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A monthly journal of sorts by Sheryl Eisenberg

FEBRUARY 2010 (links updated 2011): The most local food of all is the kind that comes from your own kitchen garden. But local isn't everything. What you plant and how you tend it matter, too.

Kitchen Gardening
Not just about the food

Kitchen gardening is an old idea whose time has come...again.

Even before Michelle Obama set an example on the White House lawn, interest in food gardening was way up, inspired as much by a desire for better tasting and higher quality food as the wish to save money, according to a National Gardening Association study.

Cultivating a kitchen garden invariably changes your relationship to food. Instead of consulting your favorite recipes when planning meals, then driving to the market for the ingredients, you pop out back (or perhaps over to the windowsill if you're an apartment-dweller like me) and pick what's ripe. Suddenly, you're eating seasonal food, not from principle, but because it's fresh, beautiful, virtually free and...well, there.

Whether kitchen gardeners are motivated by environmental principle or not, they really do their part in keeping down global warming pollution due to food transportation (both from farm to market and from market to the home). So kudos to all you kitchen gardeners out there.

Just keep one thing in mind: the things you do in your garden can have impacts that extend way beyond your property lines. If you use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, not only will those chemicals end up on the food you eat, they will wash into nearby waterways, contaminating drinking water, swimming water and habitat for fish and other aquatic animals. Organic gardening takes a bit more care (and some self-education), but is well worth the trouble.

Also, if you plant your garden with seedlings, be careful where you shop. Starter plants bought at big box stores are not generally grown by local nurseries; they come from large industrial operations far away. There's an insidious problem with this that has nothing to do with global warming, as emerged last summer when tomato seedlings bought by home gardeners at stores like Home Depot, Lowe's and Walmart created a small agricultural disaster in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states. Apparently the plants carried late blight (a cousin of the disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine). The spores quickly spread from home gardens to farms in an unusually wet season (heaven for blight), killing off tomato crops throughout the region, as well as the gardeners' own tomatoes.

So, for the sake of your own garden, your neighbors' and nearby farms, go to a local nursery for seedlings and confirm that they grow their own plants. Even better, start with seeds, which are much cheaper and offer you many more varieties of edibles.

With spring just around the corner, now is the time to plan. And if you will be starting with seeds grown indoors, now may be the time to plant as well, depending on where you live.

Let me close with a request. I would love to create a space on Facebook where TGL readers can share photos of their kitchen gardens and trade gardening tips and ideas. If you're intending to plant one this spring, would you email me to let me know at thisgreenlife@nrdc.org? That way, I can remind you in a couple of months when your garden should be fully underway. You can also fan my brand-new TGL Facebook page right now. I'm going to try to get some conversation going on other green living topics as well.

Meanwhile, here's wishing you a bountiful garden—and table—in the year ahead.

—Sheryl Eisenberg

Gardening
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On This Topic


START FROM SEED. Growing from seed is easier than it seems. Watch this video from Retrovore for a step-by-step guide.


YOU WOULD THINK what you do in your own little garden has nothing to do with the wider world of agriculture, but nature sees things differently. As chef and local food advocate Dan Barber wrote in The New York Times, "Airborne late blight spores are a perfect illustration of agriculture's web-like connections. The tomato plant on the windowsill, the backyard garden and the industrial tomato farm are, to be a bit reductive about it, one very large farm. As we begin to grow more of our own food, we need to reacquaint ourselves with plant pathology and understand that what we grow, and how we grow it, affects everyone else."


Resources


The White House
The Story of the White House Garden (video)

About.com
Growing Great Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits & Berries

Kitchen Garderners International
Questions and Answers

Mother Earth News
What to Plant Now

The New York Times
You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster

USDA
Find the Nearest Cooperative Extension Office (for free gardening information from a land grant university in your state)



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Sheryl Eisenberg is a writer, web developer and long-time advisor to NRDC. With her firm, Mixit Productions (mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), where—along with her children, Sophie and Gabe, and husband, Peter—she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling.