The Mini-Farm

May 17, 2010
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I want to ramble about my yard for a bit. Well, actually, I want to ramble about a bunch of things, but it all ties into our berry bushes, fruit trees, and most recently, the three veggie boxes we’ve been putting in over the past few weekends.

Mini-Farm

I got interested in growing my own food through several channels all weaving together. And the first, of all things, was actually a video game. Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, to be exact. I get really irked at folks who say that video games are a waste of time, because there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have considered growing my own food at all, if it hadn’t been for the silly game. It’s not that video games teach you all about doing something. There’s no substitute for actual practice. But the modeling — the idea of doing something, and then following through and achieving the expected results — can be very helpful, and can be outright inspiring towards doing the real activity if you find the model is something you enjoy.

The second channel was less pleasant. When we discovered my husband had diabetes, I had to learn a lot about nutrition. And a lot about what affected his blood sugar. The reason our little backyard “farm” includes a lot of berries is that they’re the safest fruits for his blood sugar, and some of the most expensive things in the market. Especially if you want organic and local. In terms of cost, taste, and availability, growing our own has been a blessing.

My family is stuffed full of good cooks, and one of the things we’ve always done is tried new things. My great-grandmother and grandmother would cook us squash blossoms and cardoons. Not something you can easily find at a big-box store. They’re more common at farmers’ markets these days, but while I was growing up, squash blossoms came out of Nana’s yard, and that was about it. Figs came off of Mom’s tree; they rarely had them in the grocery store. If you wanted something truly special, growing it yourself was just something you did.

Finally, a few years back, I looked around my grocery store and my farmers’ market, and lamented the state of the peaches. Hard as rocks and tasteless, even if you left them on the counter to soften. I even bought some Indian peaches from a specialty produce company, seeking a memory of sweet berry-flavored-peach from my childhood, but they were hard and dry. Why buy fruit — or any food, really — if it doesn’t taste amazing? Our backyard now includes a couple of four-in-one fruit trees … they’re part of this year’s experiment.

It’s been sort of a long complicated journey. I was a kid who managed to kill cactus and African violets on a regular basis growing up. I didn’t have the patience or attentiveness for plants then. It took me realizing as an adult that “hey, I could grow FOOD” to really make a difference in how I worked with my yard.

So those are the sort of original reasons why I started growing my own food. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about sustainability and organics, and some of the horrible things (but I’m sure not all of them) going on with our food supply. And, y’know, I’d like to say that I’m doing this to make my own stand on the food issues facing America. But really, that’s only part of the reason. It’s a good reason, but it’s not what got me started. What got me started was a fun video game, my husband’s genetics, and the memory of foods that really, you can’t get in a store.

All of this is a rather long and rambling way of leading to “what I did this weekend”, which was to plant up three 4’x8′ beds in our backyard.

Veggie boxes being planted

We’re branching out of blueberries, strawberries, and boysenberries and onto the world of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and eggplants. And other stuff!

Right now, we’ve got ten different tomatoes: a yellow pear cherry and a black pearl cherry, a San Marzano, a San Diego, a Fourth of July, an Early Girl, a BrandyBoy hybrid, an Aunt Ruby’s German Green, a Pineapple, and a Rainbow Blend. We’ve got four different sweet peppers, and a jalapeño and a “Hottie”. Two eggplants — a round white one and a Fairytale one. We got about a zillion onion transplants and a zucchini and three basil and a couple of pattypan squash. We have some yard-long beans and a bunch of bean seeds that are on my list to be planted within the next week or so. We got an edamame soybean plant (and some seeds for those too), some fingerling potatoes, and a couple of Sugar Baby watermelons, and a tomatillo.

We actually planned for all of that. It was exciting. (: The random impulse buy was the peanut plants. Just three of those. Peanuts! I mean … who’da thought? They’re pretty cool-looking, too.

So that was the fun part. The less-fun part was discovering that my neighbors’ recent demolishment of their weed-filled yard had caused a mass-migration of earwigs into our newly-planted-and-mulched vegetable beds. (To be fair, we really need to get our yard more in-balance. We do not have enough non-people-food green stuff in it for the bugs and birds to eat.)

Did you know earwigs will eat watermelon leaves? I didn’t. They are hungry little bugs. /: They macked out not only on the watermelon, but on the zucchini and one of the pattypan squashes, the white eggplant, and took a chunk out of some of the basil. The tomatoes appear to be mostly safe for now. We’ll see. At least the infestation seems to be mostly but not entirely contained in one box — the one closest to the neighbors’ yard.

So the remainder of the weekend was spent finishing up the irrigation for the beds, and determining what to do about the invading rapacious horde. We’re doing the bait-with-oil-filled-cans thing for now, and I’m hoping it works.

I’m sure to be blathering on about the garden and how it’s going in weeks to come. If nothing else, it’s already been a great — and tasty — learning experience, and I’m sure it will continue to be.

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