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8 MAINTAIN A GARDEN

This action focuses on reducing fuels needed for food transportation by growing some of your own food locally.

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why?

While local produce is plentiful at farmer's markets, food co-ops and through CSA programs during the growing season, you can't beat the experience or freshness of growing your own food in a backyard or community garden. After all, even 'local' foods have to be transported from farm to market, and it doesn't get any more local than walking into your yard or down the street. Having a garden is an opportunity to become connected to your food system that cannot be replaced.


how to do this action:

While it is impossible to condense the plethora of information and topics related to maintaining a garden plot here, following is a summary of the various considerations of having a garden plot. We strongly recommend looking into at least one of the excellent resources listed at the end of this action text.

FINDING A PLOT:

Before you fantasize too much about biting into a fresh ear of sweet corn it is important to secure some land for your garden. If you are not lucky enough to have an open yard with full southern exposure it is time to get creative.

One of the greatest parts of gardening is how it establishes community. Does your neighbor have room in their yard? Perhaps you can use part in return for a portion of your harvest.

Urban Garden Share (www.urbangardenshare.org)

Many cities have programs for community gardens. Even if you cannot secure your own plot, participating in a community garden can be equally rewarding.

There are over 400 community gardens in Minnesota. The first step is to find a community garden plot if you don't have space available in your current living situation. The Gardening Matters website is a great resource for finding a community garden plot.

Community gardens fill up fast and are usually full by early spring. Find a garden plot near you using the 'Online directory of community gardens' on the Gardening Matters website and fill out a request for contact information for gardens you are interested in.

Before you give up hope on finding space remember that many times boulevards can be used, or even many forms of built or found containers can serve as small garden spaces. If container gardening is your only option, swing by your local grocery store and ask if they have any food grade 5 gallon buckets. Many restaurants and grocers receive produce in these buckets, and they are perfect for containers. Or perhaps make some of your own.

Proximity: Your garden should become a place of relaxation for you to enjoy the summer evenings. One of the most important factors in a successful garden is your ability to tend it frequently. Think hard about how different your time will be spent if your garden is outside your door, versus a twenty minute commute.

Sun Exposure: One of Minnesota's blessings is an abundance of warm, clear days in the summer months. Most plants need at least six hours of full sun exposure.

Size: A common mistake of first time gardeners is to want as large a garden as possible. However, try starting your first season with a small garden, ranging from 100 to 300 square feet. A smaller size will allow you to tend your plants with more care and learn without getting overwhelmed. There is always next season to expand.

WHAT TO GROW:

One of the most exciting parts is choosing what to grow. This is the time to think ahead about when plants will be harvested and in what quantities will they produce.

Check out Edward Smith's book, The Vegetable Gardeners Bible, for complete information on these topics.

When you are looking at seeds, consider purchasing heirloom varieties. These plants are older versions that are typically not commercially produced. Many of them grow to be some of the most perfect tasting fruits and vegetable you will find. Heirloom varieties generally use open-pollination but also allow you to save the seeds for next year, whereas many hybrid varieties are genetically modified to only grow once.

Go ahead and grow those tomatoes and bell peppers. But also consider some items that you may purchase frequently and could save you some money by growing. Namely, greens, garlic, tomatoes, and winter squash.

Earth Easy - Most Cost Effective Vegetables to Grow
PREPARING THE NECESSARY TOOLS:

For the most part you can manage a modest sized garden with very few tools. However there are a few that every good gardener must have access to. A good sharp hoe and the knowledge of how to use it! Hoes are meant to scrape just underneath the earth in order to cut the roots of weeds. Also, a spade for turning the dirt, a method for watering, and a trowel for the finer work.

Fashioning trellises from found materials is a great way to save space in your garden with plants such as winter squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, and others. Think old step ladders, bicycle rims, old tools, or tied bundles of sticks.

GROWING IN A COLD CLIMATE:

The key to growing in climate with a short growing season is not to get behind. Typical last frost dates for Minnesota are between mid and late May. At that point you should have your garden bed turned, trellises placed, and many of your seeds started indoors.

SOWING:

Start by developing a garden plan. Get a piece of graph paper and draw your plot. Next arrange all the crops you wish to grow, making sure to place the taller ones to the north so that they don't shade other beds. A solid garden plan helps you grow the correct number of plants and should travel with you to the garden every day until you know it by heart.

Many plants will produce significantly more fruit if they can get a head start. Start your warm weather crops, like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, corn, and beans as early as March. Make sure to sow more seeds in case some don't germinate.

Germinate these seeds in small containers that allow the seeds adequate growth within the month or so of containment. This is also a great time to get your first batch of greens, pea, and carrots going for successive plantings.

