Weather Apps, & Talking to Plants: Life As An Urban Farmer
I am watching the radar feed on my iPhone and scrolling through the temperature outlook for tomorrow morning. No ice, sleet, or snow forecast for St. Augustine, although a high in the fifties for the next two days doesn’t exactly excite me. I am concerned about the possibility of frost and the harm that ice crystals could inflict on my garden.
Since I am not working of late, I have been spending more time with my plants. A lot more time, actually. It’s quiet in the garden. The plants don’t make any demands of me – and, in fact, they seem to appreciate the TLC I give them. I appreciate my vegetables, and I try to let them know that. (I do talk to them, but I usually keep it to a whisper, in case the neighbors are watching.)
Having extra time has allowed me to make better choices for the coming spring planting and to be a better urban farmer. Some of these choices stem from a desire to try to eat better. It hit me about a month ago that I have this beautiful organic garden and boy wouldn’t it be great if I actually ate most of my meals from my very own bountiful plot of ground, consuming my own lettuce and cabbage and collards and bok choy and broccoli and … well you get the idea.
No Nasty Chemicals In My Garden
I like knowing where my vegetables come from and knowing that no one sprayed them with nasty chemicals that might make me grow an extra thumb or develop man breasts. Unfortunately, these are things an urban farmer has to worry about in a complex and ever-more-toxic world. Haven’t you ever wondered where blackberries the size of golf balls come from in January? Or what chemical concoctions might lurk on a head of lettuce?
A Weird Vegetable Cult?
But not in my garden. No sir! But for the past few years I have been very frustrated because I have found it difficult to even get friends and neighbors to stop by and pick my fresh, organic vegetables. Even when I explain they are free for the picking, most folks seem resistant. I think they might be worried that I want them to pick weeds or grab a hoe and sweat for their supper, so to speak. Or maybe they are worried I will try and corral them all and form some weird vegetable cult, assembling them in the backyard after midnight, while, hoes in hand, we wait for the spaceship to come fetch us for a new life on Mars.
I don’t know. But it is really harder than it should be to give away my vegetables. Sometimes, I will catch a tourist passing by and ask if they would like a few heads of bok choy to take home to Atlanta, or Poughkeepsie, or wherever they hail from. Mostly, they, too, look at me like there must be some catch. The husband will peer over at the wife, and they will both get a funny little look on their faces, like, Should we really do this? Each of pleading with the other for guidance. And, of course, there I am, standing with my knife in hand and a plastic Publix bag, having just cut an exquisite head or two of Joi Choy (my favorite bok choy variety), and I am thinking, “It’s only a vegetable, people! Just take it and make me happy.” In the meantime, Marge and Bill have actually worked up a sweat because the offer has placed them in some kind of ethical bind that I have yet to understand.
Dog Day Gardens, A Better Vegetable & No Sports Bra
So, since I am now eating so many more of my own vegetables, I have saved myself that crazy frustration. But also, fortuitously, as I was making my transition to a mostly vegetable diet, I struck up a conversation with Shelby Stec at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Shelby is the owner of Dog Day Gardens and knows more about organic gardening and vegetables and how to grow them than almost anyone I have ever run across. She makes Mr. Burpee seem like a wayward school boy.
The great thing about Shelby is that she will come to your garden and give you more advice than you could ever remember about how to grow stuff organically in your own backyard. Moreover, Shelby grows all kinds of heirloom vegetable varieties. Heirloom plants rely on natural pollination and are grown from seeds that have been collected in a continual way for at least fifty years. There is something comforting in that knowledge. It is an honest reminder that a half century of bees buzzing and farmers applying their careful hands upon this lineage of seeds have ensured only the best will come forth from the earth. It’s a small miracle of its very own and an example of tender care we don’t see much anymore. (While I am not an agro activist, I worry over the use of GMO seeds. It just isn’t natural. Somehow having a salmon gene in my tomato to make it a “better tomato” seems a bit of an abomination.)
So, with Shelby’s help, and as a conscientious urban farmer, I am changing things up in our downtown garden and from now on will only grow heirloom, non-GMO vegetables – most of which I can get as starters from Shelby. This almost certainly ensures that I will not grow an additional thumb or have to change my wardrobe to include a sports bra.