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Food For Thought

From herbs and flowers, to watercress, baked goods, and barbecue, DeKalb Farmers Market already has lots of great local wares. Peruse local crafts, like handmade bags, book covers, and painted gourds. Locally made goat milk soap, scrumptious dip mixes made from dried herbs, tomato plants to make your summer abundant, and flowers to color your stoop are all available. Early birds get the fried pies, and everyone enjoys a good Boston butt at a Saturday evening get together!
With no frost in the 10-day forecast as of the beginning of this week, you could venture to start putting out your summer garden. Some intrepid growers have already sown the first round of corn, okra, beans, and set out tomato plants. At our farm, I've noticed a few volunteer sunflowers on their way up. Do have some tarps, row cover, or old sheets on hand to give those tender plants extra protection in the event of an early May frost.
Whether you have a postage stamp lawn or just a concrete balcony, with good sunlight and a little care, you can directly contribute to the food supply. Interplanting vegetables that share space well and providing supports for vertical growing can make even a tiny amount of ground surprisingly abundant.
A widely-practiced example of interplanting is the “three sisters garden”. Native American tribes across the land that became the United States and Mexico interplanted three staple crops, bean, corn, and squash. The corn, tall and rigid, provides structural support for the beans to climb, while the beans anchor the corn in heavy winds and capture nitrogen out of the air via their symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria. The sprawling squash vines shade the soil to reduce weed germination and water evaporation, while their protective prickles discourage thieving racoons from raiding the corn patch.
The “fourth sister” is a less commonly known addition to this plant guild. The fourth sister is commonly the sunflower, who attracts pollinators and distracts birds from pecking at the corn. Other flowers can play a happy substitute to the sunflower; any tall growing flower attractive to pollinators can be used.   
When grown on vertical supports, you can often significantly increase the yield of cucumbers, tomatoes, and even winter squash. Anything from old woven wire fencing or livestock panels to cane and tobacco stakes can be used to fashion a trellis or support. Kept off the ground, vines are less susceptible to pests, and you'll lose less fruit to rot. You can also grow more plants in a smaller space when growing vertically.
Growing plants in self-watering containers is a great way for people with sore backs to grow anything from mouth-watering tomatoes to cucumbers and beans. A self-watering container consists of a reservoir container inside which rests a planted container, fitted with a wick. This keeps the plant's roots consistently moist, contributing to consistent growth and avoiding cracked fruit. Since the plant is watered from the bottom, no soil splashes onto the leaves, which is a major cause of plant diseases.
Another huge advantage over regular pots is how easy these containers are to water. Regular pots take a certain finesse to water properly; water a little, let it soak, water it a little more. If it dries out totally, it's a nightmare to rehydrate the soil. But to fill a self-watering container, you just fill the reservoir until water comes out the overflow hole. No soil washes off, and it takes much less time. A quick search on the internet for “DIY self-watering containers” will yield a cornucopia of examples.
Train your vining squash or cucumbers along a porch railing, or string pole beans to create an edible privacy screen. You can turn a barren balcony into an on-demand fresh vegetable buffet.
During World World II, American citizens were encouraged to support the war effort by growing their own fresh vegetables. The public responded to the call, and together, 20 million Americans grew nearly 10 million tons of produce-the same output as commercial production at the time.
With our long growing season here, we can grow an enormous amount of beautiful fresh food. No sunny patch is too small to capture some sunshine and grow your own vegetables.

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