The seed catalogs are arriving in stacks. I've got the planning bug that comes every year at this time. I know that God intended this season of planning as a last ditch effort to get cabin fevered gardeners like me through the last weeks of winter.
Planning a garden is like planning a trip; it's half the fun. Every year, I pour over seed catalogs, draw my garden plan. Re-draw and re-plan and re-read and re-justabouteverything. At this time of year, one doesn't think of weeds or that aching back that comes only from the destruction of said weeds. One thinks of the abundant harvest that the pictures in the catalog promises. (And we all know that those pictures are a lie, especially the world's biggest pumpkin seeds that I ordered with my meager allowance when I was nine and which resulted in one tiny green pumpkin that never grew past the softball size stage.)
I dream of heirloom tomatoes, fresh from the vine, this time of year. Their ridged, imperfect, ugliness is a thing of beauty to me. Marbled tones of green and red promise a unique flavor that only a rescued seed can fruit. It tastes of sunshine and bears the history of all the gardeners who worked so hard to save these precious plants.
In the last couple of years, I've tried a few things with my garden. Last year, I tried to plant the cheapest garden possible. I bought seeds at ten for a buck. I got seedlings at garage sales and at the close out sales at the garden centers. I wasn't fussy and I had great yields. Several years back, I started ordering from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I heard about them from Farmgirl (a fantastic blog about life on the farm in Missouri written by a foodie and photographic genius). My garden two years ago was entirely from Baker Creek. Sadly, I was in a kind of dark place in my life then. Having just sold my business, I was exhausted and a bit heartbroken, so I didn't put my all into the garden. My zucchini wouldn't even produce, which is a sure sign of sadness, cause who the heck can't grow zucchini? Warning, the following statement is rated R: My zucchini weren't getting pollinated, so I determinedly "molested" them with a Q-tip and even THAT didn't produce little zucchini babies. My garden guru up the street informed me that I probably had plants of the same sex. Um, great. My poor gay plants, like their human counterparts, couldn't reproduce. Fortunately, like their human counterparts, my gay zucchini plants were able to foster and eventually adopt offspring, so I still enjoyed an abundant harvest. (Moral of this story, never tell anyone you want zucchini. They will show up by the bushel on your front porch, dropped off in the cover of night by masked gardeners.)
Anyway, long story short, in the nine years that I've planted my little 10x20 foot urban vegetable garden, I've always experimented a little. This year, I'm planning to join a CSA (community supported agriculture) again. I was introduced to CSAs by a friend and I enjoyed a summer of beautiful produce of which I had no part of except to write the check that helped purchase the seeds. If you're not familiar with CSAs, this is the time of year to hurry and get your name on a list!
Let me tell you a little bit about them. Community Supported Agriculture is a relationship between grower and consumer. You, as the consumer, provide, pun intended, seed money. You gamble, with the grower, that you're investment is going to turn into a bountiful harvest. Each week, you'll receive a goodie box of fresh produce that's in season. Most CSAs are organic. Many offer organic meats, flowers, eggs, and bakery items. Now, remember, you're gambling against Mother Nature, and more times than not, you will have made a great investment. We all know, though, that Mother can be unpredictable, so if she sends hail, late frosts, tornadoes, drought or flood, you may not get as much for your money.
I had a wonderful experience with Community Homestead, which was the first CSA that I had experience with, so I'm signing up with them again. Please take a moment to read about their work. Community Homestead provides a wonderful life and rewarding vocation for adults with mental disabilities, so I feel like this is a good place for my money to go. I researched several other CSAs and this one was also the cheapest, which, for this cheapskate, is a good fit. They also deliver directly to my neighborhood, which is another great fit for me. As well, they offer meats, eggs, bakery items, flowers, and crafts that can be added to my delivery box, if I wish.
One CSA that I wanted to plug is owned by one of my dad's former clients. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm. Not only do I think their farm name is absolutely brilliant, but they offer lamb for sale and I know I've just got to get me some of that! Robin and her partner (whom I don't know, but hope to) do not deliver to my neighborhood yet and are a little more expensive. Someday I may join up with them. If you live in my area and they still have room, I know you'll get garden goodness from Robin (her time with Melon Vine Farm provided our family with tons of delicious produce growing up).
Why am I joining a CSA again? Mostly because my 10x20 plot is more than enough for me to take care of and I've decided that I'd like to put things in my garden this year that take up more space. I'm thinking pumpkins, potatoes and maybe filling half of it with raspberries, which is a permanent leap that I'm not entirely sure I'm ready for. Also, I looked back over my spending last summer and I spent at least $40 a week at our neighborhood farmers' market. The CSA will cost me approximately $20 a week and I'll get a wider variety of produce. I will still hit the farmers' market occasionally and I know that I will still want large quantities of veggies for freezing and canning. The one thing that I'm completely sold on is the delivery to my neighborhood. It just doesn't get any easier than this!
When I participated last time, each week was like getting a box of surprises. The veggies were gorgeous and I tried a few things that I never would have before. I tried fresh fennel for the first time and grilled it on our outdoor grill. I roasted beets and gobbled them up with fresh bleu cheese from Southern Minnesota. (I come from a long line of Scandinavians. We didn't roast beets, but pickled them in sugary syrup spiked with cloves.) I'm thinking that this summer, I will take a picture of my box and then detail what I did with all the goodies contained within. (Now, don't hold me to this, I'm sure this summer will be just as busy as all the others, but again, this is the time of year for planning, so I can dream big!)
Before my dad died, we took a trip to visit Community Homestead to see where our food was coming from. It was a very hot day, but we wandered the fields with glee. Which row of corn would be ours? We took a wagon ride and enjoyed a pig roast. We visited with the residents, some disabled, some just filled with the love and peace that comes from living in a place filled with happiness. They all worked very hard and their dedication and love were the secret ingredients of such deliciousness.
They had a small pond filled with tadpoles that Young One was absolutely fascinated with. We wondered why they would have them. Were the frogs a natural pest eaters? Did they also eat frog legs? (I know, that one is pretty funny.) We asked someone on the farm why and they answered simply that it was for the fun of it. They were there for the people that lived there to watch that magical metamorphosis from swimming little black squiggle to bright green frog and wonder at the miracle of creation. Now, that's cool.
Stay tuned. I'm sending in my registration and payment now. I'm still happily planning.
Now, it's your turn. What are your garden plans? Have you checked out CSAs in your area? Don't miss out on this fantastic way to get inexpensive organic produce!