Growing food is something we all need to learn and pass on to the next generation

Remember the words of Henry Thoreau?  He said, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

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I’ve been thinking about food growing a lot lately since I put away all my dried garlic and have been planting out all my fall crops. I am also very busy starting many fall greens that are unable to germinate in warm soil. Which means, I need to germinate them inside under lights and then place them out as the weather cools in our area; It occupies a lot of my free time, so would you call it a hobby? I don’t call it a gardening hobby. It is for health reasons that I grow most of my food. I use to work outside the home but in 2009, due to health reasons, I decided to grow more food on my city lot. I need access to nutrient dense foods to help me fight disease. I had no idea what I was getting myself into full-time back in 2009, but it sure has taught me how hard food growing is, and it is not an exact science. Each growing area or plot requires its individual approach. One has to observe and learn, and that means making a lot of mistakes along the way.

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I grow food full-time right now, and I consider it my job. Many of my friends are still working full-time jobs or are retired and going back to work as a volunteer or part-time at a new job. I am not going to lie to you about food growing. There are a ton of books out there or websites that tell you; Grow food with minimal input, yeah right! Why would one want little input? Isn’t the purpose of growing food to get outside and connect with the soil and nature. Trust me, I am guilty of reading these books when I first started growing food on our city lot, but over the years, I ‘ve changed my views on food growing.

Food growing is something we all should learn to do even if it is a few pots on our back porch. I love herbs in pots right outside my kitchen!  If you don’t have an area to grow food, then please support your local or regional farmers that are trying to make a living growing nutrient dense food. Support them at your local farmers market or purchase only local or regionally grown food at your local grocery store. If you do have a place where you can grow food then maybe you might be interested in what I am doing this next year

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one of the easiest things to grow is garlic, just plant them in the fall and harvest mid summer. I let mine dry on the shelf inside before I bag them up.

I am starting over with a fresh new approach to my food growing in Fall 2016. It seems to go with our new facade. Having a new roof + rebuilt front of your house appears to inspire one to make changes. I have learned a lot over the past seven years growing food on our city lot. I started out with one corner of my yard back in 2000. It was just a place to put a few tomato plants. I never thought it would take up my entire lot which has become a big part of my daily work each day. I no longer travel across the river to teach and have a bit more free time to grow more food. If I am honest, I have found it requires MORE of my free-time than I ever thought it would. I have no idea how one would grow this much food on a city lot with a full-time job and a house full of kids. I read a lot of blogs and many of them post stories about how “easy” food growing is and it only requires a few hours a week. Are they serious? I have found it quite the opposite. It might only need a few hours a week if you have a small garden, but if you want to grow more food to freeze and put up for winter or provide daily microgreens for winter eating; it takes more time than a few hours a week!

A large bush was in this area and we took it out in hte middle of the summer so now we have only one large Rose of Sharon growing which will be reduced in size soon.

I  grow organic flowers, herbs, and vegetables for others in my community. I am each year helping more people to grow food, use pollinator-friendly plants and use fewer chemicals on their city lots. I came home yesterday and found some used garden pots that I gave someone earlier in the spring. They did not leave a note, so I figure it was someone who got good use out of the plants. It inspired me to continue doing what I started out doing back in 2009! It made me happy to know they put their plants in their garden, and now they are reaping the benefits from good food and creating a healthy place for them and nature right in the heart of the city! What foods do you grow or pollinator-friendly plants?

 

Grow what you can and vote with what you purchase

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we are eating our raspberries every day from our garden!

I have been so busy that my posts have been far and few between this summer. I have workers on the outside of our house today; I hope in the next few weeks to be free from the workers in my gardens. I am grateful that I can update our urban dwelling.
I have not been able to get out in my gardens as much this summer, but I did get my fall crops in last week. I am slowly rebuilding my garden beds and hope this fall to do more work. In the meantime, I have been changing our diet and figuring out what we can grow on our property to help with our weekly meal planning. It got me thinking about what I can’t grow and how living in an urban area means being dependent on the local stores to provide some of our healthy organic food. I wrote this article for another blog post and thought I would share it this week. What we do purchase matters for it provides direct support to those that are trying to make a difference in the world of food growing!

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Verified matters when you shop at your local store

The retailers who started the NON GMO Project made it possible for consumers in North America to have access to foods that are clearly labeled with a logo that is recognizable. The projects label clearly states there are no GMO items in the food.This label is a good thing for there are days when you are rushed for time, and you don’t have a chance to turn over all the food items and read each ingredient, but if we want to live an organic life; we need to make the time.

