Tomorrow, the New Haven Land Trust holds its annual Urban Gardening Conference. A wonderful mix of gardeners and farmers from the city and the suburbs, students from public schools and local universities, as well as interested community members will attend workshops and learn from each other. The diversity of gardening and culinary traditions at the conference is one of its highlights.
Participants will hear about good bugs and bad bugs, about using perennial flowers in the garden and they'll learn how to start their own seedlings. Other workshops include starting a community garden, working with kids in the garden, foraging for wild herbs and basic organic gardening.
The Urban Gardening Conference provides a friendly opportunity to learn more about growing some of your own food and to experience the enthusiasm and hope that wells up in gardeners at this time of year. The seed catalogs are arriving. The days are getting longer. In about a month, it will be time to start onions, Brussels sprouts and some herbs - the first seedlings for this year's garden. Once they're started, the growth of these small plants pulls us cheerfully toward the warmer days when they will be transplanted into the ground.
Now's the time to start planning your garden for this year. In the midst of all this icy cold, visions of delicious, fresh vegetables provide a bright contrast. There are very few endeavors, aside from growing more of our own food, which can provide so many benefits to our health, well-being and to the environment. The latest dietary guidelines which suggest eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and getting regular exercise are practically mandates to garden.
Our growing connects us to the healthiest and tastiest food, as it provides enjoyable and productive exercise. Gardening also leads us to an awareness of the fertility of the soil, the exquisite workings of seeds, and the wonders of green plants and ecosystems.
And, we begin to reap the benefits no matter how small we start. A four-foot square bed of greens in the front yard, a "Sweet 100" cherry tomato plant in a plastic bucket on a fire escape, or even sprouts growing in a jar on the kitchen counter improve our diets.
Be sure to grow vegetables you really like, say sugar snap peas, large juicy tomatoes, great quantities of basil or frilly-red lettuce. Take good care of your crop using hand tools and organic methods, of course. They are less expensive and better for you and the environment. It's difficult to enjoy the smell of the earth and the sounds of birds over the roar and stink of a rototiller. If you are growing vegetables for better health, it doesn't make sense to use toxic substances like pesticides. It does, however, make sense to have a compost pile to turn organic wastes into the fertile soil that you'll need.
Gardens and local farms are essential if we expect to reduce the energy use, material waste, and the widespread damage to human and environmental health caused by our current food and agricultural system. Although it's easy to buy a burger, a soda, French fries and potato chips almost everywhere these days, fresh, organic vegetables are most easily obtained from a garden near home.
If you're new to gardening, or want to learn more, there are other opportunities besides tomorrow's conference in New Haven. The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (NOFA) is sponsoring a conference next Saturday for farmers who would like to make the transition from conventional to certified organic agriculture. There are other conferences in February and March, as well as courses at garden centers, community colleges and through the University of Connecticut.
If you'd rather curl up with a good book to learn about gardening, Eliot Coleman and John Jeavons are two great sources.
For more information about the Urban Gardening Conference, call 466-7701 in New Haven. For a listing of some of our favorite gardening books, more about this winter's conferences and a list of interesting regional seed sources, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Plan to garden, WSHU, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, CT 06432.
Plan to garden this year.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1997 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.