Sustainability Series

Written by Cafe Campesino on Mar 6, 2010 in NEWSLETTER, Sustainability |
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Home Gardening

Buzzing around Caf� Campesino and our local community here in Americus, GA have been talks surrounding local access to foods grown with sustainable means. What does that mean?! Well, it means that concerns regarding food safety, the influx of imported seafood and vegetables and the general health of our community are mounting. It also means that groups are banding together to form solutions and call for change. This task is no small feat; however, small steps, such as backyard gardening, will help to get us there.

Gardening can: improve food-security and nutrition, reduce food costs for families, become a source of exercise and therapy, provide valuable educational opportunity for groups of all ages, and help to reestablish the connection between food, people, and our land. Gardens come in all shapes and sizes. Many plants and vegetables can be grown in containers or window boxes and any yard garden can be tailored to a size manageable for your own personal needs or preference. If you are container gardening, good choices are tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and herbs. Every little bit helps and with every little bit comes a sense of personal gain and reward. So let’s get started.

First, pick a spot and determine your approach. Choose a location that receives sunlight for at least half of the day, has easy access to a water supply, is protected from any harsh winds, and begin to think about soil nutrients and drainage. Next, decide on the size. The number and variety of plants you want to grow or are able to grow will depend in part on this decision. You can choose then to construct a frame around your space (commonly used are bricks, concrete blocks, rocks or landscape timbers) or not; and think about how best to cultivate the ground. The area should be cleaned of any weeds or debris, layered with newspaper for an initial weed barrier and compost added in. Now you are ready to plant!

First, pick a spot and determine your approach. Choose a location that receives sunlight for at least half of the day, has easy access to a water supply, is protected from any harsh winds, and begin to think about soil nutrients and drainage. Next, decide on the size. The number and variety of plants you want to grow or are able to grow will depend in part on this decision. You can choose then to construct a frame around your space (commonly used are bricks, concrete blocks, rocks or landscape timbers) or not; and think about how best to cultivate the ground. The area should be cleaned of any weeds or debris, layered with newspaper for an initial weed barrier and compost added in. Now you are ready to plant!

You should select seeds that you have proper space to grow, foods that will appeal to you and your family and recommended varieties for your area. Generally, seeds should be planted as deep as they are wide…. about a �” deep. ‘Cool season’ crops can handle a light frost and can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked. These include lettuce, radishes, sugar peas, spinach, carrots, parsnips, rutabaga, and greens. ‘Cool season’ transplants can also go in the ground now and include: strawberries, broccoli, cabbage, brussell sprouts, onions, and garlic. Spacing for these plants should be around 12-18”. When the soil consistently reaches temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit and the chance of frost is over, warm weather plants such as beans, corn, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, field peas, peppers and squash are ready to go in the ground. Please remember, squash, tomatoes and peppers may need a little more spacing to sprawl and should be planted generously apart at 18-24”. Most seed packets will give spacing and planting zone charts to help guide you. An average of 1 inch of water/rainfall weekly should be ample to keep your garden hydrated and happy. However, if plants begin to wilt or the soil becomes dry you may have to water a bit more. Soaker hoses and irrigation drips work very effectively against evaporation and at getting water straight to the root system. One deep soak seems to be more beneficial than several shallow or light waterings and doing this in the morning prevents your plants from being damp during the night which helps to ward off fungal attack.

Mulching your plants will also aid in water retention and help to keep weeds down. You can mulch transplants right away, but it is best to wait until your seedlings are well established before mulching to avoid stifling or trampling the tiny sprouts. Wood chips, shredded paper, dried grass clippings or fallen leaves are all excellent choices to use for mulch. Your plants may need fertilizing every 3-4 weeks (or so) with an organic fish emulsion. If so, apply before watering to help disperse nutrients and prevent nitrogen burn. Compost can also be worked into the soil at this same interval to help replenish nutrients and build organic matter around your plants. As your plants grow and the season progresses, consistently monitor for any unwanted pests on your plants. Small infestations can be hand picked and biological controls such as lady bugs can help you control aphid populations. If spotted, a mild soap and water solution can also be sprayed to keep most soft-bodied insects at bay. When caring for your garden, it is important to stay away from chemicals if you plan for your produce to be organic. The absolute best defense to any disease is to establish healthy plants by using compost from your kitchen scraps, yard waste, and coffee grounds. Healthy plants are better able to combat stress and sickness and will ultimately produce higher yields for your kitchen!

There are studies that suggest the ingredients in an average plate of food in the US travel 1,300 miles before reaching the consumer. This distance is referred to as ‘food miles’. Food miles affect taste, cost and increase the chances of contamination as our food changes hands and crosses borders. While you may not be able to supply all of your vegetable needs with one backyard garden, substitutions from neighbors, local farmer’s markets, and local producers can help decrease the number of miles that your food travels and ultimately the resulting impact on our environment. Now, good luck and get growing!

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