Saturday, July 5, 2008

From Grass-roots to Lettuce-roots

If you haven't already read Ellen Goodman's column published this week in the Boston Globe, click on the title to my post for her full article "Some rows to hoe at the White House" published July 3, 2008. The title in the Ann Arbor News was "Push is on for edible landscapes."

I admit to looking at homes with expansive and sunny front yards and/or side yards wistfully, envisioning how a large vegetable garden could be planted in that space. We just have too much shade in both front and back to have a good vegetable garden, thus our vegetable gardening efforts have focused on our community garden.

I have this feeling that it is considered sacrilegious to cut down trees in Ann Arbor (except, sadly, for all of our ash trees that died due to the accidental importation of the non-native emerald ash borer). However, I am seriously considering doing so in both our front yard and back yard to open up the space for more sun in order to move and/or expand our vegetable gardening even more than we are currently doing. In addition, I also like the thought of planting some fruit trees and berries in my yard.

Funny how life tends to come full circle if enough time goes by. When we first moved to northern Illinois in January of 1981, our three year old home was in the middle of a former cornfield, on which nothing had been planted except the few requisite little green evergreens around the foundation of the home. We had an unusually warm March, the ground was thawed, my husband eagerly rented a rototiller, ordered a truckload of local duck manure, and promptly tilled up the full back half of our yard. We had loads of sun in that former cornfield and a great vegetable garden from that point forward, including asparagus, raspberries and fruit trees, all of which were really sad to leave when we moved to Ann Arbor seven years later.

What I wouldn't give for a "former cornfield" again! I do grow all our herbs at home on our deck in pots or in a small sunny spot, which is really advantageous to have available to cut at the last possible minute to use when cooking. (Photo #1 - the deck herbs include sage, rosemary, garlic chives, thyme, curly parsely, flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, marjoram, lemon thyme, Photo #2 - our giant sage plus some bee balm, Photo #3 - mint in a spot where it can be "contained", mostly, Photo #4 - summer savory, chives, thyme) Yummmm, there is nothing better than the smell and taste of fresh mint in tabouli, fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes, fresh basil on bruschetta, you get the idea. Are you salivating yet? :-)

Ann Arbor is going to have a local foods celebration in September. I think it would be enjoyable and motivating to have an organized home vegetable garden tour in order for people to see how other city folk use their own land in the city (especially small lots) to grow their own food, either as a garden per se or as "edible landscaping" or an "urban farm", particularly in the front yard. I really enjoy reading The Slow Cook blog written by Ed Bruske, who gives us all a glimpse into his trials and tribulations of vegetable gardening on a tiny plot of land, including the front yard, right in the city of Washington, DC about a mile from The White House. The amount of food production is impressive, and reading Ed's daily description of his efforts to grow his own food and promote the benefits of locally grown food is one of the highlights of my day!

Guess what book I recently found on my bookshelf? The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques by Rosalind Creasy and Marcia Kier-Hawthorne, published in 1982, which is likely when I purchased it!! As I said, if you wait long enough, everything old is new again. :-) (Addendum - when my husband read this blog entry, he reminded me that he gave me that book as a Christmas present - his memory is amazing!)

Other newspapers gave the title to Ellen Goodman's column "Plant the seed of independence in a garden". I like that title best of all. I have no need for maintaining the grass-roots (even organically) of my yard, but I sure do feel a deep and urgent need to tend to and nurture the roots of my lettuce, radish, kale, garlic, tomato, strawberry, rhubarb, heirloom bean plants, just for starters.

From grass-roots to lettuce-roots.........what are you growing at home to eat? Have you done any rearranging of your landscaping to make room for something "edible"? Are any of you gardening (specifically growing fruits or vegetables) in the front yard yet? Are you concerned about "what the neighbors will think?" I can tell you from experience that our neighbors and total strangers just LOVE our front yard butterfly garden, even when it looks rather unwieldy. I expect the same reaction for an edible garden! My husband and I just need to make the big decision regarding "stay in town or move to the country" (no small decision for too many reasons to bore you all with) before I start being a lumberjack and removing our trees! :-)

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


Kateri said...

I just want to say I love reading your blog. And I totally share your feelings about wanting to nurture something other than grass roots. I am blessed to have half an acre in Ann Arbor--and half the back yard is a garden. it would be more, except that on one side there is a black walnut tree and it difficult to get much beyond Kentucky blue grass to grow near a black walnut tree. I'm starting to seriously think about putting tomatoes in the front yard!

Shayne said...

I had a ery shady yard too until June 25th when the city cut down the very large maple in the right of way in front of my house and the first thing I thought was front yard veggie garden. I am amazed to see so much out there about doing just that...I guess I am joining the masses without even knowing it.

next year it is all getting tilled under.