Friday, July 19, 2013

On the road to self-sufficiency!

Four little plants have joined the little family on our balcony:

It all started last week at the farmers market. We met a gardener there who was selling baby plants. (I know they're probably called "seedlings" or something, but I don't know exactly, and "baby plants" is both cute and descriptive.) I got a little bit excited because he had a sign up about raising non-GMO plants, and I'm heartily against GMO. (That's if plants are genetically modified.) I was interested in looking at the tomatoes, because I had homegrown tomatoes all growing up and I love them. He showed us the varieties of tomatoes he had, and they sounded so cool! Orange glow, zebra cherry, yellow pear, golden egg. I thought about buying one on the spot, but I didn't want to make an impulse buy.

The gardener gave us a business card and invited us to come tour his garden. He said he gives tours on Thursday, once an hour.

So on Thursday, we showed up, not really knowing what to expect.

And this guy's was amazing! I've seen cool gardens before, but most of the time they feature flowers and shrubs, and edibles are kind of a side project. Not this one. Here, the edibles took center stage. (And stage left and right. I think flowers might have been allotted a corner upstage left...) The guy had plants everywhere. And not just on the ground space he had--but on the roof, and spilling off the sides of the house. He utilized every single inch of space. He had his own ponds for water. He had a watering system that he had built himself (yes, it went up to the roof). He composted and "made" his own gardening soil. He grew all kinds of varieties of vegetables, fruits, and any kind of summer produce you can imagine.

I don't know if we'll ever reach that level of self-sufficiency (it certainly wouldn't be possible for another several years), but it inspired me to try to get started learning more.

The wonderful (healthy) thing about growing your own food is that you know exactly what's gone into it. You know what you've used to make it grow; you know whether you've sprayed it to keep the pests away. Plus, it's about as local as it can get. You picked it when it was ripe; it hasn't been shipped from several states away.

One thing that excited me more than I would have thought was the idea of growing the different varieties. Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle opened my eyes to the hundreds of varieties of vegetables and fruits there are. Sadly, GMO produce is crowding out these colorful and flavorful varieties.

I said earlier that I'm against genetically modified plants. The truth is, it hasn't always been this way. I never saw anything wrong with genetically modifying plants. But now that I've educated myself just a bit more on this topic, I'm against it for several reasons:

1) GMO plants are engineered not to be better for the consumer, but to be better for the producer. They're designed to produce easily, look pretty, and have a long shelf life. These things aren't necessarily bad in and of themselves, but it's not the consumers that the GMO folks have in mind. (Read on.)

2) GMO foods are often less nutritious than non-GMO. There isn't evidence (yet) that GMO foods are bad for you, but they have less nutrients than foods that aren't genetically modified. This is pretty much because the more nutrients the produce has, the more attractive it is to pests and the quicker it rots. So it makes sense for those who produce the food to take out those nutrients as much as they can.

3) GMO foods crowd more unique varieties out of the market. This is the real kicker for me. If some people wanted to sell and buy GMO food and it wouldn't make any difference, I wouldn't care. However, a lot of the coolest and healthiest varieties of plants are becoming irrelevant, and people are less interested in growing and buying them. In a grocery store, you'll probably see, at most, three different kinds of tomatoes, all that look more or less the same. Same with potatoes, onions, and mushrooms. With cucumbers, zucchini, brussels sprouts, and chard, you'd be lucky to see more than one variety. And don't even ask about fresh basil--you'd be hard-pressed to find a single variety of that in your average supermarket.

Maybe I'm just a sentimental person, but I think it's a tragedy that so many of these wonderful varieties are being grown less and less, perhaps even going extinct in our country.

So that's my little rant. Here's what my plants are:

On the left is my little cucumber plant. I wasn't even planning on getting one when we first went to the garden, but after we got out I started really wanting a zucchini plant, since Doug and I both love zucchini. The gardener said we would probably need more space for zucchini, which was a little more of a commitment than we could make with our limited space and funds. He said that cucumbers would be a great choice for us, though, so I decided to get one and just see how it worked out. (I like cucumbers a lot, too.) 

In the pot to the right of the cucumbers are the tomatoes. The left tomato plant is a "golden egg" variety, which is pretty descriptive of their size and color (according to the gardener). The right tomato is a green zebra cherry, which sounds really fascinating to me--it's like a striped tomato, apparently. (I'll be really interested to see what they look like!) 

Next to the tomatoes is the basil. I decided to get another basil plant, even though we already have tons of basil (but I wanted a cool variety). Our original basil is, I think, just regular Italian large-leaf (we got the seeds from Target). The new basil is a purple blend, which has a stronger, more unique flavor. (And yes, the leaves are a little bit purple.) 

To the right of that is the pot the basil used to be in. It shared the pot with chives and parsley, but the chives and parsley weren't able to compete with the basil. The gardener told us that we were probably overwatering for the sake of the basil, and getting the others too wet. So we took the basil out of the container and put it in with the purple, filled the pot back up with soil, and we're hoping the parsley and chives might make a comeback. 

I'm so excited to start getting tomatoes and cucumbers! I'm hoping it won't be too long (for the tomatoes, at least). 

If you're interested, here's the website of the garden I visited, if you missed it at the top of the post: 


  1. Ooh, I can't resist weighing in on the GMO thing, even though I really don't know much about it and I don't have a strong opinion either way. But you gave good arguments against GMO foods, and you didn't mention one argument in favor that I've heard. (Well, you sort of mentioned it, but you didn't point out the good aspects of it.) Genetically modified produce can be more pest-resistant. Everyone benefits from reduced pesticide use. I'm not saying that I'm sure it's worth the trade-off, but it seems like I'd probably rather have Summer eating a slightly less nutritious tomato than a pesticide-covered one. I'm a lot more concerned about pesticides now that I'm feeding a child. I even paid extra for organic strawberries the other day.

    1. That's true, and it's a good thing to think about. I'm interested in eating organic just as much as I am interested in eating non-GMO. But I also know that it's possible to grow non-GMO organically, and that the two often go hand in hand. I would think (although I don't know) that the farmers who are the most invested in GMO are probably also pretty willing to use pesticides. Conversely, farmers who are the most invested in organic also seem to value non-GMO foods. Heirloom varieties aren't THAT difficult to grow; it is possible to use organic methods to keep pests away.

      I guess what I'm saying is, I think that practically speaking, GMO is probably not going to reduce or eradicate the use of pesticides. I'm always in favor of small, local farmers rather than big ones, and small farmers tend to both grow non-GMO and to grow organic (or at least to use pesticides much less). I could be wrong, but I don't think that the GMO debate is really a question of "nutritious tomato vs. pesticide-free tomato." I think it's more than possible, with the way the food industry is now, to get both.