What Will We Garden: The Search for Healthy Local Plants, Part 1

| 6/9/2010 3:50:03 PM

Tags: Nursery shopping, USDA Hardiness Zones, Garden centers, Choosing the right plants,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgBack in February, I attended a program at the local college titled, “What Will We Eat: The Search for Healthy Local Food.” The answer to the question sounds pretty obvious: you go to a local store, fruit market, or farm, and buy healthy, locally grown or produced food, and Voila! Search over. There was more to the program though; after watching a short film of the same name, there was a discussion led by a panel of organic small farmers, and local Transition Initiative members.

Those in attendance heard history about how we ended up getting so detached from our food, the need for community involvement to reinvent our food system, and how we need to think about where our food comes from; it would not only produce a healthier lifestyle, but also healthier communities, both socially and economically.

Currently in this country, there’s disconnection between consumers and local farms. People should – and want – to know their farmers. Buying local bridges that distance, bringing communities closer together. Economically, communities are revitalized as money is recycled back into the local system – an average of 80 cents per dollar. It’s not just agricultural businesses – the same is true of all locally produced goods. Horticultural businesses are another example. Do you know where your plants come from?

Where are your plants grown?

A Sunday afternoon in early April, Keith and I went on a date to the home improvement box-store (both of us work full time, and often more than 5 minutes spent together without the kids is considered a “date”). We wanted to get fencing for the vegetable garden before it was time to plant. On the way to the fencing, we passed through a flurry of activity – the store’s garden center had just opened for the season. Shasta daisies, perennial salvia, and daylilies were in full bloom. Hostas were fully leafed out. Hanging baskets of impatiens and petunias flew off the shelves into people’s carts. Petunias!!! In April! In Michigan! If I would have looked, I probably would have found tomato and pepper plants, too.

I didn’t have time to look, though. Keith quickly ushered me passed the plants and on to the fencing section of the store ... not because I’d have the urge to buy something, but because I’m sure he was afraid I’d warn people that it was way too early for daisies to be blooming and to put annuals outside. Shoot, our perennials at the nursery were just starting to poke their noses out of the ground after winter.

michelle house
6/26/2010 1:24:05 PM

Cindy, it is the good stuff that rubbed off on me. lol. The teepee is getting there, really dry here, so I gotta water alot. Hugs Michelle

cindy murphy
6/23/2010 3:23:02 PM

Hey, Michelle. That thing that rubbed off on you - I hope you consider it a good influence and not a bad one. Let me know when you run out of containers and are still buying plants - I'll send in reinforcements. There has to be a Plant Buyers Anonymous or some such support group. Hope your teepee for the grandkids grows big and lush. Our bean teepee in the kid's garden at work is underwater with all the rain we've had.

michelle house
6/23/2010 1:38:28 PM

Hi Cindy, nice article, I am doing some container gardening this year, bought some lavender plants, and am growing a plant teepee for the grands. Your love of gardening has rubbed off on me. lol Hugs Michelle

cindy murphy
6/10/2010 9:29:36 PM

Hi, Dave. It would seem you are right in that if you would have waited until it was actually time to plant your tomatoes, all that might have been left would be a few stragglers that have been passed over by everyone else - Charlie Brown tomato plants. We were just talking about this the other day at work. I hate to keep placing blame on the box-stores, but they start earlier and earlier each year with annuals and vegetables. Local nurseries and growers - although they don't start nearly as early as the box-stores - have upped the date annuals are for sale just to remain competitive. It used to be not so long ago, that annual season didn't even start here until Memorial Day weekend, and went through July 4th. Now, we get our first hanging baskets, and potted geraniums in for Mother's Day weekend, and it continues with the rest full blast for the rest of May. Here it is, not even mid-June, and annual and bedding plant season is already trickling to a close. People who normally wait (as the temperatures would indicate they should) until Memorial Day will have a hard time finding everything they're looking for. That's why I scooped up those begonias when I first saw them - I knew they'd be gone if I waited. It's kind of sad, actually - it's as if we've been conditioned to think we need to have it now, instead of having the patience to wait until it's time.

