Cross-posted at Eating Well Magazine.
And here, for all these years, I thought raised beds were the way to go…
I’m reading an interesting (and controversial) book about gardening in post-peak-oil times: Gardening When It Counts, by Steve Solomon. He would have me abandon my intensive gardening techniques including the raised beds (the soil dries out too much), leave more space around each plant (so they don’t compete for water and nutrients), and prepare my garden far more carefully than I have (to give the plants what they really need). It’s a fascinating and unsettling read. I really need to rethink some of my practices–and in m book it’s always a good thing to be challenged and stretched. The book already has me planning to make his brew of Complete Organic Fertilizer and try it out on all the unplanted beds. And I am playing around with some new beds prepared according to his system.
The most interesting–and startling– point he’s made thus far (I’m only through the first couple of chapters), is about the actual nutrient values of vegetables grown well versus those grown haphazardly. Ack–my carrots might not carry as much vitamin goodness as I had thought?! My kale might not be as super a food as I had assumed?
And I was certain that if I grew my own food and paid attention to the shelf life of nutrients when I buy food, as Eating Well urges, I’d be fine. I do think that the vegetables from my garden are filled with incredible health benefits for my family. But I can probably do even better. Eating Well’s article last summer on spinach gaining more nutrients when displayed under flourescent lights really makes sense now. Not all broccoli is created equal.
Essentially, the message is–plan, plan well, and do the right thing for your vegetables and herbs by giving them complete organic fertilizer if you want them to be nutrient rich. And know your garden inhabitants–which demand rich soil, which don’t. That I can do.
But I’m not giving up my raised beds–not for anything in these clay soils. Yes, they’re pretty and echo cloister gardens (one of my design models), but I use raised beds not for their good looks but to begin the process of improving the soils. But it’s useful to be pressed to defend their use. This book is calling all kinds of current practices into question–it’s keeping me up late at night thinking, reflecting, re-planning! When articles such as The Atlantic’s Farming in a Time of Climate Collapse describe the drastic shifts farmers need to make in conserving water and using far less of it, I’m paying attention to books like this that are trying to create a blueprint for the gardening of now.