Tennesseetransitions


Vegucation: A Vegetable Growing Primer

Growing food is THE best way that I know of to create a resilient and prosperous household. We all eat, most of us three times a day. And we all know by now that the bulk of our calories should come from fruits and veggies. So why not improve your health and  your wealth, while learning what I call a valuable ‘life skill’? It’s a real vegucation!

I thought it might be helpful to if I passed on some new things I’ve learned about growing spring vegetables. So, for what it’s worth:

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2. Remember the cold snap that I tried to prepare for over the weekend? I covered half my cabbages with overturned coffee cans, and when they ran out, I covered the other half with a tarp. The cans clearly did a better job of protecting them.

Before Freeze:

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After freeze:

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The bok choy on the left was the section covered with a tarp. See how badly it got bit by the cold? The ones on the right are fine!

3. Don’t plant things too close together, especially if your soil is deficient in nutrition…

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4. Learn to identify things you don’t understand. That’s why God made the Internet after all. In this picture, I kinda figured the root on this tomato I pulled out last year didn’t look quite ‘right’…

20141015_133838I sent this image to a state extension agent late last fall, and then forgot about it as we moved into winter. I got a recent email from him telling me it was ‘root knot nematodes’. Some organic control methods include increased sanitation and fertilization, solarization of the soil, increase of organic matter, letting the bed lie fallow for a season and planting resistant varieties. I’ve been gardening for many years and had never seen this in my beds but I pass it on to you as simply a part of your own vegucation.

5. EAT WHAT YOU HARVEST (or, in some cases, eat whatever comes in your CSA!)  PLAN YOUR MEALS AROUND IT AND LEARN TO USE IT IN MULTIPLE WAYS! Some day, I’m going to write that seasonal cookbook I’ve been dreaming about for several years. That didn’t happen today, but I did try a Hungarian-inspired recipe that used up some ‘seen better days’ potatoes, cellar-stored beets, cabbage, carrots, beans and more. I piled it all in my solar cooker this morning and the veggies were tender in 6 hours, giving me plenty of time to work in the garden, run errands and write this post.  I love the caraway flavor in this stew! Can I grow caraway in my herb bed? I don’t know, but I think I’ll increase my ‘vegucation’ to find out.

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(Solar Reflections of Hungarian Stew)



What’s growin’ on?

 Between four fun road trips with my best friend this summer…

20140831_120953[1]and several fun gigs with our band…

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…as well as not-so-fun computer problems, home decorating projects and now end-of-summer gardening chores, I’ve accepted the fact that I just don’t have as much time to write in the summer as I do during the cooler months. I love the change of seasons, but I am especially looking forward to the slow-down of autumn this year. Our garden has been wildly productive, and that’s the good news. Really. But I’m one of those people that can’t bear to let food go to waste, especially when I’ve worked hard to grow it, and this wildly productive garden has put pressure on me to DO SOMETHING with it all. I’ve given it to friends and strangers…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve canned it, frozen it, dried it, eaten it and delivered it…

20140728_115524[1]I’ve stored it under the beds and dressers, in the pantry and now the butternuts will join the potatoes, garlic, onions, beets and carrots in the root cellar…

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…and still, it continues. At this writing, I’ve cleared out practically everything I had growing in my plot at the community garden, have amended the tired soil there with many wheelbarrows of our home-made compost and the last of the shredded leaves that the city delivered to us last fall, and ‘put it to bed’ for the upcoming winter with a warm blanket of scarlet clover. But! I couldn’t resist buying some cool season transplants of cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts and set them out this week in a little empty row I found. Since I didn’t have the time it would’ve taken to start them from seeds, it seemed a good choice this year. They won’t produce for a couple of months, but even now, we still have an abundance of fresh food!  There’s still LOTS of Swiss chard, with spinach and kale comin’ on strong…

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The storage onions and sweet bell peppers are finished, but the late onions and hot peppers will keep coming ’til frost. I’m canning lots of hot pepper jelly for hostess and gift giving. This stuff ROCKS with cream cheese and crackers!

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The cherry tomatoes still fill our salad bowls each evening at supper, along with the take-a-chance-romaine that I thought wouldn’t produce in such hot weather-surprise! There are still fresh mints, herbs, parsley and basil, and with cooler weather my self-seeding cilantro patches have reappeared-just in time to add to the final bowls of fresh salsa or pico de gallo that we love with to eat with black beans and rice…

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August-planted beets and carrots have joined the parsnips and will be mulched with more leaves once they’re all full sized, then finally! garlic will join them in their warm bed come early November. THEN maybe I can get back to writing more regularly here. I have a whole page of ideas that I think are worth sharing with you; ideas about redefining prosperity, batch cooking, Little Free Libraries, worm bins, wildcrafting, herbal helpers, Transition Towns, and much more-all small stories about big change. BUT!  if we collectively plan and act early enough, we can create a way of living that’s significantly more connected, more vibrant and more fulfilling than the one we find ourselves in today. It is time to take stock and to re-create our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil (and gas) but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. Stay with me as we grow together!

happy fall ya'll

 



Learning Lessons (the hard way)
September 2, 2014, 9:44 PM
Filed under: Growing Food, organic gardening | Tags: , , ,

I’ve been gardening for a long time now, but each season brings new lessons to my weedy classroom and this  summer of 2014 was no different. I thought I’d share them with you and then I’ll have a permanent record of them too, so that I can refer back to them in the coming years. (Sometimes I don’t ‘pass the test’ the first time and it takes me more than one lesson to ‘get it’). 

Lesson: Cleanliness in the garden is next to Godliness. I had planted two patches of basil-harvesting from one on Mondays and then the other on Thursdays-to donate to One Acre Cafe. The plants were beautiful and healthy…

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when seemingly overnight they began to yellow and wither in one patch…

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Then, sure enough, the problem spread to the other patch a few days later! Hmmm.. the basil plants in my own plot at the Community Garden were fine, other plots had healthy plants and my basil at home was beginning to resemble a small tree. What happened? I think I finally figured it out-I had  failed to sterilize my cutting shears with a bleach/water solution between uses! I began carrying a spray bottle of the mix in my basket to the garden each day and spraying it on the blades as I moved about the plot. I gave the almost dead basil a good dose of fish emulsion and stopped all cuttings for about three weeks or more. Eventually the plants recovered, but never to their original robust beauty.

Lesson: Shortcuts don’t always save time. I ran out of Epsom Salts to add to the final few tomato planting holes last spring and I was in too big of a hurry to stop and go buy some more, thinking it wouldn’t matter if I skipped it on those last two or three plants. It DID matter, a LOT! Those plants had blossom end rot on every single tiny tomato they produced; I’d eliminated that problem years ago when I’d learned about the egg shell/Epsom Salt combination.

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Lesson: Identify bugs properly.  For a couple of months I killed every one of these I could find…

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Finally I got smart and put 3 or 4 in a bottle to take to my nearest extension agent’s office. He promptly identified them as Pink Spotted Ladybugs, or 12 Spotted Ladybugs. Both adults and larvae are important aphid predators but also eat mites, insect eggs, and small larvae. Unlike most lady beetles, plant pollen may make up to 50% of the diet, WHICH MAKES THEM IMPORTANT POLLINATORS TOO!

Lesson: Comfrey doesn’t like full sun. I was given several perennial comfrey plants (thanks Barbara!) this spring and planted them on both sides of my house where nothing-NOTHING- was growing. I knew that they spread quickly and that’s what I was looking for because once established, they make really good additions to compost piles AND chickens love to eat them. I want to have chickens again next spring, after we return from a long trip in late winter, so I wanted to get the comfrey established this year. The plants on the shady north side have spread and flowered and done beautifully while the ones I put on the sunny south side have struggled, in spite of regular watering. Luckily, I plan to house my girls on the north side since they don’t like full sun either.

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Final Lesson: You can teach an old dog new tricks!

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Here we go again…

Are  you sick of my posts about gardening? If so, just hit delete today, because it’s really all that’s on my mind during these long days of spring. I’ve got lots more good topics for transitioning lined up for the near future, some I can barely wait to share with you, but today, it’s all about gardening.

Before we get started on this though, a little personal history and philosophy might be in order. I’m a Tennessee Master Gardener and the coordinator of my city’s largest (to date) and oldest community garden, but I’m hoping that (at least!) a dozen more communal gardens will be surpassing our size in the near future. I feel that growing food is a life skill like no other. Gardening can offer resilience in the face of adversity, whether that’s due to climate change, skyrocketing food prices, personal money hardships, or food sensitivities. It builds self-sufficiency, enhances my sense of empowerment, and oh yeah, provides me with great-tasting and healthy food. My garden offers me a respite from a life filled with the blur of technology, stress and diversions and actually serves as my personal sanctuary when I go to kneel at its’ weedy altar. Oh yeah, did I mention it provides me with great-tasting food?

This post is simply my way of sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years with other gardeners that might be struggling to get their own pots and plots in good shape right now. There are lots of good gardening advice online, so if I don’t cover your question in this short post, you can find the answer somewhere on the world-wide web or in a good gardening book at the library. Or post your questions in the comments section at the end, maybe I’ll have an answer.

Q: How far apart should I plant my (fill in the blank)?

A: If you have rich soil that has adequate amounts of a plant’s needed nutrients, count on them growing well. Read that as large. Space accordingly. A big ole’ heirloom tomato plant that’s growing in a well-maintained raised bed that’s filled with rich homemade compost and lots of organic matter can easily grow to 3′ wide and 6′ tall! If your soil isn’t so good, it won’t grow that large and  you might get by with spacing them 18″ apart. I’ve seen gardeners that plant tomatoes and peppers 3-4″ apart! I apologize for the quality of this bad picture, but I want you to look closely at this: there are twelve, count them, TWELVE tomato plants in that little bitty bed!

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The spacing in my cabbage patch shown below is good on the left side with four plants, but too close on the right, which has five plants and shows the fourth one almost lost! These were ‘early’ small cabbages. Had they been a later, heavier variety, I would’ve only planted one row of them down the middle.

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Tomatoes and squash like a lot of air circulation, as that keeps many of the diseases that they’re susceptible to at bay.  Try to visualize a full-grown August tomato plant when considering how far apart to set them out. However, if we’re talking about carrots, go with 1″ apart thinning to 2″ when they’re up and recognizable. Squash on the other hand need 2-3′ all around to produce well.  These next two pics show how much room I give them. Both beds will be completely covered soon with the zucchini and yellow squash vines! You’ve got to visualize how big the mature plants will be!

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Like carrots, green beans and peas are planted closely, about 2″ apart, again, depending on the variety you’re planting. Read the back of the seed package if all else fails. If your seeds are old, plant thicker than normal, and if they all come up, just thin to an appropriate distance apart. In the pic below, the beans were planted 2″ apart, but birds and rabbits have done a pretty good job of ‘thinning’ for me.

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The sugar snap peas below were planted very closely around the edges of a square bed and as  you can see are flowering well now. I set the tomato cage in the center for the peas to be supported by, knowing that by the time the tomato needs the space, the peas will be history. Once the tomato fills the cage and is growing well, I’ll plant basil around the edges where the peas were…these three are good companion plants because the tomatoes need a lot of nitrogen and the peas are ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants, which means they can literally pull it from the air and store it in the soil for use by the next crop. Basil and tomatoes are not only compatible when eaten together, the sharp smell of basil deters pests from the tomatoes when they’re grown together. How cool is THAT?

 

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Q: Why are my young plants turning purple?

A: Did you plant the purple variety?  Likely because your soil is low in phosphorus or because the soil temp is still too cool.

Q: Why are my plants turning yellow?

A: It’s usually caused by a nitrogen deficiency. Fish Emulsion is a good organic source of nitrogen. While young plants are growing feed every week, moving to every two weeks later in the season.

Q: Why do I have huge green plants but no broccoli heads?

A: Too much nitrogen is generally the cause of overgrowth with no fruit set.

Q: Nothing seems to be doing well this year

A: A simple test kit can go a long way towards helping you decide what your garden soil needs or doesn’t. Even though they’re inexpensive, share the cost with a friend or neighbor or two. You generally only need to test once or twice to determine your soil’s Ph and then again after making any needed adjustments, but the kits have enough solution to do it over and over. If  your Ph isn’t in the correct range no matter how rich your soil is, the plant roots won’t be able to draw the nutrients from that soil to help them thrive.

As I’ve written all of this I realize that gardening is kind of like beekeeping… ask 10 people how to do something and you’ll get 10 different answers but maybe this will be of some help to you dear readers. I believe that growing and eating locally grown foods, in season, is the single best thing one can do to improve their health, their personal economy, and the environment. Plant something, ok?



Downtown Farming

Most of my readers know that I live downtown and am excited to be a part of the urban revitalization that is taking place in my community. For two years, the very premise of this blog has  been about finding ways and means that will enable us to transition, gracefully if you will, to a lifestyle that is more sustainable, resilient and fulfilling than the one that we find ourselves in today. It’s about re-creating our future in ways that are not based on cheap, plentiful and polluting oil but on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being. For me, the good life involved moving from our acreage in the country to an urban area with high walkability, a nearby community garden, and where I can work alongside my neighbors to help ‘be the change I want to see’. What I discovered this afternoon is all that.

