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quick raised bed garden

(republished from Food For My Daughters)

First of all: all 7,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers are being evacuated globally right now and the entire program is currently suspended. With that in mind, my departure for Uganda in June is unlikely, and my calling is now local again. I will share whatever knowledge I can that you may find useful. Let’s start with this quick at-home garden you can create in less than two hours. Here’s the example.

I revived a raised bed garden originally created by Farmer D at Nicholas House (a transitional home for families in Atlanta) one spring in a way that would model how to do it for anyone who wants to start growing food. I bought supplies commonly available at Home Depot, for a total of $50, and included things I thought might be both quick growing and interesting. Small harvests are possible within two weeks, and can continue until late May in our metro Atlanta climate. (If you live father north, this goodness can last even longer).

Here is what I included: lettuce transplants, onion starts, and radish seeds, plus three kid-and-culinary-friendly herb plants (chocolate mint, spearmint, and rosemary), which also have stellar aromatherapy benefits. Note: You can plant greens closer than the package says if you use the “cut-and-come-again” harvesting method where you take an outer leaf or two from each plant every few days. Important: DO NOT be seduced by Mr. Stripey and all his other tomato friends! It’s too early for summer crops. They will be stressed, and don’t we have enough stress right now?! If you want tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplants, etc., you can plant them in a couple of weeks. Perhaps consider starting two beds, one for spring and one for summer (you can seed-start the summer crops indoors by a sunny window in case there is a shortage of transplants when the time comes — see how to make biodegradable newspaper planting pots). I’m trying to get you quick food, and greens and flavor-enhancing herbs are the way to go right now. (Darker greens, like kale, will have more nutrients. Note: You’ll be surprised what kids will eat when they grown them. If you see sorrel at Home Depot, this is most kids’ FAVORITE to just pick and eat raw — it has a sour lemon taste.)

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This may be a fun project for families right now, plus it showcases principles of math and science for those at-home learning goals you may have. (Short answer: Plant radishes. They will be ready in 30 days, and will serve as a marker of time during these trying days. Plus, kids love to harvest these. I am planting some in my newly-revived “sharing garden” by my street.)

Please let me know if there is other specific food-growing advice I can offer. I have written, photographed, and documented a lot over the years from my lived experience since 9/11 and am happy to share (see here for lots of free tips, and more). Plants and seeds such as these can provide a steady stream of fresh greens and herbs pretty quickly for your stay-at-home meals during our current global crisis.

Note: You don’t need the fancy-ass cedar raised bed (although that’s nice, if you have the funds, as it will pay for itself within a year). I built one for free out of locally-available bamboo that I chopped down. (Ask homeowners with bamboo for permission. You may also be able to help your local park reduce its invasive bamboo.) See construction of it in this photo (FYI, the Bhutanese refugees in Clarkston taught me a lot about using bamboo in their gardens — I’ll share more about building summer crop structures soon):

The above photo was from a post titled Missing Bob (which I do very much right now as food growing takes on even more importance). For more advice and helpful links, see Growing Stressed? Start Growing Food.

For folks who live in my metro-Atlanta suburb-city of Dunwoody — if you notice a bee swarm on your property, contact me and I’ll connect you with my friend Van Malone. He relocates them. Bees are more critical than ever as many of us are increasingly growing food again and bees are necessary to pollinate a majority of the summer crops (which start being planted around April 1). Note: My home garden, from which I used to harvest 500 pounds valued at a minimum of $2500 per year, experienced a 99% reduction in pollinators over the last five years, despite every proactive effort I could take.

Van has a stunning front-yard food-producing garden, if you want to see an example of what’s possible. You’ve most likely passed it a million times already in a car and may not have realized it. I’ll try to get a current photo of it when I’m out Traveling at the Speed of Bike later.

For friends who live elsewhere, please seek out your local beekeepers if you have a swarm.

Reminder: Planting a seed is the ultimate act of faith in the future. Doing so, however inconsequential it may seem, may help you feel a small semblance of control during these unprecedented times. Let’s just start and grow from there.

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