Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Grow your own

As the downside of the economy grows ever more present, there is an upside. More people are gardening that ever before, around America and around the world. Urban gardens, gardens in greenhouses when snow is on the ground, window box gardens, container gardening - the list is big and keeps on growing. Practically, most sources agree that for a family of four, you need only a space the size of a two car garage to feed them for a year. Some say less, using serious intensive gardening or using containers. Of course, this is having good (or improved) soil, using preservation methods for food storage to get through non-growing seasons (if you happen to have non-growing seasons...I know that is the case somewhere in the world) and a desire to do the work necessary to obtain those oh so delicious results.

There is another thing going on I find really interesting. This is from a site about Urban Edibles in Portland, Oregon. My daughter is moving there. As a chef and a food fanatic, she'll love this.

"Some nice foliage may make Portland, Oregon a “green” city, but amongst the leaves is a surprising amount of edible food sources. On one side of town there may be a public street lined with fruit trees whose bounty gets swept in to a dumpster year after year, while on the other side some kids may be anxious to make some plum jam. This project aims to make more available the natural food sources throughout the city that go undiscovered each year. Nut trees, berry patches, unsprayed fields of dandelion roots are all welcome. We invite you to share the sources you already know of, search for new ones with your friends, and participate in our official scouting days."

How many drives do you take where you see fruit or nuts or berries on the ground or sidewalk, going to waste and you think, gosh, I'd LOVE to pick that up, but I don't want someone thinking I'm a) stealing from someone or b) pathetic & starving? Wouldn't it be nice to have something so prolific that people watching you *harvest* thought, cool! Can I do that too?
I've been practicing this for years here, with permission, to get 99.9% of my mangoes for the hot sauce I make and sell. Who knew I was trendy? There are rules, which are simply good guidelines. These are the main ones:

  • Don't take more than you need. "A tree full of ripe black cherries can be really exciting but how many will you use before they go bad?"
  • Ask permission before you pick. "We do not condone unsanctioned harvesting practices or trespassing."
  • Pick in a balanced and selective manner. "The last thing we want is to damage the sources from which we harvest!"
  • Watch out for pesticides and other contaminants. "Paint chips, pesticides, motor oil spills and even car wash runoff can affect the quality of the sources you pick from.
But that isn't what I started to write about (as happens so often; I'm a tangent Queen). Gardening here on Culebra is growing apace with the state of the world's economy, but many have been gardening for years, enjoying the benefits of red tomatoes, fresh mangoes, limes, lemons, oranges and grapefruit, root veg, and herbs free from pesticides, and better tasting than most anything you can buy. Culebra actually used to sell fruits and veg that was grown here to other islands, a long time ago, but not out of living memory. Sometimes Hugo (the hurricane that devasted Culebra in 1989) is used as a reason that people stopped gardening on a larger scale. Sometimes I hear that it's just easier to buy things in the stores now that weren't available *back then*. Whatever. I don't know a person who wouldn't rather eat a real tomato, warm from the sun out of the garden, versus a white one that is supposed to be red. They're addictive as well; once you have the real thing, from your own hand work, it's hard to go back!

So, we who are planting now (I've been planting since I moved here, sometimes with success, often with frustration, always with a grin) are only following a long tradition, using much easier methods - especially if you are growing where there is a piped water source, rather than cistern only as a water supply, which used to be the only water supply for all. The benefits of homegrown are obvious. Better food, being outdoors in the gardens, growing locally, sharing the bounty. I have never grown a garden that was successful and not had too much to keep...there is always some to give away when the growing is good. It's part of the joy of it.

Yes, we on Culebra have unique gardening issues. I have iguanas, for instance...but hey, others have deer, or moles or early freezes; there are any number of obstacles to overcome no matter where you live. But that is part of the pleasure of picking those herbs, or that first tomato or squash or onion; you won!

I remember a cattle/grain farmer uncle of my ex-husband telling me that he planted one row for the animals, one for the insects and the rest for himself. One crop he grew was field corn, the hard kind used for animal feed. In the center of these acres (they called them sections) he would plant the sweet corn for family use. When he took me into that inner circle to pick some ears for dinner, I felt...honored. And delighted. This is/was a guy who let me drive his combine, this gigantic, seriously expensive amazing machine, just laughing when wheat was spilling out of the catcher, because, as usual, I went *too far*. He taught me how to kill and hang and skin a pig ('Are you sure you haven't done this before, beach girl?)'how to cut the balls off a young calf - yes, they scream - and how to cook them and enjoy eating them (yes, they really were good, headcheese, no, mountain oysters, si). Good man, Uncle Bill!. Oops! Tangent city! Raising animals will be coming along here, no doubt.

Point? Growing a garden is more than planting and weeding and watering and harvesting. It's a communion with the world around you, the rocky and sweet of it. Stressed? Go dig up a watermelon patch in rocky soil! Perspective is a beautiful thing.


  1. Every Saturday morning in Atlanta, a group of scuba divers gathers at a pizza place across from the now-closed dive shop where we used to gather. Big Mike removes the tomatoes every time he orders a salad. Finally, one Saturday, the waitress tells him that if he doesn't like tomatoes, she'd be happy to leave them off. He says "Oh, I like tomatoes, but anyone who has had had a homegrown would never eat this crap." And then I think he offered to bring her a "real" tomato.

    From that same group of people, a couple has joined us on Culebra several times. The first time he bought a Culebra tomato, John put the white/pink tomato in a paper bag and declared that it WOULD ripen. Uh huh - good as it gets here unless you're growing them yourself. He learned.

  2. I love that your daughter is moving here. Please let me know so I can at least say hello. Nice to see you here :)

  3. Good story, Deb, I hope he DID bring her a 'real' tomato (and yes, we've had the other kind all too often - the veg guy does bring some from his finca sometimes)

    Polly, absolutely! I've already told her about you. Should be sometime next month. No doubt I'll be mentioning it...just a wee bit!