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Growing Our Food

A couple months ago, I worked with my friend Julia in my garden. The experience made me realize that I really need to be working with people in general. Despite there being only the two of us, the work was much more than twice as productive and fun as my experiences trying to work alone. By working together, our work carried itself forward, effortlessly.

20lbs Potatoes

Me Kicking Weeds

Julia and I weeded everything, harvested 20 lbs of potatoes, and planted some peas (which got flooded out not long afterward

 

A group working together is far more productive than everyone doing their thing as a sum of isolated individuals. While individuals might have a range of goals and personal preferences, they can work together where their goals are shared. Some might want to do it for recreation, some for aesthetics, and some for feeding themselves, while everyone would have a range of personal temperaments and philosophies on gardening.

Hopefully there are some people around me that, like myself, want to grow as much food as possible for themselves as a part of gaining control over the food they eat. I want to grow as much as I can by myself, for myself, and if I were to be a part of a community, by the community and for the community. Such a community could organize around the simple goal of trying to grow as much food as possible with the resources available. While there can be an emphasis on growing food together, people can in addition work for local farmers in return for food, and buy and trade any remaining food that cannot be gained through working directly. By coordinating their work and distribution, the group can collectively gain control over the food they eat. Any individual can have more control based on their personal preference, and as needed draw on the resources of the group to exchange any work or skills.

While anyone and everyone can help with a collective effort, for anyone like myself who is serious about growing food for self-sufficiency, there would have to be some focus on making goals and documenting labor and yields. While this might sound overbearing, in the end it would be very rewarding, as the practicality of growing one’s own food would be demonstrated.

Personally, I would want to work directly with people who are relaxed, and do not feel too pressured, with the work carrying itself at its own pace, as I described my work with Julia being. Everything is not about yields – there are ethics, philosophies, personal preferences, and people with varying abilities. The group can grow a variety of things, with a variety of methods, with a variety of people. If the full range of things are included in the group’s documentation, that will give a truly broad understanding. If goals are not met, what matters is that the levels productivity are being observed, and people choose how they wish to act accordingly.

To begin, over the winter, the group can consider all the land available to them, consider potential yields, the amount of work needed to grow, the way that they want to go about gardening, and make goals of yields based on the time people are willing to commit. The best way to make this work is for there to be regularity – regular meetings in the winter, and when the spring rolls around, create a regular schedule. Clear plans can be developed by the time spring starts. When the work begins, the hours that people worked should be recorded, from the time commuting to the gardens to the time washing and processing the food. This way true comparisons can be made. Time and yields should also be compared to the costs of comparable food in the grocery store or farmers market. By planning ahead, and working regularly and mindfully, and looking back at the progress made and acting accordingly, a community can over time gain control they can over the food they eat.

I Need Help!

I am now going to seek help with my garden.

Even my recent attempts to plant some beans and squash failed with rabbits and poor timing, and a general lack of knowledge.

According to this chart for Central Iowa, I can plant radishes, peas, lettuce, spinach and turnips after August 1st.

I have plenty of space, and I really want to go at it. Hopefully I can find people who are willing to dedicate themselves to the garden, in return for keeping the food they reap or giving it away.

I am also going to go at what may be left with foraging, and see if I can partner with someone like I did last time.

Very Late Start

Since my last post over a year ago, my efforts and results have been quite pathetic. At the end of last year, in a 20 x 40 ft garden, I believe that all I had to show was an eggplant and a half-grown green pepper.  My efforts this year have not gone far this year either, but I still have time.

According to the chart for planting, I can still plant some beets, beans, summer squash and cucumbers. In the first week of August, I can plant peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips. All of these are relatively easier to grow, but that could still be easier said than done.

So far, I have planted some potatoes and onions, and they seem to be doing okay, but I won’t really know until I pull them out of the soil.

Onions

My desire was to, as I had in the years previous, sheet mulch the whole garden. There is a leaf pile a bit far from the garden, but close enough that I could wheelbarrow it over. The idea of sheet mulching is to make things easier, but given the size of my garden, and the fact that I did not have material dumped at the edge like I had previous years, it quickly became impractical. Just thinking:

*Ideally, sheet mulching is 18-24 inches
*My garden: 20 x 40ft = 800 sq ft
*Volume required: 800 sq ft * 1.5-2 ft = 1200-1600 ft^3
*Wheel barrow load: 2-3 ft^3
*1200-1600 ft^3 / 2-3 ft^3 = 400-800 loads
*5 minutes per load * 400-800 loads = 30-70 hrs of work

What was I thinking!?

I suppose I’ll keep mulching a few plants, especially the potatoes, but I need to just do some old fashioned digging and planting.
I’ve started some summer squash seedlings, and would like to also start some cucumber seedlings as well. I would also like to plant a couple rows of beans and see where that goes.
What I really need to focus on is gearing up for the first week of August, because I am not sure whether the other plants will fail or not. This is my last chance to do things diligently.

But I need help. I have worked on a farm, but I still don’t have the experience of growing things start to finish. If I can have some people who can help me along, that will be great. I have some ideas, and I’ll see how they pan out.

While this does not exactly fit with the philosophies I want to practice, it will still go a long way. After all, I can only do what I can right now. My goal of having a garden that nearly grows itself with minimal effort is far off. For that I really need my own land. Right now I have to use the garden I’ve got. Though it’s too remote, and the City tills the soil against my will, undermining some of the philosophies I want to test, the garden does have a lot of space, with a lot of sunlight and water, in a relatively chemical-free area. This will be a start in feeding my desire to be relatively self-sufficient with food, by giving me basic experience in growing my food.

I also need to see what I can forage. I will look into that and write about it shortly. As for my eating habits… I cook occasionally, and that always feels great. But I still need to experiment with eating simply, and raw. I should also cook most of my lunches. In the long run, I want to move out, or at least have the necessary independence to live the lifestyle I want. Fortunately, what I can do in the meantime is quite substantial.

published article

I recently had an article published in the Ames Progressive about local agriculture and my experiences at Growing Power.

http://amesprogressive.org/2008/10/29/issue/growing-power-community-based-agriculture-in-an-urban-environment/