I’m writing from California this week. My whereabouts are usually not relevant in an age of laptops, Wi-Fi cafes and toilet texting, but this week they are, as I’d like to discuss water, and as everyone knows at this point, California ain’t got any.
The situation is grim and my heart goes out to all the farmers large and small trying to make the best of a very bad situation. Four years of drought has brought this state to its knees, and it’s no wonder that my sister audibly rolls her eyes when I talk about a hot dry month of May or empty rain barrels in a Mid-Atlantic August. In Virginia we get uncomfortable with the thought of water rationing; and though many of us are quite happy to share showers, we’re not overly thrilled with the idea of playing Sophie’s Choice in the landscape.
It’s moved way beyond Sophie’s Choice here. Dead orchards line freeways in the Central Valley and even in the coniferous forests at altitude there are a shocking amount of dead and dying pines that have succumbed to bark beetle after suffering with little rainfall or snowpack for too long. With few exceptions, lawns are dead, and for the first time in my life I have seen AstroTurf used in a high-end, high-profile garden. Still haven’t quite recovered from that one.
This type of eye-opening experience always elicits a fair amount of pontification on the part of a writer, so I will spare you the poetic words and blousy phrases and instead cut to the heart of the matter – it might be time to think about growing a few vegetables next spring in your home garden.
Scarcity breeds resourcefulness, particularly when it comes to food, and California produces nearly half of US-grown vegetables, fruits and nuts. Many of us try to buy our food locally, but as prices rise in the supermarkets, local prices are also affected. One way or another, this drought will touch you, even if you think that California and its inhabitants are as remote as a hobbit-filled Shire. Making plans for a better vegetable garden next year makes a great deal of sense.
When planning a vegetable garden it is wise to ask yourself three things first:
1) What do you like to eat?
2) What is easy to grow?
3) What is expensive to buy?
For instance: you may eat all kinds of vegetables but particularly enjoy stir-frys and salads with lots of snow peas and broccoli. Snow and snap peas are very easy to grow directly from seed in the garden, are relatively unmolested by pests and cost a fair amount per pound. Broccoli is easier started from seedlings (which require extra time), is beloved by cabbage loopers and harlequin bugs and is relatively cheap to buy in the store. So, if space and time were an issue, snow peas would be the better bet.
And, quite frankly, if you’re thinking of growing a vegetable garden for the first time, space and time should be an issue for you. Space – because you shouldn’t be taking on too much at first; and time – because…well…you’ll understand next August.
Growing the things we love and that make economic sense keeps motivation high – especially when the work gets hard out there. It contributes to a sense of self-sufficiency, even if that only stays around until you kill all the tomatoes in a hard frost and realize that, 300 years ago, the first colonies would have perished had they relied upon your gardening skills.
No matter. At the end of the day, you’re making an effort, you’re building skills, you’re learning a ton and you’re breaking the cycle of being completely reliant on the economies and environment of a food producer 3,000, 4,000 or 7,000 miles away.
I’ll probably always buy California artichokes (I’ve got a soft spot for them), and I’ve never met an avocado I didn’t like; but witnessing the devastation out here first hand, I’ve got even more motivation to make my vegetable beds more productive than ever. I urge you to start thinking along the same lines.