Housed in an old brick bakery just behind the Farmer’s Market, on the corner of Buffalo and Cherry St is ‘DOWNTOWN FARMING’, a great new store for organic and hydroponic gardeners. I know this isn’t a great picture, but wait ’til you step inside! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was raining like crazy outside but the worn wooden floors and brick walls were as warm and welcoming as Kyle’s smile was. The store been closed for 2 hours when we arrived, but the shopkeeper, Kyle, opened the door and invited us in like we were old friends when he saw us peeking in the windows. He told us about all the products that were for sale; many familiar, some new and strange, but he also shared with us the owners’ mission: to be an integral part of this urban community while advocating the growing of sustainable, local, organic food. There were bags of organic worm castings, soil mixes, and fertilizers, along with the fans, lights and other components to put together your own hydroponics system. In fact, we took pictures to show you what they had growing there, at the tail end of the most vicious winter we’ve seen in recent history:

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A 5 foot tall blooming sunflower, along with fully grown peppers, lettuces and tomatoes were all growing there in the confines of those brick walls!

We bought a package of sage seeds from Seeds of Change but they also had a full rack of heirloom seeds from Sow True Seed Company, from nearby Asheville, NC. I could see this store becoming  a wonderful replacement for the recently-moved Mize Farm and Garden store, minus the poisons. They had growing pots and trays for sale, but could use some tools and a few more familiar gardening needs to fill that niche easily. I hope you’ll pay them a visit, support their early efforts and let them know what you’d like to see them stock. I think they’re ‘all ears’ and might be willing to fill the empty spot in our hearts and gardens that Mize once occupied. ‘Downtown Farming’ indeed! Those two little words embody the very essence of this blog.

                           Store hours: Monday-Friday 10 AM to 6 PM

                           Saturday 8 AM to 2 PM

                          Closed Sunday and Monday

                          downtownfarming.net

                          downtownfarming@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Frugal Friday- March 21st, 2014

Boy howdy, can I tell it’s spring! I am busy every day with community garden and personal garden stuff, as well as all the other things that fill up my calendar. It’s during times like this that I see money slip through my fingers more easily, spending more on things like restaurant meals or car washes or bakery cakes instead of home cooking and backyard car washes. Tracking our expenses for 15 years now tells me instantly where our money goes so it’s easier to stop the bleeding when it begins. As busy as this week has been, I’ve tried to be frugal:

Monday: Put a new double-edged blade in my old razor. I bought the razor new for $5, along with 10 blades, in 2008. Since then, I’ve bought another box of 5 blades, with 2 left. So, that means I’ve used 12 blades in about 6 years. That’s right, 12 blades in 6 years! The secret? After every single use, I drag the wet blade across a scrap of denim, then coat it with baby oil using the handy little brush that came with it, before putting it back in its box. I read the tip about using the denim right after I’d bought the razor and have been amazed at how long the blades can last by taking the few seconds it takes to sharpen and oil them after each use. If you try this, all you need to do is make a few quick strokes UPWARDS, against the ‘nap’ of the denim, like you would if  you were shaving. I think I paid about $3 for the box of five extra blades. I’m very pleased that I’m no longer throwing away ‘disposable’ razors and that I’m saving $1-$2 a month on their cost. Savings over 6 years? A LOT. And I get a MUCH closer shave than I ever did with triple edge blades. Just sayin’. (yeah, you get used to the sharp blade after just a couple of uses and I rarely cut myself)

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Tuesday: I’m putting my Sam’s Club membership to good use. I’ve started buying #10 size cans of peaches, then dividing them into smaller containers which I freeze. Michael did the math for me: we were buying the smaller cans at 4.2 cents per oz, the larger ones are 2.3 cents an oz. When thawed, they are as good as they were when the can was opened, with no degradation in texture or flavor.  Savings: 50%! I’ll be looking for other bulk buys like this in the future.

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Wednesday: Notice that large can pictured above: See how it says “California Peaches”? Nope, not local. Michael’s chemo treatments have left him with compromised taste buds and he CRAVES the cool sweetness of them so much that he blew through all the Georgia peaches that I’d canned last summer before Christmas! Who am I to deny him peaches simply because they’re not local? But this day wasn’t about peaches, it was about tomatoes instead. I told you recently that the president of the California Tomato Growers Association was quoted on NPR as saying that because of the ongoing drought there, as well as the lack of high Sierra snow pack (and spring melting) that this year, instead of that states’ farmers providing US consumers of tomato products with their normal 90% of all processed tomato products, THEY WOULD BE PROVIDING ZERO PER CENT! There’s simply not enough water available to grow them this year. What’s a person to do? Well,  you can convert your front yard to tomato production and can your own sauces and salsas OR you could hope that  you run across the sweet deal I found yesterday at the discount grocery: 30 full-sized cans of seasoned diced tomatoes, all with long ‘sell by’ dates, for 25 cents a can. I found the same brands in Krogers for 90+ cents a can, so savings on the tomatoes alone were $19.50 or more. I also bought 4 name brand jars of salsa for 50 cents a jar and some organic cooking sauces for 30 cents a jar! Be sure to check out your local ‘discount grocery’ too for super savings like these, but when you find great deals, stock up, because chances are they won’t be there when you go back!

