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New Friends and Odd Weather

Sep 12, 2010

Good morning from Portland, Oregon.  It’s yet a little early in the day so I am taking the time to enter this first post. Soon I am out to the garden.  But let me first say, I’m happy and honored to be on board. What a lovely lot we are. Part radical, part homespun, part salt-of-the-earth and part (If I am to be personal) crazy.  And with threads spreading throughout the world, we international kitchen gardeners make a strong web which is exactly what we will need in the days and years before us.    

You know, I have been thinking a lot about the weather.  No doubt it has been odd.  Even here, in the Pacific Northwest, where the lush lands of the Willamette Valley are known for its abundance, we have been stymied by the alternating hot, cold, wet and dry climate of the year.  Folks needed to replant their spring gardens due to unseasonably cool and wet conditions.  Seeds would not sprout, early transplants simply perished.  And for those who took the bait and planted tomatoes in April (despite endless caution to do otherwise) well, not only did they need to go a second round but they are now, like their prudent friends who waited, facing off with an abundance of green orbs that will do little more than taunt us. Will they turn red?  Maybe.  But they will not develop that lovely sweetness a beefsteak tomato is known for.  Nope.  For that they need the full on summer sun.  Oh well, I have a backlog of green tomato recipes for folks who are interested.  

But it is not just my garden or regional weather that has me thinking.  Surely the entire world has been facing off with the oddity of an unpredictable weather pattern.  We can debate why that is happening but not that it is happening.  And though I can shop the farmer’s markets should my own yield be less then expected, others cannot so simply ignore the consequences.  Which makes the matter of growing food or, rather, staying true to the effort, ever more significant.

What I am speaking of is the conversations I have overheard from newly converted kitchen gardeners taking it on the chin.  They have invested money, time, heart and soul to put in a vegetable garden and they are crest fallen by the results.  They are considering the numbers.  You know those pesky numbers -- time plus labor plus inputs divided by yield. We all know to stay away from those numbers, or at least I do if only because they bely the true costs of industrial farming.  Still, we cannot entirely discount that conversation since they, the industrialist, will become increasingly more adept at promoting themselves as the solution to bad weather and sick soil.  They, the industrial agriculturists for genetically modified seed, will make their case that the world needs them.  They, and the nations who take their side, will continue their onslaught of land grabs and water privatization if only to save us from ourselves.  What could we, the little people, the “peasants” of the world, do to stand up to these conditions?  In an effort and voice nothing less than condescending, or worse, entirely corrupt, they will convince themselves and the nations who take their side, that they are working for the sake of humanity.  Which might be true if it wasn’t for the fact that it is, and has always been, the little people and “peasants” of the world that has fed us.

There are statistic out there that suggest, correctly, that over 80% of the food we eat is grown but the peasantry and small gardeners of the world.  Whether by barter, at community markets or for personal consumption we, the little people, have done the job for centuries.  If industrial agriculturists have manipulated us to think otherwise, it is high time we turn the page on that story.  But (and here is the thing) we cannot get crest fallen or frustrated with the yield.  We cannot run the numbers.  We cannot go back to our modern, leisure-loving, consumer minds (even though I am quite sure they are waiting for us to do just that). We cannot look at the pretty pictures in the magazine or the “farm to table” cookbooks making the rounds and wonder why our gardens and lives do not look like that.  We might like to imagine ourselves out some lovely summer morning in a cute gardening dress and muck-a-lucks, holding a basket brimming with the hearty fruits of our labor, but it would be more honest to expect pant knees soiled with mud, our hair akimbo, our hands, nails and cuticles reminiscent of a wildebeest and our basket of glory filled with half-gnarled turnips, ragged greens and, well, green tomatoes.   At least that’s what I, and my basket, look like and I’m proud of it.   This, as they say, ain’t no disco.  This is the life of a householder --part radical, part homespun, part salt-of-the-earth and part, as I mentioned, crazy.  This is where the strength of our web comes in.  We will need the strength to challenge their stories and, maybe, even  some of our own; particularly the one that says it will be easy to grow our food and live this life.  Oh, it may be just that on many days (and lord knows I would not live any other way) but it will also take work and constancy of will.  That story should never be discounted. 