Living an Organic life  in the city means learning to read labels. We can’t purchase all our food locally grown at times which means we need to become savvy consumers. We have to pick apart the ingredients and educate ourselves about what we purchase. It is important to know who, what, where and how our food was grown. We all need to support those farmers and companies that go the extra mile to produce healthy food. By reading and purchasing only from those businesses that verify their food is NON GMO, we are supporting their efforts.

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they don’t need that much space

Care about where you money goes for it is a way to vote

If we take the time to purchase from those that care about the quality of our food and the environment we have used our money wisely. We vote with our money. Yep, we can make a difference by what we purchase when we pay for a product. I bet you never thought about that since you are crunched for time. You may have a busy life and not have the time to pay attention to all the ways your food is grown, raised or created, but there are people out there that make it their business to care about what is being done, or put into our food. If we take but a minute to read a label, research a company or know about the journey of our food; we cast a vote with our purchase each time.

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mine are tucked in a back corner of our city lot

I look for seals of approval on products more since I am trying to live a more organic life right in the heart of the city. The NON GMO Project is one label you can rest assured is in your best interest. It is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization.The NON-GMO Project have verified 35,000 NON GMO products from almost nearly 2000 brands! It is a seal of approval put on products you can purchase at your local grocery store. Those that created the GMO Project seal believe everyone deserves to be informed and have the choice to consume or not consume genetically modified foods.

We need to protect ourselves from those that don’t have a vested interest in our health 

The science behind GMO’s is very new and not enough research has been done to analyse the effects of these foods on our bodies, animals or nature that consume these products. I am not here to scare you to death but trying to educate you as to how important it is that you be informed about what is being done to your food. I prefer to air on the side of caution when it comes to consuming these foods.

The science behind genetically modified foods ingredients is frequently changing which means you need to stay up to date with all the different foods that are being modified or tested. Most of us do not have time to keep up to date, which means we need an organization to help us keep informed. The NON GMO Project seal of approval is an organization that has your back!

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Look for the NON GMO Project verified label

Next time you are at the local food mart look for the NON GMO Project stamp of approval and when you put your hard earned money down on the counter rest assured you are making a difference. By purchasing only NON GMO Project verified products, you are supporting an organization that makes it their job to be informed; for you the consumer.

Do you ever purchase NON GMO project products? I find, I do more and more as I try to purchase and grow clean food.

 

Did you ever suffer from a garden slump?

I have this summer; I just couldn’t get myself motivated to get out in the garden and take pictures or get excited about anything. It started in early spring with the repairing of our flat roof. It was supposed to be a simple job but turned into the “never-ending story” of home repair. We are not swimming in money to handle all the repairs, and it was, initially, carefully thought out before we started the first tear down of our flat roof in April. All the careful planning in the world can not prepare for what is hidden behind walls. Once it starts it is like a long row of dominoes..tip one and watch them FALL!!!

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walls can hide all sort of ugliness!

The first project was to tear off the old roof and place a new pitched roof that would cover our former flat roof that had become a  “bathtub” over our garage. It was a simple project that should have been done in a few weeks until they opened a wall. Our home was built-in 1968, and it was covered with dense vines when we purchased it in 1999. I tore off many of the old vines in early 2000 and found cracks on the arches next to the garage. We watched them and mended them over the next 16 years. My husband and I just got busy with raising kids and work. Over the years, we tried to repair those cracks, ourselves, but could never find anyone that did stucco in the Midwest. One time a portion of the concrete wall collapsed, and my husband had to tie it up with a string!

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This spring we were thrilled when our contractor found a guy that still did stucco. It was supposed to be a simple stucco repair, and we were surprised when they found behind the cracks, rotten wood. Yep, our wall would have collapsed this year or the next if it was not repaired. I would say someone is watching out for us. This simple project was starting to expand and develop a life of its own. The carpenter had to return and tear the entire front of our house down. The workers were not gardeners, so they destroyed many of the garden beds to get the work done. It was what had to happen and to tell you the truth; I ‘ve been cleaning up ever since. I have not felt much like writing about food growing, or magical moments in the garden.

