Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why don't people garden?

Those of us who garden have many reasons for doing so. Flavor, a little independence from the destructive industrial food system, reducing our climate emissions via our "food miles", the pleasure of walking out to gather organic ingredients for the evening meal, the satisfaction of growing things that can't be found in the store, a love of nurturing plants and spending time outdoors.

Those who don't garden have just as many reasons. If we are trying to get family and friends to start a garden, it might help us understand why they resist.

  1. There is no need. In the minds of most people, the grocery store provides an adequate, cheap, convenient variety of semi-nutritious food. Produce is available year round and foods are conveniently packaged and storable, without further effort beyond buying them, taking them home and putting them in the fridge/pantry. Possible answer: Here's where you have to do the real convincing. If you've already gotten them buying organic and local, you're probably halfway there. Tell them the reasons why YOU garden. Home grown produce is more nutritious and tasty, has less impact on the environment, and you know where it came from. Tell them: it's worth the effort!

  2. They don't know how. Most people in my generation grew up without a garden, or without doing any gardening ourselves. Without practice, growing food is a complicated affair, with different requirements and schedules for all the various fruits and vegetables. It can seem overwhelming to learn everything. Possible answer: Help them start their garden! Give freely of your knowledge, skill and advice. Take time to actually show them how to do things. Don't condescend, but then again don't assume they know the things you consider obvious. An inspirational book, like Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and a how-to book, like The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, could go a long way.

  3. Gardening requires time. There is a serious start up time for getting the tools and supplies, creating the raised beds and preparing the soil. Then there is the planting of seeds and transplants, mulching, weeding, watering, and harvesting, and storing of the produce. It's definitely a time investment. Possible answer: Start small. Start with a little 4 x 4 area and one fruit tree and expand every year. Start with food that you like that grows easily in your climate. Mulch, to cut down on time spent watering and weeding.

  4. Gardens aren't always pretty. Sure, a well- designed and well-tended garden can be beautiful. On the other hand, a tomato plant destroyed by aphids falling over in it's oh-so-inadequate cage... not so beautiful. Bare ground prepared for seeds, not always the most gorgeous sight. And my garden overgrown with 7 foot lamb's quarters and a fierce infestation of squash bugs - so not lovely. Possible answer: Find a garden site near the house so you can give your garden the proper attention. And again, start small so you can keep up with weeding. Interplanting flowers (like marigolds) with the vegetables keeps the garden bright and cheery, and many vegetables, like Swiss chard, and even purple-podded green beans, are attractive.

  5. Gardening takes money. I'm sure that a good, experienced gardener can save money on produce. But beginners, after buying compost, timbers for raised beds, fertilizer, tools, seeds, straw for mulch - they might actually lose money in the first year at least. Possible answer: Help your friend find the cheap way. Municipal compost systems, backyard compost, mulching with free newspaper and leaves, splitting seed costs, buying tools from garage sales, getting gardening gifts from you :) - these can all cut down on costs. Also, gardening probably DOES save a significant amount of money if you buy organic food. And you know, if you look at it as a hobby, gardening is pretty cheap.

  6. Gardening requires a sunny, protected area with decent soil. If you want to grow many vegetables, you have to have a house with a sunny plot of land - at least more land than people living in apartments, condos, or in wooded areas. Possible answer: Well, truthfully this is a pretty big obstacle, but there are ways around it. Container gardens in "self-watering containers" can grow quite a bit of food. There are urban community gardens in many areas. And hey - you could start them out by exchanging labor in your garden for some of your produce. Then maybe they could start a garden at their neighbor's house, with the same deal.
  7. Gardening requires a level of physical fitness. So, digging raised beds is not for the faint of heart. Even routine garden maintenance takes some effort. We all know about the epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and our aging population. We certainly don't want Grandma having a heart attack digging out the weeds! Possible answer: If someone is only partly out of shape, they could start a fitness and stretching program this winter to get ready for spring. Certain chores can be outsourced (such as the original bed preparation). If someone is elderly or disabled, but they want a garden, maybe they could make an arrangement like the above - offer a 50/50 split of produce grown in their sunny good soil in exchange for some help during the gardening season.
  8. Gardening is frustrating. Sometimes it seems like a constant battle to keep out the weeds, protect your plants from squirrels, and kill off the squash bugs. You might feel a little despair when you discover that some sort of disease has destroyed the grapevine. And it's disappointing to find that the carrots came out pretty puny - nothing like the ones you buy in the store! Why put up with the hassle when the grocery store is always available? Possible answer: Another tough one. You have to believe in gardening to get through the frustrations. You have to have faith that the garden will look better and produce more - NEXT year. And there are ways to deal with the most common problems. Mulch can really help with the weeds. Bird netting is great for protecting seedlings and tomatoes from birds and squirrels. And squash bugs? Well, I'll let you know the answer when I figure it out. Maybe you folks can share your tips here?? :)

As food prices rise, I bet gardening will become more attractive, but it's probably best to get started ASAP - before the need is dire. So help your friends and family start gardens! If you start convincing them now, they could be ready to get started by spring.


MeadowLark said...

#4 is what made my Husband dig his heels in and refuse when I suggested gardening. Now that the season is over and it wasn't so bad, he's thinking of places we can add stuff! So once you make it OVER the hurdle, it definitely gets easier.

Robin said...

Hi there. I found your blog from your comment over on Casaubons' Book. I know it's off-topic, but I wondered if you could give me any advice about cooking rice in my solar oven. I have a global sun oven, and I have had great sucess using it for potatoes and stews, but I have been failing at rice every time.


Hausfrau said...

Hi Robin - so far I've only cooked basmati rice, not just regular or brown rice - I don't know if that makes a difference. The rice cooks, but sometimes actually gets a little crispy. So it turns out a bit different than on the stove top. I just put the rice in a black container with black lid, and add water, canola oil, and put it out in the GSO for a few hours. That's it.... what has been the problem with your rice? Is it not cooking, or cooking too much??

Robin said...

Thanks for answering me! I am cooking basmati also. If I use the recommended 2:1 water to rice ratio, the rice turns out sort of crispy and dry. If I add extra water it seems to be soggy and underdone. Perhaps I just need to accept the slightly crispy version and learn to like it. I haven't been adding oil, I think I will try that.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

In reference to #7-
Folks could start their gardens using a layering method (described in "Lasagna Gardening" or "This Organic Life"- newspaper
/ grass clippings / fallen leaves / compost / straw) to breakdown the sod before trying to double-dig. Or they could use some of the ideas in this article from Mother Earth News-

For folks who may be disabled or find it difficult to bend over, they should check out the lettuce box on 'Hen and Harvest'-

Best - Colleen

Gracie said...

GREAT post. I love to garden, but so many people who could, don't. It's disheartening to see so many homes, with nothing in their yards put there for the sole purpose of providing food. And it's everywhere. I love to see homes with nice veggie gardens, or even messy veggie gardens (which mine usually is).