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Three good reasons to plot out space for edibles

  • Marie Narlock
  • Organic vegetable gardeners are sound examples of sustainability in action. No, that word does not mean you have to run out and buy a fancy water bottle or exotic wood furniture. I don't know anyone who's building raised beds out of bamboo or using hemp row covers.

    But I do know plenty of gardeners who are unwittingly reducing Marin's oversized environmental footprint by growing some of their own food. So pat yourself on the back if you have a row of carrots to hoe.

    Let's resist the urge to get all preachy and declare that we're growing green beans because we've joined the local food revolution, however. For most of us, it simply means we prefer the drip-down-your-chin juiciness of a luscious homegrown tomato. Or the sweet pop of a freshly plucked blueberry. Or the earthly delight of snipping tender-crisp asparagus spears. Let's leave revolutions out of it, shall we?

    You can learn all about growing edibles the right way at the Master Gardeners' Edible Landscaping Series (http://bit.ly/Wj3soC) on March 25 at the Corte Madera Community Center. In these classes you'll learn how to design, amend, plant and maintain your edible garden. The first class is free, and the four subsequent Monday classes are $15 each. A separate series of edible landscape classes, which began Feb. 27, are currently running at the Civic Center in San Rafael. It's not too late, however, to join in.

    "This is a chance for experienced vegetable gardeners to get new ideas, and for novice gardeners to get started," says Corte Madera Community Center presenter Toni Gattone. "There are many misconceptions about what it takes to grow some of your own food, and these classes will help clear that up."

    Spring is the perfect time to hone your skills, since it's prime planting time for many edibles. Here are three solid reasons why getting on the edibles bandwagon is good for your palate and your planet — and why attending the Edibles Landscape series might be just what you need for inspiration and know-how.

    • Reduce your footprint: One of the biggest environmental benefits to growing edibles is that you'll use less water. Like coal and oil, water is a finite resource. Getting that resource to our gardens takes energy — and lots of it. In fact, pumping water through California's labyrinth of pipes is the biggest single user of electricity in the state.

      You'll also use less fossil fuel. Despite what some companies may want you to believe, you don't need to use petroleum-based chemicals in your vegetable garden (and many farmers don't either, but that's a whole other story). In fact, I suggest you avoid those products altogether since — let's not forget — you're going to eat that food.

      You don't need to buy petroleum-based plastic pots either, since many edibles can be purchased or started in compostable pots (or, better yet, seeded directly into your garden). Plus, growing your own food means fewer trips to the store in your fossil fuel-burning car. This is especially true if you get in the habit of saving the seeds your edibles produce so you can plant them again next season.

      As an added bonus, you will be reducing air and noise pollution by passing on power tools. Seriously, in the 20-plus years that I've had a vegetable garden, I've never used one. OK, maybe a drill when I built my raised beds. But does that really count?
    • Gain an appreciation for your surroundings (and for farmers): There's nothing like growing food to bring out the environmentalist in you. Suddenly your microclimate matters. Things like plant succession and composting and mulch take on new meaning. Finding the right plants to attract pollinators becomes important. Ever heard a vegetable gardener talk about her soil? It's like religion.

    • Add dimension your garden: It's not uncommon for gardeners to start with a few layups like herbs, and then ratchet things up a bit with strawberries or lettuce. From there, many graduate to incorporating edible perennials like artichokes and berries right into the landscape. Like the rest of your garden, your edibles have their own unique needs. They're beautiful. They make us feel good to be around. But can you eat the rest of your garden?