I harvested the first radishes from my new garden earlier this week. Not everyone loves radishes, but we do, and these are the first crop from a new garden in a new yard, with different soil and in an unfamiliar climate zone. They also are the first organically-grown radishes we’ve seen since the pandemic kicked into action.
The news is full of stories about problems with the food supply chain that have resulted from the pandemic and lockdowns.
Evidence of the supply-chain problems that all of us can see is in the grocery stores. Their shelves have carried fewer items, and less variety, than they did only a couple of months ago. As my Louisiana sister says, her shopping list has become a wish list.
We are not the only ones, I know, who have decided to enlarge the vegetable garden, to make sure that we will, at least, have some fresh vegetables while the food-supply chain gets unkinked. We also have been growing sprouts and microgreens, to help our groceries stretch a little further.
Sprouts and microgreens
We grow sprouts even when there isn’t a pandemic, so we already had jars and the sprouting lids. In the picture above, the large jar is a half-gallon size, and it is growing a mix of sprouts that includes radishes, alfalfa, and some other seeds. The smaller jar has mung bean sprouts.
When sprouts in a jar reach our preferred level of maturity, Joe shakes off as much of the water as he can, puts the dry-ish sprouts in a fresh container in the fridge, and then he starts a new batch of sprouts in the (cleaned) jar. He has observed that if the sprouts are very wet when they go into the fridge, they don’t stay fresh as long.
Joe is especially fond of sprouts, so he makes sure that we have a steady supply and that they are high quality.
We buy seeds for sprouts by the pound; a pound of seeds makes a lot of sprouts and lasts a long time. We did order more seeds a couple of weeks ago, and the selection at that time was limited. I have seen, though, that a supplier for Amazon.com currently has alfalfa seeds for sprouting.
We had seeds for microgreens already, too, but Joe built the box out of a fence-board that he found lying on the ground (with some other fence boards) by the back fence. The “soil” is a mix of compost, sand, and organic potting mix (equal parts), since my supplies of each, except for sand, are low. I have grown microgreens successfully in organic potting mix and in plain compost.
Edibles in Containers
One of the first crops I ever grew — decades ago — was cucumbers, and they were planted in pots on a front porch. The porch was “old-timey”, with metal scrollwork supports holding the roof-overhang in front of the door. The cucumber vines climbed up the scrollwork, and they made a surprisingly large number of cucumbers.
Some new gardeners, or gardeners with limited space, might want to expand their food-growing for the pandemic by planting in containers. Plenty of people grow vegetables in containers with good success. Here are some examples:
Gardeners who are rigging up their own growing containers should keep some guidelines in mind:
- Provide drainage holes in the bottom, so the containers don’t fill with water in a big rain and drown the plants.
- Use a potting mix designed for outdoor plants, or a good compost, to fill the containers. If in a windy area, add some sand to the mix, to make it heavy-enough that the container stays upright.
- Match the size of the full-grown plant to the container. Minimum size for a tomato plant is a five-gallon bucket, and that is a bit tight. Peppers and eggplants can do well in slightly smaller containers.
- Container-grown crops will need more watering, more often, than in-ground crops.
- If growth and production seem to stop, while the plants don’t seem diseased and the weather is not super-hot (which can slow plants down), they may just need some fertilizer to resume growing.
- If the potting mix used in containers already contains fertilizer — it will say on the bag — don’t add more unless it is needed (see note above). Too much fertilizer can promote spectacular leafy growth, but it can also stop the plant from making things like the tomatoes or peppers that you planted it for.
How important is it to grow vegetables right now?
We are living in a weird time, and some of that weirdness has caused losses in the global food supply. An example in the Southeastern US was described by Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried in a Covid-19 crop assessment report, which listed crop losses for her state. These include:
- 75% of the lettuce crop
- 50-75% of the green bean crop
- almost 100% of the cabbage crop
- possibly 20-25% of the pepper crop
- potentially the entire cucumber crop
The losses are not from pests or diseases, but are from crops being plowed under rather than harvested. The usual buyers are not buying, and there is no profit in the harvest.
Florida is not the entire world, but Fried’s report provides a snapshot of the kinds of losses that can occur elsewhere. Most of these lost vegetables in Florida would have ended up in restaurants, schools, and other parts of the food service industry; they would not have been sent to grocery stores.
Shifting the destinations, from food processors to grocery stores, for instance, for all of these vegetables is not easy, apparently, which means that if we want to enjoy plenty of fresh vegetables, foods that support our good health, then we might want to grow a few of them ourselves.
How much can we grow?
Most of us can’t grow a whole lot, certainly not even all of our own family’s vegetables. I saw a recent article about an examination of the food-growing potential for Sheffield, England, and it determined that Sheffield could, if it used all the available gardens and greenspace, provide the recommended five-servings of vegetables per day for 15% of its people.
In other words, the food-growing potential is large, but it isn’t enough to feed everyone in Sheffield all of the vegetables they need to support good health. Many of our cities in the US may face a similar shortage of growing space. However, that doesn’t mean we should give up on growing good food.
In my own home, the sprouts and microgreens add up to a few servings of fresh greens each week. We have radishes to add our meals over the next few weeks, and then there will be green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and more, but all in home-garden-sized amounts. For example, when we harvest green beans, it will probably be one cup at a time. Even this, though, contributes to the whole.
Any food from our garden reduces the amount we need to buy from other sources. This leaves more for others who might not be gardening. Growing some our own vegetables also makes it easy to share with our neighbors when a crop does really well.
Considering the losses on US farms, the waywardness of the food delivery system, and the randomness of supplies in grocery stores, my handful of radishes is currently a bright spot in my own food supply.