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If you’re looking to supplement the produce you’re growing yourself this year, a CSA share is a great way to get local (often organically-grown) produce while supporting a local family farm.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is a new(ish) model started in Japan in the 1990s to help better connect farmers directly with consumers. Basically, farms offer up shares at the beginning of the season to consumers. The consumer pays a price upfront for a share in the farm’s produce over the course of the season. This setup allows the farmer more capital upfront in the growing season, when he/she needs it most, and it gives the consumer direct access to local, delicious produce that they often wouldn’t be able to find in the store. We have also found that “buying in bulk” so to speak via a CSA saves us money throughout the Indiana growing season. Between our CSA, local farmer’s markets and our plot at the Grace Garden, we rarely have to go to the grocery store, which makes me very happy! Aside from the fact that shopping with my rambunctious nearly two-year-old is a painful experience, I love keeping our dollars in our own community.

We have been doing the CSA thing for four years now, and we think it’s one of the best things going – behind growing your own, of course. We’ve found that, between our CSA share and what we grow at our home and our Grace Garden plot, we’re able to give away alot of fresh produce to local families in need, eat some amazing and unique meals all summer and fall long, and we always have tons to preserve too, which makes for fresh, healthy eating long into the winter months. As a matter of fact, we made pesto pasta last night from a huge batch of pesto we had made at the end of last summer.

Check out Going Local’s site (a great resource for local food news, by the way) for a mostly complete listing of CSAs around central Indiana. LocalHarvest.org is a great resource, as well, and it has information on all kinds of local food all over the country. We love to check out LocalHarvest before going on vacations!

The head of Westfield’s Plant a Row program, Robert Staley, has a wonderful garden blog chronicling his family’s efforts at growing more of their own. Be sure to bookmark it for future reference!

Starting seeds is about the easiest thing in gardening, but it can be confusing too. We started our seeds at our house a few weeks ago, and I thought I would share what we do for our garden because we’ve been getting lots of questions from friends and family. Be sure to share your tips and tricks in the comments – we’re by no means experts!

First of all, check out these great resources to determine what to start indoors, what should be planted directly outside – and when – based on your garden plans:

Here’s what you’ll need to do/get:

  1. Draw out a plan of what you want to plant and where
  2. Determine what you’re going to start indoors, what you’re going to start outside and what days you’ll do what. I usually transplant everything that I’ve started on Mother’s Day weekend to be safe.
  3. Go buy seeds accordingly
  4. Also buy organic compost and a starter planter (I like these kind of things, and I just reuse it from year-to-year).
  5. Optional – I also like to use a heating pad and a light socket with a greenhouse bulb (just ask someone at Lowe’s to help you) because 1) our house is cold and 2) we don’t have any south-facing windows, which are the best for starting seed.

Now on plant starting day…

  1. Label your “bins” for each plant, so that you don’t get mixed up after you’re already started. I usually make a chart on a piece of paper of what’s what.
  2. Fill each “bin” about three-quarters full of dirt.
  3. For every one plant that I want, I usually start at least three seeds of that plant. Depending on the type of plant, I’ll put a few seeds in each little starter “bin.” For tomatoes and peppers, I’ll do 2-3 seeds. For cucumbers and squashes, I’ll do just 1-2.
  4. For smaller seeds, just push the seeds lightly into the dirt and sprinkle with a little bit more dirt on top. For bigger seeds, cover completely with dirt.
  5. Water with a spray can of some sort, so as not to soak the seeds completely.
  6. You want your seeds to get about 10-12 hours of light a day, so I use my greenhouse light bulb on a timer to make sure it gets a solid 12 hours of light a day. I put my bins on old cookie sheets and set the cookie sheets on the heating pads.
  7. Keep the seeds covered with some sort of plastic if possible in that first week. Those Jiffy containers come with plastic dome “greenhouses,” which actually work really well.
  8. Once the seedlings get about three inches high, you’ll want to transfer them to a bigger container. I like to use old red solo cups and old sour cream/yogurt containers with holes poked in the bottoms (I just save them from year-to-year, so I get several uses out of them). We’ll save those directions for next time…

Plotting out our starts and refilling our little Jiffy trays from last year. My friend, Jenny, came over and we made a day of planning and starting, which I highly recommend! We bought all of our seeds this year from Nature’s Crossroads, a seed company based in Bloomington (and also affiliated with our CSA, LIFE Farm). Not only do we enjoy supporting a local seed company, but it’s better for our garden’s productivity to be growing seeds that are already adapted to our region’s weather and soil conditions.

We don’t have any south-facing windows, which are best for starting seeds. So we jerry-rigged this setup (yes, that’s a steamer that was a wedding gift that we use more for our seed starting setup than we do for actually steaming clothes…embarrassing, I know) underneath an east-facing window in our guest room. We needed somewhere with a door, so that we could keep the dog and crazy 20-month-old out.

Within a few days, we had little shoots coming all over the place. I get so excited about this part of gardening!

The Grace Garden is partnering with Westfield In Bloom’s Plant a Row for the Hungry project this year.

Plant a Row is a national program that was launched in 1995 by the Garden Writers Association and Foundation in hopes of encouraging home gardeners to plant an extra row in their gardens meant specifically for the hungry in their communities.

Westfield’s Plant a Row program is one of the subcommittees of Westfield of Bloom and shares the same goals and ideals as the national Plant a Row program. Westfield’s Plant a Row for the Hungry program enjoyed great success in its inaugural year last year. Thanks to Plant A Row participants and volunteers, nearly 400 pounds of food were donated to Third Phase Food Bank, Hamilton County’s largest food pantry. With your time and help, we are hoping to make 2011’s Plant A Row program bigger and better.

The economic conditions are still dire for many families in Westfield, and planting an extra row of fruits, vegetables and herbs is a fun and easy way for local gardeners to combat hunger in our own backyard. If you aren’t a gardener, there are many other ways for you to be involved, as well. Please leave a comment below for more information!

Like Westfield’s Plant a Row on Facebook to keep up with what’s happening – or stay tuned here for more information.

I have been very remiss with updating the Grace Garden blog. I am trying to turn over a new leaf and do better.

We are still ironing out some details about this year’s Grace Garden, but this year will most likely be a transition year because of some larger-scope planning that is going on. For that reason, we hope to do more in terms of garden education and other types of support and resources for new and existing home gardeners this year. We will also have some plots available out at the Grace Garden for people to “rent” just as would do with a typical community garden setup. Comment below if that is something you might be interested in!

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