Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gardening: the new economically friendly trend

My husband and I have a running gag: whatever I tend to get obsessed with will get odd looks at first, then after awhile become something huge and popular.

For example, in high school I had to read Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy the summer before sophomore year. As I delved into the world of hobbits I joined a then small but bustling little Tolkien fan website known as Tolkien Online. I happily discussed stuff from philosophy to elven language ( and all sorts of nerdy stuff), actively answered questions from "Tolkien Virgins", and role played via message board. All was well and nerdy as I stuck around in this little hub for years after it was required class reading, I enjoyed it. Then someone posted a rumor that there was a movie in the works. Immediately all was a bustle as we fans were both excited that our favorite literary masterpiece was going to be put on the big screen, and terrified Hollywood would rewrite, dismantle and otherwise add sex and drama in order to capitalize on it. As more details emerged the discussions got more heated and I was one of the thousands who signed a petition against having Liv Tyler's characterization of Arwen being so prominent ( since she isn't a major character in the trilogy). Of course the director didnt change his movies based on a few thousand passionate fans, but he did have one of his underlings keep us updated with how filming was progressing and throwing us tidbits. Finally the movies came out with much hoorah and now of course * everyone* knows the story of Frodo, Samwise, Gollem and Aragorn. My once quiet little hub of nerdyness has been rebuilt, moved to different sites, sued by the Tolkien trust over copyright infringement, all sorts of crap brought about by the sudden interest and millions of new fans. I ended up drifting away as I got annoyed by the constant server overloads leaving the site unusable and censorship nazis complaining about people feeling excluded on ongoing role playing stories and whatnot. Occasionally I drop by to say hello and see if any of us "old timers" still visit the boards.

After I got married my husband and I got into the addictive hobby of saltwater aquariums. We even joined the Marine Aquarium Society of Los Angeles County (MASLAC) and traded corals and fish and other interesting critters at meetings and quarterly " frag swaps". Its a kinda close knot and passionate group of people who really take alot of time and effort into taking good care of their critters and not treating them like replaceable goldfish. Corals are well cared for so the hobby as a whole can rely more and more on corals propagated here in our aquariums rather then fuel an already damaging business of taking corals and fish out of their native wilds. It really is a hobby whos ultimate goal is to have a piece of nature in our homes without raping the environment in the process. Anyhow, I got involved actively on Reefcentral, which is THE online hub for reef enthusiasts. One say someone mentioned that Disney was making a movie about a clownfish named Nemo. Oh how we all laughed. What a silly idea, how the heck can they make a story about a clownfish? Well make it they did, and make it and they shall watch...and shall buy. Suddenly everyone's kid wanted a "nemo", and every store from the responsible importers to the low end petco/wal-mart/petsmart (*shudder*) fish vendors could not stock enough clownfish to meet the demands. It was heartbreaking to see these fish all stressed and diseased and fresh from their native homes to be dumped in 2 gallon plastic critter keeper tanks filled with purple gravel and a scuba diver for the amusement of peoples children. Our message board was overrun with desperate parents and new aquarists who not only bought "nemo", but were suckered into spending thousands of dollars on equipment that sucked or was inappropriate for their setup and other sea creatures such as corals and anemones what are definatly not suited for the beginning aquarium keeper or a newly set up tank system. ( FYI, its a general rule that your tank needs to have been up and running smoothly and aged for about 2 YEARS before its stable enough to keep anemones and most corals thriving with the proper lighting). Once again, I guess what I thought was tool became the in thing.

What dies this have to do with gardening you may ask? Well I'm finally here to my point. I love gardening, and now lots of other people are getting into it too. *giggle*

With gas prices past $4, rising food prices, jobs being cut or at risk, and all this talk of impending economic doom everyone is trying to figure a way to cut costs. The first thing to be slashed is the monthly starbucks/coffee habit. 2nd to be cut is the rest of the grocery budget. Apparently not just people living in rural areas are realizing they can survive off their land. In the past month The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and ABC news have all run stories on how everyday people who could not keep a houseplant alive are now turning to gardening as a way of providing some of their family food needs. Vacant lots and neglected yards are being turned into community gardens. It really is wonderful to see gardening take off again as a fruitful ( sorry for the pun) endeavour and not a "busy habit" for seniors and baby boomers reviving their childhood on the farm. Makes perfect sense to me, use your available resources : dirt + water+ sunshine +love = food and fulfillment. It also goes hand in hand with more people wanting organic produce, and depending on where you live your only option for fresh pesticide free food really is to grow it yourself. Of course everyone knows about the recent tomato salmonella scare. You can't even get tomato on your burger right now, and even Mexican fast food salsas are sadly lacking in them.

