Low-Tech COVID 19: Garden Planning Considerations

This is part of an ongoing series of #LowTechResilience to COVID-19. We’re concerned enough about the pandemic and economic effects to encourage you, and anyone who will listen, to start thinking ahead — months ahead.

The Fisherman & the Little Fish

Screenshot_2020-04-08 Library of Congress Aesop FablesA poor Fisherman, who lived on the fish he caught, had bad luck one day and caught nothing but a very small fry. The Fisherman was about to put it in his basket when the little Fish said:

“Please spare me, Mr. Fisherman! I am so small it is not worth while to carry me home. When I am bigger, I shall make you a much better meal.”

But the Fisherman quickly put the fish into his basket.

“How foolish I should be,” he said, “to throw you back. However small you may be, you are better than nothing at all.”

A small gain is worth more than a large promise.

Æsop’s Fables from the Library of Congress (image and text)

I was going to jump right into seed selection, and then I got a message from a friend from way back. Satoshi asked me about recommendations for gardening with his family right now and that got me thinking. Even though I’m encouraging everyone to jump right in and get gardening, as evidence points to an uncertain economic future, growing a large substance garden is not possible for everyone. So I wanted to cover two quick questions you should ask yourself as you plan your garden.

The first, as illustrated by Æsop, above, was also part of the US government’s advice during the First World War:

The man who permits insect pests and destructive diseases to become established in his garden may be looked upon by his neighbors as a garden pest himself. Anyone who uses valuable seed and fertilizer and garden space, only to feed the Kaiser’s allies in the garden, is not only a traitor to the Free for All Fraternity of Gardeners, but also an undesirable citizen giving aid, comfort and good grub to the enemy! Ignorance and inexperience are no excuses for negligence. The garden “rookie” must assume his share of responsibility in the food trenches along with the veteran.

— Rockwell, Garden Magazine, quoted in City Bountiful (pg. 139) by Laura Lawson.

Don’t “Bite Off More Than You Can Chew”

My first year of gardening on my own property had me double digging the entire back yard to make eight beds. It was much more than I had done in the past with my family growing up, or what I had planted in window boxes when I was renting. The growing season got away from me. We had good growth, but not just of the desired vegetable crops. In a few years, I was able to tame the garden, making a more managed space in half of our small yard.

Think carefully about your experience level, available time, and resources before you try to grow much more than you should. It’s better to grow a little less than you can handle and do it well than to grow too much and waste all your hard work now when it becomes overgrown in the fall.

Grow What You Like to Eat

When we picture an archetypal garden, we think — or at least I think — of rows of certain vegetables: corn, tomatoes, green beans, and zucchini. Your list might be different, but these are plants I remember growing with my mom when I was just a few years old. I remember the pink corn seed, the smell of tomatoes in their cages, the green beans growing up the wire fence, and not liking to eat zucchini. The last one in the list brings me to this tip. Grow what you like to eat. It sounds obvious, but many folks grow what they think they “should” and end up with a surplus of something they don’t like or know how to cook.

In these uncertain times, also, concentrate on things that are prone to disruption. I’m a big proponent of potatoes, but it might be more prudent to spend your time and effort growing things that don’t store and ship as well as staple crops. If you have limited space, look at the most expensive and fresh things on your shopping list and attempt to grow them. In North America, that means tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, peppers, and more. One way to look at it is by using carbon emissions as a measuring tape of the most resource-intensive plants to produce, so you can cut carbon emissions by growing them yourself.

Carbon footprint per vegetable type (I’m sorry but I lost the source for this, but see this study for similar findings).

Also, go back to the the last post and think about what grows well where you are without too much extra work before you write up your plant list.

I hope to put out a lecture I gave about the carbon footprint of different foods and diets soon. You can be sure to hear it by subscribing to our Low Tech Lecture Series podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or TuneIn.


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