Sustainable Gardening for Beginners: This land was made for You and Me

I used to think that gardening was just for special people.  Only those divinely appointed with the gift of tending plants.  I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard a person say they just don’t have the “green thumb.”   I know, I refused my first indoor plant two years ago.  “No, I’ ll kill it.  I am not good with plants.”   Lily, my 70 year old friend, gave me her indoor plant collection of 10 plus years. “It’s not that hard dear.  Just stick your finger in the dirt, if its dry, water it.”  I believed her that it was that simple.

My life really did change watching the first sprouts of life of those plants.  Just saying that still makes me feel like a complete nerd.  Honestly.  But what I have discovered is that the whole sustainable gardening thing really isn’t that special.  People have been doing this thing since the beginning of time.  When I see my boys digging in the dirt, the whole family involved in the growing and planting process, and cherishing their lit up faces in the tractor ride- realization hits, that this is what family did.

When we are in the garden together life as a family seems natural.  There is no movies.  Or Angry Birds.  We are all working together. Learning real things like growing our own beans.

Sometimes I get discouraged because I am just now learning the basics of how to plant a seed, seasonal farming, and how to correctly prune a tomato plant…..but then I take hope that this is just the beginning of something beautiful.  Something that will echo in my children’s lives.

The fascination with growing my own food is past the trend.  It is a part of my future.  I dream of having a farm.  Being sustainable, and teaching others this joy.  To feed those who are hungry.  To give my family and others whole foods.    When my three boys say they want to be farmers one day.  My eyes light up.  Yesterday I asked my oldest son Corbin , what he loved about mommy, he said “I like your cooking,  your soft hair, when we read together, and our garden.”  The simplicity of these things to a child’s soul is larger than I can fathom.

I am learning to lay all my past habits and assumptions of what sustainability really means. To train my mind of how to be resourceful. Instead of instantly going to the store, throwing away things without thought- I need to learn how to look around me and see what we can use with recycled materials.  And the biggest lesson of all is to understand why sustainability really matters at all.  To contemplate the irresponsible farming practices, the current US food industry,  and the consequences on our planet and generations to come.  I used to think that none of this mattered, but really it does.  The veil of blissful ignorance in not taking a second thought to what I am eating and where it comes from is not good enough for me anymore.  I can’t ignore the consequences of my daily food choices: on my body, my children’s health, and the planet.  The saying, “I eat to live” is more complex than I once thought.

As a mother of three young boys, I am constantly going to the grocery store.  We buy the basic necessities.  We struggle to afford the best foods.   Most of the items we buy are imported internationally.  Tomatoes are picked before they are ready, and chemically ripened with ethanol.  The land has been compromised, and our food has been compromised.    I can hop in my car two blocks away to our garden, and pick a fresh and juicy naturally ripened tomato with no chemicals, pesticides, and save thousands of dollars in the transportation and fuel costs.  Think of all the planes, trucks, labor workers, pollution, and fuel my family alone will save.  Instead of paying $4 for each pack of herbs, I grow them two blocks away.  I would like to say it is just about eating healthy fresh foods.  Or enjoying quality family time.  The bigger picture is beyond that.  Sustainable living is so significant that the appearance of the land is irrefutable.  Just digging my hands in the soil and feeling its richness,  I know that this is real.  You can see the difference.  And taste the difference of caring for the land.

This link contains an informative video on the consequences of pesticides and chemicals on soil.  And the dangers of soil erosion.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/12/soil-erosion-ewg-losing-ground-report_n_848096.html

Sustainable gardening, in simple terms, is gardening that is conscious about the environment.  A way in which the person allows the garden to thrive naturally for future generations.

At the Andres Community Garden we are adapting to these basic principles:

  • Compost (llama and goat manure,  food scraps)
  • Mulch (wood chips, grass clippings, yard debris-break down over time, creating a thriving soil and protecting against erosion, adding nutrients, and conserving moisture)
  • Water  (Conservation, being mindful of the well water, and not wasteful )
  • Organic pest control and fertilizing the plants (we even planted an old salmon steak at the bottom of the tomato plant to feed it, similar to spraying the plant with a fertilizer

After two phases of planning, finding out which plants are friends and which are adversaries,  learning how far deep to sow the seeds, and that those little fuzzies on a tomato plant are actually roots.

