Thursday, March 3, 2022

Gardening Space

Spring is fast approaching, and many of us are thinking about gardening as the days get longer. As I write this in early March, many of the local farmers are fine-tuning their field equipment and gearing up for planting. Local gardeners are raking the leaves and winter debris off of their plots and getting the tillers ready for when the frost is out and they can start another season of growing food and flowers.

Growing your own food can be a good way to supplement or replace what is available in the stores, and it doesn't rely on a stressed supply chain that has recently left some shelves bare or with limited choices. Controlling your own food supply is always a good idea for preppers, and working in the dirt with your own hands to produce it will reinforce an appreciation for the food you eat. Most of us take food for granted in our daily lives, and missing a meal is unusual unless we're fasting for one reason or another. Gardening can also be a relaxing way to take time off from daily stress and enjoy a bit of nature.

However, problems arise when we don't have easy access to a suitable piece of land to grow food on. Apartment dwellers, renters that can't tear up a yard, prisoners to Home Owners Associations (HOAs) with strict rules about the appearance of properties, owners of lots too small to provide room, and those who live in arid or rocky regions unsuitable to gardening can't easily grow their own food. There are options like hydroponics and vertical gardening that can grow small amounts of food, but if you're looking to replace a large portion of what you normally buy, you're going to need to find a plot of dirt.

Land is expensive. Good quality farmland around me is currently selling for $12-15,000 per acre, and it usually comes in parcels that are too large for a simple garden. Since an acre of land is 43,560 square feet and a large garden is about 1,000 square feet (20' x 50'), it doesn't make sense to be looking at land just for a garden. Farmland is broken down roughly by the square mile (a “section”) that is further divided into quarters of 160 acres each. Each quarter-section is then divided into four, 40-acre plots for most cases. Geography and waterways will always complicate where lines are drawn, but this is the “standard” way land is divided in rural areas. At $15,000 per acre, that 40 acre plot is $600,000, and a quarter-section is close to $2.5 million. We have a lot of “paper millionaires” around here --farmers that are “worth” several million because of their land, but their annual income is closer to a factory worker than a stock broker.

Since most of us don't need and can't afford a farm-sized plot of land, we have to look at other options if we want to have a garden. Friends and family are my first choice; if you know someone with extra space; it wouldn't hurt to ask about renting or using some of it for your garden. If that doesn't work for you, there are other ways to find garden space:

  • Shared Earth is a service for matching land owners and renters for gardening. Type in your address and it will find available space near you. I had a few problems with their website, but the concept is solid.
  • Yard-Yum has a decent webpage. Their FAQ states that a 20' x 20' (400 sq ft) garden plot rents for $30-100 per year depending on area and amenities; raised beds and paved paths generally cost more.
  • Your local extension office. Most states have an agricultural extension service run by one of the state universities, and they exist to help farmers and gardeners. The amount of information they can provide varies by state, but since it's your tax dollars that have paid for it, you should look into what they offer.
  • Online services like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are another option for finding local space for rent. Your local area may have other online markets, look around.

Most garden landlords will want rent in cash, but some are willing to accept a portion of your crop as payment (share-cropping is the old term). Contracts vary by location and owner, so make sure you read and understand what you're signing up for:

  • Expect clauses that cover chemical use, since the person growing organic foods in the plot next to you may not want your over-spray.
  • I've not heard of anyone requiring a deposit like a house rental, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it.
  • Check for the availability of a compost pile for organic debris and a dumpster for trash. Waste has to go somewhere.
  • Hours of availability will vary. Weekends and daylight hours should be open, but don't be upset if a landlord doesn't want people wandering around his property in the middle of the night.

Good luck growing this year! Fresh food always tastes better, and producing your own makes you a little less dependent on others.

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