Back to the land again

23 April 2013

Over the years, generally in response to hard times, people move away from the habit of material consumption, make use of the land they live on and begin to provide for themselves. The back to the land movement happened in repsonse to the Great Depression, again for a short period after the second World War and again in the 1970s, right after the oil crisis.  We're back again now with many people using their backyards for vegetables, fruit and chickens but this time it's a little different. In the past, the emphasis was simply on producing food for the table. Now we have that, as well as people who want to eat local, organic food and find that it's easier to grow it themselves than to buy it - either through lack of supply or money. We also have a lot of people much more aware of their health now. They see gardening as a form of exercise and the food that comes from it as superior to what is bought at a shop.

Our backyard in the late afternoon sun. You can see Hettie there, asleep under the elder tree.

I tend to agree with that. Everything you grow yourself will be better than what you buy. When you buy fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, or at the green grocer, you don't know how they were grown, what sprays where applied, if herbicides were used or if they were radiated after picking or gassed to ripen them. You don't know how old they are. Many fruits and vegetables can last a long time in cold storage. And I ask myself when I buy fruit and vegetables, even when they look perfect (especially then) - how much nutrition is left in this? Have all the vitamins and minerals vanished with time?

Look closely, there is an enemy lurking.

We have a garden here that we tend almost all year. We have a break in summer because battling the heat and the bugs is too much for us then. We grow our own food for many of the reasons I've written about but mainly because we can and it makes sense to us. I would much prefer to eat a potato that was dug from my garden that afternoon, that I know has never had contact with pesticides or harsh chemicals and has had the time for the green tops to die back rather than having herbicide sprayed on to hasten that process. I'd rather eat a tomato that I've watched grow and ripen than one that is bullet-hard and tastes of nothing. I like to grow enough to share or barter with. I like having more than enough so I can preserve some for later and instead of eating from the garden only when everything is fresh, we also  have that food months later when new crops have taken over and a new season has started. It makes sense financially and sustainably.

Here is Hanno (Sunday afternoon) weeding and planting that last bit of garden. There was a time when he could easily weed and plant the entire garden in a day. Now it's wiser to do it in stages. It takes longer but it's still able to be managed and enjoyed. Don't be afraid to garden the way it suits you. The gardening police won't come in and arrest you if you take longer than you used to or if you try something new.

I hope I can encourage you to think about growing a few herbs and vegetables. Gardening is one of those activities that is more than it appears to be. It will give you a chance to spend meaningful time outdoors, it will get your hands into the dirt and help you reconnect with nature. It's honest and reliable and will not only feed your belly it will feed your soul too. If you've never done it before, it's easy and difficult because it takes time and effort and you have to learn as you go. I am still learning after being a gardener for more years than I care to remember.

Bok choy, ginger and zucchini.

Your first task is to choose the area to locate your garden. It will require eight hours of full sun per day, it's best if it's clear of trees and tree roots, the soil will need to drain well and if you have animals or chickens, it will have to be fenced off. It will need to be close to a water supply. We use only the water that we harvest from our roof to water our vegetables and if you decide to get into vegetable gardening and carry on with it every year, it's worthwhile thinking about setting up your own water collection systems.

You can tell by our planting that we have keen Asian cooks in our family. Here we have bok choy and daikon growing.

Below is a list of older posts that may help you get started or encourage you to continue on if you've already planted your crops. There is always help available at the forum as well. There are a lot of excellent gardeners there so if you're stuck and don't know what to do, go to the forum, click here, and ask some questions.

The ever-productive chilli bush is still going strong.

My last bit of advice is probably the most important. You must learn about your climate. All gardens are part of a particular zone but in those zones, microclimates exist and not every part of the zone is the same. Learn what your garden is and if you can modify it to suit your purposes. You may be able to add a poly-tunnel to extend your season if you're in a cold zone or a shade tunnel if you're in a hot climate.  You must always be guided by the information you get with the plant or the seeds and no matter how much you want it, you will probably never be able to grow tomatoes when it's extremely hot or cold and even if you want to grow bananas or walnuts you won't be able to unless you're in the right climate for them. I would love to be able to grow apricots, apples and walnuts but they're cold climate crops so I got over it and I know I can grow macadamias and we have a pecan tree. Climate is everything.

The garlic bulbs have all grown strong shoots.

We're still in the process of planting our garden. We started our main planting last month and while we're already eating from part of it, the last bed to be planted is now being weeded and the first seedlings are going in. Are you growing in your backyard this season? Are you trying anything new this year?