Updated: Mar 8, 2019
The First of March. That time of year when we feel we can almost glimpse spring ahead. And yet, if you've lived in Alberta long enough you know to reign in your enthusiasm - the season of frost may be easing up a touch, but it will be with us for at least another month or two. Perfect timing, then, that just as the charm of winter's quiet and coziness is wearing thin, we have the happy task of planning for this year's spring plantings. If you haven't already, you may soon be setting seed to soil for a head start in a sunny window somewhere.
How do you choose what will occupy your yard and garden space each year? Do you base it off what you and your family most enjoy eating? Do you experiment with an unusual vegetable or prefer to stick to the tried and true? Maybe a touch of nostalgia has you planting what you remember plucking from the garden as a child?
But, since it's food we're bringing forth after all, what about the notion of planting to fully fuel our bodies? Part of my approach this year has been to consider the major nutrients we require for survival: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Given that we cannot survive on salad (and cooked veggies) alone, I've wondered what it would look like to have a garden that better reflected our full spectrum of needs. Could each major nutrient group be supplied even in some small way from our yard?
To be clear, I'm not imagining that all my family's dietary needs could be derived from our urban lot. Last year, with this idea in its infancy, I grew enough corn for one small pan of cornbread and enough beans for a modest meal of baked beans for three - not exactly full self-sufficiency! Rather, I'm approaching this with curiosity and a spirit of experimentation. The idea of learning to provide a better cross-section of human nutrition has its appeal, both philosophically and practically. For now, we have an elaborate global system of food production and distribution we can rely on for almost anything edible (some of it questionably so!). So the stakes aren't high for my horticultural dabbling. But should that system be interrupted or simply cease to be viable, the knowledge garnered from growing a broad range of sustenance for ourselves will be valuable. In the meantime, it's compelling to think of sitting down (even if just a handful of times) to a well-balanced meal, each element of which came from the soil outside our door.
Here are some of the garden candidates I'm exploring for this year and years to come:
CARBOHYDRATES: Most of our typical garden veggies and perennial fruits fall under this umbrella, but more specifically I'm looking at carbs that are starches (non-grain starches, that is, since both the area and harvesting effort required for grains feel beyond the feasibility of our urban project)
-Squash (in particular, a couple of small, early-maturing varieties)
-Flour corn and popcorn (heritage varieties)
-Groundnut (a perennial potato-like tuber eaten by First Nations)
-Potatoes (exploring interesting and locally-adapted varieties) & root veggies
-Hazelnuts (a variety suited to our growing zone)
-Seeds (sunflowers and poppies chosen specifically for edibility)
-Hazelnuts and Seeds (both fats and proteins)
-Legumes (dried beans such as Orca beans, edamame, maybe
lentils or chickpeas)
-Mushrooms (eg. cultivated Oyster and Stropharia - not a complete protein,
but generally high in it)
-Plant varieties can be chosen for higher protein content (eg. popcorn has
more protein than sweet corn; groundnut has more than potato)
Being a conscious omnivore, an obvious consideration for this category becomes animal products. In order of most to least likely, our system could conceivably one day include: chickens for eggs/meat, rabbits, fish in an aquaponics set-up, or insects (I have to say, that one's stretching my comfort zone...they're not bad freeze-dried, but my own fresh ones, hmmm...). Ironically, the likelihood of our municipality allowing each of these things would probably fall in reverse order.
I have a hunch that diversifying the nutrients we coax from our yard will mean a corresponding diversification in other ways - in soil biology, in nutrients drawn from the soil and returned to it, in ecosystem relationships. Only experience will tell. Here's to a March spent hatching plans for summer's bounty in whatever way you choose to do it!