Thursday, March 12, 2009

Today's Treat: Guest Post

I'm hoping guest posts on a variety of topics that I am incapable of commenting on can become a regular feature of this blog...

With the recent spate of community gardens and the movement away from the English-derived, petty bourgeois need for manicured lawns towards something more useful, I've enlisted a friend and colleague who has started his own garden in the front yard of his young families inner-ring Dallas house:

Take it away Juan Munoz...

What's a Garden Worth?

I originally started my garden as a native, albeit urban prairie. I reintroduced native species without the use of chemicals and pesitcides as an antidote to the manicured, unsustainable water hogging turf lawn decorated with imported flowers that feel more at home in England or some rainy European climate. They won't grow here in Texas without a major helping hand from homo sapiens and some petro-chemical based inputs.

Man cannot defeat nature. It's been around a whole hell of a lot longer than us. So I chose to work with it.

Once that was done and the Laissez-faire method of natural lawn decoration reaped its wild and unexpected rewards, what else was there to do? Answer: Grow my own vegetables. My mom did it. My grandmother did it. I want my kid to do it. I want my kid to learn where food really comes from and to learn skills that too many of have us have lost with advanced technology.

I was sick of bland, commercially grown veggies that had no flavor. They come from who knows where. I can't really afford to eat organic veggies because, frankly, they are too expensive. We had a few scares from salmonella outbreaks in tomatoes, spinach and jalepenos. How in the hell am I going to make salsa without tomatoes? Plus, there is a deep satisfaction of growing something you eat. You can taste the love you put into it.

From the native garden, I moved to a container garden of tomatoes and peppers, and the containers proved to be a little dicey in the heat of Texas summers. The pots dried out to quickly and the yield was low. But what little we got from the containers tasted so damn good I was hooked.

It was time to expand and actually build a raised bed garden where my front lawn stood. Part political statement and part necessity due to the sun orientation of my lot, the front yard was where it was going. (I used the orientation part to convince my wife that the front yard was the only place it could go.) She finally warmed up to it once the Romaine lettuce started sprouting up. She will love it more when the tomatoes ripen.

Since the soil in North Texas is generally clay, the initial cost outlay is more than I imagined, though not exceedingly expensive. Instead of digging into the dirt and planting random veggies, I was forced to build raised beds and amend the soil with compost.

Soil is the key. Healthy soil, healthy happy plants. I make my own compost, but the amount I am able to produce and the amount required to start the beds were not even close. Add in the wood to build the raised beds with the cost of the compost/mulches and seeds and some starter plants, I am at around $250. Next year the costs will be substantially lower since I will be starting from seeds mostly and the soil will improve each year with minimal amounts of homemade compost added to the beds .

The garden is only around 75-80SF(It’s at 50 SF as of today)but it is designed to maximize every square foot of space using the block style method of planting. See link here:

For example, in a 3’x3’ space in the bed, I can yield 144 carrots, 36 onions, or 16 heads of lettuce. Using succession planting, i.e., sowings seeds every two weeks, I should have a steady supply of fresh kitchen veggies until the first frost. The initial 250 dollar outlay is comparable to a week and a half’s worth of groceries for me, the wife, and baby Jack. I think it is money well spent, and it’s cheaper than therapy. We will see where it goes, and how much we really get out of the garden.