By Emily Levine
With what seems to be the end of the world chomping at our heels and we stand feeling helpless before the diminishing supply in the fridge, many folks in North Idaho are turning their thoughts to gardening.
The good news is that with all this time at home on your hands, it’s the perfect opportunity to put those hands to work in your yard. Anyone can grow a garden, even if it’s just a few herbs in pots on your front stoop. If you’re eating the same meal 14 times a week, a little fresh cilantro could save your sanity.
If you’ve really never grown a garden before, here are a few secrets to making the most out of whatever space you have.
First, don’t use chemicals. You can grow delicious and nutritious food without them, and it simply cannot help your immune system right now to swallow pesticides and fungicides. Most chemicals are used simply to stop all bugs and other lifeforms from existing in your garden. The reality is that your lettuce might have some holes in it, but sharing is caring and those bugs need to eat, too. Plus, if the apocalypse truly hits, you’ll need to know how to grow food with horse poop instead of Miracle Gro. If something is truly destroying your crops, or you just want to learn more, check out the Rodale Institute for solutions and information.
Second, some plants are better suited for the End Times than others. Take time to plan your garden to maximize the food that you want coming out of it. There are various reasons that a crop may be higher or lower on the list of crops in an apocalypse garden. Space considerations, production, days to maturity and storage capabilities all come into play when you’re trying to actually feed your family instead of impressing your friends with your culinary expertise. Cauliflower is delicious and can be made into “rice” for folks who don’t eat grains. But did you know that when you plant a single cauliflower plant it takes 75 days and about two square feet to make one head? In that same space, you could sow two or three kale plants, and they will provide for you bunches of tender green food from June until October. Or you could grow the right variety of broccoli, and it will keep producing side shoots forever after you pick the main head.
Other crops that might need to be booted off out of the apocalypse garden include sweet corn (takes lots of space and fertility), watermelon (very cold sensitive), butternut squash (very long season and low production compared to other squashes) and jack o’ lanterns (pretty, but not yummy).
In place of those, grow potatoes, zucchini, strawberries and a multipurpose squash that’s beautiful and delicious, like kabocha squash. Try to maximize output per square foot, and also consider storage capabilities, canning/fermenting potentials and seed saving opportunities. Most important: Grow what you want to eat.
Third, keep planting. A lot of folks plant their gardens on Mother’s Day, walk away and then ask me in August how I could possibly still have head lettuce that hasn’t bolted. Fair question. The answer is called “succession planting,” which means planting new crops to take the place of ones that are spent or have been picked.
On our farm, we plant head lettuce, salad mix, spicy greens, arugula, cilantro, dill, radishes, turnips and spinach every week, and carrots, beets, broccoli and cucumbers every three to four weeks from April through the end of July.
You probably don’t need to go to these extremes, but replanting greens and things that bolt every three weeks might help keep you in salad wonderland all through the summer. After the end of July it’s unlikely that most crops will have time to mature.
Fourth, buy locally grown plants for those crops you can’t direct seed. There are dozens or hundreds of varieties of every vegetable, and some are better suited for our climate than others. The folks who select the varieties for big box store starts have never grown a tomato in the shadow of the Selkirks or in the Selle Valley frost pocket that gets nailed in August some years (and it’s looking like this year we’re getting hit with all the natural disasters Mama Nature can muster, so get ready for an early frost). The folks at the farmers market and your neighbor lady with her tidy rows know which varieties work up here and when to plant them, so trust them with your starts. Plus it keeps the money local.
If my advice works too well and you end up with an overabundance of produce, the food bank is always happy to take excess produce off your hands.
Check the status of the farmers market at sandpointfarmersmarket.com to see if it will be open throughout the pandemic and what sort of preparation you should do to help adjust to new rules and safety regulations. Opening day is scheduled for May 2, but that might change. Also on the market’s page are lists of contact information for many of your favorite farmers (and other vendors who may not be able to be present this year).
Many local growers — Red Wheelbarrow Produce included — are opting to add online stores to their marketing options, including a variety of pick-up and drop-off options to keep contact with other humans to a minimum. Check out our website redwheelbarrowproduce.com to shop for plants for your new garden bed and fresh produce to whet your appetite from our new online farm store.
Happy growing and stay healthy out there.
Emily Levine owns and operates Red Wheelbarrow Produce.
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