We have the luxury of 140 acres at Cielito Lindo Ranch. We also have great compost we’re ready to use. However, you don’t need that many acres, or much more than a little planning to grow food. (And save money!)
Rosalind Creasy talks over at Mother Earth News about how her 100-square-foot garden (5 x 20) produced produce worth almost $700. She did something very smart–she looked at what was expensive in the store, and planted things that would cost her more. She also went for what would produce well (two zucchini plants will give you zucchini for you, your neighbor, and everyone within a wide range–you’ll be taking zucchini with you as gifts for everyone you visit).
Which brings us to the idea of a shared garden. The village of Todmorden in Yorkshire, England started planting free gardens–that’s right free. They’ve set up private and public spaces into areas where anyone can come and grab the produce. Their site, Incredible Edible, talks about how this started with just the idea to do something local to counter all the bad news coming in, and all the worry about how do you get local produce. This is an idea worth spreading–free local food that you share with your neighbors.
We’re already talking to our neighbors so we don’t all plant zucchini (or tomatoes, or something we’ll all be sick of in a month). We’ll be able to swap crops come harvest time, reducing the work for everyone and sharing in the benefits.
If you’re in doubt about what to plant, try Seeds of Change, which does both organic and heirloom plants and seeds–they also offer great information on what to plant and how to do urban gardening if you’re in urban areas–or Botanical Interests offers a wonderful selection of heirloom seeds, (and organics and collections, to) and they have recommendations for what does well in containers.
Our first containers are a couple of recycled whiskey barrel halves–they smell great! They’re aged oak, and the heartier heirloom plants should do well in there after we start them off with the compost we’ve been making (all our kitchen scraps are going to go back into making more food for us).
If you’re worried you may be at too high an altitude to plan, check out Lisa Rayner’s book on Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains. Also over at Avant Gardening, they talk about growing plants at very high elevations (7300, which is higher than CLR), and they post the designs for a GreenzBox to garden. This offers the advantage of a shield from sun, frost and critters. We’re actually looking at a little more protection (from wind) for our garden, but raised bed gardens are great–they’re much easier on the knees.
Finally, it’s always worth doing a search for native plants. In California, we had the Theodore Payne foundation. Here in New Mexico, we have The Native Plants of New Mexico Society and Plants of the Southwest. One of our goals–besides gardening–is to reintroduce and replant native grasses and wildflowers (and take out invasive plants). Because sometimes you have to feed more than your body–sometimes you need to feed the soul with flowers.