tai & Aileen
FCGC Compost Caretaker Team

Healey School Gardener hunts for "compost critters"

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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To School Gardens

Cool Crops vs. Heat Lovers: Seasonality Tips!

We’re used to having access to whatever fruits and vegetables we want when we want them.  Sometimes this affects the growing decisions made by first-time gardeners.  If I LOVE spinach, why shouldn’t I start a new batch every 30 days all summer long? If watermelon is absolutely my #1 favorite fruit, I should be determined to grow at least one, right?!

Not necessarily.  A bit more strategy, research, and adaptation to the ebb and flow of each season is needed in order to take advantage of small backyard gardens and containers.  If you wait all year for your first pea harvest in June, they will taste better than if you ate them all year long.  And then, as soon as the thrill of eating peas starts to wane, strawberries, head lettuce, and cilantro will be ready.  If you eat seasonally, meals are appreciated and stay exciting all year round.

The Crop Availability Guide, produced by the MA Department of Agriculture gives the viewer some sense about when produce is available in Massachusetts, but this still isn’t telling the whole story.  Some plants can be grown in the middle of the summer, but farmers must use special techniques and extra effort to keep them cool and evenly watered so that they can thrive.  Similarly, some plants can be encouraged to grow despite cool temperatures with added equipment and cost, even though they really like growing later in the summer.  These efforts are worth it for seasoned gardeners and farmers who enjoy the challenge of extending their seasons.  For first time gardeners, however, my main advice is to make your job simple!  After a few years, your adjustments and adaptations will allow you to grow more of what you like when you want it.  Below, find tips on plants that grow well in small spaces and the best months to start them in.

SEASONS: Consider only planting spinach in spring and fall, using Chard as a heat tolerant substitute to get you through the middle of the summer.  Lettuce and cilantro can get through the summer in shadier corners of the garden while tomatoes, peppers, and basil love the heat and hate the cold soil and cool nights of May and April!

  • April: Peas (harvest in June), Lettuce (harvest in May/June), Spinach (harvest in May/June), Arugula (harvest May/June)
  • May: Lettuce, Spinach, Kale (harvest June-Nov), Chard (harvest June-Nov), Kohlrabi (harvest July), Cilantro (harvest June-July), Dill (harvest June-July), Onions (harvest July-Aug), Carrots (harvest July), Parsley (harvest July-Oct)
  • June: Beans (harvest July-Aug), Cucumbers (harvest July-Aug), Tomatoes (harvest July-Oct), Basil (harvest July-Sept), Marigolds, Peppers (harvest July-Sept)
  • Late August: In shadier or cool gardens, try starting a fall batch of peas, spinach, cilantro or lettuce!

SPACE: consider planting the first option rather than the second to save space in your small garden!

  • Cucumbers, trellised vertically vs. Zucchini
  • Pole beans, trellised vertically vs. Bush Beans
  • Grow greens, herbs, and tomatoes at home vs. corn, melon, and pumpkins …you can supplement your harvest by buying these space hogs from the farmer’s market

Do you have tips for those of us trying to make home gardening as easy as possible?  Did you have any early learning experiences in your garden that you can share with novice gardeners?  What unusual crops grow well in your backyard or container gardens?

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Get Involved! Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Urban Composting

Moving to Boston provoked several urban lifestyle wake-up-calls, many of them relating to city residents’ relationship to food and waste.  Many of my comments drew quizzical looks.

In line at dining hall brunch:
Classmate: “Why don’t you want a bunch of these HUGE strawberries?!”
Me: “They’re not in season, it’s January.  I don’t know, I’d rather eat citrus because this is the time of year it’s really good.”
Classmate: “?!? Ok, more for me!”

At a department event with free food:
Me: “Where do we put the vegetables we’re not going to eat?”
Professor: “Uh, in the trash?”

After living here for almost six years, I now see why it is so hard to be aware of seasonality or waste reduction options when living in an urban community.  It takes much more effort and desire, and many people choose to focus their efforts elsewhere.  In the past several years I’ve happily noticed increased interest in compost, farmer’s markets, in-season local food, and back yard/porch gardening.  Things are really changing.
There certainly are legitimate reasons that composting, eating in-season local food, and urban gardening are challenging and even harmful to one’s heath.  Toxic soils, rats, and high initial costs can give such pursuits a bad name if done without some research and strategy.  This is why I am so excited to be able to offer “Urban Composting Workshops” – both in-person, as a representative of Groundwork Somerville at the Somerville Community Growing Center, and in webinar format as a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leaders Program.

Join me in person or online to learn about how to deter pests and rodents, eliminate odors, and turn waste to compost as fast as possible.  These issues are common in urban settings and often give composting a bad name – don’t let this happen to you and your neighbors!!  Maintaining a healthy compost bin reduces waste (and smelly trash cans) and improves soil quality. Done right, you can inspire others to compost in their backyards. Even with limited space or no backyard, there are options for you too.  Join me!


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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To

Backyard Gardening: The Idea

Last fall, as the days grew short, CSA shares made their final distributions, and temperatures dropped, my friend came to me with a question.  He enjoyed his CSA share and was wondering if he should sign up again for the next season.  I mentioned that I thought he could grow most of the veggies he enjoyed in this year’s share in his small back yard and supplement his harvest with purchases at the farmer’s market.  I estimated that the cost of starting a garden and making a few purchases from the market would be less than that of a CSA share.  He was intrigued and open to trying it out for a season.

I realized I had never actually done personal back yard gardening in a city.  I grew up with a large garden in a rural community.  I maintain the school gardens in Somerville.  I’ve never had access to yard space while in the city, so I’ve grown choice vegetables along the edge of my of roof-covered porch.  Last year I even snuck chard and cherry tomatoes into my landlord’s flower beds.  I’d never, however, built and maintained raised beds for myself just outside my own back door. I was excited about the prospect of participating in my friend’s growing experiment!

After getting permission from the other users of his back yard space, we began to plan.  I would act as an adviser; he would be the garden manager and primary consumer.  I’d document the process so others could learn from our successes and challenges.  By the fall, we’d know how much work it really takes and how much we could realistically grow in 70 square feet of the  back yard. We welcome you to check in with our progress, offer tips or lessons you’ve learned from back yard gardening, and ask questions as we enjoy a season of urban gardening.  Maybe you can even start one for yourself!

Sungold tomatoes I was allowed to grow in my landlord’s flower bed last summer