Imagine looking out of your back window and seeing delicious vegetables you have grown yourself. It is the peace, love and feeling of accomplishment to have an array of delicious and organic foods to eat. Go into your back garden and pick your colorful red bell peppers, pull from the rich soil your sweet orange carrots and look in and see the beautiful red strawberries ready to pick and eat. You know the old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way?”. The Tot’s Café knows a Mom who makes this back garden her reality.
In this personal account, the Tot’s Café’s current Spotlight Mom, Stacey, shares her passion and what drives her to create something that may seem like a dream come true to some or an impossible project for others. The Tot’s Cafe was in awe and inspired to see what is possible in one’s backyard and we just had to share this with you. As a special treat our Spotlight Mom, Stacey, will personally share her vision and motivation for building the family garden. She gives us her story of how she acquired a “green thumb,” and is here to share that it is possible for you too.
Growing food runs through both my husband and my veins. Our parents and grandparents grew food, but in very different ways. We started growing tomatoes years ago because you can’t beat the taste of a homegrown tomato (to find out later- that’s true for any fruit and vegetable). When we realized how much money we were saving, we added bell peppers, onions and borage to the tomatoes (those are companion plants).
Three years ago, I got hooked on a TV show, Big Ideas for a Small Planet (on the Sundance network). In one episode, it featured the Dervaes Family who transformed their ¼ acre Pasadena lot into a high producing urban homestead (http://urbanhomestead.org ).
I showed my husband and said, “Let’s do it!” And we started. We took out 8 inches of the backyard earth to get rid of our invasive Bermuda grass. After we accomplished that, the rain started to what ended up being a wet season and our backyard became the neighborhood lake where ducks came to hang out. We live on bedrock, its horrible drainage, so we chose rocks to fill in the 8 inches and laid drainage pipe. We built beds because we laid rocks. We could have grown straight into our dirt, which had no nutrients, and it would have been the same amount of work and care.
We learned from our permaculture friends and teachers to put kitchen scraps (raw veggie and fruit) in the dirt where the plants are growing, add red worms and top it with worm casting from our vermicomposter. Soil must be full of nutrition. Just like a person can get sick when their immune system is down, same goes for plants. Healthy soil with loads of nutrients helps build a plants immune system so it can resist pests and disease.
Last year we didn’t have to buy one tomato or bell pepper all season. So far this year, we’ve harvested variety of beats, potatoes, radishes, strawberries, seven different herbs, a variety of lettuce, broccoli, onions, edible flowers, bell peppers and tomorrow I’m going to harvest our first squash of the season, a spaghetti squash (which beautifully hangs 3 feet above the dirt on a trellis).
Companion planting and great soil is how we keep our garden organic. Companion plants will deter pests, improve flavor, or enrich soil. For example, we plant tomatoes, bell peppers and borage together to deter pests and we plant basil near tomatoes to improve the flavor of tomatoes.
Fully transforming our land will take a few years. We plan on continuing the food out onto our spacious front yard, “Loud and proud,” I say. With the environmental and health hazards that go hand in hand with the produce in major supermarkets, if you have the space, create your own garden and if that’s not possible, buy local organic to support your and your loved ones health and the health of our planet.
Has an idea that I might want to build vegetable beds, with grants, for schools. So I took on a project at my son’s co-op preschool. I built 18-inch high beds and sectioned them off in square foot plots. I charted companions and the kids helped me plant. Each child claimed a square to tend and watch grow. The soil is new, so the plants are small; but we continue to work the soil. Kitchen scraps and worms lay beneath the surface. We harvested a salad and I worked with lettuce, broccoli and herbs that the kids ate for snack. What I notice about children is if they plant it, grow it, and harvest it, then they will most likely eat it.
It is important to offer a variety of vegetables to children right from the start. If they do not eat it, don’t give up. I found creative and fun ways to entice my son to eat his veggies. What the kids eat in their early years impacts their palates and habits for life.
Looking at my garden through my kitchen window and walking out my back door to harvest ingredients to use in a meal that I am preparing is a beautiful, simple, empowering feeling. I recommend growing food to everyone. It can be done even in small spaces using vertical and square foot gardens. Anyone can have a green thumb if they give their garden nutritious soil, companion plants, proper water and love. So, go for it!