Our first vegetable garden includes:

Carrots and radishes by seed (they are good companions)

Lettuce Spring Mix

Endive

Spinach

Swiss Chard

Kale

Kohlrabi

Pole beans

Bush beans

Onions (Dean gave us these dried up onions, and I believe him that they will come alive again.  My first thought is to throw them away.  Oh how I do the new way of thinking that gardening is bringing)

Lemon cucumber

Chamomile

Eggplant (one of family favorites)

This experience is teaching my family far beyond organic sustainable gardening.  We are learning a wonderful skill.  A basic life experience.  I couldn’t comprehend the concept of seasonal eating until now.  I can’t argue with the land.  I can’t become impatient that I can not grow a perennial vegetable like a artichoke in a year, or that it is too late for potatoes.  I am so accustomed to having it my way.  Driving 6 minutes to the local super store and buying everything I need.  It may seem juvenile but I am learning patience from vegetable gardening.  We are leaving our children with a legacy.  We are cultivating a respect and appreciation for the time, energy, and beauty of growing our own food.  What if there was one day that my boys needed to live off the land?  Or maybe it isn’t even about that.

As the sun went down, I walked around the garden.  Llamas and goats roamed the pasture.  My boys had a ride in the wheel barrow.  I closed my eyes imaging what all the growth would look like at harvest time.  I couldn’t even picture it.  All I can imagine is the pictures from the computer.  I find that a little sad that at 26 years old I can’t tell you how a carrot grows.  Or how to care for a garden.  My urban gardener friend left we with a great truth.  Her advice for beginner gardener’s: tend your garden plot well.  Don’t plant too much or you can get overwhelmed.  One day at a time.

Our summer eating habits and pocket book will be dramatically affected.  We have spent about $140 for our community garden (the registration was only $20 for the entire season including a 13′ by 17′ plot of land, well water free of harmful chemicals, tools, compost and manure from the pasture, wood chips, and free gardening advice from a self taught gardener passionate for sustainability.

For those of you who live in apartments or have limited land, check out this link http://www.communitygarden.org/ for the closest community garden near you.  If you can’t commit to this, try container gardening- even create your own little space of herb gardening .  Or join a local community supported agriculture (CSA), participating in your local farmers market supports sustainable practices.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/12/soil-erosion-ewg-losing-ground-report_n_848096.html

http://food-hub.org/files/resources/Food%20Miles.pdf

http://food-hub.org/knowledgebase/buy-local

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10 thoughts on “Sustainable Gardening for Beginners: This land was made for You and Me

  1. Hi Adrieene, your community garden link doesn’t work. The website works fine but your blog doesn’t link it.

    your faithful reader (and brother)
    Marcus

    • Hey brother,
      The link is working now, sorry about that! It looks like there are a lot of community gardens near you 🙂 Love you!

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  5. Howdy! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading through your blog posts. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics? Thank you so much!

  6. Dearest Overstreet family,

    Nice blog, especially the part where you say “It is a part of my future. I dream of having a farm. Being sustainable, and teaching others this joy. To feed those who are hungry”. Motives are everything, and with this and God behind your efforts success is eminent and who can stand against you? I like your cooking and soft hair too!

    Also, you say that “To train my mind of how to be resourceful”. It’s hard to know something you weren’t taught, some wisdom that becomes all too clear as we “wake up” to our lives…if you think that I have accomplished anything let’s say in music, just remember that I didn’t really start until I was 20! So, your just about at the right place to really grab all this knowledge, since I didn’t “teach” it to you.

    Good point about “Think of all the planes, trucks, labor workers, pollution, and fuel my family alone will save.”, I never thought about it that way, makes total sense!

    Is this good or bad “Our summer eating habits and pocket book will be dramatically affected.”?

    Well, got to hele on!

    Love and keep up the awesome teaching!

    • Mahalo dear one! Our summer eating habits and pocket book will be affected in a very positive way. Many times we go to the grocery store, we have to limit the amount of vegetables we will be bringing home. Certain family vegetable favorites can be so expensive. One eggplant alone can cost about $3 (sometimes more) Now, we can take comfort in eliminating all the production it costs for this one family.

      Thank you for your encouragements in pressing on in my dreams and realizing that hard work and practice is essential to growth. Just look at you, after all those years of practices and gigs you are the big drummer on the island!

      Training our minds to something unfamiliar can be stretching and/or frustrating but in the end very rewarding! And so worth my time. Love to you.

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