Monday, February 23, 2009

Growing vegetables

I had an interesting conversation today with a very experienced vegetable gardener. She grew up in a rural community in NC where seeds were saved and shared, vegetable gardening was a regular activity, and putting up vegetables was part of summer life. Her journeys have taken her to European cities (where she saw lots of vegetable gardening first-hand), to Detroit, where she helped organize a community garden, and now to Clemson as part of the Sustainable Ag Initiative and the Student Organic Farm. We share a love of vegetable gardening, clearly.

She was surprised to hear that SC Master Gardeners are now becoming enthusiastic about the idea of growing vegetables (when I started at the Garden 15 years ago, there were maybe 5 MG's in our local group of 60+ that I knew who grew vegetables). She thought that that was the point of the MG program (I wish!)

I've done several programs over the last year to different MG organizations in SC with a 'Creative Vegetable Gardening' theme. It's been definitely a 'new' interest. But I'm thinking this is only the beginning. I sent off a revised piece about vegetable gardening today for the SC Nursery and Landscape Association's publication -- the editor replied it was a 'hot topic'-- hooray!

I'm planning to be more focused on producing and storing vegetables for later use (I'm totally inspired by fellow gardening bloggers like Rob and Kathy), rather than just current consumption. It's sounding like fun at the moment, as well as tasty and nutritious.

Organizing the programmatic part of our Garden Fest in April this year, for the first time, I'm feeling a strong sense of community and interest in vegetable gardening, which is most welcome.

I didn't grow up in a family of gardeners, by any means, being a city kid, but my maternal grandmother was an excellent and keen gardener (by early necessity), and I was entranced by her berry patches, stores of home-canned beans and tomatoes, and preserves. And one set of my paternal grandparents were farmers, too, and a visit to their farm was a wonderful experience when I was maybe 8 years old.

7 comments:

  1. I think with the way the economy is right now, people are really wanting to grow their own food, at least as much as they are able. That and there is a definite fear of what is available for us in stores. I personally, have been growing our own food for a few years now- more this year than ever. Before it was just a few tomatoes and squash, greens and peas. This year, I've put a lot more into it than usual. Hope you have a bountiful harvest!

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  2. I'm from a family of farmers but I only started growing vegetables a couple years ago. It's great fun, as well as good for you. There's something about experiencing a plant from beginning to end that makes one feel good, whether it's physically or mentally better. Enjoy your new endeavors!

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  3. I've so enjoyed the almost year-round vegetable garden that I've had over the last 10 years or so!

    And whatever the motivation, it's certainly a lot of fun, as well as being good for you. It's also a lovely part of the landscape.

    Hmm. But it's definitely a good year to start preserving more of the bounty!

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  4. Highlights of the gardening portion of my training as an MG:
    1) Beginning of the ONE vegetable class, being told that "we don't do organic here!"
    Qualifier: Certainly NOT true in the volunteer work I did at an MG-supported garden, thanks to the head gardener.
    2) Instructor had never heard of arugula or mache.

    To be fair, one can live and even eat well without arugula or mache (if better with them). The point is... well, there are two actually:
    1) MG programs (sorry to lump all together--surely there are exceptional ones) need to do much better OVERALL in promoting sustainability and especially in vegetable cultivation training
    2) Back to the arugula: It's hard to work up much of an interest in vegetable gardening if people don't cook or enjoy a variety of foods or have a curiosity about them-- economic reasons or no. If all people know is to microwave packaged stuff, what's the point of growing vegetables? I can't give away produce in my neighborhood--nobody eats it. Exception: the 4-year old next door who will eat my carrots because I let her "pick" them and some are her favorite color, yellow. Rule is, if you pick it, you eat it. Gotta have a hook and a catch sometimes....

    So I applaud rebuilding the links between kitchen and garden as you are doing with your preservation training. And figuring out how to get more people interested to begin with-- hopefully most can taste the difference even if they don't have much experience eating commercial vegetables.

    That being said, whether starting in the kitchen or in the garden, "agitating for vegetating" is a good thing. And there is the economic (laced with nostalgia) incentive right now-- time to strike while the iron is hot (or at least, the soil temp warming up).

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  5. Here's a follow up on gardening interest that's prompted a mystery (and cry for help!).

    I "just stopped to look" at the seed display while running an errand in one of the local box stores today. Several people were looking at seed and pretty soon a man asked me if I knew what he could start growing now. As I talked with him, the others got closer and it didn't take long to find out that all these people were eager to start their first vegetable gardens. Half an hour later, I managed to get away. But it was a nice half hour.

    Problem is, as I was talking with them I spotted a mixed pack of winter squash seed and saw that it had a mini-butternut I've wanted to try. Not paying close attention, I didn't notice until I got home that the four types of seed in the pack are not color coded.

    Any ideas on how to tell them apart? The largest seed is solid white, the smallest is white outlined in tan, then there are two solid tans-- one smaller and narrower than the other. I don't have anything to compare with except a couple of leftover acorn and kabocha seeds (from a color-coded mixed pack). Not much help there, except the acorn in that pack is clearly smaller than all the others in both packs but is more of a solid tan than the smallest seed in the new pack (hard to tell exactly since it's been dyed green). Given my vine borer problem and small space, I'm really only interested in the butternut. Any ideas appreciated!

    At worst, it'll be a surprise as are many things in the garden. But it's taught me to pay attention to seed packs-- and the diversity in seeds. Really amazing.

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  6. CEN-
    I LOVE your account of people gathering around to learn more about vegetable gardening at a big box store. We ARE making progress -- and hopefully after they start cooking and eating these vegetables, they'll be hooked.

    Your previous comment was definitely thought-provoking (I've recounted your perspective to a number of people already!) -- and there's definitely a connection between wanting to eat well and gardening. We need to encourage people to cook, too!

    BTW, might you like to come help out at the Garden Fest on April 18? I'd love to meet you and you'd be great with fielding questions and encouraging new vegetable gardeners.

    But, as to the squash mystery -- what fun. Squashes are so promiscuous, it's hard to know what might be packaged in a winter squash mix.

    Probably asking the seed company would be a good first step ( I did that for my mystery summer squash mix from Gourmet Seed International, which included C. moschata seeds, and the dead ringer for bi-colored gourds that were so tasty young). I'm still not sure what I had.

    Your comment had me searching (I love this stuff) for C. moschata, C. maxima, and C. pepo seed images. I hit on this detailed and interesting account of different summer and winter squash species, with images of the fruits, seeds, and leaves: http://www.comav.upv.es/taxonomy_intro.html

    I also came across a squash seed specialist: http://www.sunriseseeds.com/WINTER%20SQUASH%20SEED.0.html

    which might be helpful, too.

    The wild card is the easy hybridization that occurs -- the seed company might not have been able to confirm varieties because of field mixups, and so labelled it 'Winter Squash Mix' or whatever it was.

    But, maybe the images on the European Curcurbits database will help! Have fun... I'll be trying another packet of the 'Summer Squash Mix' this year, and will be curious to see what results...

    Cheers,
    Lisa

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  7. Well, this little squash seed mystery has been fun! But I think between the kind folks over at the Oklahoma Gardening Forum (they have a good thread on winter squash) and that great website rec you gave me, I've cleary identified the butternut and the lakota. Distinguishing between the two c.pepo would be pretty difficult but I'm not planning on growing them anyway. We'll see for sure later on! Thanks again for the help.

    And I'm glad if my comments on cooking and gardening were helpful or thought-provoking. I'll email you at your Clemson address to get more info on the April 18 event sometime this week.

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