Watch My Food Grow ~ A South Florida Raised Vegetable Garden

Florida Backyard Raised Vegetable Garden

New Feature: People Who Hate My Garden

February 12th, 2009 by Matthew Steinhoff

Heretics, all of them. Doubters. These people or agencies, through active or passive means, hate my garden. They shall be smote and my vegetables will rise up and overgrow the land.

First Vegetable Hater: My Very Own Uncle Mark

Uncle Mark: Hater of Vegetables and Corporate InfiltratorI guess this attack is to be expected. Uncle Mark works for Big Food — a large, regional supermarket. Anyway, here is how he is seeking to destroy my garden:

I would be interested to see a cost analysis of this project from beginning to end. I know, you can’t really factor in fun, but you do have supermarkets down there that carry good produce don’t you?

Not exactly subtle!

His main points:

  • Good food is a rich man’s hobby.
  • Supermarkets have good produce.

It Isn’t Expensive to Grow Your Own Food

Tim Whelan, owner of Art by Nature Garden Center, explains vegetables.I had the plywood and other construction materials leftover from hurricane season and Art By Nature Garden Center donated the plants. (The reason? So I’ll mention Art By Nature Garden Center on a regular basis.)

So far, I’m out of pocket $16.48 for the weed control cloth and $20 for the trailer load of dirt. (And $75 for the Linksys webcam, which you’ll hear more about soon.) If I had to buy the plywood and plants, too, my tab would be about $200 to get to where I am now (not including the webcam).

I just checked Freecycle and found two people within 15 miles who are giving away lawn timbers that could be used to build the raised vegetable garden. So, that would cut my expenses back by $50. Now I just need to find a pound of nails and some plants.

Plants Can Be Had By Networking — Seeds are Cheap

While I started my garden with already growing plants, I could have used seeds which cost $2.00 a packet. A packet of seeds is enough to feed a family of eight for an entire season, more or less. I cheated but if I wanted to lower my up-front costs further, I could have gone the seeds route.

I’m also finding that gardeners love to share plants. Now that I have a garden, neighbors I have never seen before are chatting me up and offering to show me their plants and trade stuff. We’ll see. Right now, my garden is land-locked and I haven’t gotten around to building the annex yet.

Water, Electricity, Fertilizer, Etc.

Water is my main concern. I’m out there pretty much every day hosing down the garden. I haven’t gotten my first full garden water bill yet. I’ll let you know.

Supermarkets Have Good Produce?

Rise Up and Join the Resistance Against Big FoodReally?

Artificial flavors. Artificial colors. Genetically modified. No pretty ribbons. Maybe not even grown in the Good Old United States of these here Americas.

My bananas (from South America, which isn’t the same as Real, God-Lovin’ America), have a little sticker on them that says ‘may contain actual banana flavor’. What does that even mean?!?!

Nope. Not for me. Not anymore. Corporate produce is the way The Man keeps us down. Who knows what the government is injecting in our cucumbers?

It’s not too late, Mark. I’ll send you some seeds. Once the ground around your house thaws out, you’ll be ready to plant your own garden.

—Farmer Matt

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8 responses so far ↓

  • My biggest stumbling block when it comes to growing my own food has been, sadly enough, purely aesthetic.

    Yes, Mark, we have a nice grocery store with a gorgeous produce section.

    So gorgeous, in fact, that I caught myself fondling the cilantro the day after we’d planted our own. I needed some for a batch of black-and-white chili. I had some in my own garden. I’d used it the night before on pulled pork tacos.

    And yet, here I was, admiring the grocery store cilantro. It was bundled up so nicely, like an herb bouquet. It sparkled from having just been sprayed down. And it was GREEN! My God, how do they get it so GREEN!?

    I’m proud to say I resisted the siren song of grocery store cilantro. My cilantro is growing up very nicely. It’s green. It’s delicious. It doesn’t quite look like I’d find it in a magazine layout, but so what?

    Now, don’t get me started on the home-grown tomatoes. Ugly little bastards they are.

  • Miz Sarah, Mam,

    I found out why the produce lo0ks so green in the Big Super Market the first time I had a color photo assignment in a local Publix store.

    The lights in the produce department have a green cast; the ones in the meat counter shade to the red and the ones in the bakery are yellowish.

    Oh, yeah, the lights in a funeral home are warm-colored, too.

    It’s all about marketing.

  • And just a side note, if you go to say, the big healthy “whole” food markets, they charge ALOT of the organic produce and you still aren’t sure if its organic, really.
    You get the pleasure of knowing you grew it, what’s in it, and the taste is almost always better, because you get to actually let it ripen on the vine, instead of lopping it off prematurely so it can survive the rigors of transport.
    Also, you’re helping teach future generations how to grow food, which is something that is getting so lost just by a generation or two.
    I’m am SO for the homegrown garden.

  • Back in the 70s, I was doing photos to illustrate a newspaper story about family farmers in the Glades.

    Shortly after I shot this picture

    the farmer showed me a corn borer, a small worm, that had been eating the ear.

    When he crushed it between his thumb and forefinger, I realized that this was the difference between corporate farming and the small farmer: in this field, it was one man against one worm.

  • I don’t understand how small growers can compete. Big agribiz, buying fertilizer, fuel and such by the trainload, can get by much cheaper and thus afford to sell much cheaper.

    I also don’t understand why they insist on altering “fresh” produce. I brought home some cucumbers the other day that had so much wax coating them, they felt like bars of soap.

    And Laine’s right, the labeling rules are pretty lax. Their “organic” may be nowhere near the same as how you understand the word.

    • It’s not about competing. Matt’s garden is about growing your own and being somewhat self-sufficient, and having the satisfaction of eating a food you produced.

  • Food is politics – pure and simple, and it’s too giant of an argument for me to waste my time.
    Bottom line: we’ve gotten used to generic, rock-hard tomatoes that can be shipped halfway around the world. Those ugly tomatoes (Florida has trademarked the name Ugli for a new breed of an old breed) are indeed more flavorful.
    Why does it cost more? Do the math: You’re not dumping tons of unnatural fertilizers (you’re using manure tea right Matt?), and pesticides to produce a million-foot field of tomatoes that look exactly alike. A third of your tomatoes may rot or be inedible — there goes the cost.
    But they sure as hell taste great — like a real tomato, which we’ve also forgotten about.
    Bigger is better: the more you grow, the less it will cost, of course.
    But one 5-gallon bucket and one Big Boy or Homestead tomato plant (cost: free 5-gallon bucket, $1 for dirt, $7 for plant) can yield well over 80 pounds of fat, homegrown tomatoes at 10 cents a pound.
    Satisfaction of locking your lip around a fresh tomato sandwich oozing with real tomato juice? Priceless!

  • Jan, Jan, Jan,

    Manure tea is a bad idea. You have no idea how long it took to toilet train Farmer Matt. We don’t want to do anything that would cause him to forget those skills.

    Now, there’s always four-year-old Malcolm…