By Jackie Woodcock
It’s prime time here in the mountains to witness fruits, berries, and vegetables hanging from lush greenery. In the small towns that make up the western gateway to the Adirondacks, gardens of all sizes are thriving and abundant. There are several reasons people in these small towns choose to garden. Some find it therapeutic and gratifying, with the greatest reason being that we live in what is called a food desert. No, we don’t live in an area strictly covered by sand and scorching temperatures, rather we live in an area where access to fresh food is greatly limited. Thus the action of planting gardens becomes paramount to community health and well-being.
In our small, rundown town of Newton Falls, at least six gardens are visually apparent in a mile-long trek. For our community, growing fresh fruit, berries, and vegetables is less [of] a want and more of a necessity in keeping healthy food on our dinner plates. The nearest grocery store to us is 40 miles away. What’s worse is that when you do travel to the grocery store for fresh food, you will find these foods are anything but fresh. It’s not unusual to find over-ripe vegetables that go bad quickly in your fridge or wax-coated vegetables that have been treated to keep longer on store shelves or mold forming [on] packaged fruit and berries…None of which I would call fresh or healthy.
Gardening is a way of life here. We talk with other gardeners about their trials and triumphs, sharing what we know with each other to have successful, abundant harvests. With gardening, appropriate pruning can mean a great deal in the amount of fresh food you bring in throughout the growing season, and we study and practice this skill adamantly. The other skill we practice and share with tiny, flying creatures is pollination. Yes, humans can be part of the pollinating clan and [it] can mean a higher yield. If you have ever had your squash fall off the plant rotting, you can prevent this [by] hand-pollinating your squash.
Canning is another skill that is beneficial to those of us who live in a food desert. Fresh fruit, berries, and vegetables will not keep forever in your refrigerator. With an abundant harvest, it is nearly impossible to consume these fresh foods fast enough before they go bad. We freeze a large amount, but reserve some space for other items we need to freeze such as meat (and one of our favorites this time of year,) ice cream. We can tomatoes as sauce and salsa, and make pickles out of our banana peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini.
Our garden, shown in the attached photo, takes up a 10’ x 10’ area. In this area, we have 6 large beef steak tomatoes, 2 sets of onions, 6 cucumber plants, 6 bush bean plants, 26 potato plants, 6 banana pepper plants, 6 zucchini plants, 6 acorn squash plants, 6 yellow squash plants, [and] 6 grape tomato plants in hanging baskets. We opt to plant in beds, as this keeps slugs from devouring our crop. We could have planted more, but chose to build an archway for a decorative look, and [it] also acts as a trellis for our vining plants like cucumbers.
We chose to place our garden beds around a large Spiraea plant that attracts every pollinating bee in the area. [This draws] them in close vicinity to our vegetables and berries that are in need of pollination to produce fruits. Our garden is proof it does not take a great deal of space to have a crop of fresh food, but it will take time and work. For those of us who have maintained gardens, there is nothing more self-gratifying than to wake up in the morning and harvest a bowl full of snappy green beans, crisp cucumbers, a squash for a yummy stir fry or fresh loaf of zucchini bread made right from our backyard.
Perhaps you don’t have the time (or energy) for a 10’ x 10’ garden, but a couple buckets and tomato plants can be an amazing way to incorporate a fresh vegetable into your diet, and hopefully foster a love of cultivating your own harvest of healthy food.
Photo at top: The Woodcock’s backyard garden. Photo by Jackie Woodcock.