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Thursday: This was Michael’s birthday. I cooked his favorite meal, African Peanut Stew, using  many ingredients that we’d grown and preserved. No restaurant meal for him, he wanted this instead. A pot of it, served over rice, costs less than dessert would’ve at any restaurant in town. Plus, we had enough left for 2 more full meals. I had made some chocolate chip cookies for a meeting the day before, so that’s what we had in place of a cake, along with some of his beloved peaches, and called it a birthday. He was happy, so that was priceless.

Friday:  Planted peas, onions, potatoes, beets and carrots. Walked to the drug store, Dollar General, the music store, the community garden, the library and the Buddhist Dharma Center. Ate “leftovers and peaches” for lunch. Washed and vacuumed the car in the back yard. Gave myself a manicure. Attending a fund-raiser dinner tonight for One Acre Cafe, and will make a donation with the money I saved.

“Living well on less” is my mantra, I hope you don’t get tired of hearing about it and I hope it inspires you to seek out all the ‘little ways’ that you can keep money in your pocket too, all while making your life more resilient- and fun!



Hope Springs Eternal

Last Saturday our temperatures here in NE TN were a perfect promise of spring, so I got to my plot in the community garden and spent a very pleasant hour or so turning under the green manure crop of Crimson Clover while adding some organic amendments to the soil. The next day’s rain was the perfect finish. Now it will have a couple of weeks to break down before I plant ‘spring things’ there. It’s a rare fall that I get the planting of my winter cover crop timed perfectly so that it will fill in, without going to seed, before the cold weather fully hits, but I managed to last fall. Remember this?

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The now-brown quilt of clover served as a natural cover through the winter, and will now finish its’ part in the garden’s life by adding nitrogen-rich organic matter to my slowly improving soil. I added blood meal, rock phosphate powder and homemade compost to the bed and then tilled it all under. I plan to try a no-till method in some of my beds this year, in hopes that the earthworms will drag the compost and other amendments down deep to the plants root area where it’s needed most. I vowed when I started these beds from scratch last spring that as soon as the clay was broken down I’d stop tilling. I hope that time has come, for using a tiller is not sustainable and my goal is to garden productively without using fossil fuels or the pesticides and fertilizers that are made from them. I’m still not there, this picture proves it, but I do hope to be some day soon.

diggin' in for spring

In the meantime, I’m babying my starts of onions, kale, chard, cilantro and parsley that are growing on a make shift book case-turned-plant-rack.

Veggie Starts

They’ll get transplanted to 4″ pots, slowly hardened off, and tucked into the prepare beds by the end of the month, along with potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, cabbage and broccoli-all ‘cool season crops’ too. After many satisfying meals this winter using our stored, canned and frozen fruits and veggies it will be wonderful to once again have fresh foods to add to the table. While I wait for the lettuce, peas and strawberries, I’ve started sprouting seeds in the kitchen to give us ‘something fresh’ right now. Sprouting is easy-peazy- something even I can’t mess up!

The winter was really tough on the fall-planted kale, chard and lettuces. The ‘polar vortex’ ripped the plastic off both hoop houses the night it blew in and all that survived was the spinach. This picture was taken on December 17th, when those things were holding some promise for spring:

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All that’s left of that promising bed are the spinach plants, (lower left) which are still too small to harvest. Hopefully, not for long.

In writing this post, I realize how many times I’ve used the word ‘hope’. My garden is always full of hope, if nothing else. I hope the seeds will sprout, I hope for a bountiful harvest, I hope the food we grow will nourish us and I hope that by showing you, my reader, how much can be grown with so little time, space and energy that it will inspire you to try your hand at growing something this spring too. All indications are that we will definitely see rising food prices as the year goes on. We already are actually. Hoping that won’t happen isn’t enough for me though. In a world where I often don’t feel I have much control over much of anything, growing my food empowers me like nothing else does! Right along with filling my pantry and my belly, gardening fills me with peace of mind and the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the world, I’ll always have the knowledge and skills to provide for myself and others. Hope really does spring eternal in the garden!




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