In the Garden:
Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Think through just how much of a vegetable garden you want this year.
A Gardener's Dilemma
Okay, full disclosure. Two years ago, I wrote a post about planning the vegetable garden and how I needed to cut back on what I was growing. The adage, "The more things change, the more they stay the same," certainly applies to me. I don't know about you, but I'm still concerned about the economy, personal health, food safety, and global sustainability, just as I was in 2009. And, I'm still trying to spend less time growing and preserving my food and more time on other areas of my life, all while still having the rewards of home-grown food.
Maybe you're actually thinking about expanding your kitchen garden, or having one for the first time. In either case, congratulations to you! There is nothing more satisfying that growing at least some of your own food. Just remember that it doesn't happen magically without time, effort, and money. Now is the perfect time to really think through how you're going to approach your access to fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs this year.
Try a CSA Share
For years now, I've tried to personally grow almost all of my produce, supplemented occasionally by a visit to a farmers' market. Even in winter, I grew my own greens. In 2009, I made the leap to purchasing what is known as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. There are variations on this theme, but, basically, it involves paying a sum of money (in my case, $400) in April to a local farmer that I had met at a farmer's market. In return, I received a box of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers for twenty-two weeks. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. No longer did I feel hide-bound to grow the widest range of produce possible.
Depending on the farmer, there are downsides to this system. You get what the farmer raises and in quantities he or she provides, which isn't necessarily always what you would choose for yourself. The process does lead to learning more than you might have thought possible about, say, carrots, radishes, or kale, all of which I received in abundance. I found it to be an adventure, but be sure to ask questions of your farmer in advance. One of the tenets of a CSA share is that you're sharing in the vagaries of the weather and pests, just as would occur in your own garden. What I've found, both personally and in talking with others, is that most farmers will make a heroic attempt to deliver on what they promised.
How do you find a farmer in your area who offers CSA shares? One of the best places is by visiting local farmers' markets and asking individual vendors. Another place is the website Local Harvest at http://www.localharvest.org. You can do a search for CSAs in your area on this site.
Learn About Local Farmers' Markets
Local newspapers, county Extension offices, and Master Gardener groups often make information available about the farmers' markets in your region. If you're not familiar with your local farmers' markets, make an effort to visit not just one, but several at least.
Find the one that is best for you to visit on a regular basis, but try to visit others occasionally, for variety they offer. In the Louisville, Kentucky, metropolitan area, there are two that I visit at least monthly, but I know that another has vendors with certain specific items that I sometimes want. Many farmers' markets also have e-newsletters each week, telling you in advance what each vendor is bringing. This really helps in planning menus ahead.
Once you select a favorite market, then take the time to get to know the various farmers. Although markets can be very busy places, look for a moment when a vendor is not harried and chat with them. I know from the year I had a market garden that I really enjoyed getting to know my customers and telling them about the different crops and how I grew them.
Plan Your Own Garden Wisely
New gardeners aren't the only ones to get carried away trying to grow too large of a garden or too many different crops. Whether you're just starting out or an old hand, take the time to think through what crops are most important to you and your family, which ones you'd like to preserve, or even if you want to preserve any of your food. Think through how much time you can devote to planting, garden care, harvesting, and using.
By thoughtfully going through the process of considering what a CSA share, your local farmers' markets, and your own garden can each literally bring to the table, you'll be assured of having a happy and healthful year.
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