September heralds the end of the craziness of summer, when people in my area of the country attack fair weather and warm temperatures with gusto. Some of us might enjoy winter and snow, but personally I need sunshine to really feel whole. One of my hobbies is growing things and there is nothing like working outdoors.
For me, the end of summer also means harvesting the fruits and vegetables in my urban garden. While I do have a small plot in my small city lot dedicated to the growing of fruits and vegetables, I call my entire yard area the “guerrilla” urban garden. In the last few years, I have managed to insert sustainable plants into my landscape. This means I not only have interesting flowerbeds, but I can eat some of those plants, too.
The way I look at it, if you are a responsible homeowner who lives in the Midwest and you have a yard, you’re going to water the grass anyway. Why not put the water to better use, by providing food products for your family? Guerrilla urban gardening takes very little extra time or attention, and the rewards are great. Even a person with admitted brown thumbs can be a successful urban gardener. There is nothing like a homegrown tomato for pleasing the palate, or for cutting cucumbers fresh from the plant for your salad. The other upside would be not having to buy these items in the grocery store. Even though the growing season here is short, it’s worth it.
My interest in urban gardening began several years ago, when I decided to plant strawberries as a ground cover beneath my rose bushes. Within a couple of years, my berry patch produced so many strawberries that I began to make jelly to can what we couldn’t eat fresh.
In addition to strawberries, we have raspberries tucked away in one portion of the yard. There are also my cherry and pear tree, and several wine grapes that line the back fence.
The easiest plants to start your garden would be herbs. Many herbs are perennial plants here in Michigan, meaning they will come back year after year. Different varieties of sage make interesting bush forms, and oregano will spread like a weed. Thyme is often used as a low ground cover and will survive most winters. Lavender makes an excellent low hedge, and the flowers can be used as potpourri. Lavender can also be used to flavor salads and cheeses. Chives will survive anywhere with little care. Tender annual herbs like cilantro, basil, and parsley can be planted as accents in flowerbeds or in container gardens.
Container gardens, usually reserved for flowering annuals, can also be a great place to slip in a vegetable. In some of my containers, I have planted different varieties of lettuce, Swiss chard, and pickling cucumbers. There are also grape tomato plants in pots. Placing tender vegetables in flowerpots keeps the fruits of your labor nearby, and also confuses those animals that are looking for a free snack.
In the small, dedicated garden space, I grow a few zucchini, some pie pumpkins, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and squash. Some years I am blessed with an over-abundance of one thing or another. This year, the cucumbers have run amok. I have eaten more than my fill, and given away considerably more than that.
Remember to use approved fertilizers and pesticides when urban vegetable gardening. Safe chemicals are indicated on the containers. Better yet, use natural fertilizers like manure, or natural pesticides, like ladybugs.
While it is possible to freeze some foods, the urban guerrilla gardener should consider canning as an option to saving food for use later. Tomatoes and pickles are the easiest to can. There is nothing like opening a jar of last summer’s tomatoes in the dead of winter and making fresh pasta sauce. My canned tomatoes include garlic, bay leaf, oregano, and basil from the garden, so it is practically spaghetti sauce before I open the jar.
I had been canning fruits and vegetables using a regular large pot, but this year decided to purchase a pressure canner. The pressure canner takes all of the guesswork out of optimum temperatures and how long the produce should be boiled in order to be safe. (Safe canning can be accomplished without a pressure canner, as I have obviously done this for many years without getting sick, but doing so involves a certain amount of diligence.) I also plan on using the pressure canner to preserve soups. Canning jars can be used over and over, thus cutting down (though slightly) on landfill waste from prepackaged food items.
In this day and age of so-called “convenience” foods, I find a great deal of comfort in growing my own. There is the undeniable connection between the soil and your plants, which transfers into the soul of the gardener. For those like me who think of food as more than simple sustenance, an urban garden makes perfect sense.