How My Dad's Obsession With Junk Food Led Me To My Organic Garden
The Garden. It’s magical and I cannot even begin to explain or list all of the wonderful gifts it has given me. Contrary to what everybody thinks, I didn’t grow up eating the healthiest foods. I was certainly exposed to the traditional delicacies of Mexico, but being on the border and crossing that border every day also exposed us to America’s fast foods and prepackaged-meal culture much more than other cities in central and southern Mexico. Whenever friends or family would come visit, they would marvel at the stash of big-box products my dad kept in the second pantry (the first one was for savory, Mexican stuff). Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Squeeze-its, canned spray-cheese, Fruit Roll-Ups, Oreos, American chocolate bars, and every potato chip on Planet Earth! You name it, he bought it… and he bought it by the big-box full! The menus in my house were a bit bipolar. One day, mole… the next day,store-bought hot dogs. We were laughing the other day because,once my mom discovered canned chili beans, that was all we ever ate at the beach! And burritos… hot dogs with canned chili beans and homemade burritos. My dad also had an affinity for canned and jarred foods and he kept a stash of those as well. Enough to feed us for a decade in case, you know, the world ended. Canned artichokes, hearts of palms, smoked oysters, canned beets, and asparagus. Tons and tons of canned, soggy, pale-green asparagus in water. It’s not like I was traumatized (I don’t think), but when I was pregnant with Fau, something kind of shifted. I was the only weirdo nursing for close to a year and crossing the border just to go to Whole Foods to buy organic baby food (I lived in Tijuana back then). I wasn’t brought up that way. We were allowed to eat whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. Granted, we mostly picked the good and traditional stuff, but I’ve been known to destroy an entire package of Oreos after a night out.
Now, because of my career in the food industry, I’m screwed. I know too much! I know exactly what I’m giving them. Because of the extensive reading/research I’ve done because I’m Hypothyroid, I’m a little too aware of the effects on good vs bad food on your body. So when I bought this house, all I saw was the garden. And there was a part of me (about 0.00001% of me)that was concerned that Fau wouldn’t have a back yard… but, on the other hand, I knew we’d have fresh, organic food within hands’ reach every day of our lives. And just like the house, the garden was paid for with all of my savings at the time. No cushion left. No safety net. Balls to the wall… which is how we roll around here.
Well, that very garden and the house are the best investments I’ve ever made in my life. Not just from a personal perspective (oh, the memories we’ve already created!), but from a business perspective. I have so much to say about the maintenance, the food we cook, the pros and cons… and it’s all coming, I promise. But I just wanted this first post to have a little back story. That garden is magic, period… and it’s maintained by a bunch of magicians, as my dear friends at Urban Plantations come by twice a month to make sure I’m not messing anything up.
Well I’ve never had a garden before - just had a craving for really fresh food – so, I’m there with you in the process of learning! And so, here we go… I’m passing it over for some expert tips from Urban’s resident blogger, Jessica!
Friends, there’s so much more to come and, as always, I’m guided by your comments and requests, so PLEASE tell me what you want me (us, because Urban will surely return) to write about.
And on that note, buenas noches, my friends! Off to Los Angeles with the littles!
How To Start Your Own Garden in 7 Easy Steps by Jessica Gonzalez
You know that gorgeous garden showcased in so many swoon-worthy pics on Chef Marcela’s Instagram feed? Urban Plantations installed it in 2014, and the team’s experts tend her hand-curated culinary garden alongside Marcela and her family. Chef Marcela has received such a passionate response to her garden posts that she has asked us to address some of her most commonly received questions.
That’s where I come in! I am the resident blogger for UP, and I share a workplace with some of the most experienced minds in the field of organic gardening and urban farming.
And I have a secret - there is a sneaky reason I chose to work for UP: my own dream to have an organic garden! My husband and I just bought our first home, and search priority number one was a small piece of land for planting. With that in mind, I’ve sifted through wisdom from the farmers here at UP and narrowed down the basics for my own use… and yours!
So, on that note, here are 7 steps to help you start your very own, organic edible garden!
1. Let The Sunshine In: Know Your Light Hours and Direction.
Although many veggies and herbs have slightly different sun requirements, a great rule of thumb is the more sun the better! Sunlight is stronger in afternoons than mornings, so keep this in mind as you select the perfect place for your garden. Consider another spot if you only get morning sun, as this likely will not provide enough rays for your new little plants.
As an experiment, you can place a potted plant in the area in question; if it stretches or bends toward the sun, it’s not getting enough. Worried about too much sun? There’s no such thing if you provide the proper moisture!
