Urban agriculture is a means to create local agronomic systems, address food insecurity and access in low-income communities, while responding to global climate and food changes.
Participating in one’s community’s prosperity is also participating in one’s own prosperity....
A veggie plot at the White House will no doubt lead more Americans to embrace this green fad. But prospective gardeners, beware: This hobby isn’t cheap — or easy.
Alcestis “Cooky” Oberg
15 April 2009
© 2009 USA Today. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.
When Michelle Obama recently decided to plant a kitchen garden at the White House, I was pleased. Fresh vegetables from the garden are great. Better yet, the recession has made gardening popular again, as vegetable seed sales are up nearly 20% over last year.
But like any fad, this craze is full of hype and short on facts. Recent articles tout how some people have saved “thousands” of dollars with kitchen gardens, perhaps paving the way to freedom from the grocery store. Burpee Seeds enthused that $50 spent on gardening supplies can multiply into $1,250 worth of produce annually.
Don’t bet on it.
While “victory gardens” did provide 40% of the nation’s produce during World War II, American agriculture has since become more efficient, cost-effective and productive. Bargains abound at grocery stores. Besides that, vegetables and fruit are only one small portion of the family food budget, which usually includes dairy, grain, meat and other products we can’t provide for ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been a gardener for more than 40 years, and my yard is one big edible landscape full of fruit trees and vegetable beds. There are many good reasons to grow your own produce, but saving money shouldn’t be the main one. People who are thinking about starting a kitchen garden need to know a few real- life facts:
*Gardening is not cheap. That first garden might require the purchase of tools (shovels, hoes, cultivators, tomato cages, fences, water hoses), maybe some machines for big plots (tillers, weed- eaters and their fuel), soil amendments (fertilizers, mulches, composts, manures, top soils), seeds or transplants, and water. Organic gardeners like to add composting bins to that sizeable bill, in order to recycle cut grass, leaves and other refuse.
*Gardening is not easy. You don’t just put a seed in the ground and walk away until the harvest. You have to concern yourself with weeding, watering, soil enrichment, drainage, mulch, keeping kids and soccer balls out of the garden — to say nothing of varmints such as squirrels, birds, raccoons and deer that show up uninvited at the backyard deli.
*Purely organic gardens will probably fail in many places. I live in Texas. The bugs are going to win here. So if vicious, poisonous fire ants try to set up a colony in my garden, I have to kill them. Co-existence is not an option. Ditto for other voracious insects intent upon destroying my crops. I use the mildest chemical possible (organic products are chemicals, too) only when and where it’s needed, and I always follow the directions.
*Some locovores — people who insist on eating only locally grown food — are misleading new gardeners into thinking that a kitchen garden can provide everything. I like Bing cherries, Honeycrisp apples, Golden pineapples and apricots — none of which will grow on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Some vegetables and herbs don’t want to live here either. The best place to go to avoid gardeners’ remorse is the local county agricultural extension service, which provides free fact sheets telling you what will or won’t grow in your area.
*There are impractical fashions in gardening, as in clothing. For instance, heirloom tomatoes are fashionable now. However, as my veggie-mentor, garden author Tom LeRoy, told me darkly: “There’s a reason some old varieties aren’t grown anymore.” That very year, my Brandywine heirlooms produced exactly one tomato and died of a disease, while the modern Better Boy right next to it produced 40 pounds of delicious tomatoes. Today, I have a sensible mixture of old and modern vegetable varieties, and I’m always eager to try something new — a white cherry tomato or a purple carrot. I praise American agriculture and science for creating modern vegetables and fruit that are wonderfully resistant to diseases, grow easily, taste great and are far more productive than some of the oldie-goldies.
The benefits of gardening go well beyond the bounty. My kids did well in science partly because they learned botany firsthand, in the garden. There is a special peace and empowerment one gets by growing one’s own food, working closely with the plants and the seasons.
But I’d be dead if I had to live on what I grew. Like many gardeners, the Obamas might find their garden produce to be more of a delightful seasonal addition to the table, rather than a reliable and life-sustaining one.
Many of my crops failed, or had good years and bad ones, depending on the weather. I have real respect for professional farmers who endure all that and keep producing. Last year when my spinach crop didn’t produce, I was invited to harvest some at a church garden nearby, run by a couple of retired farmers. Their acre of tough Texas land was as beautiful as a royal garden, and the row of spinach was so perfect it was humbling.
“These guys know how to grow food,” I confessed.
Alcestis “Cooky” Oberg is a veteran gardener, author of several gardening books, and a member of USA TODAY’s board of contributors. Food and Nutrition Service News Clips
Richard Dengrove CGA, HQ, Editor
Urban Gardening Talk Series 2009
Presented by the Historical Society of Washington (HSW), DC Urban Gardeners, and Washington Gardener Magazine.
The monthly talk timing is 1-2:30 except where noted with a *.
The talks all take place at the HSW auditorium, 801 K Street NW, Washington, DC.
They are FREE and open to the general public.
This series is specifically aimed at the urban, beginner gardener and getting DC gardening.
It is open to anyone and seating is first-come.
Urban Tree Care and Tree Giveaway Program by Jim Woodworth, Casey Trees
The Best Vegetables to Grow in DC by Cindy Brown, Green Spring Gardens
Landscaping with Natives by Cheval Force Opp, Garden Tours (*10:00-11:30)
Growing the Perfect Tomato by Elizabeth Olson, Maryland Certified Professional Horticulturist
Rain Barrels and Water Management by Barry Chenkin, Aquabarrels
Canning Your Harvest Bounty by Liz Falk, 7th Street Gardens
Raising Winter Greens by Brett Grohsgal, Even Star Organic Farm CSA (*2:30-4)
Building a School Garden by Grace Manubay, DC Schoolyard Greening
Putting Your Garden to Bed for Winter by Kathy Jentz, Washington Gardener Magazine
December – none
Full listing is also posted here:
http://www.washingt ongardener. com/index_ files/Events. htm
not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps. Henry Thoreau
From the essay “Walking
Hi all -
We are constantly being asked for locations of local community garden plots and are trying to create a comprehensive listing for everyone to use as a resource. We have it started here:
http://www.washingt ongardener. com/index_ files/CommunityG ardens.htm
Thanks to Bea, Mandy, and Judy for the big head start on the DC listings!
We need YOUR help adding any that are not on this listing page. We know there are garden plots at retirement homes, apartment complexes, and on government property that are hidden and only known of by word-of-mouth. We want to hear about them!
Share your community garden plot information with me us emailing me back (off-list) or directly at WGardenermag@ aol.com.
Please pass along to any other local area gardeners you may know.
Washington Gardener Magazine
826 Philadelphia Ave.
Silver Spring MD 20910