So, yesterday, we looked at why I believe Grow-Your-Own is so important now and why food security is vital during and following this crisis. As I said, I know this can be done, to some extent by everyone. Regardless of where you live from a studio apartment to a huge mansion in a posh neighborhood, we all have our part to play.
Today, I want to get into the nitty-gritty of this by examining…
What Foods Should You Grow?
The first answer to that question is…
The Ones That Your Family Will Eat.
Yes, we have all heard some grandmother, older neighbor, or ancient maiden aunt say, “If they get hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.” Perhaps that is true, at last for most people, but I’m not so certain about @PanKwake. Besides food has comfort qualities too. So being able to provide their favorites is reassuring for them and you.
So, the absolute first place to begin is looking at your family’s diet. What fruits and vegetables do they usually eat? Fresh, frozen, dried, or canned does not matter. Write these down. That’s our master list which we begin with.
Okay, now we begin to narrow that list down from what we need/want to what it is possible to provide.
The next thing to consider is…
How simple/quick/easy those foods are to grow?
If your child’s favorite vegetable is asparagus, I have some very bad news for you. Each stalk of asparagus takes two to three years to grow. Yes, I said YEARS. What is more, each stalk essentially needs its own pot. And you have to water, feed, and top it up with fresh compost regularly. When I discovered this, AFTER planting some out, I understood and appreciated why it is the most expensive vegetable in the produce section. Frankly, I don’t see how they can charge so little.
On the other hand, if you’re a salad fan, then good news. Lettuce is surprisingly easy and quick to grow. In fact, you can sometimes begin to pick your first micro-greens in a couple of weeks. Combine these with bean sprouts which are also easy to do at home and you have the makings of a small salad or add them to bread and cheese for a sandwich.
I don’t have the time to go into all the possible vegetables and fruits on this blog. The easiest thing is for you a do a bit of research. Just Google your list to discover for yourself which are viable and which like my lone remaining stalk of asparagus are simply not worth your time, effort, and money.
Now, that asparagus and perhaps pineapples are off your list, we start to narrow it down further. The next thing to consider is…
This one has two parts. The first is…
The weather and growing seasons where you are.
I live in the UK. While we have an abundance, sometimes an over-abundance of water, our growing seasons are shorter than other parts of the world. It is April before you can begin to plant most things outside and May before you can plant out those tender ones like tomatoes and peppers. What is more, by mid-September and definitely early-October the nights are getting so chilly and the days are so short that you need to harvest all except your robust winter vegetables.
On the other hand, when I lived in Los Angeles, it was the opposite. We had sun and relatively mild weather almost year-round. But water was the problem. You had to water your plants daily and sometimes twice a day.
South Carolina, where I grew up, and Texas were somewhere in between. Their growing seasons lasted from early-to-mid-March until late October. And those late afternoon thunderstorms, if not too violent, were great, at least to minimize your watering needs a bit.
Of course, if you are growing things inside then those issues are not are crucial. At least in terms of protecting your plants from the weather.
But unless you intend on investing hundreds or thousands in grow lights, you need to be very aware of just how little sun your area gets in the winter.
I spent twenty quid on this book last year. Only to discover that where I live is at a higher latitude, so my winter sunlight is weaker and my days too short. Even my hardy lettuces and kales turned a bleached out white, due to lack of adequate sunlight. This indicates that they are not particularly nutritious either.
This is not to say that my garden needs to be bare in the winter, but rather that the things in it must be fully grown by then. Many can then remain in the ground, like nature’s refrigerator.
Hours of sunlight more than temperature determines what you can grow.
So, as much as I love my tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cucumbers with my lettuce, I need to be realistic with my expectations. This is not to say I don’t grow them. In fact, I had my first good harvest of them last year.
But you do need to be more aware of the varieties that grow well. My success was primarily with cherry tomatoes, which happen to be my favorite anyway. These smaller fruits can vine ripen more easily than larger ones. I had no luck whatsoever with my sweet peppers but harvested more hot ones than I could use. As for cucumbers, I got only one lone one from my vine.
That does not mean I won’t plant these again, though. Just that I can’t rely upon them as food security. My efforts for that need to be elsewhere.
The other element of the environment that you need to be aware of is…
Location, location, location.
If this one seems a bit confusing or redundant with that one above, let me explain. By this one, I am referring more to SPACE, your specific garden site than to where in the world you live. Are you that single person in a studio flat? That single Mom is a towerblock? A young family in rowhouse? Or like us, plenty of land but restricted by posh neighbors and in a conservation zone? Each of these presents their own issues and can limit what you grow or at least the varieties that you can.
For that single person or Mom who is restricted to growing indoors that may mean eliminating some really good staples that require lots of land, for instance, potatoes.
Though, in hard times, I would consider a bit of ‘guerrilla gardening.’ That means planting things on land you don’t own, usually public parks. Of course, there is no way to secure your harvests. But in a time when people only know what the final product looks like, few others are likely to recognize a potato plant growing ‘wild’ in the corner of a park.
But more about that later.
Even if you only have a couple of windows that get full sun or one that receives partial, you might be surprised what you can grow. Some of it even from things you would normally toss into food recycling as that video yesterday showed you.
Of course, if you have a secure balcony or patio, then what you can grow in containers increase substantially. And for someone like us, well, I am starting to think of this as more an ‘urban farm’ than simply a vegetable garden.
Obviously, there are inequalities here. That we who are less susceptible to food insecurity have more room to plant than that single Mom is not fair. Ultimately, I hope to even that out a bit. Firstly by sharing what knowledge I do and then the actual fruits of my labor, at least locally.
So, considering all those things:
Our normal diet
What grows quickly and easily
Our growing seasons
And space we have available
What was my final food security list? What things will I put most of my efforts, time, and space into?
Potatoes require loads more space than is practical for many people as does kale, leeks, and peas. But onions, carrots, and lettuce can be grown even on a window sill.
But I know if I could achieve self-sufficiency or as close to it as possible in these seven items then I could feed me and Alan (@PanKwake does not do veg…except, you guessed it, asparagus). While I do think it might be possible to do that with carrots, onions, kale, leeks, and lettuce (of which we had an overabundance last summer), potatoes and especially peas are unlikely. Even as easy as peas are to grow in our climate, being British, they are Alan’s favorite veg and we go through a couple of bags of the frozen ones every month.
Now, I might have cheated a bit because I know from last year that all those things grow relatively well in our garden. Many of you won’t have that advantage, this year at least. But I hope that this is not simply a one-off thing that you do. My wish is that it becomes a lifestyle for you as it is for me.
Because ultimately as we have seen in this crisis our food supply chain is incredibly fragile. And as I have said before, as nasty as this virus is, there are other things that loom larger on the horizon, including economic, political, and environmental instability.
If you own your home or can manage some sort of shelter stability, then food becomes your next priority. Perhaps it is even more essential than shelter? But certainly, if you have those two then most other things can be taken care of. Though @PanKwake might argue about power and the internet being essential.
Now that you are thinking about WHAT you CAN grow in the space you have, that will be the focus over the next few days. To specifically consider, what you might be able to grow in those different situations. Because while I might have the time, space, and financial resources to convert our @HomeCrazzyHome into an urban farm now, I was once that single mother in a tiny, dingy London flat. While I did my best back then, I know that I missed many opportunities and could be much better now.
I hope that you will join me for the rest of this vital series…and please share this information with all your friends, family, and complete strangers. As this crisis illustrates food security is crucial now more than ever.