Were y’all following along back in 2010, when we did our Garden Challenge?
It was a good time, just now, perusing those old posts. I am also taking stock on what we have learned and where we are now.
I can now answer my own question around “How much food can I produce for my family as an Urban (Container) Farmer?”. The reality? Not very much.
At least, not very much on a shared back deck with a landlord who is not excited about my use of the space, let alone taking adavantage of vertical possibilities.
Not very much with an income that is still low to non-existant. To really succeed, we need a yard. Container planting is high resource. Plants don’t like containers, and you have to help them out a lot to produce half of what they would in the ground. Containers are expensive, soil amendments are expensive. …Heck, SOIL is expensive. Every year we run up against this issue. We need dirt. Good dirt. Sod.
All of which is not to say that I have lost my enthusiasm. I am still dreaming big, but I am also resigned to buying practically all of our food this summer from stores and farmer’s markets. What I have taken away from these years as an urban homesteader is that, at least for me, there needs to be pay-off. While I am happy for the opportunity to show Fern where food comes from, it’s too heartbreaking to spend months nurturing our little garden, only to harvest enough produce for (literally) one day. Also, I am never growing tomatoes in SF again, unless someone gives me a garden plot in full sun. In the Mission. Out of the fog-belt. We had one banner year, and then the weather pattern of the next two gave us hard green tomatoes in November.
Hmmm. Do I sound negative? What I am trying to communicate is more along the lines of disillusionment. Not bad news, not bad at all. But very realistic and a little less exuberant. That down to earth, no nonsense quality that you find with many gardeners. Because nothing is more “real” than working within the necessary confines of nature’s rules.
In keeping with realism, this year I have completely released the tension around production and instead I aim to garden for pleasure. In that permaculture way, I am going with what is, with what works. And what works in our container garden are Wildflowers. Lettuces. Sunflowers. Poppies. Miner’s Lettuce. Nettles. Anise Hyssop. Weeds and natives and non-natives and volunteers. Come on down! You’re the next contestants on my back porch! I aim to have our downstairs space be a Midsummer’s Night Dream, replete with a hammock for Puck.
As always, it takes a village. We are still looking for a soil source, but yesterday we hit the compost jackpot. Or should I say Jackie-Pot. Our friend Jackie, who is facing owner move-in eviction, generously offered us her compost and seed potatoes. We may also inherit her container of sunchokes, since she can’t take it with her.
She also sent us home with Meyer-Lemon Marmalade and two bottles of her latest homebrew.
How do you like our backdrop of dangerous implements, all within reach of the toddler?
Made with redwood needles instead of hops, the flavor was light and aromatic, and completely transportive to a quiet repose in some shadey forest glen. Jackie is already scheming on another combo–Cacao and Elderberry. I am a more than willing guinea pig.
Ultimately, urban homesteading is now less about proving our mettle and more about love. I will continue to garden because I just have to, because it brings so much joy. So maybe my pantry isn’t stocked to the gills with enough jars to get us through an apocalypse brought on by the Hayward Fault. But there will be a few jars of wildcrafted blackberry jam, several bottles of dandelion wine, plum preserves and apple sauce. There will be bubbling concoctions of fermented salsa when the farmer’s markets have blow out sales and always some kind of herbal tonic on hand. My style of urban homesteading has become synonymous with being a scavenger. Any wild creature that survives in a city scape must be good at this, be it hawk, fox, raccoon or gull. These same creatures are dependent on each other and dependent on the movement of the urban environs. What I am thankful for most of all, through these years of experimentation, has been the collaboration. You know who you are…the seed savers and givers, the passer-ons of lore, the lenders and hand-me-downers. You make it possible, you make it fun, and you make it about community. Which is also synonymous with love.
What are you planting this year?