Tuesday, March 10

We are What We Eat?

Among my email subscriptions is a little newsletter from Kitchen Gardeners International, which is a 501c3 organization based in Maine. Through programs like their ambitious Eat the View campaign, they advocate growing and eating your own food. (I am obviously a big proponent of this as well, as you might be able to tell by this first photo of garlic shoots coming up in my garden this week.)

What I like about KGI--and their newsletter--is that it's a nice combination of idealism and practicality. On their site, they include thoughtful moral arguments for eating locally alongside forum posts about how to construct raised beds, which tomato varieties are best, the basics of seed saving, etc. I think that they would approve of edibles used in the garden in an ornamental way, like my black elderberry underplanted with silver sage, as well:

On the practical side, last week's main newsletter article (from a forum post by Roger Doiron) about the Economics of Home Gardening really got me thinking. Here's an excerpt:

"Has anyone ever kept track of what their garden produced in a given year and the calculated the economic value of their harvest? My wife and I did this year and calculated that the net economic value (not the health, environmental, gastronomic, psychological, or social value) was roughly $2150. Here's the data:"

(Note: I took the liberty of shortening this little spreadsheet for purposes of posting it here... hence the fade-to-white area where I cut out the middle. You can see the whole thing on the original post if you'd like.)

Realistically speaking, there is really NO WAY that I would ever be able to come up with a spreadsheet like the one Roger and his wife Jacqueline did. For one thing, I'm simply not disciplined enough... I never managed to maintain a proper garden journal before I started the blog, for example. (For another example of my lack of discipline, look behind the rosette of new foliage on my 'Hab Gray' sedum, below... that's a cabbage AND a kohlrabi that I never cleaned up in the fall. Sheesh!)

For another thing, the thought of having to weigh and catalog every little thing that my garden produces kind of chafes at my inner hedonist. It just seems wrong to have to bring a handful of blackberries inside to weigh and record them before I can eat them. Seems that time would be better spent enjoying the way each sun-warmed berry kind of burst into flavor on my tongue as I wander around the yard... especially since the blackberry is in the far corner of the yard, next to the 'Bing' cherry and new grape arbor:

Also, I know that Roger included some caveats about what he was not measuring with his spreadsheet, but my concerns go beyond that. I really would struggle with the scientific-ness (is that even a word?! lol) of comparing the "value" of my garden tomatoes to those you can buy at the store. I'm not talking about the difference in quality, taste and selection, either... I'm talking about the fact that I simply would NOT buy watery, flavorless grocery store tomatoes at all, so it seems unfair to compare what I spent on my tomato seeds to the cost of something I wouldn't even purchase.

But... I really like that Roger did the number crunching, and that it's getting people talking! So next time, can we see a newsletter about growing edibles and ornamentals together? I mean... I can't be the only crazy girl who is growing her garlic under a generous dressing of compost, birdseed (oops--the feeder is above) and red sedum, can I?

And if other people knew that a veggie garden could be this decorative, maybe they would plant a few more rows... A girl can hope, right?! :)


Lisa at Greenbow said...

Kim, I love the honesty of your post. I do put an edible here and there in my garden but I wouldn't in a million years do a spread sheet about, well, anything. Ha... Unless you are making a living at something I don't think it needs a spread sheet. They are so intimidating. All of those neat little rows with cells for numbers. The dreaded numbers. I don't need a spread sheet to tell me what I am doing is fun and occasionally tastes good, or is great eye candy. Tell me that isn't a hedonist talking. tee hee I do admire those that can and do create these wonderful pages full of numbers.

Kerri said...

No spreadsheet for me either. I'd rather put the time into working in the garden :) We enjoy an abundance of fresh veggies and have plenty to share. That's all I need to know!
Like you, I'm too spoiled by homegrown tomatoes to buy the insipid store bought ones, except for an occasional tub of grape toms for a salad. Too bad it's such a long wait in between harvests.
Spring is springing here too. Isn't it wonderful? :)

Ottawa Gardener said...

Sorry if I posted twice.

Lovely to see pictures of spring. We still have snow over here. And great to hear even more and more and more about growing edibles. It seems like the newest flower trend are cabbage... By the way, did your cabbage overwinter? Mine often do producing nice little cabbagettes in the spring.

Anonymous said...

Hey I just heard about Eattheview.org on Twitter today. Funny how that works sometimes.

If I had to weigh and record every edible that comes out of my garden before I ate it there would be no point in carrying salt and pepper shakers in my pocket.

bs said...

count me in as another person who is planting ornamentals with edibles, and is really grateful that someone else has done the spreadsheet part! your garlic is very becoming with her sedum skirts!

Gail said...

The beauty of a Roger and his spouse keeping a spread sheet is that we don't have to...The take away is that there is economic value. I think the first year might not be a banner financial savings for some gardeners who have to build a raised bed! More importantly, we know that it's more then economics. It's fun, the vegetables taste better, it makes sense, it's satisfying...btw, there are more edibles going in the flower beds here at C&L! gail

Unknown said...