nebraska dave
6/10/2010 2:31:25 PM

Cindy, thanks for the mountain of information. It will take me awhile to read through and digest it all. I’ve discovered even if the hot weather plants can be put out in the garden many times the soil temperature will not be warm enough and all the plants do is sit there shivering wondering what place they have come to. With the cold Spring and as you say the early sale of plants. I’m forced to buy tomatoes and peppers earlier than I should or face the scraggly left over plants because all the uninformed gardens have bought the best looking plants to die of frost bite. I care for them until the weather actually warms up enough to set them out. They decorated the Poor Man’s Patio during the day and decorated the foyer during the night for a good two weeks. They just seem to do better if the soil has warmed up a bit before putting them out to fend for them selves. I’m not sure about where my plants came from but I know the nursery that I bought them from is a family nursery that’s been in business for almost 40 years. They have the best looking plants for miles around. Their plants have always produced well for me. It’s also the most reasonable priced plants and really is the best of both worlds. This was great post as usual. Thank you for always sharing your wisdom in the plant world.

cindy murphy
6/10/2010 9:59:25 AM

You're canning beans already, Pam?!!! Our first planting...or I should say what's left of our first planting, because the rabbits bit of nearly every plant down to the quick almost as soon as they sprouted...is only about three inches tall; sucessive plantings over a period of two weeks have come up, and are just one or two inches out of the ground. Just goes to show the big difference in our zones. Glad to hear your garden is doing great. After the rabbit incident with our beans, and our mustard greens bolting early, I hope we can pull out a good rest of the season too! You have a great day also.

6/10/2010 9:28:44 AM

Hi Cindy, I usually grow my tomatoes from seeds but this year decided to buy some plants at the feed and seed store when we bought out garden seeds. We planted the tomatoes when we planted the garden in middle April. Those were the most pitiful looking plants I ever saw. 2 weeks later they were still the same size as when I planted them. They had plenty of compost, too. We ended up replacing most of them. Next year I know I will be getting my tomato seeds going early. Loved your article. We are right on that middle Ga. zone on the map. This year-no late frost and the garden is doing great. I am canning green beans right this minute! Have a great day. Pam

cindy murphy
6/10/2010 9:19:45 AM

I'm sure you're right, Shannon; after a long winter, people can't wait to have some color in their yard, and feel like they are getting a jump-start on the season if they get their tomatoes in early (especially in climates like ours, when the growing season is short). The problem, though, is that many customers, seeing the plants for sale too early, are under the impression that because they are being offered in the stores, that it's okay to plant at that time. Misinformed garden center employees compound the problem by supplying incorrect information. Sigh. If I had a nickel for everytime a customer asked why we didn't have geraniums in March or April like the box-stores did, I wouldn't need to be wearing the winter coat I still had on at that time....because I'd have enough money to vacation somewhere warm! Thanks for stopping by.

cindy murphy
6/10/2010 9:01:59 AM

Thanks for your comments, Mountain Woman. Start saving those plastic milk jugs! I think you'd have quite a demand for your tomato plants if you sold them at a farmer's market next year. At the nursery, we don't grown our own annuals or vegetable plants, but buy them in from local growers. One of our growers supplies us with nice big and fat tomato plants he grows in milk jugs with the tops cut off (handle still attached for easy transporting). Beautiful plants, and they sell in no time. I think with organically grown heirloom varieties, you'd be quite a hit at the farm markets! Enjoy your day.

s.m.r. saia
6/10/2010 6:11:25 AM

Cindy, thanks for this very interesting and useful post. I think that putting all these plants out so early is to capture the business of those that just can't wait for spring anymore (um...guilty). However, even feeling that way, I know better than to set my summer veggies out before I can be sure that a frost won't kill them. I will say that (more so in the past than now) I've figured that it must be the right time for plants or they wouldn't be there for sale...I see now how very wrong this is. Can't wait to read the second part.

mountain woman
6/10/2010 5:42:20 AM

What a great, informative article. I sure wish I had you around years ago when I was making every mistake you mentioned. Now, with Mountain Man, it's so different for me. We were in a big box store a couple of weeks ago and they had their tomato plants out. What scraggly, unhealthy things they were and they were over $5.00 for a tiny, unhealthy plant. I thought of my beautiful tomatoes, so lush and green, that I had grown from a local organic seeds. What a difference. We are building a bigger greenhouse and I'm expanding my planting as well. This year all my extra plants went to friends but I'm thinking of selling them next year especially after I saw the cost and condition of the big box store ones. Your article points out reasons it is so important to be familiar with your environment, to think and shop locally and to be an advocate for planting only those species which are belong to an area. Beautiful photos as well. I really enjoy your posts. I always learn quite a bit from you and leave feeling enriched.

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