Grow Some Food, it will make you feel better.
Joel Salatin, the delightfully cranky organic farmer, wrote in his 2012 book Folks, This Ain’t Normal that our food, “this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy.”
I highly recommend reading the entire book, but to boil it down to one simple point, Salatin reminds us that grocery stores are only about 50 years old. Prior to that, our palates and our nutritional intake were largely determined by what foods were local and in season.
What is more, people were familiar with food production and either grew their own and/or procured it from farmers and ranchers who were known to them. What I also took from his writings is that such an essential life function as producing food is naturally tied to our mental well being.
Admittedly, my gardening efforts have been sporadic, but this year I am doubling down on things that I have grown successfully in the past. Things that are almost foolproof. Digging in the dirt makes me feel better about … well, everything that is going on. The fact that my son and I both have asthma, so are more at risk from the coronavirus. The fact that I’m a teacher for special needs children, but school is closed indefinitely, and I miss the students.
Here are my top three recommendations for growing some food, from least demanding to slightly more demanding.
1. Potatoes in pots
Ok, this is easy. Order seed potatoes online, or go to your local hardware or feed store. Let the eyes sprout and cut them apart (or, if you’re lazy like me and it’s a small seed potato, plant the whole thing). Plant in early spring (or fall) in pots or in “grow bags.” These are breathable fabric bags that are amazing because they allow oxygen to get to the roots. They really do make for healthier, bigger plants. But if you can’t get grow bags, don’t worry, just grab any large pot. Keep the soil moist, but not muddy. You can wait to harvest until the vines die back in the fall and the potatoes are fully mature. Or, if you’re impatient like me, you can put your hand under the plant in about 6-8 weeks and harvest the largest of the potatoes for supper.
2. Greens everywhere
Leaf lettuce and spinach are both very satisfying to grow for two reasons: Rapid maturation and repeat harvesting. Depending on the variety, you can start enjoying lettuce in as little as 28 days, and spinach in 40 days. Sprinkle the seeds in a flower box inside or a raised bed outside. When a leaf is big enough to harvest, just pinch it off without destroying the whole plant. More leaves will grow for many weeks.
3. Chickens are not much harder
No, you don’t need a rooster to have chickens who lay eggs every day. In fact, a rooster may just stress them out, what with jumping on them when they are not in the mood, and also pulling out their feathers. I had a beautiful rooster that was very aggressive. After he put several holes in my leg with his spurs, I finally decided to give him away to a an old farmer. I was worried the rooster would injure the old man, but the farmer grabbed one of the rooster’s legs expertly and held him upside down. I SWEAR I heard the hens laughing.
The most demanding part, and it’s not bad, is when they’re little. You buy them in early spring when they are a few days old, and keep them under a warming light for a month or so. Whatever you do, buy PULLETS, not “straight run” chicks. Pullets are all female. Straight run means a mix of males and females.
Feed them crumbles formulated especially for chicks. Later, you can give them food scraps and cracked corn or layer feed, but as Kathy Shea Mormino notes in her Chicken Chick blog, at the start their needs are very specific and you'll want to go with a chick feed formulated by a reputable company..
Buy or build a hen house with an attached run for safety, or let them run around during the day. They will come back by instinct when it gets to be evening. However, if you let them roam during the day, just realize you may lose some to hawks or foxes or dogs.
In six months or so they will start laying. The eggs will be tiny at first, but quickly change to normal size.
One last thought about chickens: If you believe the conventional wisdom, they are only really productive in their first year. Yet our current adult chickens are three years old, and still going strong. So, at least from the home producer’s point of view, it can pay to be a little soft and just appreciate what develops. My favorite chicken, Speckles, always runs up to me so I can stroke her iridescent feathers. When I take time to look, her feathers are stunningly beautiful. Grow some food. You might be surprised by what you see, and it will almost certainly make you feel better.