I fear the time is coming – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon (within our lifetimes) – when increasing numbers of us will have to grow increasing quantities of our own food.
Supermarket shelves are fully stocked at the moment, but just one major weather event massively disrupts distribution chains … and lately, “once in a century”-strength storms occur with increasing frequency.
More and more food crops which underpin grocery items are grown overseas, subjecting the supply to possible disruption by global political events that we cannot control.
Gas prices continue to creep higher, with the resulting ripple effect at every level of the industrial food production system.
And how many of us are already living paycheck-to-paycheck? Where will we get food if we lose our jobs, especially with grocery prices on the rise?
More of us need to start gardening, with all the associated painful learning curves. Taking clues from nature can help us understand planting cycles and environmental effects that impact both wild plants and their domesticated cousins; paying attention to nature can help shorten the learning curve. Here are a few examples from late July in central Maryland.
The wild amaranth (also known as pigweed, Amaranthus spp.) growing between my backyard and the farmer’s field has already grown to four and a half feet tall. The top of the plant reaches my chest!
The Mayo Indian Grain Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) I planted this year, by contrast, is a foot and a half tall at best. It should be seven to eight feet tall when full grown; I don’t think it’s going to make it!
Lesson? The two plants photographed experience similar growing conditions – they are separated by around 60 feet. Maybe the soil is better closer to the field, but I doubt it. Most likely, I waited too late to plant. In 2019, I will try a month earlier and see how it goes.
My blackberries, while productive, have started looking worse for the wear. The leaves are turning yellow and brown, developing spots, and even falling off altogether. What on earth have I done wrong?
And then I realized wild blackberries look just as awful!
Probably some environmental factor is impacting the wild and domestic varieties equally. Perhaps they are succumbing to an unseen infection following weeks of soaking wet weather, followed by weeks of excruciating heat and aridity, followed by another week of damp. Or – maybe it’s just what blackberries endure in mid-summer, having sunk all their energy into growing this year’s fruit and next year’s canes at the same time.
The last three examples all concern the timing of fall garden planning. In central Maryland, we are lucky to have a relatively long growing season. In my location, average date of last frost is April 15; average date of first frost is October 15. That’s six months (only counting half of April and October); plus at LEAST another month on either side (eight total) if you grow frost-hardy crops and use season extenders. (A twelve month garden is still my ultimate goal.) While no one wants to dwell in the garden in summer’s heat and humidity, now is definitely the time for planting fall crops!
The earliest Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) flowers have already started setting seed. If it’s good enough for nature, it’s good enough for me! Now is the earliest opportunity to plant carrots for harvest later this year.
Field mustard (Brassica rapa) has also gone to seed, although conditions aren’t quite ready yet for the seed to disperse. Still, we can determine that soon we should plant Brassica crops like radishes, turnips, kale, cabbages, collards, and kohlrabi.
Last but not least, wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) has bolted and flowered – it no longer even resembles lettuce as it towers over neighboring plants.
In a few more weeks we should begin planting lettuce … assuming we haven’t already … because we’ve been suffering without home grown lettuce in our salads since everything in the garden long since bolted … I mean, just saying.
Also, a correction to some previous posts. Twice I have identified local weeds as upland cress (Barbarea verna), when they were actually the closely related yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris). (Which is sometimes called winter cress, just to keep things confusing.) I have corrected the ID in both posts: Weed Walk, Week Ending April 8 and Welcome Weeds, Week Ending May 27. Whatever it’s called, it’s still super tasty!