Monday, May 09, 2011

Digging the Dirt / May in the Garden

Previously published in the Hoopa People News, copyright 2008, Harvest McCampbell.

When Food Prices Rise, Planting a Garden is Wise

Sticker shock increasingly hounds our food shopping decisions. Unfortunately, this trend is set to continue, at least through next winter, as both fuel and food prices continue to rise. Several factors are at play, forcing staple supplies to dwindle while demand increases. First, looking at the supply side, climate change and other forces have brought agricultural woes to nearly every continent. Australia, Africa, Asia, and Europe have all had major crop failures affecting grains and other staples; more crop failures are predicted for this year--including right here in the US. Meanwhile, less land has been devoted to growing food; because of urbanization, industrialization, and demand for agricultural crops to produce ethanol and bio-diesel.

Demand for bio-fuels ties food prices to fuel prices, and fuel is still going up. (Meanwhile, most of our food is planted, tended, harvested, stored, and transported using large amounts of fuel, further tying the costs of food to petroleum.) Other factors contributing to demand include our growing planetary population and the increasing middle class in China and India-- who now consume more grain and more grain fed animal products than ever before. In the world-wide economy, there are many demands on the available food. Prices are expected to continue going up until the supply meets or exceeds the demand. (For more information and documentation see:

It’s Time to Get Growing!

Whether you want to help keep your families food budget in bounds, or are thinking of growing a market garden to make a little cash, there has never been a better time to get growing. While tomatoes, peppers, and summer squash are part of the pleasures of summer, with food prices on the rise, I would like to encourage everyone to plant some crops that can be saved for winter. Here are some ideas.

Jerusalem Artichokes are at the top of the list for productivity. Plant them now, and dig their delicious tubers beginning this fall. Each plant produces between five and fifteen pounds of food! (They can be very expensive in catalogs; however, they are available at reasonable prices locally.)

Pumpkins and Winter Squash store well, are easy to grow, nutritious, and yummy. Seeds and starts are widely available at nurseries and generally reasonably priced.

Potatoes thrive in cool moist weather. Anytime you find yourself in possession of sprouting potatoes you can plant them in the home garden. Mulch them well for the best crops. I have been teaming up potatoes with squash. If we don’t have a hot summer, at least the potatoes should produce; and if the sun decides to warm things up, the squash will help shade the potatoes.

Painted Mountain Flour Corn (not the related Painted Mountain Sweet Corn) was bred to withstand both drought and cool soils. Flour corn is easy to grow, dry, and can then be stored to use with beans in soup. You can also grind it for grits and corn meal.

Consider growing some small grains for nutrition and food security, here are some suggestions for both hot weather and cool wet weather. (The La Nina weather pattern is predicted to continue; keeping our weather cool and moist. I don’t really trust the predictions. I say be prepared for anything.)

Amaranth generally produces well whether the weather is hot or cool. Choose large grained varieties.

Buckwheat likes cool damp weather. Purchase it from bulk bins at health food store or larger grocery stores. Be sure you get raw buckwheat and not roasted buckwheat grouts.

Millet, pair Japanese millet which can stand waterlogged soils with Proso millet which can take the heat and is easy to thresh.

Quinoa can take cool damp weather, choose a large seeded variety.

Last but not least, add some legumes. Legumes (beans and peas) fix nitrogen and improve the soil, and they form a complete protein when paired with grains. Most beans can be eaten green as a vegetable or let mature to dry for soup beans. Here are a few of suggestions for soup beans that will improve your family’s food security:

beans can take the drought, and can be purchased from bins at the health food store.

Runner Beans like cool moist weather and are commonly available in many catalogs.

Fava Beans are easy to grow and all parts are edible including the leaves, flowers, green beans, and dry beans. Available in many catalogs and also in bulk bins.

You can also do your own research on other varieties. In fact, the more diverse the seed bank we can create in our gardens, the more secure our food supply will be. Try to choose two varieties of each crop you want to grow; one adapted to drought, and one adapted to cool or damp climates. That way, no matter what the weather does, you are prepared.

If you can get your seed started by the first of June, at the very latest, and if the weather co-operates, you should be able to harvest a bountiful crop this fall. All the seed varieties mentioned above can be ordered from “Bountiful Gardens,” if you can’t find them locally. Their catalog and web site is very informative. You can order seeds or request a catalog on-line: or by phone: (707) 459-1925.

What, Me Garden?

The Klamath Trinity (zone 8 in the river valleys) area is truly the Garden of Eden, and yes, even you can grow a garden! Right now local gardens are bursting with greens—giant red Japanese mustard, collards, kale, arugula, lettuce, and garlic chives. Spring signals the beginning of the seed setting season. Many greens are blooming with edible flowers. The early garlic and chives have fat buds, and the top setting onions provide some comedic relief with their crazy curly not quite flowering tops. Potato plants are surging upwards and seedling squash are getting their start. Winter parsnips are ready to be dug, while last spring’s parsnips are shooting juicy edible bolts upward to burst into bloom. Peppers and tomatoes are waiting their turn to sink their roots into deep earthworm rich soil. Meanwhile, the beneficial insects and pollinators make a happy buzz among the flowers; promising pest control this season and an ample supply of seeds for next year’s garden. If you are not sure where to start, search on line or ask for advice at your local nursery.

Not Only Can You Garden – You Can Farm!

Every economic down turn or crises offers opportunities; the next big winners are projected to be small, local, organic farms and market gardens. If you ever thought of trying your hand at farming, now would be a great time to explore the idea further. “You Can Farm, The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise,” offers great advice. Author, Joel Salatin, shares the ten most profitable ventures for start-ups, as well as how to grow and diversify. He encourages everyone, even those who do not own land, to not only farm, but to make good money at it. His best advice is to gain experience before investing or borrowing. He encourages all would be farmers to volunteer with local producers to learn the ropes. Hopefully, our local farmers will be increasing production (sustainably of course) and will need all the help they can get. If you’re interested, consider starting as a volunteer--perhaps in trade for produce; but you have also got to read this book. You Can Farm, by Joel Salatin, published by Polyface, Inc., ISBN 0-9638109-2-8. Available by request from book stores, libraries, and on-line.


Anonymous said...

Im actively encouraging my family and friends to take action and grow their own food. im useing a raised garden bed as i find it makes gardening much easier and adds a great feature to my back yard. i got it from im currently growing tomatoes,cucumber, and basil three good companion plants.

Harvest said...

Raised beds are useful if there is a gopher or rodent problem, if the soil is too wet, or if there is no top soil at all. The soil in raised beds also warms up faster in the spring--but is also cools off faster in the fall. The soil in raised beds is also hotter in the summer and requires more water than plants grown directly in the ground. And, last but not least--even in places that seldom get hard freezes--the soil in raised beds is much more likely to freeze solid than in other flatter gardens. So, while raised beds can be very useful for a variety of situations, it is best to think it through before investing a lot of time, money, and effort.