Adventures in sustainability: gardening

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I have been thinking about environmentalism for a long time, and what kids of things I can do in my life to be more environmentally conscious without sacrificing my comfort or adding a bunch of work that I don’t enjoy. So, I am a vegetarian, in part because I think that the way we eat meat in such large quantities in this country is unsustainable, but I actually find that I eat a wider variety of interesting foods on a vegetarian diet. I am always trying new things with veggies and legumes, and I actually enjoy cooking. And I have a garden in my backyard because that is the most locally grown food you can possibly get, but I hired someone else to install and maintain it. This way, I get great food with no fossil fuels expended to ship it to my table, but I don’t have to weed, or have a lot of gardening knowledge.

In this vein, I came across the coolest article in my local paper about a couple who are trying to make their suburban home more sustainable. They put in a geothermal heating and cooling system, which sounds like something I will need to save my money for. I am not needing a new heating and cooling system at the moment, which is good, because the initial investment is steep ($18K – 21K.) They also grow a lot of their own food, with a combination of raised bed gardens, trees, containers and food plants worked into the regular landscaping. Mary Deweese is a professional landscape architect, so she is definitely more equipped to design a yard this way than I am, but there are some ideas I can take from her landscape design.

First of all, they grow a lot of fruit. So far, we have planted cantaloupe, watermelon and strawberries, in addition to the sour cherries and raspberries that were already in the yard when we moved into this house. I have been planning to pay someone to remove my Bradford pear trees (non-fruit producing) in the backyard in the spring, and then I will replace them with a peach tree and an apple tree, but now I am thinking maybe I can do even more with fruit. I want to look into doing a fig tree in a container on my patio. Figs are expensive! Growing my own will make for an improvement in both personal sustainability and the variety of fruit we eat, because I can rarely afford to buy them at the store. Also, I had no idea you could grow kiwis in St. Louis. My daughter *loves* kiwi, so it would be awesome to grow some of our own. They have a slightly wider variety of vegetables, too. For instance, I would love to do artichokes, cauliflower and cabbage. Although, I may be getting cabbage for the fall planting–I know that Brussel’s sprouts are coming then. Last year, I went out on Thanksgiving morning and picked the last Brussel’s sprouts for our meal, which was awesome.

However, it is clear that the biggest difference they have from my garden is that they devote a lot more space to growing food than I do, which is a good idea. One good way to do this is the container gardening that they do. I would like to do some potatoes in containers to conserve some ground space. Last year we grew sweet potatoes, and got only about enough for one meal, so I would love to maximize our space for growing more potatoes, and more kinds of potatoes.

Even with the container gardening, I think we are going to have to do more ground space. This year I have been making more effort to use up the produce before it goes bad, so we are getting more out of the garden than last year, but it still isn’t as much food as I would like to have. I didn’t have much to preserve for the winter, so once the summer/fall were over, that was it. I keep looking at what we are getting and thinking it could be a lot more. I am thinking that maybe we could double the main area of the garden by building out into the yard. I am wondering about the front yard, too. It seems a shame to be thinking about pulling up the young tree in the front yard and putting in a fruit tree instead, but the front yard does get a lot of sun. I wonder if I could get the tree transplanted somewhere else?

I even find myself thinking I wouldn’t mind doing a bit more of the gardening work myself, which is surprising to me. As time goes on, though, I am much more excited about the whole gardening concept, and the work doesn’t seem quite as bad (except when it gets to 100 degrees out there!) Maybe I could start with a few containers and see how it goes?

Is anyone else getting into growing their own food? What are you doing?

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