8 - 2009

Could YOU eat for a month from your backyard?

A local business publication, ColoradoBiz magazine, has been publishing a series online about a not-so-businesslike topic: Managing editor Mike Taylor ate only foods grown in his own garden for the month of August.

The conclusion to his “urban locavore” experiment was published here this week. From that page, you can skim through the previous articles, too.

He raised chickens in the backyard for their eggs, and wound up having two non-laying eggs butchered midway through the month for food. Other than that, he subsisted on vegetables, with a highlight on potatoes. He survived the month, shrunk his stomach, and lost about 20 pounds.

How much garden do you need?

Obviously, this experiment goes better if you plan ahead — Taylor had planted 30 potato plants to feed him in August, as well as laying in the laying hens ahead of time. Those who are especially on the ball could really plan ahead by doing something like moving to Seattle to take advantage of their backyard goat laws, so that you could have a good, urban source of milk.

On a smaller scale (that is, sans goats), several online sources say you could feed a family of three to four people in a garden space of 70 feet (for a “salad garden” featuring lettuce, tomatoes and peppers), with plants like corn and potatoes taking more room.

Others claim they can feed their family of three to five on a garden using the Square Foot Gardening method in just about 60 to 100 square feet of garden.

And at a larger extreme, Michelle Obama’s organic White House garden is 1,100 square feet. I’m not sure how their garden is doing — there is video available from the White House here — but I enjoyed the article from last spring’s New York Times about how they planned and launched that garden. We can just hope Mrs. Obama was not wearing shorts while she did any of her gardening, since the garden is reportedly visible from the street.

What we garden

My family’s garden takes up a moderate amount of our 6,000-square-foot city lot, considered a “double lot” by our city zoning. Our fruit and vegetable garden area — not counting the trees, but counting some strawberries — is about 80 square feet. However, we are very lazy gardeners. This year we have a lot of tomatillo plants that have some eggplant and an Italian pepper surrounded; a few intentional tomato plants; a volunteer tomato plant; some aged cucumbers; quite a bit of volunteer parsley and lettuce; some hot chili peppers in barrels; and some beets. Not exactly a desirable month-long diet.

In our area, I think September would be a better month than August to eat from the yard, as the tomatoes are coming into their own, along with melons and some squash. If we planned ahead, I’m confident that (barring hailstorms) we could grow enough food to eat for a month, but I’m afraid I would be none too happy without cheese and wheat. Mr. Cheap would be jonesing for meat and tortillas. Mlle. Cheap would be sadly pudding-and-yogurt-deprived. Hmm, sounds like we would need a miniature cow.

Could you do it?

What do you think of Mr. Taylor’s experiment? Have you ever tried anything like that, or would you?

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