pomegranate growing on vine
Baby pomegranates. (Photo by Marcia Wolfe)

Marcia Wolfe
Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Gardening gives us a chance to get grounded and think about life, whether it be our own or the life we are helping grow with sunlight and water. On Saturday morning as a little kid, my parents would tell us before we could go out to play we had to first go pick the raspberries. Of course, she was the field supervisor. We had 7 long rows in our yard, and it would take my brother and myself a good 2-3 hours to pick the ripe ones. Every berry does not ripen at the same speed. Mom used to make the best raspberry jam from all those berries. We loved that jam! Of course, they are pretty good freshly picked on top of your morning cereal with milk or cream. (I know we aren’t supposed to eat cream anymore because of its fat level, but it is the best.)

But for most of my life gardening has been more of tilling the soil, sweating pulling weeds, irrigating at night, picking off caterpillars (not many of those thank goodness), and harvesting and eating vegetables and fruits. Yum! That is the good part. Of course, when there is too much to eat while it’s ripe, more work must be done for canning and freezing or sometimes pickling.

When I lived in the short grass prairie of northeastern New Mexico, I had a large, level back yard off the kitchen deck. It was perfect for a vegetable garden. I planted just about anything I could easily fix and eat. I loved that garden; it was open and spacious. In the winter, Canada geese would rest and forage in my back yard over the garden area during their migration. As I worked full time, I did not have a lot of time to work with it, other than to eat its produce. I did can tomatoes and I had a freezer to throw things into, though it was generally full of frozen elk, deer, and fish.

After moving to Bakersfield, I haven’t really had a vegetable garden per se as I lived in apartments and had no property with areas for a garden, even for flowering plants. Then one day I was driving and saw a house with lots of tall pine trees and shrubs and immediately called about it. At the time, I was not even looking for a new place. Having grown up in western Washington state where everything (almost) is always green, the average temperature is 72, and it actually rains regularly, I could not resist the trees. Large trees and shrubs create shade. I think I mentioned in one of my previous articles that I took the air temperature in my neighbors’ treeless yard and compared it to mine. In the shade of my trees, it was 25 degrees cooler! That is a significant difference for both comfort and the AC bill. Excess carbon dioxide that can contribute to climate change gets used up by the trees to generate oxygen. Plus, their leaves/needles and bark help to filter particulates out of the air, the shade helps to reduce air conditioning costs, and they help save water by slowing evaporation from areas they shade. 

Trees provide homes and food for many species of wildlife including birds, bees, and squirrels.

First there is little room among the tree roots for gardening in the soil in my yard. Not much space is present between the large roots for planting. Secondly, there is all that wonderful shade which makes it cooler for us, but not so good for most fruits and vegetables. My large white fig tree was more than likely volunteered from birds, as it was not here when I bought the house. Not to mention this year it has a bumper crop. There is a large flowering, sun-loving mulberry that has thousands (millions are more like it) of white berries that feed the spring migrating birds. Not to mention, the squirrels love the antioxidant-filled pomegranates. Sometimes it’s hard to get them before the fox squirrels do. The nearby nesting sharp-shinned hawks appear to keep their population under control. So, here I am with all my trees and shrubs, but no place to have a vegetable garden.

Well, I walked into the garage one day last year and noticed I had quite a collection of empty 5-gallon painting buckets. I put dirt in some and planted tomatoes to see what would happen. I discovered a garden can spring up even when there is no space for one. The buckets can be put wherever the sun hits on the patio or anywhere. Now, I have more than enough tomatoes every week for salads, tacos, grilled cheese sandwiches, you name it! They are wonderful, and aside from the small cost of the seedling from the garden shop, it cost me nothing except a daily drink of water. Next thing on the list is to rotate buckets and timing of seeding for the things I eat a lot so I can have an ongoing supply.

Not everything in the garden needs a bucket. I have a clay pot of chives and another of sage. The bees especially love the rosemary bush in the flowerbed and so do I. There is nothing like cooking with fresh rosemary. Plus, I can’t forget to mention the grapes growing on the open beams over part of the patio. They are wonderfully juicy and sweet!

As both an ecologist and biologist, when someone talks about gardening as a way to help people live longer I think of less or no toxins being used to grow the fruits and vegetables. Further, eating fruits and vegetables is healthy for us too. But then in talking with my hairdresser, he told me he thought gardening was simply relaxing. I think he was spot on! So, I researched a bit more. Studies have shown that hospital patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and have fewer complications than those who don’t. Now that is just amazing

Endless wonderful reasons exist for gardening—from the physical and practical, the psychological, the aesthetic, the philosophical, to good long-term health all around. You can even get started without a yard, just find a few buckets.
What are you waiting for?