You can dig it: An easy recipe for growing a starter garden | Locavore Cooking | Indy Week
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You can dig it: An easy recipe for growing a starter garden 

Click for larger image • Young tomato plants find their new home at the Anathoth Community Garden near Cedar Grove.

Photo by D.L. Anderson

Click for larger image • Young tomato plants find their new home at the Anathoth Community Garden near Cedar Grove.

Victory gardens sprouted up everywhere in the U.K. and the U.S. during and after World War II. These were not only a form of individual resourcefulness, but a necessity. If a family didn't grow fresh food, they weren't likely to get much.

We may not be so far from those dire straights nowadays. Anyone who lived through Hurricane Fran or a severe ice storm around here knows that it doesn't take much to halt delivery of goods to grocery stores, and prices shoot up accordingly. And that's not even considering the health, political and environmental factors of current events.

First Lady Michelle Obama has started a vegetable garden on the White House South Lawn, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt's. She has set an example for the nation: Use your energies to dig, weed and water instead of driving to the store.

Now that the last frost date is behind us, farmers' markets are offering seedlings for the home garden: many varieties of tomatoes, peppers, herbs, cucumbers, flowers and patio tomatoes already planted in gallon flower pots. A few potted tomatoes can be astonishingly prolific. Basic hot weather herbs (basil, thyme, oregano) planted in terra cotta containers plus a window box of green beans can do wonders for the dinner table and our connection to the Earth. Add wine-red geraniums in a hanging basket, and you've got a starter garden any hard-working career person can care for. As an added bonus, when you go to the beach for a week, if you don't have a housesitter, you can cart them off to the house of a friend and let them enjoy (and water) your portable garden.

Several locavores I know believe no matter what space is available, we are called to plant something, because to participate in the growing cycle cultivates a sense of nature's full circle and encourages caring for the planet. Starting small is key: Container gardens are natural for beginners and those with long work hours. In these times of recession, many are plunging into big home gardens with the hope of offsetting grocery budgets. (Buyer beware: This can be an expensive misdirection—without careful planning and economizing, one can end up investing in a new hobby and spending more money on food for the season than if we just bought from our farmers and markets.)

Below is a starter-garden plan. These proportions multiply easily if you want more containers. Keep the leftover soil and humus/ manure, and add them to the pots over the summer as roots develop.

Recipe for a Beginner Container Garden

2 40-pound bags organic gardening soil
2 40-pound bags organic humus and manure
1 1-gallon pot per herb plant
1 2-gallon pot per patio tomato plant
1 5-gallon pot per plant for other tomato varieties such as Supersweet 100 or Roma
Any size pot for geraniums
Tomato, basil, oregano, thyme and geranium seedlings
2 window-box style oblong planters (12 inches by 24 inches) per packet of green bean seeds (Blue Lake Bush are a good choice). You will have some seeds left for a second sowing in midsummer, when the first crop peters out.

Mix the soil and humus/ manure in a wheelbarrow or giant bread bowl. Mix as you would bread crumbs for stuffing, with gloved hands or a small shovel or an oversized kitchen spoon, until blended. Moisten the soil with water until just wet, not muddy; it should look like rich dark chocolate cake. Fill pots two-thirds full. Gently remove seedlings from cell packs. Tuck into 6-inch deep holes (make sure their roots are way down) in center of pot and cover with the potting mix. Water freely, but do not drown. Place in direct sunlight (geraniums can stand a little shade) for five to six hours a day; do not allow to dry out. After a few weeks' growth, mulch with whatever's on hand: raked-up pine straw, broken down leaves, or store-bought mulch. When plants begin to produce, harvest regularly, pinching the stem end of the beans or tomatoes clear of the plant base. With herbs, harvest stems and strip them of leaves for using in recipes.

Recipe for a Starter Garden Bed

If you have room to plant seedlings and bean seeds right in the ground, you can take the recipe above and plant a 4-foot by 8-foot bed. Hand- or rototill first, discarding weeds and breaking up clumps. Spread soil and humus/ manure mixture on top of the bed and rake it into the existing soil. Smooth with a stiff rake. Plant rows of beans according to packet directions, across width of the bed, or one long row down the length. Repeat the pattern with tomato transplants and herbs (depending on your soil, you may get in another herb and tomato— but don't overplant), following the directions above for transfer of seedlings, water and mulch.


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