Because I do not yet live on the homestead of my dreams, I have very limited garden space. Not only that, but the space that I do have is in an odd shape and not situated ideally when it comes to sunlight. Sometimes I long to live up on the mountain in the cabin I fantasize about and I’m impatient for that time to finally come–but in many ways being forced by necessity into this pattern is helping me to be conscious of the process of moving from the typical American consumer-driven life-style to the off-grid sustainable organic homestead that I aspire to.
Unlike the New York socialite who chucks it all and moves to the sticks to go back to the land, I was actually brought up that way. I moved to “town” to get a college education, thinking I would go out into the world and be free of my the small provincial place where i grew up. What happened was that i went far enough away to appreciate just how special and important that lifestyle is and to realize how much I want to go back there. Well, on my own terms, I suppose. Is it possible to live sustainably AND take advantage of the comforts of a somewhat nearby city? Can one find a balance and live a bit in both worlds? I guess that’s just something I’ll have to work out as it goes.
One of the lessons that I had growing up in the middle of nowhere where the nearest hardware store, “town”, was several hours away, was the importance of using what you have. Not only that, but of finding the best ways to use it. To maximize your use of it and minimize any possible waste. One of the best ways to do this is to link several projects so that they build upon and feed each other. A lot of this end up being permaculture stuff, though I didn’t learn it in that context. I learned it from depression-age people who never threw anything away, reused absolutely everything, and consequently didn’t need much. A simple example of this is using table scraps to feed chickens who in turn fertilize the garden which creates the food that becomes table scraps.
At any rate, the less than ideal garden space is actually an opportunity in disguise. Since i have what I have (and I’m lucky to have it) I’ve been experimenting to find out how to make the best use of it. It’s kind of a game. What is the most amount of food that I can grow in the smallest footprint? How close can I get to growing all of my own food in the narrow back yard of development housing? Is it possible to be “off-grid, sustainable, and organic” in the middle of modern suburbia? What techniques will maximize this space? How will I apply the things which I have learned when I finally have a larger space? (Perhaps I won’t need as large a space as I have thought.) But, even more than that, I wonder: How could these same techniques make the lives of those in inner cities better or even change the urban landscape entirely?
With all of this in mind, I have been vertical gardening for the last several years. I have a long and narrow back yard that gets only a narrow strip of sunlight. The setup calls for a long and narrow garden. This year I am doing something a bit different. Where in the past have tried a sort of garden wall, this year I am using columns or towers. I am just starting the test phase of my first tower, but am very happy about how easy and clean the set up was, and how healthy the plants seem to be as compared to the typical first few days of my garden wall set up.