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A Record of Progress in Urban Garden 1

 

URBAN GARDEN 1 June 28, 2013 

 

 

URBAN GARDEN 1 August 15, 2013   [Notice all the Swiss Chard in front of the perennial flowers.  It has provided many salads already for me and my friends.  The large leafy plant in the first box is an okra plant. If it grows in proportion to its leaves, it will be about 7 feet tall. The silver metal plaque on the first trellis is engraved with the command:  "Grow."  This year my Urban Garden 1 is sharing some of its space with Philistines--the annuals. Next year there will be fewer of them.  By the third year, I hope that all the plants in Urban Garden 1 will be edible perennials--even the flowers. ]

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My Urban Gardens

This blog is  centered around the development of my own urban gardens and reports on my successes and failures:  Urban Garden 1 is located in my front yard where I am in the process of tearing out my lawn and creating an edible woodland forest in its place.  Urban Garden 2 is the strip of land beside my driveway in back. This garden includes mostly annual vegetables. Urban Garden 3 is my back yard which is filled with mature trees. Unfortunately, none of them bear edible fruit.  Eventually this space will evolve into another woodland edible forest with shade tolerent perennials such as miner's lettuce in this garden.

Fritz Haeg's assessment of the front lawn is accurate as I have written in a previous post.  It is a very iconic and loaded space. Removing and replacing it with something else, questions all of the values implicit in the lawn and what it symbolizes. According to Haeg, the easiest first step for the urban citizen who wants to make a visible impact on their city is to replace their front lawn with edible plants. It is the leading wedge into more complex and ambitious civic activity.

To put it more locally, my Urban Garden 1 is a piece of land that will not only help to feed me; it is also a highly visible political statement 24/7 expressing my disapproval of our current unsustainable corporate managed mono-crop food system here in the USA.  Our oil-based/dependent agricultural system would be unsustainable even if oil were priced at a dollar a barrel instead of a hundred dollars a barrel.  

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Many are beginning to note that our current corporate run mono-crop agricultural system is lumbering like a dysfunctional beast toward the trashcan of failure stubbornly ignoring all the basic lessons of nature, such as diversity, as it slouches along leaving a trail of pollution in its wake. 

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants known in the world; yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. Limiting our food sources increases our vulnerability to famines. When entire crops fail because of unfavorable conditions relevant to that one plant species (or when commodity traders manipulate the markets and price people out of food in order to wring profits out of the market for the few), millions of human beings starve to death.  Thus I regard our current agricultural system not only as dangerously risky and inefficient, but also as immoral.

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Compare our current agricultural system nature's agricultural system.

A cultivated crop such as wheat has all its roots at the same depth across the same horizontal band of soil of the entire field.  Thus, there is intense competition among the plants for the same nutrients.  If you could see a cross section of the soil beneath a row of wheat, you would see the roots all reaching at approximately the same level in the soil competing for all the nutrients at that level and also using up all the nutrients at that level of the soil resulting in compacted earth.  

If you could see a cross section of the soil in an edible woodland forest, you would see roots at varying depths–some near the surface and others reaching even several yards down into the soil for their nutrients.  Thus a wide range of plants can grow side by side occupying its own space.  When leaves fall they provide nutrients and substance to the soil--not man-made chemical fertilizers.

Unlike the woodland edible garden which consists of perennials, the plants in our current corporate industrialized system are annuals that must be planted each year.  Annuals require cultivation of the ground every year, sowing the seeds, controlling the weeds, adding fertilizers and attempting to controls pests and diseases.

Continued intensive cultivation destroys the organic matter in soil and increases the risk of erosion from wind and rain.  With our current industrialized system, we are trapped in a method of growing with lower yields for far more input and expense.  The absurdity of our system is reflected in the fact that we expend more energy in producing our food than the yields of energy available from the food itself once it is harvested.

Our current industrialized agricultural system is another version of the old folk tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes."  We can't afford to wait for the people running to show to realize how their methods of tailoring our agricultural system are exposing us to disaster.  If we wait for them to act, it will be too late.  We will go down with them. This is why I encourage all citizens to become urban farmers and start planting edible plants now.  Together we can replace our current agricultural system with one that is locally based and does supply the needed and affordable nutrition that we need.

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Compare the effort, expense and resulting output per acreage of the Woodland Edible Forest to the large corporate-run farm

Wheat and nuts are somewhat nutritionally similar.  Consider the yields and the efforts to obtain these yields from two acres of land:  one planted with nut trees such as various species of pecan trees and almond trees and the other acre planted in wheat.  

The life span for a pecan tree is 40 years.  The almond tree has a life span of 20-25 years.  The life span of wheat is one growing season.  It must be replanted year after year.  And, the more the acre is planted with wheat, the more the organic quality of the soil is destroyed and the more dependent it becomes on artificial life support from pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  

Furthermore, as a mono-crop, the wheat field is far more susceptible to a wipeout than the diversified pecan and almond grove.  Also in terms of yield, the nut tree grove is far more productive than the acre of wheat.  If other woodland perennials such as miner’s lettuce, are planted in the grove, food yields can even be added to that of the primary crop of nuts.

Our current industrialized methods of agriculture make absolutely no sense–except to the owners and investors in the wheat and corn markets, the pesticide business and the chemical fertilizer business. These people are not feeding the hungry as they claim.  Instead, they are destroying our planet’s natural abilities to provide us with food for the sake of their own personal profit.