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Yesterday, I went for a delightful bike ride on the river and came home and looked around at the still unfinished gutters, stucco debris, overgrown weeds, destroyed garden beds from builders trampling all my plants. I thought about running inside and hiding. How could my garden that gave me so much comfort all these years become a place that I wanted to escape from now? I pondered is this garden depression??? The very place I find solitude has become a location of frustration. It aggravated me even more that the very place; I replenished my soul was a place I wanted to run away from, how could that be? Instead of running inside, I looked up and noticed a Joe Pye covered with bees that I had planted last year. They were not complaining about how things were not perfect, whining about what it should look like, or what needed to be done. No, they were not complaining.They just were getting on with their daily work. I decided at that moment maybe that was what I needed to do.

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I went inside and grabbed a cup of tea and headed out to the garden with Chance, my garden dog by my side. It was a perfect morning to get to work and find myself in my garden. I weeded for several hours, and I noticed that garden depression was disappearing. I sat down and sipped my tea and watched as the hummingbird zipped back and forth between the flowers.

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I need my garden. It is the one place in the world that I can replenish my soul and find peace. I need to unplug and just go out there and sit under a tree and listen and watch nature. Our world is so filled with noise that we don’t hear nature anymore.

Today they are redesigning our gutters to redirect the water off our newly designed roof and rebuilt arches. We have been waiting for them for weeks to come since they are backed up due to people who lost their homes during a recent tornado. I thought about how I was frustrated by a little destruction and destroyed garden beds. I felt ashamed that I would be annoyed by trampled plants when there are people who lost “EVERYTHING” in a matter of a few minutes in a tornado.I decided at that moment; I would get back in the garden and be thankful. I remember my mother always saying, “when you are feeling frustrated with life, think of someone who has it tougher and you will stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I have always lived my life by that motto. I just need some reminding sometimes by my native bees that all you have to do is get back to work and do what you need to do. That simple!

 

Have you ever had this happen?

 

Memorial Day is a day to remember…..

 

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“That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

— Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863

Memorial Day is when we place a flower on the grave of those that died defending our country. It is a day of remembrance. I give a flower from my garden; to all that gave their life for this country…..

 

Do you know about The American Humane Certified program?

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I live in an urban area, and there is one fact we all have to accept; We can’t grow all our food in the city. Many people try, but it comes down to making choices. You have to select what you can grow best on your city lot. Most city dwellers have small growing areas, no outdoor area but a balcony or small patio out their condo/apartment, so the idea of growing all their food in an urban area is not realistic.

If we do have land, it is not acreage that we can produce all the different foods we need, for example, our grains for organic home baking. Our homes are lots with closely placed buildings, cemented walkways/driveways, privacy walls, or neighbors that don’t want to see your urban farm over their fence. We have to be good neighbors and learn how to work with what we have to grow and live peacefully with the people we share our city streets.

I want to practice living organically in the city, and I do try to make the changes necessary to make that happen, for example, I do grow all of my salad makings on our city lot. We eat seasonally so when the weather dips in the single digits for weeks, and our salad greens that are not protected don’t grow or just give up we do not eat salad greens from the big boxed stores. This past week they had salad greens in bags that were recalled for making people sick. If I do try to purchase salad greens at the local grocery store they are usually grown in Mexico and packaged in the USA. I figure if I can’t keep my lettuce growing under cover than it is time to live on our kale which does great in the single digits.

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I do not grow any animal protein on our city lot. I tend to live mostly on a plant based diet, but occasionally I do purchase humanely raised eggs/chicken. It is not legal to have chickens in our city. Some urban areas allow chickens; Ours is not one of those communities. Some people do risk having chickens on their city lot, but I don’t have the space to raise chickens. I don’t eat chicken every day, but when I do eat chickens or eggs, I want to purchase it humanely raised.

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garlic is one crop  easily grown on a city lot

I have watched all the horrible documentaries about our factory farms and how cruel we are to animals in the USA. I can’t even watch the entire video often turning away, and when I do shop at the grocery store, I pay attention to where my food is grown, how it is taken care of, and how it is processed. It does make a difference when you take the time to support farmers that are committed to the humane rearing of animals.

I feel Organic living in the city must embrace this attitude. We can’t continue to raise animals in the cruel way we have forever. It needs to stop. When I spend my hard earned money on any animal protein, it needs to be given to those companies that do it the right way. I found the label “American Humane Certified ” on a chicken I purchased. This stamp ensures the chicken I purchased was humanely raised!

