The average American household is a center of consumption, meaning it uses up resources, instead of creating anything of value. We use water to keep our lawns green, but we can’t eat our lawns; they just look pretty. We generate trash that ends up in a landfill somewhere out of sight and out of mind. We buy things, get tired of them, and buy new things, even if the old things aren’t worn out. This is the modern American way.
It wasn’t always like that. People used to grow their own food, make their own clothes and repair things rather than buy new. I don’t think many of us want to go back to the time before running water, modern bathrooms and automobiles, but there is a growing movement of people who recognize that our consumption is out of control, and that it isn’t fulfilling. Buying a bunch of cheap crap all the time doesn’t do anything for our souls. There’s got to be a middle ground where we’re not totally off grid but we’re also not mindlessly destroying the planet.
That train of thought is what spurred me on to research how I can make my suburban home a center of production again. What can I do on my little acre of suburban land that would give something back to the planet? How can I use my land to extricate myself from the industrial food system that’s killing the planet and our health?
The most obvious answer I came up with is to have a garden and grow some of my own food. Now, understand that I have had a garden for years, but it never produces much. Some nasty bug eats the cucumbers, or I forget to water it, or I plant too late, or a freak hail storm destroys it. Typically I plant a few things, harvest a few things to show my kids where food comes from, and enjoy putzing around a little, but my garden has never once significantly reduced my grocery bill or had any real impact on how my family eats.
I would like to change that. I would like to figure out what I’ve done wrong in the past, amend it, and have a garden that actually feeds my family. I want to have a garden of consequence, essentially.
In looking at past mistakes, I’ve come up with two major blunders. First, my garden is in a side yard where it doesn’t get full sun. It gets enough sun to be mildly productive, but not enough to go gangbusters all summer long. Second, I haven’t fed my soil enough to replace nutrients I’ve taken out, so my veggies are always a bit anemic. To fix these errors, I’ve come up with a plan.
First, I’m planning to clear out some old flower beds in my backyard and move my veggie garden there next year. There are boxwood trees planted there now, so I’ll have to rip those out. I feel kind of sad about killing the boxwoods but, if I pay a tree service to do it, they’ll have a wood chipper and I can get the wood chips to spread back into the beds. At least the boxwoods will be composted back into the land where they lived and provide nutrients for the soil there. Circle of life, people. Circle of life.
That part of the yard gets way more sun than the side yard and will hopefully give my veggies the fuel they need to produce more than a handful of tomatoes and two or three squash. I don’t have a lot of room, but I will experiment with some vertical gardening to make the most of the space.
Second, I will turn my side yard into a combo of a medicinal herb garden and a flower garden for the bees and butterflies. I’ve had great results growing herbs in the side yard, but I don’t know how to use most of them. I plan to spend the winter learning how to make teas and tinctures out of herbs so that I can actually use what I grow instead of just looking at them and thinking how pretty they are. It’s no secret that the bees are in trouble, so planting flowers for them will be my way of helping them out.
Finally, I’m going to figure out a way to supply my garden with organic material to replenish the soil. I already compost, but I’m going to need more than that to really change the soil in my yard. It’s suburban soil that’s been fertilized in the past with God knows what kinds of nasty chemicals, and it hasn’t been given much love. I’m going to compost all my leaves this year, instead of letting the landscapers bag them and take them away, and I’m considering getting two rabbits so that I can compost their poop.
Chickens would be the obvious choice for someone like me who wants to have a mini-homestead, but I can’t have chickens in my neighborhood thanks to my HOA, which prohibits livestock. Rabbits, on the other hand, are considered pets. I had rabbits when I was a kid, so I’m not new to caring for them. They would live outside in the side yard in a nice, big hutch where I can collect their poop and deposit it straight onto my garden beds all winter long. They can be pets with a purpose; I need them to poop so that I can use their poop as fertilizer.
I have no interest in raising rabbits for meat. I have a lot of interest in how different animals can contribute to the productivity of a farm or garden, and how animals and humans form symbiotic relationships. I’ll feed the rabbits and the rabbits will poop, and that helps feed me!
That is my current plan to start producing something of value on my land and in my home. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t cost a lot of money, just whatever I pay the tree service and however much it costs to get a rabbit hutch. Everything else is a matter of my own labor and time, and using materials I already have, like the leaves that fall from the trees every autumn. I’d love to hear how you have made the switch in your home from consumption to production…