Many Hands Make Light Work

As I mentioned in my last post, a personal veggie garden is out for this season. So you can imagine my excitement when my local Zen Center offered a course entitled “True Nourishment from the Boundless Field” taught by gardening guru and one of the founding members of Green Gulch Farm, Wendy Johnson. Of course I signed up.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I read the description about gardening with mindfulness, I had no idea that the small class would actually be transforming an open field into a 36′ x 36′ fenced and gated vegetable garden complete with prayer flag border and central altar. Nor did I expect to end each day wondering how I would ever move again, my joints were so stiff and muscles so sore from unaccustomed heavy labor. But man, am I glad I went.

It was amazing watching the garden take shape and to learn about the seeds that were selected for their local history and drought-resistance (including Navajo Blue Corn, Scarlet Runner Beans, Aztec White Beans, Amaranth, Quinoa, Hopi Dye Sunflowers, and a wide variety of squash). It also felt great to get my hands in the soil again, to manhandle compost, and feed the soil. But the best part, hands-down, was working with so many wonderful people dedicated to both gardening and the reason for this garden, to help the Zen Center and its community take one step closer to food security.

But the best part is, now that the garden is installed, I can volunteer to help it as it grows, learning about this unaccustomed climate as I go.

Gardening is a beautiful and important thing, but gardening with others makes it that much sweeter. Visit the American Community Gardening Association to learn more or find a garden near you.

Hope Springs Eternal

According to Plants of the Southwest in Agua Fria (just outside of Santa Fe), the last frost date for this area is May 15th, but that didn’t stop me from buying a boatload of seeds on a little shopping excursion yesterday. I had a general idea of which basics I was looking for: the three sisters, of course, and leeks, but beyond that I had no plans. That is unusual for me. I am a big-time planner, but something about starting a new garden in a completely foreign environment, inspired me to leave at least some of my choices up to fate. I also decided that whenever possible I wanted multipurpose local or native seeds with short growing seasons that were tolerant of heat and drought and whose seeds I could save for next year. So here’s what I came home with (you may need to scroll to find the specific seed):

I am still searching for the perfect chili pepper (I’m leaning toward Chimayo) and a few more types of greens but I’m hoping to find some at upcoming seeds swaps. And now that I know what I’m going to be planting, I’ll be able to do that planning. And don’t worry, I’ll go into a lot more details on the process and the individual plants soon.

Plant a Hanging Salad Basket

Here’s a quick, easy way to have fresh greens all summer long (or year-round if you live in a mild-winter area). All you need are a few simple, inexpensive items:

  • Hanging planter
  • Potting soil or soiless potting mix
  • Lettuce or mixed greens seeds
  • A shady location to hang your basket
  • Wire screen (optional)

I selected a plastic self-watering container because it needs to be watered less often than other hanging baskets, but just about any hanging container with good drainage will do. Once you select your container, just:

  • Add soil
  • Sprinkle the seeds on top
  • Water gently so the seeds don’t get washed away
  • Hang the basket in a lightly shaded spot — tree branches work great because they allow some sun to pass through their leaves while protecting the tender lettuce from the worst afternoon heat

If you have birds or squirrels in your area, you may want to cover the basket with wire screen to protect the seedlings from getting snapped up before they are big enough for your plate.

After that, just keep the soil evenly moist and you’re on your way to delicious gourmet greens at a fraction of their store-bought price. For best results and to keep the goodness coming:

  • Snip only a few leaves from each plant at a time
  • When a plant is done producing, pull it out and sprinkle in more seeds


Money-Saving Gardening Tips

Growing vegetables can help you save money on groceries, but with a few simple tricks you can save even more. Some of them will even help you save a little time, too.

Start With Seed
The average cost for a pack of 100 organic seeds is $2.50. That’s 2.5 cents per plant. Even if only half of them make it to full plant-hood, that’s an unbelievably low price, especially when you compare it to the $3 or more many nurseries charge for a single organic seedling.

Share Seeds and Seedlings
Even if you’re planting one-seed-per-veggie plants like carrots or radishes, 100 seeds are probably more than you will ever use in a single season. Rather than buying a full pack of seeds for every vegetable you want to plant, go in with your gardening friends and have each of you pick a different variety to share. That way, if you want to grow three varieties of tomato, a zucchini, a pumpkin, two types of beans, shelling peas a sweet pea and a bell pepper instead of purchasing 10 seed packets at $2.50 each for a total cost of $25, you and 9 friends can each spend only $2.50 each and share the wealth. The same thing goes for seedlings. It’s just as easy to start several seedlings as it is to start one, so if you have space, considering growing a six-pack and trading plants instead of seeds.

Embrace Heirlooms
Most commercially available seeds are hybrid plants bred for disease resistance and productivity. Unfortunately, hybrids cannot be reliably reproduced from saved seeds. That means you need to buy a new pack of seeds every season. Not so with heirloom vegetables. If you save a seed from an heirloom and plant it, you will very likely wind up with the very same plant. And since one pumpkin alone can contain hundreds of seeds, you’ll have plenty for you and your friends to share at a grand total cost of $0.

NOTE: Many heirloom seeds of the same type cross-pollinate with each other. For example, if you have a miniature blue corn planted next to a giant sweet white corn, your following year’s plants may be a giant blue, a miniature white or even a regularly sized yellow, depending on how they combine. With things like corn, you’ll need to stick to a single variety to ensure a consistent crop. Still, since the seeds are essentially free, it might be a fun adventure to mix things up and see what you get.

Plant Perennials
Plant a perennial once and it comes back year after year (provided you take good care of it)—usually bigger and stronger. And because many perennials can be dug up and divided into smaller plants after several seasons of growth, you’ll save even more. A few examples of fantastic perennial vegetables are artichokes, asparagus, and rhubarb.

Shop End of Season Sales
As planting season winds down, many garden centers find themselves with lots of seeds left over. And since seeds are marked for a single growing season, they are forced to put them on sale. Lucky for us, most seeds stay viable for years longer than their original date, so shopping for next year is almost a no brainer. Websites also use sales to clear out their slower selling stock. Check out the ongoing Seed Sale at Park Seed, Co. for great prices on excess inventory, many as low as 75 cents a pack. Not only will you get a great bargain, you’ll have your seed shopping done well ahead of next year’s planting time.