Greenbow Lisa, I love the honesty of your comment! I'm not intimidated by numbers or spreadsheets... truth be told, I kind of wish that I was organized enough to do these things, but I'm just not. And like you say (fellow hedonist!) numbers don't tell me what tastes good or is great eye candy... :)

Kerri, there's always work to do in the garden, isn't there?! I smiled at your admission, because when I get really desperate I do sometimes buy grape tomatoes for a salad, too... but that still only happens once or twice a winter!

Ottawa Gardener, you do have to wait for spring a lot longer than we do here... I sometimes wonder if that makes it sweeter when it does arrive? And now that you ask me about my cabbage overwintering, I'm going to have to go out and look--maybe I won't be pulling it out ASAP like I had planned. (I would LOVE to have some little "cabbagettes" this spring!) Thanks for the tip. :)

Anthony, isn't it funny? Seems like once you hear about something new, it starts to jump at you from everywhere!

And I am TOTALLY stealing your idea. btw... salt and pepper shakers will be some of my garden "tools" this summer. :)

bs, thanks! I thought she was cute, too... and when I topdress her with some compost in the spring, the sedum won't really mind. It's so nice planting the edibles and ornamentals together--always good to feed your body and your soul at the same time, right?

Gail, good points all around! And yes, I'm very glad that Roger and his spouse kept the spreadsheet so we don't have to... I'm going to be busy enough trying to figure out where else to tuck in some veggies, and starting a fall/second harvest plan, without having to record everything I'm producing this year.

Can't wait to see what other edibles are going into the flower beds @ Clay & Limestone, btw... :)

Stratoz said...

I don't mix as much as you, but I do not have the veggies all in "their place"

the title phrase came up recently in my bio class. teaching about the Long ago (but still fought) battle between those who believed in vital forces flowing though us and the new mechanists that saw us as machines. It was a phrase used by the mechanists.

so I tell the students... prove there is a vital force. then I say, OK, prove there is no vital force. then I say... leave it out of science no matter what you believe. study what can be proved or disproved.

joey said...

Dear Kim ~ I so admire your spunk! Here are sinful admissions from the old 'Ho-hum' gardener (we've been friends long enough I feel comfortable in confessing) ... I've tried tomatoes (rodent eaten), garlic bulb (rot) and decided (with my food fetish) I'll stick with perennial gardening (also a caretaker time issue) ... my herbs love me so the rest of God's veggies I'll get (guilt-free) from the market. Guess some of us gardeners have to focus on what we do best, otherwise, gardening might loose its joy and drive us crazy! Hugs & happy weekend :)

Greg W said...

Kim, I do keep a spreadsheet of what varieties I grow from year to year, just to keep track of how productive one is over another. Nothing overly detailed.

I like how you mix plant types, I do the same thing, who needs too many rules, right.

Thanks for the link to KGI, I find their blog very informative. As is yours, thanks again.

EAL said...

This is heartening, because there have been some snarky and negative takes on the value of vegetable gardening. In these times, people have to pay attention to that stuff.

I, however, will be trying harder to support my local farmers. They grow some great tomatoes and could use the help.

Rosemarie said...

Oh no I love spreadsheets and that's an excellent way of quantifying what you're doing -- even though you know it's the right thing. I thought that maybe this year I would at least count my bounty. That's a start, right?

healingmagichands said...

No spreadsheet at The Havens, my inner hedonist agrees with yours! I especially agree with the question of how to value a homegrown heirloom tomato comparing to a red cardboard sphere.

Anonymous said...

I could never use a spreadsheet in conjunction with gardening. That is too much like farming, and (as you know) I went to college so as to avoid that occupation.

But I do get a pretty good idea at the end of the year as to the value of my harvest. I take surplus to local homeless shelters, and obtain a receipt for the estimated value. These charitable contributions are tax deductible. It is a good idea to photograph your contribution, in case you're audited.

But that is always just the tip of the iceberg. I give boatloads away to friends, colleagues, and clients. And their goodwill and friendship cannot be calculated on a spreadsheet. Nor can the relaxation and therapy I get from gardening and the friendship. That's what I'm really in it for, after all. --Randy M

Gotta Garden said...

Love garlic! It brings me pleasure to grow it each year. Couldn't also do without the parsley that seeds itself around everywhere..and chives. I guess that's my big three. Oh yeah, will definitely grow lettuce again and try peas again. And basil. I will figure out some spots for tomatoes, but that's probably it. No room!

I wish I had a good local farmers market. Unfortunately, there is not one around here. It's drive, drive, drive if I want fresh non-grocery store produce. I envy folks who do have such markets with more than just basic stuff...

Love your sedums! I'm definitely on the prowl for some cute ones!

Unknown said...

Stratoz, I just don't have enough "place" to keep them separate, I think! And some veggies are so pretty that it seems a shame to keep them hidden away, too. :) (And I found the rest of your comment fascinating... but we discussed that offline already, I guess, right?!)

Joey, lol! I am glad that you feel comfortable, but I don't think that you have anything to "confess" that's so bad. You're right, we have to focus on what we do well and love... so I'll focus on being good at growing a little bit of everything together, and leave the jaw-droppingly gorgeous perennial and floral displays to your garden. Deal? :)

Greg W, that's right! Who needs too many rules... except as guidelines on what to break, of course. ;) I seriously do admire people who can keep the spreadsheets (and garden journals, and the like)... I've just given up on ever being able to bring myself to do that is all.

Eliz, I haven't seen the negative takes on this yet. But maybe my rose-colored glasses have blurred those a bit? I would like to buy into a CSA, too, btw, but... then I think that I grow so much of my own stuff already that I should leave the CSA shares to someone who doesn't have the garden space I do. It's a vicious cycle for me!

Rosemarie, I love (and hate) spreadsheets and stats, too! I work with them all of the time at work, but... in my garden, it seems to suck out some of the magic, somehow. :)

healingmagichands, thank you! (And your inner hedonist! lol.) "Red cardboard sphere" is a PERFECT way to describe grocery store tomatoes, btw--I'm SO using that (with proper crediting) from now on!

Randy, I aspire to be so productive that I have produce to give away! I've shared tomatoes with friends, but that's more of a sharing-the-love kind of sharing. And I do a lot of canning and such, so it's not like things go to waste.

Good point on the friendship, relaxation and therapy, btw. It definitely is all of that. :)

Gotta garlic, thanks for the reminder--I need to grow parsley! I think I may have some seeds already, even... and I need to get some lettuce started this year, too. Oh, and peas--I may just plant those tomorrow, now that I think about it. Isn't it traditional to plant peas on St. Patty's Day? (Or did I just make that up?)

If you were closer, I'd certainly send you some starts of sedum! I'm lucky enough to have some garden centers nearby where those doing the ordering have a huge soft spot for succulents and alpines, so I'm pretty lucky. (Although those are all pretty standard varieties, I think.)

lisa said...

I'm trying to "veg out" this year, replacing most annual containers with veggies. I especially want to try some of the beans that are useable as "green beans" as well as dried. Also cucumbers, "patio mix" lettuce, and some mini-eggplants. plus a few exotics. I like how you blend yours into the landscape, hopefully I can do something similar without any "food vs. ornamentals" conflicts! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Edible and beautiful will be the goal once again this year and you managed to pen those very thoughts that run around in my mind. Spreadsheet? Journal? That is what this blogging bit is about for me. That and sharing just as you have done. Love the garlic coming up through the sedums. The garlic I planted last spring, (because I forgot to plant it in the fall) was plowed in and is now sending up scapes everywhere. Sounds like a post to me.

Kylee Baumle said...

Well, I am in no way disciplined either and what you describe is why I never made it as a Nielsen home where I had to report every single thing I bought. I didn't last very long.

And ... ummm ... I just pulled the Brussels sprouts out last week. WITH the sprouts still there on the stalk. They were a little too small for harvest last fall, but I kept thinking they might grow. By Christmas, I knew that wasn't going to happen. HA!

Relatively few of my strawberries ever made it into the house last summer. Oops!

My garlic looks about like yours. It was so fun planting it last fall, knowing every single one was from the garlic I planted the year before. I do love yours coming up through your sedum! Mine is just surrounded by dirt this year. LOL

joey said...

Popping in to wish you, dear Kim, and your garden ... Happy Spring :)

Anonymous said...

I have a separate 'vegetable' bed, but there are usually reseeded sunflowers all over the place - but my herbs and flowers mesh for sure - and some of the most beautiful gardens I've seen have gorgeous eggplants in them. I've gotten so, since I don't like elephant garlic all that much (to cook with) that I plant it in my flower beds like ornamental alliums - love those flowers.

Glad to see that spring is heading your way! Take care.

Annie in Austin said...

When I measure the vegetables do I include the weight of all the tomatoes with one bite taken out? We love our tiny kitchen garden but planting in Central Texas is like buying chances in a raffle than a business. So no spreadsheets for our little plot. Our herbs are like yours, Kim, tucked in all over the place.

I do have a spreadsheet for trees, shrubs, bulbs, perennials and the tropical plants that come in for winter. It gives me instant access to the botanic names, common names, when and where I got the plant (especially nice for passalong plants), where the flower or shrub is growing in the yard and whether it survived.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Nathan said...

Great blog. Its amazing how much one can save by growing your own.

Carol said...

Interesting reading and great blog!!

Kati said...

Thanks for the link, Kim! By all means plant veggies with the ornamentals. We enjoyed tomatoes that grew behind the roses last year, guarded by green plastic snakes that my wee neighbor says grew each time it rained. Well, even plastic snakes could possibly have interesting powers! We have plans to plant beans and cukes this year as well!

kate smudges said...

Last year, I planted veggies in my front garden among the roses and other perennials. I loved the way the garden looked and am going to do the same thing this year. I simply can't imagine keeping track, by way of spreadsheet, of my garden produce. Hope your spring is going well, Kim!

D'Rimba said...

Wow so natural, I love a natural too. Please visit my blog everyone here. You are invited please....

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed he went to all that trouble with that elaborate spreadsheet! I confess that my gardens are combinations of flowers and edible -- partly by design but also there's a lot of chance tossed in there as well!

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