But then we will have lots of time to share our stories.  Now I must go to the garden.  I have donned my overalls that, for some inexplicable reason, are actually clean today.  I will add compost to some of my beds, plant some crimson clover and garlic cloves.  The kale that I planted in Spring, now towering and sadly forsaken during the hot summer months, will be cut down today to make room for the recently planted transplants of the same that I hope will make it through the winter.  Who knows?  Like I said, its been an odd year of weather.

Comments

You have eloquently spoken many of our feelings. In my home area of North Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth} I may have had my worst year for a kitchen garden. A cold wet spring immediately followed in June by100f.+ dry temps throughout our hottest August on record. Very few tomatoes, but enough small fruited ones to remember how tomatoes taste. Still there were some fresh vegetables to enjoy for their taste and health benefits from an organic garden. Am I discouraged? Not at all, just looking for some fall and winter crops. Yes, I could survive easily on produce from the grocery, but it would alter one of the joys in my life. Actually I'm a bit afraid of produce from the industrial farms worldwide that are using methods fostered by the chemical giants. (Better living through chemistry) My heart is heavy for the peons who must rely on kitchen gardens for their sustanence, whose land has been destroyed or taken over by governmemts in the name of progress. This website has opened my eyes even wider by showing that, despite our great diversity, Kitchen Gardeners are the same worldwide. Here's the love. Stay natural, David
You're right david, staying connected and hearing the story of others is the best way to stay committed to the effort. Good years and bad years, this is a way of life and not a passing fancy. That's for offering your story.
In my monthly gardening magazine a lady wrote in answer to the question "What tips would you pass on to new vegetable gardeners". She said " Plant a little of a lot and not a lot of a little and spread the risk of crop failure while enjoying more variety". I wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy as a way of minimising the effects of our changing weather patterns. I think if this is combined with succesional sowing [which i find easier said than done] then we can as gardeners give ourselves the best chance of some produce at the end of the day.
Passing on the suggestion to plant a little of a lot makes very good sense. Though the late summer hot weather vegetables here in Oregon might have fallen a little short, everyone is talking about the loveliness of the greens. And I'm with you, succession growing allows you to take advantage of the planting year as it proceeds. A harsh start can be a perfect ending. I guess you just have to keep your eyes open. A friend of mine laughed at the way folks would say "I got my garden in for the year", as if it was a one time affair. I find I am in my garden daily, adding, subtracting and replacing. But I'm around most the day. I wonder what those folks who are working full time jobs with kids feel about it all.
Hi Harriet When i was younger the old timers used to say " Are you all gardened up lad". Referring to the fact that they had everthing dug and planted in pristine fashion. I,m afraid i,ve never managed to be 'gardened up' yet. Glenn
Hey Glenn, I suppose "gardening up" would work for some crops but not others. I wonder what the old timers were planting. H
Harriet, I appreciate your comment. The weather is weird here in the mountain West also. Your post makes me think of 2 things that I recently discussed with a fellow backyard gardener. We commented on how well the seeds that we have been saving that grew here last year are doing compared to others this year, a good plug for some seed saving. Also, my husband and I are in the process of putting together sturdy low tunnels for the first time for the upcoming winter here in the hopes to extend our seasons a little. I appreciate the frustration at a yard full of green tomatoes, but think that sometimes setbacks make us smarter and more thoughtful. On the bright side I see more and more people pooling information and resources to grow a little or a lot of their own food supply and I think that's pretty great. Happy harvesting. -Johanna
Hey Johanna, I love the notion of saving seeds to select those plants that do particularly well in your yard. Sometimes I manage to and other times I do not. But with the pulling of resources and energy it gets easy. My own neighborhood has a seed exchange which I love but, like you, I think that which grows well in MY yard is best suited for the same. Low tunnels? Do you mean row covers or are you digging down into the bed? Harriet
Harriet, By low tunnels I mean row cover/plastic over my boxes. We double reinforce with both PVC hoops and wire fence because the snow load here can get really heavy and it creates a squat looking tunnel. I don't have any photos yet because we are having a nice long late summer/early fall so I'm leaving the plants out to stretch their long legs for now. I'll maybe make a post once the tunnel project gets going. -Johanna

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