Monday, April 07, 2008

It's Gardening Time in Alabama

Over the weekend my family and I made what we consider a major investment when we purchased the hoss tiller pictured above. We have wanted one forever. Tried to buy one last year but all we could find locally were little toy-looking ones that the rocky ground around here would have ground to shreds in short order.

Now, we can have a real garden like the bountiful ones I remember from my childhood. I think home gardening is about to become very important again with the crashing economy and high fuel and food prices. Wages aren't going up and there are only so many choices for feeding your family on a very tight budget. A garden or food stamps. Most Alabamians I know would much rather go back to their agrarian roots than ask the state to feed them. You can count me among them.

There are so many other good reasons for gardening. You know where and how the food was grown. Homegrown veggies beat the tar out of anything you can get at the local grocery store. You can preserve the food you grow. You can grow whatever you like and not be dependent on what is available in the produce section. Growing your own food is much cheaper than buying produce that was shipped from across the country or in some cases from outside the country. Gardening teaches people to appreciate the work that goes into producing food. Gardening connects people to the land that they live on. And, perhaps when everything has gone to dogs and you're broke you can always have a tomato sandwich with a couple slices of cucumber on the side. You won't starve if you know how to garden.

There is also a new breed of home based business that is very appealing to me called Community Sustained Agriculture. This is where a local farm grows the food and families in the community sign up to have fresh produce delivered on a regular schedule during growing season. Now, we only have a little over two acres so we couldn't make a living entirely off of that...but side cash is a great thing in hard times. I could see producing enough tomatoes, squash and beans to sell a few.

Two other things of note that relate to gardening. There is a great story in today's Birmingham News about a woman in Sand Mountain, AL who has a seed bank which preserves heirloom seeds. For those of you who might not know...heirloom seeds are seeds handed down from generation to generation that have adapted to growing in our climate conditions, but have mostly been lost because of huge seed companies selling varieties that are more geared towards being mass marketed. Heirloom varieties have more taste and are more resistant to pests and things like mold and mildew. My favorite heirloom so far is the Brandywine tomato. They are so delicious. The only way I can describe them is to say that they taste like a tomato did when you were a kid. You simply must get some. I have about 20 plants right now waiting to get big enough to go in the ground. When they begin to come in you'll know I really love you if I give you one of my Brandywine's.

Finally, there is a blog called Eating Alabama which is currently documenting people who for the next four months will eat only food which is grown in Alabama. What a wonderful idea. Their documentation is a fascinating look at Alabama agriculture from Huntsville to Mobile. Did you know we have cheese makers in Alabama? I didn't.


don prockup said...

can i borrow your tiller? or better yet will you come till and plant my garden? then can it all fer me. hehe

Loretta Nall said...

Yeah you can borrow it. You'll have to come get it though cuz I don't have a truck. From the looks of all the awesome plants I saw at your place about this time last year I might need to get you to come garden for me :)

Don said...

Hoss tiller? Is that one of the Troy-bilt tillers they make now? I still use a 6hp Troy-bilt Horse tiller that I bought in 1975. I had a larger garden on Lake Jordan, but now the one I have is still 1,200 square feet, but I may not be physically able to plant all of it this year.

Other good things about gardening are the exercise it provides and the sense of satisfaction derived from seeing the result of your work. There’s something almost magical about watching what you planted grow and prosper.

For several years I grew an heirloom field pea called Red Ripper from seeds provided by a lady in Fayette AL. They sure beat the commercial varieties – more prolific, disease free, and tastier.

Take a look at what’s available just down the road from me at Oakview Farms Granary @ Cornbread made with cornmeal from there and following their recipe is the best I ever ate.

Loretta Nall said...

I meant 'hoss' as in bad ass. Big. Tough.

The brand is actually Cub Cadet. It has a 190 Honda engine and reverse tine action. Tills to six inches deep, can break virgin ground, is pretty much self-propelled and did excellent when we cranked it up last night. I want to do more today but am not comfortable enough with it yet to run it when I am home alone.

Once we get our place tilled up we are going to offer it out for rent with an operator (me or my husband) to make a little extra money.

Now that we have it I have suddenly discovered all the different places that will make excellent garden spots. Funny...I never noticed them before. I think my brain must have subconsciously shunned them because of all the impossible back-breaking labor that would have been involved in preparing them by hand.

Don said...

I should have known by the color that it's not a Troy-bilt.

Loretta, breaking virgin ground can be really difficult and time consuming even with a great tiller. If possible, try to find a neighbor or friend who has a tractor and get them to do the initial ground breaking, and then you can use your tiller to prepare rows a lot easier and sooner. Just don’t start working the soil if it’s too wet or you may end up with clods when it dries more. To see if it’s dry enough, dig up a handful of dirt from about 6 or 8 inches deep, squeeze it, then drop it from about chest high. If it stays clumped up when it hits, the ground is still too wet to work.