By Trudy Toliver, Executive Director, Portland Farmers Market
Am I a farmer? No, definitely not, not me. I only this year planted food, other than herbs for the first time. Finally, I live in a home with a sunny yard and plenty of space for growing food. Couple that with an interest in eating close to the earth and Mel Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening which my friend Catherine said “you have to have” and I’m good to grow.
My husband seems to be able to build anything these days. I guess he’s accumulated adequate wood working equipment and confidence to take on our property with cedar planks and galvanized nails. With Mel as our guide we got the beds built and filled with soil. When I say “guide” I really mean it. We followed his advice word for word. Making the soil felt familiar – a recipe of five ingredients that make up the perfect balance of nutrition, pH, moisture and oxygen.
Mel has practice growing food enough over his 30-some years of doing it that he’s got it down to just 6 inches of soil in a 4 foot by 4 foot or larger raised bed. I haven’t asked, but guess that a real farmer would scoff at just 6 inches of healthy soil. With the right blend of perlite, peat and several types of compost and no compacting, keep it light and airy, we should have a bounty.
A bounty of plant starts are in the farmers markets right now, since the last frost has past. In late March I planted food sturdy for cool temps, fava beans, garlic, lettuce, snap peas and three kinds of …wait for it… kale. I’ve been harvesting lettuce and kale for about three weeks now. Flowers are blooming on the fava and peas, shy smiling faces of what’s to come.
More recently I put in tomatoes and sweet peppers. I still have space for lemon cucumbers, eggplant and yes, I’ll plant a zucchini, but just one.
No, I’m not a farmer, they get up early, do back-breaking chores all day, are super knowledgeable about plants, worry about weather and pests and spend most of their lives outside. Ahh, I envy that. My food mostly comes from them; I like to leave challenging and precise work to the professionals. My little bit of backyard food growing is enjoyable, makes me feel connected to the earth and a tad closer to a farmer.