Of course, there are other constraints, including the land on which to build the garden; the time and energy available after 'making a living'; money expended in comparison to the prices of food products in the supermarkets; and skill and interest.
On the other hand there's the simple reward of unadulterated food that tastes good to excellent; the health benefits of a reasonable amount of manual labor outdoors in the sunlight; not to forget the aesthetic appeal of the garden.
Y'all may remember the seasonal gardening series that I published here during 2008:
A Temperate-climate Garden in Winter
A Belated Temperate-climate Garden in Spring
A Temperate-climate Garden in Summe[r]
I didn't write an Autumn piece, because it's mostly picking and prepping - activities that seem largely obvious to me. And I had included some of my best storage advice within the three diaries, including freezing tomatoes, herbs, and various kinds of fruit more or less whole as the base for sauces and jams, to be finished when the occasion required.
I realized then - and realize now - that these articles were very limited in application. All gardens are idiosyncratic due to differences in soil, climate, cultural norms and taboos, pests, etc. The idea was merely to demonstrate one system, to encourage folks, to throw out a few lessons-learned, and maybe to show off a bit (we love our garden).
As to the money (cost) aspect, it actually works out well enough, as long as I make one debatable assumption: the price that I pay for 'excess water' from our City's water service is all attributed to the flower gardens. Aesthetics absorbs this cost; food does not.
Beyond that, though, even the lumber and hardware for the fences, arbors, etc. are amortized in relatively few years, given the fact that we store and freeze food. If I only compared current, seasonal prices with my garden's output, it might be discouraging. But I've already dug 10 pounds of red potatoes for current use; and there are at least 30 pounds of Katahdins for Autumn and Winter. We'll freeze 40 pounds of tomatoes, 50 pounds of miscellaneous veggies for stir-fries, 40 pounds of miscellaneous fruit, and enough herbs to season everything through next Spring (plus that which we eat as it matures). During the non-growing seasons here, our stored produce supplants a fair amount of cash outflow.
Clearly, we're two older people with substantially reduced appetites, or this amount of produce would not suffice. However, I could expand the garden or cultivate more intensively, if needed. Once the investment in fences, initial cultivation, and tools is made, the ongoing expenses are minor (except for that 'excess water' that is going to the flower gardens).
However - this diary is not about gardens per se, so that is probably enough about that aspect. This diary is actually about the Doom of our Times, if you like. A little background to the discussion - and, naturally, I can only speak from my experience, so I will start with that.
First, I am prejudiced toward manual labor. That is my history, and it's my pride as well. I say that, so that you can make allowances for my lifestyle prescriptions, which are mostly about doing more manual work and relying less on mechanical leverage that depends on fossil fuels.
Second, my father came off of the farm (he sometimes seemed to wish that he was back on it), and he instilled in me a love of and respect for the land. My goals, when young, always included a rural bias. I started to head back to the land with my young family when I was 27. That, of course, meant that I was part of the long-distance daily commute for 36 years (and was, therefore, a serial polluter on a significant scale). It also meant that I built up my garden and other rural accoutrements gradually and within my means.
Third, we enjoy relatively good health for our age, which no doubt is partly a matter of events and influences beyond our control. But I think that it is also due to a conscientious application of known health principles - not to mention moderate doses of our garden produce.
Fourth, although I'm known for having strong left/liberal opinions, I maintain good relations - friendships, actually - with people that would be described in very unflattering terms on left-leaning blogs. I do this for several reasons: I actually do like and respect almost all people; I find that Christian fundamentalists, libertarians, and survivalists have some valid points and stories of their own; and we are mutually dependent in some interfaces. For instance, a friend of mine who kills Bambi's fathers in several western states - sort of a migratory hunter in the Autumn - and is a total cynic concerning state and federal governments, is my ally in attempting to bring management back to our national forests (he said yesterday that he is my "assistant agitator"). He is an over-achieving organic gardener, who sells under-priced shares in his produce to local folks, then calls in the 'gleaners' for the excess. Everywhere we go, some woman comes up and gives him a big hug for something he's done for their family recently - or in the past. Salt of the Earth, for sure. The point is that we have community of interest, and we help each other where possible.
Now - despite all of the 'love' shown our President after his somewhat equivocal speech concerning our very equivocal health insurance reform bills in Congress, we are in Big Trouble in the U.S.A. - and we're headed for worse. Here on ET, we all know the story. It's the wars and occupation in southwest Asia; it's Peak-Fossil-Fuels; it's corporatocracy; it's money-printing to pay off an extortion ring of oligopolistic financial companies; it's the Depression cycle of lost jobs -> increased poverty -> decreased consumption -> more lost jobs; it's lack of will and vision in the U.S. Congress to recreate strong regulation or to create a 'green economy'. And the list goes on.
I don't say this with any sense of vindication; though, as a Marxist, I've known where we were headed for over 40 years. I don't say this with any self-satisfaction, because, despite my current status as an unencumbered home and land owner, we are as endangered as anyone in a severe disruption of our socio-economic fabric. I do say, however, that I have not been a Chicken Little, despite my ideological certainty that this was coming to us at some point. As many ETers, I recognized the imminence of severe problems about two years ago from the data. But, several years before that, I could 'feel' the growing price inflation rate and wage stagnation (actually wage reduction, due to price inflation), and I 'knew' where it was headed, barring some unlikely political changes.