Some of my friends who thought I was going overboard when I said I had 13 plants of 4 varieties of tomatoes ( and sad I don't have more space to plant more) are now eyeing my rows and asking when they will be ripe and if I'll have any to share. Godwilling I'll have a bumper crop like I did last year and have plenty to eat fresh, make sauce, make salsa and still have tons to give away. This year however I can't help but think of the story of the little hen who planted, tended, and harvested the wheat with no help form her friends till it was time to eat it. Money is tight for my family too, so I'm not going to start providing everyone's produce until I have my freezer and pantry stocked with sauces and dried tomatoes. I spend everyday checking, watering, weeding, and feeding those baby plants into the happy golliaths they are becoming now. I had alot of extra tomato seedlings this spring and no place to put them, but my efforts to give them away as a incentive for friends to start their own gardens didn't work as well as I had hoped. I did get 2 people to start gardens, and 2 more committed to start next spring. Sadly about 15 seedlings ended up being composted since I couldn't find new homes for them and in the 106 degree heat I couldn't keep them happy in their little containers.

Please don't think I'm going to be all righteous and say " You know what, I did the work, so these are all mine, now go grow your own". I'm not that selfish, for me sharing the bounty is one of my favorite gains of gardening. Its great karma, and if anything I believe it helps my garden thrive more. But my household does have to come first, followed by my close relatives who are also on tough times and don't have the money for much of any produce, organic or not. My aunt who had a major heart attack is slowly recovering but is going to have to adhere to a strict dietary regimen to control her diabetes and progressed kidney failure. I am so thankful to have my garden, since her family does not have the funds to buy fresh produce for every meal and I can help provide that. I also get to learn new recipes, try new techniques, and teach her family about using fresh produce as well. I am thankful to know so many people who could use anything I cannot consume, since I'd feel *awful* letting any of it go to waste.

Gardening takes space, dedication, and some money to get it all started. In this blog I have tried to show my yard's transformation from half assed lawn to my paradise in the making, but that took many hours of manual labor, sleepless nights planning, and trial and error. Next year I am planting less lettuce and chard, and more eggplant and tomatoes. I will sow my cool season veggies in fall, so they actually have the short SoCal cool season to grow in. I'll plant my cucumbers in ground rather then try to grow transplants. I would also stagger when I'd sow the greens, so I don't end up eating nothing but salad for weeks to salvage a bolting drop from a sudden heatwave in March.

I think its very overwhelming for people who have never tried it before and are weighing the benefits vs how much time and energy they have to put into yet another hobby. Not to mention money, not everyone has free compost or mulch available to them, I know I didn't so I had to try and be thrifty and clever about how I got what I needed, and I still wish I had access to more organic soil amendments. I spent a few hours every few weeks lugging bag after bag of used coffee grounds from all the local starbucks because they give it away for free. All is costs is my time and gas. I dont go every weekend like I used to because of gas costs.

Not everyone would be as crazy as me to do that. If you have jobs and/or children, your time is already precious. One New York Times blogger wrote an article on this very subject. Plus you have to sit back and decide what you can realistically handle. Do you have a large area thats not going to be disturbed by dogs or children, subject to HOA rules and has full sun? All Organic or miracle grow? Mixture of each? Or maybe just 1 fruit tree and a few herbs in pots. Theres the upkeep of weeding which for me is a few hours in the evenings when hubby is home to watch the kids. I got nutts yanking out every purslane and spurge plant I find because they use precious water and nutrients my vegetables need.

All in all I feel its worth it and take pride in keeping the weeds under control and eating the fruits of my labor, I'm also very sore and sunburned by Sunday afternoon.

1 comment:

Sinfonian said...

Ah, someone else with an addictive personality found gardening... I had no idea when I checked out your blog based on your WoW comment that I'd find a kindred spirit. Funny. Now I don't feel so bad.

Myself, I know that I've got an addicitive personality, so I move my addictions to harmless, if not beneficial pursuits, like Everquest pre-kids and now gardening, hehe. Who cares if gardening is popular, gardeners are so friendly! Never did fish though.

Great blog and congrats on your Master Gardner program acceptance! Best of luck with it.