I am looking out my back door at approximately 800 square feet of space that is my garden. It is blanketed a layer of shredded leaves, grass and straw topped with a little snow that fell over night. I still have a few corps in the ground: carrots, kale, parsley, celery and collards. We ate the last of the arugula at Thanksgiving and I'm planning on pulling the rest of the stuff in the next few days. There is nothing like fresh greens to go with the black eyed peas that we will eat at the close of Kwanzaa and the beginning of the New Year. This time of year is the lull between the end of this season's garden and planning for 2010. Although I started getting seed catalogs before Christmas, I put them away until January.
As I look back on this, my sixth season of growing food for my family, I am grateful. I had always wanted to have a garden. Every summer as a kid, my family would pile into the station wagon and head to Paris, Tennessee to visit Grandma and Grandpa Hall. Grandpa Ed was a farmer and as the years went by, the size of his farm shrank, but as a kid from the city, what he thought of as a garden, we viewed as a farm. It was big enough to require a tractor to cultivate.
In the spring of 2003, after 11 years of marriage, I had just filed for divorce. I needed to immerse myself in something new. I decided that I would start of garden. I had recently purchased a book about Vegetable Gardening at a used book sale for, like $5. It is still one of the best books I own. I staked out a 40' x 15' plot in the backyard. Not knowing any better, I dug up the lawn manually (with a shovel and a hoe!). Since that time, that initial plot has been reduced to 25 x 15 with traditional rows. I have added three 4x6 beds for potatoes, two 5x5 beds for strawberries, one bed for beans, two for onions and carrots, one for tomatoes, and two 4 x 11 beds for various other crops. I also dug up a plot on the side of the house for "extras"-- extra transplants or seeds that I don't have room for in the backyard. This past year, I put a couple of squash plants in the front of the house!
Who knows what next year will bring... but for now, we are enjoying all the good food that I have put up for this winter. In addition to the potatoes, onions, garlic and winter squash stored int he garage and the fresh tomatoes in the basement, here is a partial list of what we've added to our basement cellar:
For the freezer:
11 half pints garlic scape pesto
5 half pints sunflower garlic scape pesto
5 quarts asparagus
5 quarts strawberries
6 half pints garlic scapes and olive oil
2 quarts blueberries
5 quarts sweet peppers
4 quarts onions
6 half pints basil pesto
3 quarts cabbage
18 quarts tomatoes
7 pints and 6 half pints roasted tomatoes with garlic and herbs
9 quarts cusa
4 quarts chicken soup
14 quarts pumpkin
2 quarts blueberries
4 quarts cherries
5 lbs. apples
8 large zucchini
Living in Detroit, we are fortunate to have Eastern Market open all year round. I can buy tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers from Smitty, who brings these veggies from Ontario greenhouses. I can also get root crops grown in Michigan in the winter as well as eggs and fresh milk from Hampshire Organic Farm (from our cow share-more on that another time).
Finally, the mainstream media has decided to cover the deplorable state of the U.S. food system. In a country with very high rates of obesity and lifestyle related illness, we are a people who are by and large, undernourished because of the "food" we eat; (fast food and pre-packaged stuff full of fat, salt, sugar, chemicals and preservatives as well as devoid of nutrition- just read some of those labels!) I am determined to feed my family real food...and support local farmers and my own community whenever possible. It may seem like a lot of work to cook, garden and preserve your own food, but like many things, once you start down this path, you realize that it is worth the effort. And, I actually enjoy it immensely.
So, for your own health, your family's health and for the local economy, take steps this year toward preparing and eating real food. You won't regret it.