Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Holistic Living & Growing Vegetables

Holistic Living & Growing Vegetables
Our late vegetable garden in 2014.
Are you starting to think about a vegetable garden?

I am! We moved to our property in July of last year and even though it was late in the season, we planted a few rows of veggies. Our harvest was surprisingly good considering our late start. This year, I'm prepared! In January I started studying up on companion planting, planting zones, moon dates, and even designed our space.

In researching my options, I began to think about a holistic approach to growing food. Rather than think about this year and what we'd like to eat, my thoughts were about next winter and what can be preserved either through canning or storage in our root cellar. In fact, I thought about the next five years and considered things like seed saving and setting up a small green house to enable us to start seeds indoors to be transplanted, later, in the garden.

The concept of holistic living is about considering the whole ... the big picture, so to speak. Here are some of the ideas that I've considered:

  • Plants versus Seeds

    Plants are available from nurseries, online retailers, and even the big box stores. In my experience, the choices are limited, most of the plants are hybrids, and the price of one plant is typically higher than the price of a packet of seeds. On the plus side, plants are easy to pop into the ground and typically ensure success. They are also good for people who don't have much space.

    Seeds are less expensive, are available for a greater variety of plants, and, in addition to hybrid plants, include organic, heirloom, and open-pollinated options. The draw back with seeds is that gardeners need a place to start them and they take time.

  • Hybrid versus Open-Pollinated

  • Hybrids are the result of crossing two plants of the same species (not to be confused with GMOs which cross different species). Desired properties of one plant are introduced to another plant via controlled measures (grafting, cross pollination, etc.). Hybrid plants are usually disease resistant and may be able to handle environmental problems like drought, short growing seasons, etc. The down side is that if seeds are saved from a hybrid plant, the resulting plants won't stay true to the parent plant. That means that gardeners will have to continue buying seeds each year.

    Open-pollinated plants are either self-pollinated or are pollinated by wind or insects. Seeds from these plants, for the most part, can be collected and the resulting plants will be true to their parent plant. Heirloom plants fall into the open-pollinated category ... open-pollinated plants produce seeds which are saved and planted the next year. The downside of open pollination is that the wind or insects may cross pollinate a plant, resulting in a slightly different "baby". For example, if you plant both sweet and hot peppers close together, plants grown from saved seeds may have the properties of both plants.

  • Organic versus Non-Organic

    Organic seeds aren't treated with any pesticides and come from organic plants. They tend to be a bit more expensive than non-organic varieties.

    Non-organic seeds are usually sprayed with a pesticide and come from non-organic plants which were probably also treated with chemicals. When dealing with non-organic seeds, one should wash their hands thoroughly after touching them and, if you're thinking about feeding old seeds to the birds, don't ... the chemicals used to preserve the seeds will harm animals.

So what have I chosen to do?

I have a large space. So I'm choosing seeds which I'll start in a very simple "makeshift" green house (an insulated raised bed covered with old windows).

I want to be able to save seeds so I'm choosing open-pollinated varieties. To avoid the introduction of chemicals into my garden, I'm going with organic.

Start-up costs for our garden may be a bit high but, in the long run, we'll be able to grow nutritious foods for very little expensive ... foods which will be grown in harmony with nature.

Here's a tip which I learned from an experienced farmer in my area. I asked how he irrigates his crops and he told me that he doesn't. He shared that if one begins to irrigate, they will always have to irrigate. On the other hand, if plants are grown naturally, watered with rain, they will not need constant irrigation. I tested this theory out, last year, and wow ... he was right. The majority of the plants that I grew thrived. The trick, here, is choosing plants appropriate for the area and climate.

Holistic living is looking at more than just this moment's action. It's considering everything and looking beyond the here and now. That's how I'm approaching my garden this year!

How about you ... do you take a holistic approach to growing food?