"I believe you ought to raise everything you can raise," Sarah McDaniel explained about growing your family’s food. "It may take a little work but it’s easy once you get started."
If you factor in that Sarah is the "young" age of 81, confined to a wheelchair and lives in a small apartment in a complex near downtown Oneonta, you might wonder just how Sarah can grow anything easily.
"Just take for instance," Sarah continued, "You can grow onions in just about any old container. You could even plant them in a pan or a bowl! Those little green onions are awfully good!"
Many have marveled at Sarah’s garden this year. She raised everything from tomatoes to onions to figs in containers (buckets, flower pots, flower trays and anything else she’d come across) lining the sidewalk leading to her small apartment. And those vegetables have been complemented by huge daylilies and other flowers which are "food for the soul," Sarah said.
The majority of her seeds and plants were bought at the Blount County Farmers Co-op, but with some other plants bought from other stores "when I’d see something I just had to have," Sarah laughed.
Throughout the hot days of summer, Sarah planted, watered, thinned, pruned, fertilized and gathered as she rolled carefully along the sidewalk in her wheelchair. And she had enough to share and some to can!
"When I was just a little bitty thing, my daddy said, ‘Baby, I think you need a garden,’" Sarah remembered. "He plowed me a little corner and laid out the rows. I had everything, squash, cucumbers, beans, butterbeans, just about everything they had in the big garden. And it was the cleanest little garden you’ve ever seen."
"Now I don’t call this much of a garden," Sarah said of her containers lining the walkway compared to the gardens she raised near Susan Moore while she and her husband were raising their five children and when she canned 800 quarts of fruits and vegetables in ONE year.
"But these did all right this year," she noted. "Especially them little onions were mighty good."
Rev. Berry Faust and his wife Linda also live inside the Oneonta city limits, but on about an acre lot in an attractive two story-brick home they bought about 14 years ago.
Bro. Berry, who pastors Turning Pointe United Methodist Church at Locust Fork, grew up on a "chicken farm near Rosa," but can’t remember his family having a vegetable garden but once during his growing-up years.
But Linda, a Registered Nurse and office manager for a physician at St. Vincent’s Blount, was raised on a farm near Nectar.
Bro. Berry and Linda decided to have their first garden this year "because we love fresh food, and because I took early retirement from Thompson Tractor so now have a little more time," Bro. Berry explained.
In a 24x30-foot plot in their sloping, fenced backyard, the couple grew squash, okra, bush beans, tomatoes, field peas and peppers.
While tilling up the patch, Bro. Berry found slabs of concrete with attached tiles. He then learned his garden patch, and his home, were at the site of the old Harris Dairy, which had been torn down years ago.
That was likely the reason the small garden needed little fertilizer this year, but provided an abundance of food which the Fausts canned, froze and gave away.
Whether it’s simply a hanging upside-down tomato planter on apartment balconies or squash growing in what used to be simply flower beds, you may have noticed more and more folks had garden plots this past year.
Many like the Fausts had never gardened before or many like Sarah were returning to gardening after many years.
Just about all we’ve interviewed noted the desire for fresh food whose origin they didn’t have to worry about AND a desire to save money on their grocery bills because of the downswing in the economy.
One grocery store manager noted they were continually restocking their shelves with canning jars, lids and rings this year, a trend beginning in the summers of 2008 and 2009 but continued increasing even more this past summer.
If you type "urban gardening" or "urban homesteading" into any computer search engine, there will be hundreds of sites, many concerning organizations of folks in larger cities who are banning together to fight zoning laws when need be so they can grow food for their families on lawns which previously featured manufactured inedible greenery.
Even though it’s fall now and rapidly approaching winter, many I talked to are already planning next year’s garden, whether it’s a "patch out back" or some buckets and pots on a balcony or along the sidewalk.
"We learned by experience," Bro. Berry explained. "We put in 20 pepper plants when we only needed five."
If you have a garden plot, now may be the time to till in fertilizer to get it ready for next spring’s planting. Or you may be considering raised beds, which are ideal for the less agile and for those who have small spaces. Experts at your local Co-op store are ready with advice about fall planting AND planning for next spring.
This website from Alabama Cooperative Extension Service http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/ A/ANR-1345/ANR-1345.pdf explains just about everything you need to build simple raised beds, which is an option for many with small spaces.
That brochure notes "raised bed gardening is a convenient and easy way to produce homegrown vegetables. Unlike traditional in-ground gardening where lots of space is usually required, raised bed gardening is a perfect alternative for people who cannot garden due to limited garden space, poor or rocky soil inadequate soil drainage, or physical limitations."
Raised beds can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, so they can be built from things you have on-hand to things you buy.
Likewise http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1139/ tells you all you need to know about container gardening, including what plants are best for what size containers.
If you don’t have computer access, you can visit your local Extension service office to get copies of these brochures. (Thanks to Blount County’s Dan Porch for providing this info!)
Some of my late mother’s friends remember how practically everyone, even in the largest Alabama cities, cultivated "Victory Gardens" during World War II.
One of those ladies told me recently, "We’re fighting a different kind of war now, sometimes just providing food for our families. We need to remember our roots, so to speak, and know that for just a few dollars in seeds and a little effort, we can make a huge dent in our families’ food bills. And maybe have some to share as well."
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer who lives in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.