Posts Tagged ‘community gardens’

The Season of Water Has Begun

In many places, winter is the season of water. It’s monsoon season, or snow season. Out West, summer is our season of water. Why? Because that’s when we need it and we may not have it. California is at the top of the list at the moment when it comes to lack of water, but they aren’t the only ones that are concerned. All of the states that have lower rainfall than the East Coast are aware that California’s fate may well be ours in the not-too-distant-future.

Fire season has already started here in Colorado. I have a fire about 90 miles south of me that just decided it didn’t want to be contained anymore. While that one isn’t a direct threat to me, it is absolutely something to keep my eye on. My community garden just opened itself back up to us for spring watering, and I did not mulch my garlic bed well enough so the soil is dry as a bone. That’s perfectly normal for poorly covered or bare ground in Colorado. It’s also really bad for the garlic and all of the critters that needed moisture for over-wintering. Despite the silly Kentucky Blue Grass lawns around here, lack of water is simply a fact of life.

Jon Stewart, as usual, brings his wit and sarcasm to the issue of climate change. As he points out, our two most phallic states have totally opposite, yet equally serious, water issues. This is the challenge of climate change, after all. It’s not just that it will increase heat and melt the ice caps, it’s that everything will become more unpredictable. Wet places will get wetter and dry places will get dryer. The fact that we are doing everything in our power to suck water out of the air and water and send it through the sewers really isn’t helping to balance that back out.

One thing that he didn’t bring up was that apparently frackers in California aren’t being subject to any of the restrictions that the citizens are subject to. It is absurd to think that not drinking water in a restaurant will do a thing when the farmers aren’t being told to restrict their water use. I don’t want to make farming any harder than it is, but when the state is out of water, everyone is affected and has to pitch in. What is more absurd is to not restrict the people that take massive amounts of potable water, turn it into poison, and pump it past the groundwater reservoirs to pull out oil. They swear the arsenic and other fun chemicals can’t possibly leak into the groundwater, but I’m not sure how much I can trust that.

After 450 words of bad news, what do we do about it? I think the biggest thing we can do is to buy local, pasture-raised meat. I know, meat’s evil and all that, but what the simplistic headlines don’t bother to do is differentiate between meat sources. Urine and manure from CAFO feedlots are corralled in lagoons as toxic waste. As they should be. They should not be returned to the land. Then there’s all the water that’s used to grow the grains that keep the animals not-dead and very fat up until slaughter time. Meat raised like that is an affront to nature.

When you raise, say, a cow on pasture, you get the opposite result. Grazing animals produce no more methane than the grass would have when it rotted on the ground. More to the point, in a properly managed pasture, the urine and manure they produce soaks directly into the soil, returning both moisture and nutrients to the soil in amounts that the microorganisms can handle. Proper management also encourages the grass to grow to its best advantage, sending carbon-sequestering roots deep into the soil. Between the roots making spaces and the small amounts of moisture added to the surface, a good pasture will help the rain to soak into the ground and back into our groundwater reserves instead of running off the top and right to the ocean.

That’s right. Meat could save us. Alan Savory has dabbled in this a bit.

One really shouldn’t eat meat without vegetables, though. The next biggest step is to grow your own vegetables. If you don’t have a yard, or a patio with decent sunlight, then buy them from small, local, organic farmers that use all of the sensible water-saving techniques that are difficult to impossible to implement on huge, mono-crop farms. If you ask nicely, the farmer will probably be happy to let you come out to see how their land looks and their crops are grown. Just bear in mind that if the sun’s up, you are taking time out of their work day. The best farming, just like the best beef, should actually help refill the groundwater reserves. But good farming will still slow the use of unnecessary water, and shouldn’t be discouraged.

Don’t get me wrong, things like shorter showers and high-efficiency appliances are good. But if we want to do more than just slow the loss of potable water across the world, we need to be proactive about helping the water to go back where it belongs. In the ground, not in the sewers. Preferably without arsenic.

Square Foot Gardening

At the moment, if I was asked to recommend a book for a beginning gardener, it would be Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. (I read the original not the all new ones he’s got for sale.) Like any book, I have some disagreements, but the way he outlines the whole process makes it very accessible and worth the effort. It is a thicker book, but he covers everything from plotting and preparing the soil to some basics of harvesting and storing what you grow.

The premise is that rather than working in rows, you work in beds. His twist on the bed concept is that you function on a square-foot grid. This means that you only have to think about a single square foot at a time. By thinking on such a small scale, any chores are kept at a reasonable level. He came up with this from watching people in community gardens just get overwhelmed as the summer went on by weeds or watering or even harvesting. However, once you have weeded, watered, planted, or harvested one square, you have a solid accomplishment in a short time which makes it easier to move on to another square.

He is all about continuous and reasonably sized harvests. He does discuss the logistics of planning a large, one-time harvest if you are planning on preserving food for other seasons. However, most of it is about how to plan your garden so that you can harvest what you need and plant the next round with as little fuss as possible. One square holds 16 carrots. Since you probably don’t want to harvest more than that at once, you plant one square of carrots, wait two weeks, then plant another square. This gives you a clear progression for harvesting, once you get to that point. Once the first square has had all of the carrots harvested, it is ready to be turned over with some compost and replanted with the next crop. This keeps you from being overwhelmed by needing to spend a full day planting or harvesting. It also helps even out the “boom or bust” that most garden crops have if they are planted all at once.

One of the most interesting points is how very space-efficient this is. I grew up with a row garden that most people are familiar with. It turns out that long, thin rows aren’t just since the advent of tractors. I ran across an old instruction to make your garden long and thin rather than lots of short rows because you would spend significantly less time turning your plow horse or team. On our property, we had the space and rototiller that made a sprawling row garden logical. However, if your space is limited or you just don’t want to turn over that much land, by eliminating the walking path between each crop row, you save on a lot of things. You have less bare soil to keep weeded and watered. You also have less compaction from walking so close to each plant. The plants themselves even help with weed reduction and water retention as they can grow close enough to shade most of the soil in their square. His estimate is that you can grow the same number of plants in only 20% of the space of a more conventional garden.

His covering of pest control is interesting as well. Not only is not using chemicals healthier, but it’s easier. His solution for caterpillars is to pluck them off and crush them. For cutworms, you dig in the ground around the freshly felled seedling to uncover and crush the guilty party. The reason this works is because you have such a tiny space to monitor that you will see most changes caused by pests before more extreme intervention is necessary. In later chapters he goes over other information like season-extending and setting up boxes for patios and rooftops. He even offers some recipes to help you manage your bounty. It is a very complete look at having a garden.

I do have a few points to pick at. After all, does one ever agree with everything? For one thing, raw veggies are not more digestible than cooked ones, no matter how young and fresh they are. Also, you might also only turn over the full garden once per year, but renting a shovel because you only use it once per year? I agree that you can do away with most of the fancy tools, but a shovel is just a practical thing to keep around.

Overall, it is a very practical book, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others.