Now I should back up half a step. We here, in our little rural enclave, are not as endangered as most in case of social dissolution. That is because we have community here that - short of invasion by a large army with advanced weaponry - can, and will, fend for itself. Families will consolidate homes; unemployed members will be hunter/gatherer/gardeners (no exaggeration, I assure you); retail consumption will decline some more; travel will be reduced. The locals will expand (I was going to write "develop", but it already exists somewhat) our barter economy; small businesses, such as firewood supply, will emerge; more folks will raise pigs, chickens, and cattle; our county resources will be made available for local needs and services. It's just the way we are: communitarians, if you like.
My concern - short of that invasion possibility - is for the overwhelming portion of U.S. citizens who have lost contact with the basic skills of - what - survival? (To me they're just Basic Skills.) My concern is for those without the resources to meet Basic Needs. My concern is for folks who are surrounded by really hostile, frustrated, semi-organized assholes. (We only have a few of those here, and they're surrounded by us.) I am rather sure, though, that our community - and most communities like ours - are not going to take on the role of 'social safety net' for the urban areas. Our sense of community is somewhat tribal and somewhat xenophobic. Our population may double or triple, but it will be almost exclusively due to in-migration of family and friends.
So - while awaiting the Apocalypse, we garden and hunt and fish and have dinners with friends and enjoy our families and build things and watch the birds and enjoy the sunsets - and work on the political system. I'm the Secretary of our County Democratic Party, and I'm a WA State Central Committee member (elected). I wrote a resolution that was approved at our April meeting; I'm drafting one for our September meeting. I'm Chairman of our Local Coordinating Group for our County's Firewise (Community Wildfire Protection) Program. I'm on a Workforce Housing Committee, and I'm the secretary of our Collaborative Group on the Mt. Adams District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. (Did I mention that I retired last year? Obviously, I couldn't be an active part of all of those projects, if I was still working for a living.)
Mirta and I have hosted 3 meetings of the White House/Democratic National Committee's grassroots organization - Organizing for America - to discuss and give feedback on national issues in 2009. Mirta hosted a benefit party and raised $500 for our County's Food Bank. I could add a whole bunch more examples, but you get the idea. What's the point?
The point is that those are the kind of activities that build community. Sure, I bite my tongue occasionally to try to prevent personality issues from dominating over substantive matters. (It gets easier as I get older - must be reduced testosterone.) And I'm not saying that everybody loves me, either. (However, everyone does love Mirta.) I'm pointing out that community and political activism are - or can be - entree into the give and take of community life. Of course, one pays one's dues. I made a few enemies 25 years ago, when I started to advocate tourism development to mitigate the economic impact of declining resource extraction in our County. But I made more friends than enemies; events proved the opinion; the animus faded; and we're all just community members nowadays.
Plus, the participation in Democratic Party politics is not only a team-building exercise. Likelihood of success may be remote, but - who knows? - one of these days our state's elected officials may decide to align with our WA State Democratic Party Platform. If they were to comply, we would have strong voices for immediate withdrawal from Southwest Asia; for single-payer, universal health-care insurance; for 'fair trade' rather than 'free trade'; for sustainable agricultural practices; for accelerated development of renewable-energy resources; for full-spectrum Civil Rights; for Good in general. It's worth the time and energy to make an attempt to close the gap between the documented policy and program prescriptions of our Party's grassroots representatives and the legislative (and executive) actions of our - allegedly - partisan elected officials.
The other ingredient to survival in Doom times is the physical reality: resources, skills, energy, and so on - which gets us back to my starting point. All of these matters require infrastructure and some planning. Out here, we have the basic infrastructure: e.g., dirt, trees, wildlife, skills, and tools.
For example, although our County is 96% forested and mountainous, we have enough benchland to grow enough canola to supply bio-diesel to run a bus to carry the senior citizens to their appointments and the emergency-services vehicles to take accident victims to the hospital and the basic farm and forest implements to do the heavy work. With 'winter canola' we can double-crop with veggies in the Summer. After thinning the tree 'plantations' for lumber and firewood, we can run livestock in the forests, as in the old days.
To husband the diesel, we have a substantial number of bicycle riders here. Obviously, more of us would have to work on our butt calluses, but I can easily bike to Hood River and back in a day. Pushing it, I can make it to Vancouver or Portland and back. If we run out of gasoline for our chain saws, we still have 'misery whips' and axes around here. And, despite the fact that I would be sore for a week after a day's worth of such work, I would have enough firewood on the ground for a Winter season. If electricity supply becomes problematic, we can go back from freezing to drying and canning - but some of us actually have the systems in place to supply some basic level of solar- or wind-derived electricity for our immediate needs. (Might have to go back to harvesting and storing ice from nearby lakes in Winter; but, as the name of our nearby "Icehouse Lake" implies, that's doable, too.)
Where does the "planning" apply? Essentially, it's implied in the time spent on skill development, fitness maintenance, infrastructure provision - and community esprit enhancement. What is your plan?
That's my message for fellow USians. It's never too late, until it's too late, to paraphrase a great American philosopher. As for you Yurpians - please be ready to open the door to your friends, just in case. I'm staying with my ship in any case - except for visits - but there may be refugees from less hospitable regions who will need your indulgence, and sooner than we like to contemplate.