Think about a farm to table philosophy of food. Chances are you picture fresh seasonal produce and meats, grown locally, purchased direct from the source or at a farmers market. Farm to table means embracing the notion of knowing where your food comes from and who produces it.
This year I decided to adopt a yard to table philosophy, growing a portion of my family's produce in edible plots around our home. The concept of creating an edible yard is not new. When you think about it, the main difference between farm to table and yard to table is scale, not ideology.
With a little ingenuity and sun exposure, most anyone can grow a surprising amount of food in a limited amount of space. Large or small, with some planning and care your edible plot will provide your family with fresh, organic, delicious produce year-round.
The benefits of growing your own food are many. First, if you adhere to organic methods, there is peace of mind in knowing the fruits of your labor are free of harmful chemicals and residues from commercial fertilizers. You also reap the added benefit of reducing your food's carbon footprint since it travels by foot from garden to kitchen, not miles by truck to the store. Finally there's the simple pleasure that comes with preparing and serving fresh-picked produce from the garden to your family and friends. Eating your garden's bounty is its own reward!
When considering your personal "yard to table" strategy, begin by examining your yard for potential edible plots. Note areas that receive the most sunlight each day, and whether you have space for plants with vines that will spread or need staking/trellis for support.
I began by charting the amount of sunlight each area of my yard received throughout the day. This gave me a basis for determining which plants were best suited to succeed in each potential plot.
Once I had done my homework, I designed, positioned and planted each plot with available sunlight in mind; a mostly shady 12-foot-by-2-foot strip in our front yard became the perfect space for a bed of lettuces, while galvanized livestock troughs positioned along the deck in our backyard hold tomatoes and snap peas, making use of a sunny concrete patio that would otherwise lie vacant.
Moveable pots offer another solution for growing herbs and produce in an economy of space. They occupy a minimal footprint, making them ideal for gardening on a deck, balcony, or roof top (*to protect surfaces from damage, place a water catch beneath). I love putting pots on rolling caddies, which allow for drainage and ease of movement when necessary. This summer I'm growing basil, thyme, strawberries, carrots, and even a watermelon in pots!
There are also a variety of hanging contraptions that can house tomatoes, strawberries, herbs and more. Imaginative gardeners can creatively repurpose any number of household objects as edible plots. A friend recently sent me a photo of a canvas shoe organizer used in such a fashion (from www.HomesteadingSurvivalism.com). Have fun scavenging local salvage yards for inexpensive architectural objects that can find a second life as unique planters and great conversation pieces.
Raised beds offer yet another option for creating your edible plot. If the soil in your yard is "challenged", i.e. poor quality for growing food or polluted with commercial fertilizers, etc., consider constructing inexpensive raised beds out of recycled wood or stacked cement landscape blocks. Raised beds can be made in any size to accommodate space restrictions, and need only be 12 to 15 inches deep to grow most veggies. As a precaution against rodents, try lining the bottom with fine mesh wire before filling the bed with organic top soil and compost to create an instant garden plot.
Galvanized livestock troughs are a pricier raised bed option found at your local feed store. Available in many shapes and depths, these make attractive planters. *Be sure to drill holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.
This summer, my edible yard plots have supplied our family with five varieties of lettuce, tomatoes, snap peas, strawberries, carrots, Ambrosia melon, French Charlene melon, watermelon, basil, sage, thyme, and mint; an impressive yield in a modest space.
Consider the possibilities your yard can produce for your family table!
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