I purchased my first BARE (brand) raised chicken that was American Humane Certified. I realize our family does eat a plant-based diet most of the time, but we do occasionally incorporate some animal protein. If we do, I am grateful I have the reassurance that the chicken I purchased, at least, was treated well.

onions, carrots and garlic grown on our city lot

onions, carrots and garlic grown on our city lot

I live in the breadbasket of the USA, and I grew up eating fish from Lake Michigan. I never thought twice about eating fish for it was part of our Scandanavian life-style. My great grandparents were from those countries. I have to admit, I never got used to our Norwegian Pickled Herring on the table! I did love the salmon my father would catch from Lake Michigan on the weekends, fish boils, smoked salmon or fresh smelt from Lake Michigan! It was just a way of life. We did not eat that much red meat, but we did eat a lot of fish and chicken. I am bringing this up since I now live away from the Chicago suburbs and a bit closer to the Farms in the central part of Illinois.You go outside our large cities, and it is farmland for miles and miles!

Many of the local people in our city grew up on farms and raised their animals for food. The younger generation moved away from the farms and closer to urban areas for their schooling or careers. They remember grandparents that raised all their food on the farm. They did not have grocery stores supplying all their food. I compare their feelings about eating farm animals the way I saw fish. It was a way of life and just how we ate. The animals were treated humanely.

The problem today with our factory farms is how awful the animals are treated and what they pump into the animals. I don’t need to share the gory details for you can just check out youtube and find several documentaries to observe these practices. It is enough to make you never want to purchase an animal protein again in your life from the local grocery store!

Since we can’t raise all our food living organically in the city, we have to trust others to watch over the animals. The American Humane Association has created a program to help us city dwellers make wise choices when purchasing our animal protein at the local food store. Organic Living in the City means taking the time to care about how the animals are treated.

homemade lovage soup from our garden

homemade lovage soup from our garden

Today when I purchased a chicken I felt better knowing that I supported a farmer that was doing the right thing. It does matter. If you do want to live more organically in the city, please make the effort to care for our animals. Buy only food with their stamp of approval!The American Humane Association developed  the first welfare certification program in the United States which ensures all our farm animals are treated properly.The American Humane Certified™ program provides third-party, independent verification that certified producers’ care and handling of farm animals meet the science-based animal welfare standards of American Humane Association. The program provides ongoing outreach to farmers in the implementation of the best humane practices for animals. American Humane Association is working on a new educational curriculum for children on farm animals to help educate our children about where our food comes from and ensure future generations are invested in the humane treatment of farm animals.”(read more about their progams)

If you need a steril medium I suggest using coir to germinate seed

In the early days of learning how to grow organic food, I would purchase most of my seedlings in the spring at the local garden center. I did that a few timIMG_7690cypress-march-2015es until I realized they spray a lot of chemicals on the seedlings in the big box stores. As I searched for seedlings in other locations, it was apparent that many were shipped to our local nurseries from growers that utilized the same pesticide and synthetic fertilizers. There is no guarantee your vegetable seedlings are not sprayed with pesticides or grown with synthetic fertilizers unless you know the grower. I am beginning to see more “USDA” organically grown plants in garden centers, but often they are too highly priced to make it worth your effort to purchase. It is much easier to learn how to grow your vegetables starts without all the chemicals at home. That way you control what the young plants are grown in from day one. It also saves you quite a bit of money!

There are more peppers out there than just Green Bell Peppers or Big Boy tomatoes that are sold at the local nursery. There is a world of heirloom vegetables and herbs with an incredible range of flavors, but they won’t taste so amazing if you don’t start with a good seed starting soil mix. When growing your vegetables, it is advised to start you seeds in a sterile medium which ensures that your seedlings will be healthy and disease-free from day one. Most of the seed starting combinations at the local garden centers include a mix of vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss. These seed starting mixes will work fine, but if you care about the environment, you may want to make sure the company that you are purchasing from is harvesting the peat at a sustainable rate.

Did you know our peat bogs are in trouble, and some companies do not harvest peat in a sustainable manner?Most people do not realize that it takes a hundred years to form a peat bog. Peat is not an excellent choice for those wishing to create a sustainable garden for it is not considered a renewable resource.This past year, I decided to try and not use as much peat moss on our city lot. Ecologists are warning us that some peat is being harvested at non-sustainable rates. Did you know that our peat bogs are in as much trouble as our rain forests now?