TRANSPLANTING:

When the time comes to plant your seedlings take great care with their roots, as a stunted plant can take multiple weeks to recover from a rough handling. Space your plants with enough room for complete growth. Fight the urge to attempt to "get away" with putting things closer. You won't.

CULTIVATING:

As your seedlings emerge and start to grow with a rapid pace, make sure you protect them by keeping weeds away and providing plenty of water. Try to target the stems of the plant instead of the leaves. Water deeply and often. The lower roots of your plants need moisture too!

Keep the weeds at bay with a sharp hoe and dedicated mind. Try not for walk anywhere but the paths of your garden so that you don't compact the soil. Loose soil means more air in the ground and a healthier plant; it also means that the weeds are easier to pull.

HARVESTING:

Since Minnesota has a rather strict timeline of warmth, a traditional August through September bounty is to be expected. Prepare yourself for one of your busiest and most rewarding gardening seasons by reading up on when your vegetables will be ready for harvest.

Try to lengthen your harvest by sowing fast growing plants like greens, peas, and cucumber early. Follow these crops up with another batch that will be ready later in the summer. Many plants need to have their fruit harvested in order to continue producing.

PRESERVING:

Don't let your bounty go to waste. Invite your friends over for a harvest festival. Preserve the rest of what you cannot eat fresh. A fresh plant is healthier as it contains all its nutrients. However canning, freezing, and drying are all excellent methods to continue eating your harvest well into the winter. For more information on preserving, visit the website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

PLANNING FOR NEXT YEAR:

With one successful season under your belt it is time to start dreaming about the plants you will grow next year. Further improvements to your garden can be adding raised beds, a compost pile, or even a bee hive. Attend a seed swap event to exchange your seeds (which you saved) with friends. And start drawing up that garden plan for next season.


what will be measured?

KEY QUESTIONS

QUANTITATIVE QUESTION: How can your diet be supplemented with more local foods by growing a garden?

QUALITATIVE QUESTION: How does the experience of growing a garden affect happiness, convenience, health, and cost?

BASELINE WEEK TRACKING

QUANTITATIVE
During the baseline tracking week before the project begins, use the corresponding spreadsheet (F8_BASELINE) to plan out some important aspects of the garden. What types of vegetables do you eat now? What types would you be willing to try if grown in a garden? Be realistic but open to the new possibilities of your diet changing through having access to a plentiful supply of fresh local produce throughout the summer.

QUALITATIVE


Qualitative Scale

Using the above scale as a visual, rate each of the following criteria on the spreadsheet (F8_BASELINE) as it relates to your current food buying habits:

  • 1. SATISFACTION/HAPPINESS
    (Overall, how much enjoyment or dissatisfaction do you get out of doing and completing this behavior?)

  • 2. CONVENIENCE
    (How easy/difficult and accessible/inaccessible is this behavior for you to do and complete?)

  • 3. HEALTH
    (How healthy/unhealthy and safe/unsafe does this behavior make you feel?)

  • 4. COST
    (How much does this behavior cost? Use positive numbers for being above average and negative numbers for being below average and zero for being average.)

IMPLEMENTATION PHASE TRACKING

QUANTITATIVE
Use the corresponding spreadsheet (F8_QUANTITATIVE) as a daily metrics log. Document the entire experience starting and maintaining a garden plot. All aspects of this experience are relevant for being tracked in the log; finding a plot, preparing the soil, deciding what to grow, maintenance of the garden and harvest.

QUALITATIVE
Part 1 - Ranking


Qualitative Scale

Using the above scale as a visual, rate each of the following criteria, every IMPLEMENTATION day on the spreadsheet (F8_QUALITATIVE) Your answers should not be rated in comparison to your baseline week, but in general as a reflection of how you are feeling.

  • 1. SATISFACTION/HAPPINESS
    (Overall, how much enjoyment or dissatisfaction do you get out of doing and completing this behavior?)

  • 2. CONVENIENCE
    (How easy/difficult and accessible/inaccessible is this behavior for you to do and complete?)

  • 3. HEALTH
    (How healthy/unhealthy and safe/unsafe does this behavior make you feel?)

  • 4. COST
    (How much does this behavior cost? Use positive numbers for being above average and negative numbers for being below average and zero for being average.)

Part 2 - Blogging
Keep a narrative log of your experiences changing this action in your life. What were the most difficult/easy parts of growing a garden? How did having the garden to harvest from change the way you cooked and shopped for groceries? Were there local items that you eat now that you hadn’t before?


resources

ACTION SPREADSHEETS

The spreadsheets referred to above can be found in the Excel file at the following link:

F8_Maintain a Garden Spreadsheet

If you prefer to enter your responses by hand, printable PDFs of each spreadsheet can be found at the following links (at the end of the project, all data will have to be entered into the Excel spreadsheet):

F8_BASELINE
F8_QUANTITATIVE
F8_QUALITATIVE