2. Get Me Some Water, Sugar! Know Your Water Source.
Plants use light, CO2, and water to create sugar, which becomes energy for growth. Consistent watering is a big part of that equation and can correlate heavily with the success and production of your garden. If you decide to hand-water, purchase a gentle nozzle to avoid compacting the soil.
My garden takes FOREVER to water… I’m talking at least 30-45 minutes for two raised beds, a small patch of corn, a few potted trees, and some seedlings. Nobody wants additional chores – de-stress your garden by installing a hose timer for scheduled irrigation if you don’t already have a main controller. You won’t have to cancel your vacation to tend your tomatoes, and your dog-sitter won’t need an agriculture degree to keep your veggies thriving.
3. You Are What You Plant In: Provide Organic, Nutrient-Rich Soil.
Want the dirt on maintaining a robust garden? You must have fertile, organic soil! Plants literally eat nutrients directly from soil, and these can remain present in the veggies you harvest. For these reasons, you’ll want to be sure that your soil provides a nutrient-strong foundation and is free of artificial chemicals. A good place to start is by selecting an organic, all-purpose potting soil that includes the following ingredients:
Don’t forget that the nutrients found in your potting mix don’t last forever. Replenish them with an organic vegetable supplement (notice we don’t use the word “fertilizer”) from time to time throughout your growing season.
4. Make a Game Plan: Consider Your Space, Time, and What You Want
Grow only the veggies you like and use! This will keep you fully invested and motivated in the heat of the summer. Be honest about how much space you’ve got, and READ THE SEED PACK INSTRUCTIONS (or use Google if you’re buying small plants at a nursery). You’ll need to know the best time of year to grow each variety, and how much space the fully mature plants will need.
I ambitiously tucked 8 squash plants into one of my raised beds, which has resulted in a gorgeous but untamed jungle. This makes harvesting and troubleshooting more difficult than necessary.
5. Nurture Your Nature: Garden Care Tips
You’ve provided sunshine, water, soil, and love, and your garden is growing! You can’t just walk away, though…
Keep your eye on soil moisture, even if you’re on a timer. You can quickly test the moisture by pushing a finger into the soil about two inches down - it should feel like a damp sponge even if the top layer of soil looks dry and crusty. Don’t allow overgrowth and crowding; adequate airflow is necessary for pest avoidance and healthy plants. Spend a few minutes in your garden everyday to observe. Turn over leaves, monitor growth, and take note of the critters you might find. They say the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow, and the more time you spend with your plants, the more you’ll know what they need.
6. What Is THAT? Garden Pests and How to Get Rid of Them
Surprises happen, and most are normal and easy to remedy. We recommend you spend time in your garden daily, or at least a few times a week, to examine your plants. Are there holes in the leaves? Yellowing or weak-looking plants? Follow this cheat sheet for a few of the most common garden pests:
Tomato Horn Worms – They will eat holes in your leaves. Pick them off by hand and dispose of them how you wish. (I toss them over the fence into the canyon or feed them to my chickens.)
Powdery Mildew – White or grey spots on leaves. Thin out the most heavily affected leaves or consider an organic fungicide. Your plants will still produce when this is present but the leaves won’t be pretty. This is EXTREMELY common in Southern California climate zones along the coast, even in the happiest of gardens.
Ants - They are just fine in small quantities, but they may indicate aphids so examine your plants carefully. If you find aphids, dilute either safer soap or horticultural oil in a spray bottle, apply, and then rinse off. Otherwise, ants should move on without much effort.
7. Pssst… It’s Time! When and How to Harvest Your Garden
I can’t wait for the bumper crop of tomatoes I planned to burst from their vines, begging for a celebration of red sauces and salsas! Timing is everything, though, and while some veggies like tomatoes display their ripeness plainly, zucchinis will grow and grow forever if you’re not careful.
A few tips – many fruits and veggies begin to turn color when they are close to optimal harvest, including winter squash. Others become heavily aromatic like strawberries, melons, and stone fruit. Harvest summer squash while they are still relatively small; as they grow to mammoth proportions, they will become bitter and harder to work with. Also, always use garden pruners or a sharp knife when picking veggies and fruit for clean cuts and damage-free plants.
I like to consider the time I spend in my garden self-care, rather than work. Watching my seedlings grow and thrive at my hand is not only incredibly rewarding, but allows me time outside in nature during otherwise hectic weeks. Birds and pollinators buzz around and remind me that there are always a few minutes to escape from household obligations, television, and the nagging of practicality while I nurture something that gives back – a garden full of organic food to share.