Edible Gardens – Today’s Dirt, Tomorrow’s Pantry
It seems like you can’t go anywhere these days without seeing a long line of restaurants extolling their wonderful farm-to-table menus. The idea of eating fresh, locally grown food has a great deal of appeal. The food seems tastier, the nutrients may be better, you often get the comfort of knowing your meats and eggs were farmed ethically, and as an added bonus, you’re helping local farmers stay in business. But farm-to-table restaurants can get expensive and may not be convenient to your location.
What can you do when you want the multiple benefits of eating locally grown food without the cost and travel? Go as local as one can go, and consider the benefits of building your own edible garden.
Edible gardens are certainly nothing new. There was a time in our early history that growing your own food and even raising your own chickens was considered a family’s patriotic duty! During the Great Depression, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had a massive educational campaign to teach and encourage people to grow their own food, making better use of backyards and vacant lots. A community-based garden developed in partnership with area schools, churches or city governments can be a great idea if land is very limited, but converting some of your own land to food production may give you the best opportunity to significantly improve your family’s diet, reduce food costs, and even help with eventual resale of your property.
The very first step in planning your garden is to check into any local laws or neighborhood restrictions on what you can do with your land. Most neighborhoods will allow gardens in the backyard but may severely restrict what you can do with your front yard, but not all neighborhoods are alike. And even if your HOA allows certain things, local laws may prevent them. For example, in some cities its illegal to gather rain in a rain barrel even if the water will be used to water plants on your own property, or you may be allowed to keep chickens but not a rooster. If you find that your HOA or local laws won’t allow what you had envisioned, don’t give up immediately. Consider some alternatives that might be allowed, or bring the issue up at the next neighborhood association or city hall meeting. It might be easier than you think to change existing rules.
Once you have a good grasp on what you can and can not do, start doing some research on what types of plants or livestock might be best suited for your specific agricultural zone. The USDA has several good websites to help, or you may get some very good advice from your local nursery. Draw a map of what you want to put and where, taking into account for each area the amount of sun during the day, what sort of drainage issues you might encounter, the proximity to your water faucet for easy watering, and soil quality. It may also help to make several maps, particularly if you want to make use of multiple growing seasons, like spinach in the early spring followed by broccoli in the fall. Think about what type of fruits and vegetables your family might enjoy most, and take into account how much different things may cost at your local market. If zucchini is typically super cheap but asparagus is expensive, you might opt to grow the latter to save on future grocery bills.
Overall, an edible garden can be a wonderful addition to any home. They can not only increase your access to healthy food options but can also increase the amount of exercise you get and can be a fun activity for children of all ages. And while a garden might not increase the final resale value of a home, it could certainly make your home more attractive to potential buyers, decreasing the amount of time your property stays on the market.