If you care about the environment, you may want to purchase from companies that make a commitment to sustainable practices. This information is often not on the package, so you need to do a bit of research on your own. One place to start would be to look for companies that have the OMRI stamp of approval. OMRI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that reviews products to be used in organic growing to make sure the product is safe for you and the environment. Often, I have found some products that are used in organic growing but are not listed on the OMRI list which mean you may need to read about the company and find out how they produce their products. I use Espoma products in my organic growing, and they are not stamped with OMRI or USDA, but they are an excellent company that cares about the environment. I guess the bottom line; check out a product before you use it while learning to grow your vegetables.

In 2015, I decided to reduce my use of peat moss in our garden throughout the year.There are times where I do purchase products that utilize peat in their mixes, but I try to make sure the peat is harvested at a sustainable rate. I have found that peat moss is not my favorite seed starting mix. The various peat products, I have tried for seed starting would remain too soggy; seeds did not germinate as well, and I found too many sticks, rocks, and bulkiness in the medium which hindered the development of the young seedlings.

I do want to mention that after you germinate your seeds and they start getting their first true leaves you need to put them in a growing medium, for example, one with food for your young plants. I have found over the years Espoma or Black Gold soils to be great ones to use. I have been using their potting soil for the last few years, and those are two that I can count on to help me grow healthy seedlings transplants to use in our succession plantings throughout our Urban Potager.

I made the decision only to use Cocotek/Coir to start all my seeds in for our gardens. Coir or Cocotek (an organic brand I used this growing season ) is a natural fiber from the husk of the coconut. It is often used to make a variety of products such as rugs, ropes, floor mats, doormats, mattress filling and upholstery to name a few. Coir is considered a renewable resource. It is so easy to use, and it makes a difference in germination success with all my seeds.

 

Salad making is an art form from the ground up!

Let’s face it there are “salads” and then there are “SALADS” which means it is more than just putting a few greens in a bowl, stir, + top with dressing, Some people describe it as a vegetable sundae which I think is a creative way to look at salads! I think of my salads as a collage of color, texture + of course flavor.
There is a level of “skill” + “art” in creating a perfect salad, and it starts with the ground. You need to feed the soil and make sure it is nourishing your salad greens.I rotate crops in our small Urban Potager to keep our soil healthy and only use organic practices throughout the growing seasons. I tell people all the time, “There is an art to making a perfect salad.” I am talking about a fresh salad from the garden. It is one that is carefully grown from seed and cared for by a gardener. We gardeners pick the leaves at just the right time to put them all together in just the right “balance” of color, texture, flavor, and visually because who doesn’t “awe” at a beautifully created salad.It is an art form!

I need to pick just the right types of lettuce (Lactuca sativa) to grow, for example, some lettuce leaves increase their color + flavor in cool weather, and there are some that “tolerate” heat a bit better by not getting bitter. I believe everyone needs to grow their lettuce seeds out + make a decision as to what they prefer.I practice succession planting in our small urban potager, so I only use “loose-leaf” types of lettuce which are “cut + come again.” There are many kinds to choose from so just pick up some seed and try a few to see which ones you prefer in your salads each season.

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   We have VERY humid weather early in the season and late summer/early fall, so lettuce greens have to hold up to our difficult growing environment. I review after each growing season which “seeds” germinated best, grew in our climate by not bolting quickly, did not develop a bitter taste early, were beautiful and held up to “cut-and-come-again” practices, and how they looked after they were washed.

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I also like to incorporate with lettuce a variety of vegetables + fruits which I feel are “contrast elements” to add to the beauty and visual interest of the foundation of a great salad.Our spring salads, summer salads, and fall/winter salads all incorporate, different, contrasting elements. It depends on what is available, for example, edible flowers, baby kale, arugula, spinach, snow peas, corn mache, radishes, swiss chard, pak choi, sorrel, mustards, and strawberries might be some of our first for the season. When our season turns late, summer/early fall new additions may enter the mix such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, tatsoi, carrots, beans, berries, onions, radicchio/chicory, kale,chervil, smallage, currants, raspberries, blackberries, etc. If you grow it, and it works in a salad, well, the list is endless!

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                                     Bronze Arrow one of my favorite lettuce for all seasons growing in a container

Those of us living in the city deal with limited space, but our area is large enough to grow fresh salad mixes all season long. If you have a small balcony or porch, you can grow salad greens. Once you work from the ground up to create a great salad mix from your own growing space, you will no longer need to purchase a salad mix from the local store chain.

 

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