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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

If  you want to learn more about creating a woodland garden, I recommend the following books:

WOODLAND GARDENING – a book I highly recommend on woodland garden design published by Plants for a Future (An English charity)   ISBN 9781484069165

Another gardening book I highly recommend is Rosalind Creasy's "Edible Landscaping".  In fact, if I could only have one gardening book (and I have many), I would choose this beautiful 400 page book.  Every page is packed with beautiul photographs along with lots of helpful information.  Over half of the book is an encyclopedia of edibles.  It's not one of those small books.  The 400 pages are each 81/2 x 11 inches in size.  Her typical entries for the edibles which are listed alphabetically, include the title of the plant; an effort scale of a 1 to 5 ranking for difficulty to grow; zone numbers to match a zone map; a thumbnail sketch that includes how to use in the kitchen and in the landscape; how to grow it (climate, exposure, soil, planting, fertilizing, watering, pruning, pests and diseases; how to harvest it; how to purchase it; pollinizers; choosing rootstocks; and selecting the right variety. ISBN 978-157805-154-0

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Iflizwerequeen, I would be the best Urban Gardener in the Universe.  However, as luck would have it, I am not the queen (thus the key word "if")  and I am so far down the line of the "best urban gardeners in the universe" that I'm not even a blip on that exclusive radar.

However, I like to believe that what I lack in horticultural knowledge, I more than compensate for with my unbridled energy and enthusiasm for urban farming.  If I were queen, I would degree that all citizens of the USA are required to grow at least one edible plant a year.  

Again, not being the queen, I fear that I'm limited to following the wise advice of Buckminster Fuller who is quoted as once saying:  “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

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[Above is an early photo take June 28, just two weeks into tearing out my front lawn.  Today, two months later, everything is much more lush.  In the bottom right foreground, for example, swiss chard heartily grows today by the perennial flowers.  I and my family have already had many salads from these greens.]

Inspired in great part by the adventures of Eric Toensmeier who wrote "Paradise Lot", I (a totally inexperienced gardener) began on June 12, 2013 to tear our my front lawn and replace it with what I hope in about three years will be a self-sustaining edible woodland garden.  

Thus far, in what was once a totally useless expanse of lawn, I currently have 17 blueberry bushes, 2 blackberry bushes, many strawberry plants, two almond trees, two peach trees, two pomegranite trees, and numerous other perennials--and I've hardly begun.

Tearing up one's front lawn is an exhilarating as well as socially stimulating adventure.  Over the past two months, 42 people driving past my home have stopped to chat with me.  I have lived in this home for 8 years and never once until now have passerbys stopped to chat with me when I'm out in the front yard.

LESSON LEARNED:  If you are lonely, start tearing out your front lawn.

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Just Two Good Reasons:  WHY NO MORE TRADITIONAL LAWNS

1.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a new gas powered lawn mower produces volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emissions air pollution in one hour of operation than 11 new cars each being driven for one hour. [SOURCE]

2.  You can’t eat  your lawn.  Just try putting grass clippings in your family’s salad and see how far that gets you.

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In the new edition of his book, “Edible Estates: Attack On The Front Lawn,” Fritz Haeg--artist, designer, gardener, and writer--argues that ripping out front lawns and replacing them with fruit, vegetable, and herb gardens can “ignite a chain reaction of thoughts that question other antiquated conventions of home, street, neighborhood, city.”  

". . . The front lawn is wrapped up in our ideas of the American dream. It’s a very iconic and loaded space. When you remove it and replace it with something else, you are questioning all of the values implicit in the lawn and what it stands for. It is significant to me not just because it’s a private space that’s very public – so visible in our cities and such an obvious opportunity to reconsider – but also because of what it symbolizes. The easiest first step for the urban citizen who wants to make a visible impact on their city is to go out that front door and get their hands in the dirt. It is the leading wedge into more complex and ambitious civic activity."

I've dubbed my own front lawn:  "Sir Solomon Grundy".

 

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Welcome to my world of Urban Farming here in the Dallas Metroplex!

Above is a photo I took July 30, 2013 of the first cantaloupe I ever grew.  

On July 7 the cantaloupe was growing out of a pot in my front yard and looked like this photo shown below.  Only 23 days later and the beauty shown above is displayed in my kitchen.  It’s the largest non-human thing I’ve ever grown and I forgot to weigh it!

What kind of a parent am I!!!!!!

I was so focused on tasting it that I lost track of much else.  But I will say that it was slightly larger than most cantaloupes purchased at the supermarket and a lot more beautiful.

Nothing can compare to a cantaloupe still warm from the sun and just picked from your own garden. It was a delicious nutty melon flavor.  The perfect texture:  Firm but not crunchy firm like so many melons purchased in the supermarket. Its skin had a golden glow, much like the color of its inside–not green like the ones in the store.  It was wonderful and yes, I have not only saved the seeds, I planted one of them and a healthy vine is now growing in one of my gardens.  With a little bit of Luck I'll have more cantaloupes before the first frost.  In addition, the mother vine that produced my first beauty has two promising female blossoms that are swelling so I may have more great cantaloupes long before a frost as well.

LESSONS LEARNED:  I can grow delicious food from a container--and if I can, believe me, you can too.  Eat cantaloupes as soon as possible after picking them. (I refridgerated the cantaloupe after eating three slices.  The cold slices did not taste nearly as flavorful as the one fresh from the garden--still even the refridgerated slices were superior to any cantaloupe I've eaten for years.)

Below is the Queen cantaloupe on July 7, 2013.

 

Below is the vine and pot from whence grew the queen cantaloupe.