Home Gardening Makeover
Guest post by Kathy McFarland
Gardening at home is a pleasant way to improve a person’s body and spirit. Few things affect the mind more positively than being out in the fresh air and watching plants grow from small seeds into large food producers. I have been planting a home garden nearly my entire life. As a child on the dairy farm where I grew up, gardening provided our family of 7 with fresh vegetables in the summer and home-canned vegetables throughout the winter. I have continued to grow a garden throughout my adult life from the time I graduated college up to the present time, including the 30 years that I spent as a public school teacher.
While I have been growing a food garden for more than half a century, I have changed the methods that I use and the seeds that I plant. For most of my gardening life, I continued to plant the familiar varieties with which I had grown up. I rarely looked at seed catalogs. I usually bought either the seeds or seedling plants, whether I purchased them from the small-town local store or from one of the big box stores in a neighboring city. Either way, I knew that I was providing fresh food for my family of 4.
Fast forward to today and my current growing methods that received a makeover when I became acquainted with Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company www.rareseeds.com. For the first time in my gardening life, I sat down and looked at a colorful seed catalog. I was amazed to see that there were not only red tomatoes, but also pink, orange, yellow, white, purple, striped, and always-green tomatoes. I could choose from more than 150 varieties of tomatoes at Baker Creek. Carrots in colors of red, white, yellow and purple could grow in my garden. The fact that Baker Creek offered a tremendous variety of eggplants in many shapes, sizes, and colors fascinated me. Thus begun my experimentation in the garden.
That experimentation taught me that some of the things that I had been planting for decades would still be my favorites. It also taught me that some of the new (but old) varieties could surpass my previous favorites in flavor, ease of growing, preserving, etc. For example, I had been planting and canning Blue Lake green beans for many years. I ventured to try Calima, Bolita, Contender, and Missouri Wonder beans. While I liked some of those varieties, I learned that Blue Lake still suited my taste and purpose the best. My traditional Clemson Spineless okra won out over a few other varieties that I tried because they were so readily available to me, even though I also enjoyed some of the red-hued okras. On the other hand, I tried growing some Golden beets and Bull’s Blood beets, in addition to my tried and true Detroit Dark Red beets. I fell in love with the Golden beets and have grown them every year since, even though I still grow the Detroits for pickling.
In addition to trying assorted varieties, I broadened my horizons by planting new types of vegetables. I was adventurous enough to grow amaranth for the first time in my home garden and discovered that it is easy to grow and makes delicious greens and grain. I was delighted to learn that leeks are easy to grow and serve as good alternatives to onions.
Not only did I experiment with growing new things, I also experimented with gardening practices. For the first time, I planted spinach in the fall to overwinter and was pleasantly surprised with the abundant harvest I had in the early spring. I traded my chemical fertilizers for more natural compost and switched my poisonous chemicals for organic pesticides. I paid attention to which plants grew well in close proximity and which ones needed distance from one another. The end result has been that now everything in my garden is grown organically. All of my kitchen scraps make it to the compost pile rather than into the garbage can.
One of the most marked changes to my home gardening experience is growing more vegetables from seeds and fewer from purchased seedlings. In late winter and early spring my kitchen buffet counter becomes a potting table laden with trays of newly planted seeds, as well as tiny plants in various stages of growth as they await their appropriate time to be planted outside. While I still purchase most of my seeds for planting, I have begun to save seeds from my harvest and plant them the following year. I have learned about isolation distance required for various vegetables to reduce or prevent cross pollination. I have learned to select seeds for saving from the best specimens. As a teacher, I used to hope that my students would become life-long learners. As a home gardener, I continue to be a life-long learner.
Kathy McFarland is a life-long gardener who has transitioned from conventional to organic gardening in the Missouri Ozarks. A former English teacher, she now writes and edits for Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company publications.