The Dervaes family harvested over 650 pounds of produce in a single year from their own modest-sized yard last year. That is an amazing amount of food! For several years now, the Dervaeses have proved to be an inspiration to me and thousands of other people looking to wean ourselves from our grocery store dependency. Reading about their daily joys and struggles helped my confidence and my garden grow – I was not alone in my strange desire to grow all of my own food and to eat seasonally.
The vegetable garden here started in earnest when we were fortunate enough to be able to buy our neighboring property that was part of our home's original lot from 1926 to 1987. It was my goal to someday restore it to a single home lot, and garden the entire property. This was a large goal to take on immediately, so I decided to move slowly. I began by smothering half of the front yard with weed blocking fabric and mulch, and placing three raised vegetable beds in this area under the maple tree in the front yard. The spot was sunny, and it was easy to situate rain barrels and garden supplies in the small space between the houses. These beds were productive their first year, although I was not calculating the harvest. I installed two more beds last year .
This March a tornado ripped through my community, landing in my backyard! It tore out all of our century-old trees, one of which landed partially in the center of the maple tree, tearing it in two! Now I must confess, I wanted this tree GONE. Its roots were threatening to invade my raised beds, and it was shading out the last two I had made. Plus it never turned color in the fall, and it attracted squirrels, which would snack on my unripe tomatoes and bury pecans in the vegetable beds. It took a few weeks to have the trees cleared away from the previously wooded property, and then it seemed spring vegetable planting season was upon us! Luckily I had started plenty of seedlings which remained unscathed in the storm, and had plenty of wood on hand for more raised beds. It took a little re-configuration, a few new strips of metal edging and some weed cloth to cover the rest of the front yard grass. My husband--who had not previously taken an interest in the garden--helped me build five more beds and fill them with soil and amendments. In a week they were ready for planting! After building these beds, we had a new goal to grow more food in the future, and to expand the garden annually. But how much money would we eventually save by spending money to build the beds?
At the end of July, I bought a modest little kitchen weigh scale for $9.99. The scales can be calibrated, and that is all I needed – now every day when I bring in the harvest, I carefully weigh it.The scale is small, so it takes some careful piling. But in one month we have harvested 104.50 lbs. of food (and the month isn’t over yet!!). This does not include the large bucket of garlic harvested in the spring, or the ten gallon pots of lettuces and greens we harvested since January nor the first tomatoes which weighed at least 50 pounds. It’s amazing to think that of all the food we grew, it is just a fraction of the food we eat! Seeing the actual numbers helps us to find meaning in our harvest, and to consider the possibilities that an acre of land can provide – even in the heart of a large city.
Next year our plans include working on the other half of this front yard area. We want to build raised beds, plant a hedge of hardy pomegranates, add a cherry tree, some blueberries and underplant with perennial or long-growing vegetables. My mind soars with the delights of our own fruits and vegetables in season and on our plates – and the possibilities of sometime providing others with the taste of our garden at local eateries.
A simple weigh scale opened our eyes, and expanded our minds to what a garden can really do for us, and for others.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 17, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)