Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
A little more than three years ago, you could find on any one of my daily bank statements, transactions for McDonald’s, Dominoes and Burger King. Name any other processed and fast served food and it was in there as well. My freezer was full of frozen chicken pot pies and chicken patties while my trashcan full of plastic. I would use synthetic fertilizers on my lawn, because that is what people told me I needed to do. I would shop at big corporate stores with low, low prices because that is what I had learned to do growing up. Today, I am a little different.
My wife and I cook almost every meal together from scratch, using food picked just minutes before from our garden. When we have irritations on our arms after picking the zucchini or squash, we apply a chickweed salve made at home to soothe it. Most of what we bring into our home is recycled, and most of the rest is composted. This includes shred from junk-mail credit card offers or Q-tips made from natural fibers. Most weeks, I don’t have much of anything to put out to be hauled away by the fuel-burning garbage truck. If you were to compare these two versions of myself side by side, it would be hard to see all the steps that led from one to the other. In reality, it was easy small changes made every day that added up to the new me.
It first started by making meals at home, something easy enough to get me cooking instead of microwaving. My sister-in-law said something to me at the time, “Just add a little onion to whatever you are making.” It may not sound like much to some of you, but to me this opened up a whole new world. Once I got used to cutting up an onion for my meals, I started adding more things and trying different meals. My wife also showed me how easy this could be. My favorite breakfast is biscuits and gravy, which I would use the Pillsbury brand biscuits. She said "no way" the first time I tried making it for her, and handed me her recipe for homemade biscuits (I’m sure I exhaled loudly before taking the paper from her). The recipe was just mixing simple ingredients, rolling it flat and cutting out the shapes with a glass, then baking for ten minutes. It took 20 minutes from start to finish, ready to be covered with her homemade chicken sausage gravy. Nothing could have been easier.
All these meals I was now cooking from home led to produce becoming a larger portion of our shopping budget. This caused us to ask “why are we driving to the store to buy food we can grow at home?” The first year, we planted in the existing bed against the side of our house. Some rabbits and my dog made sure that whatever we grew was quickly eaten before we got to it. The next year we built a raised bed next to it and fenced off that whole part of the yard. I didn’t necessarily have the green thumb yet, but I realized the key to success was to just check on it every day. This takes nothing more than walking out to the garden and observing. If something needs more water, needs trimmed up or is getting eaten by bugs, if you check it every day you catch it early and can usually fix it before it’s too late. Simple as that, just go look at it.
This is when we started composting as well. We would collect the scraps in a container on the kitchen counter, and once full, we would empty that into a trashcan in the backyard. We made a tumbler from spare wood leftover from the fence and a rain barrel we picked up. We would empty the trashcan scraps into it when the compost in the tumbler was finished. This all sounds like a lot of work, but after the construction was done, all I have to do is move a little compost from this container to that container every other month or so and turn the tumbler whenever I feel like it. It just sits there and makes compost on its own. That is the easiest chore of all.
Once we started growing vegetables, the next logical step was growing herbs. This was at first just for seasoning food but rapidly became about healing as well. It was a natural progression because it’s still just growing plants and the diversity of our garden brought more pollinators around. We bought a book or two and read up on some ideas, and the first salve we made was the chickweed salve mentioned earlier. We pulled the chickweed that grew naturally in our yard, let it wilt in the sun for a few hours and then put it in a jar of olive oil for three weeks on the porch. That’s it; we just let it sit there, shaking gently a couple times a week. Once the time was up, we strained the oil and mixed it with melted beeswax we ordered online, added essential oils for fragrance and poured it into little jars. It works fantastic, its natural and it was the easiest thing to make a year’s supply of soothing skin salve for us and our family.
As we progress into more sustainable ideas and lean more towards the homesteading way of life, I remind myself of how far we have come and how easy it was looking back. For the future projects we have that seem overwhelming, like solar panels and chicken coops, it’s just one little step taken every day that becomes a big difference in our lives. And it all started from adding an onion to my meals, what would happen if you started adding an onion to yours?
Photos by Aaron Miller