12 April 2009

Gardening isn't free, but it is better than nothing

At the end of March, Jennifer Reese posted an article on Slate.com about the First Family's vegetable garden. The bulk of the article was about the author's irritation over a comment that chef Alice Waters made about gardens providing free food. Reese feels that Waters misled people with that comment, and she went on to list all the reasons why gardening isn't free.

In some respects, I agree with Reese's article. Vegetable gardening, like knitting, has morphed from a necessity into an upper middle-class hobby and has catalogs full of pricey gadgets to prove it. If you are new to either pursuit, you could look at all the books and catalogs and think that all those gadgets are essential. It's enough to scare a newbie. Reese also mentions the amount of effort you have to put into gardening. Again, she is correct, to a certain extent. If you choose to use traditional gardening methods, then you may spend a lot of time out in your patch weeding and feeding. That isn't the only way to do things, though.

I didn't start a garden patch until I was unemployed and tomato prices in my area reached an outrageous high. Because of my situation, I didn't have the money to buy all the fancy tools, fertilizers, and such that many gardeners consider necessary. If you look back at the pictures I posted last year (here and here), you can get an idea of how low-budget my gardening was. All my tomatoes and cucumbers came from a $2 packet of seeds. I spent about $20 on potting soil and compost and that's it. All the other plants came for free from neighbors who decided they bought too many. I affectionately refer to my garden as the ghetto patch, and to show you how accurate that name is -- I was using a tablespoon from my kitchen to dig holes for my seedlings!

As for labor, I inadvertently used my own weird combination of lasagna gardening and square-foot gardening before I knew any better. My plants were jammed so close together that I had very little in the way of bugs or weeds. My neighbor LJ jokes all the time that all I did was throw the seedlings outside and send the kids out to water. Knowing how obsessive I can get, if I had researched and planned and saved to buy the very best materials, I probably would have worried my plants to death.

Reese was on the mark with her assertion that most people will not be able to supply all of their vegetable needs from a backyard or container garden. Still, I believe that some is better than none. If I hadn't planted tomatoes last year, we would have gone another year without them because my husband was not willing to buy them at those prices. With all the recommendations to try to fit more fresh fruit and vegetables into our diets and knowing how difficult it can be to buy such items in low-income neighborhoods, we really shouldn't be discouraging single moms from putting a plant or two on their patios.
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