Monday, April 22, 2013

Thoughts on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, which is a good reminder to think about how all that we do affects the environment. Many of our projects at You Can’t Eat a Lawn are inspired by a desire to better serve the planet, along with the benefits to our health and pocketbooks. Eco-consciousness is always in the back of our minds, but today is a good annual poke to consider ways that we can do more. For example, it is our goal this year to add rain barrels to our homestead to conserve more water. But before that little project begins, here’s a look at some things we’ve already done with some success that anyone can implement to help the planet.

Compost – Earth Day always features a lot of talk about recycling, but composting is an often-overlooked companion to also reduce our amount of trash generation. Think about what you throw away and how much of it is organic material, or kitchen scraps. Simply piling that material in a bin with air, water and warmth allows it to break down into wonderful nutrients for plants without taking up space in a landfill. This is a double win since it saves you money on buying fertilizers. Even if you don’t have space for an outdoor compost pile, you can compost indoors with a worm bin.

Plant a garden – Walking through the produce section at the grocery store is like taking a virtual world tour. Tomatoes from Mexico or Canada, asparagus from Chile, oranges from Australia. Each one of those items was trucked, shipped or flown to your store, meaning significant carbon emissions into our atmosphere. And because it takes so long to travel that distance, most of this food is picked early and underripe. That’s why a store tomato cannot compare to the flavor of a fresh garden tomato. If you’re a novice, start small. How about a window box or small planter? Maybe start with herbs or greens before graduating to big items like tomatoes and peppers. And don’t worry about failure. We’ve lost more crops than we can count, but we keep plugging away.

Buy a share of an animal – We’ve said it before but it bears repeating that it’s impossible to raise pork chops. The tidy slices of meat you find at the grocery meat counter were once part of a full animal, including the less popular parts. For every chop, there is a pork hock, for every chicken breast, there is a hindquarter. When we buy only the mass-marketed pieces, that means the other portions are wasted. But there’s a silver lining – some of those less desirable parts are the most flavorful. You can’t make a decent split-pea soup without a pork hock, and chicken leg quarters have much tastier meat than the breasts. Factor in that you’re supporting a local farmer, and it makes a half hog or beef even better.

Learn to preserve – Canning is largely a fading art, although it seems to be making a bit of a resurgence. And it’s great for the planet, too. Suppose you get a bumper crop of a certain fruit/vegetable, and you’re absolutely inundated, as we’ve found ourselves to be on more than one occasion. You can try to incorporate that item into every meal, but even that might not keep up with your harvest. Learning to put that food up, either by canning or freezing, keeps you from wasting food. And later on, after the growing season, that preserved food can keep you from needing to buy grocery store produce from far-flung locations.

We could certainly go on with other ideas that can help you celebrate Earth Day and become more self-sufficient, but we don’t want to prattle on for too long. Harvesting rainwater helps protect our waterways and groundwater; incorporating shredded leaves into the garden loosens the soil while preserving our peat bogs; planting trees helps capture carbon dioxide, and if they’re fruit trees, they feed you too. The list goes on and on.

But as we reflect on Earth Day, perhaps the most powerful tool we can think of is to spread the word about what we, and you our readers, are doing. Surely each of us knows a person who says gardening is too hard, takes too much time, or isn’t worth it. Sharing our stories with these individuals, and the world at large, hopefully might lead to a small change. From shopping at a grocery store to a farmer’s market. Tearing up a small patch of grass to grow food. The more small steps like these that we all can encourage, the more of a change we truly can make for Earth Day, and for every day.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Signs of Spring

We'd almost forgotten what it felt like, but we finally had a nice weekend to get out into the garden! As we've mentioned before, we've gotten a good start on seedlings under the growlight, but we've hardly seen the outdoor garden beds since last fall. So today we headed out back to do a little maintenance and just generally see how things were going. And when we got there, we came upon a few surprises.

That's garlic, popping up through the leaf mulch we put down when we planted last October. We planted 25 garlic bulbs and have spotted 17 sprouts so far. Some of them are already showing a lot of growth, so we'll just have to keep an eye on them until July or so when they'll be ready for harvest.

Next we wandered over to the strawberry bed and cleared off the mulch of straw that allowed them to overwinter. Strawberries can handle a bit of a frost, so even if we get a cold snap they should be okay without the straw. Most of the plants from last year look pretty good, but we've also got some new growth like you can see in the picture. This should be where we get our fruit this summer, so it's encouraging to see it doing well already.

While we were clearing straw, we also removed some from around the rosemary (a futile attempt to keep it alive over the winter). And there, we got some even bigger surprises.

It seems our parsley self-seeded when we left it in the ground at the end of last season.

And so did the oregano...

And apparently the chives! This was kind of an accident, since we simply ran out of time to pull all the plants before the winter arrived. So several boxes still had their crops in them by the late fall, when they went to seed. Sometime this spring, it appears those seeds sprouted, and with no work at all on our part, we have a head start on our herb bed. This is about as natural a gardening process as you can have!

Much less of a surprise was this scene: rhubarb starting to poke up out of the ground. This garden is our first time growing rhubarb, but in our zone it's a notoriously robust and hardy plant. Still, it's always a thrill to see that the roots that lay dormant all winter long survived and are starting to send up new growth.

Similarly for this guy - the very start of an asparagus sprout. Our asparagus is a regular green variety, not one of the purple hybrids, but for some reason it's starting off purple. Our recollection is that it did this last year as well before it eventually turned green, so we're not too worried. Last year we had to let all of our asparagus grow out to ferns undisturbed so it was able to store enough energy to last the winter. This year we should be able to harvest for a few weeks before we let it fern out. That makes seeing the first few tips all the more exciting, knowing they should lead to a harvest.

Now it really feels like the gardening season is starting in earnest! Have you started any plants, or seen any overwintered sprouts? This has to be one of the best times of the year.