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As a first-time gardener, it's been fun watching our yard transform over the year. In the spirit of one of those trashy but oh-so-addictive makeover shows, I thought I'd share some before, during, and after photos.

I took this photo right after one of our big snowstorms, pre-garden. To make room for the raised bed, we pulled up the nearly-deadĀ rhododendron, moved the holly bush (lower right corner, next to the tree) to another location in the yard, and then moved the other bushy bush where the holly was previously.

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I took this photo right after Haven and our neighbor JohnĀ constructed the raised bed, right around Memorial Day weekend:

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And I took this one just a few minutes ago. Up at the top of the bed you can see the sprawling leaves of a cucumber plant. Sadly, this one didn't generate any edible cukes, though a couple of plants located in another spot gave us plenty. Right next to it is a potted mini eggplant, but our resident squirrels got to the eggplants before they were ready for human consumption. The mass of green at the top of the bed is a bunch of different chilis: jalapenos, habaneros, hungarian wax, and cherry. Below that we've got some carrots and swiss chard, and earlier in the summer we also had arugula and several different types of lettuce. The yellow flowers around the perimeter are marigolds, a natural pest repellent we were told, but we didn't realize when we planted them that they were GIANT marigolds -- about 2 feet tall! -- and they've kind of taken over the garden at this point!

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We also have a couple of other planters with tomatoes, and these plants have produced some of the most delicious tomato specimens I've ever had. Check out these gorgeous yellow and purple heirlooms -- yum! And the juicy, sweet cherry toms have become a staple in my morning eggs. From on-the-plant to in-my-stomach in less than 15 minutes! This is eating locally at its best.

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Back in February I signed up for the Growing Challenge -- but because of my insane travel schedule and lingering cold Boston weather, it's been slow going. Fortunately, the long Memorial Day weekend brought both time at home and warm weather, and so we were finally able to finish our raised garden bed.  (Admission: Haven and our downstairs neighbor John did all the heavy lifting.)

Step 1: Buy some wood.  We could have purchased prefab raised beds, but the ones we saw online were expensive (between $80 - $150) and we figured this would be pretty easy construction.  We bought two untreated 2" x 12"s that were 14' long and had Home Depot cut each one into two pieces, 8' and 5'.  We also bought one 2" x 3", had it cut into four 18" pieces, then used a jigsaw at home to shape the lower 6" into a spike.  The total cost of the wood was around $35, and Home Depot did the cutting for free.

wood.JPGStep two: Assemble the wood. Haven and John attached everything together with screws.  This took about 90 minutes, most of it thinking time.

box.JPGStep 3: Dig a hole.  Our lot was originally zoned for business -- and we've got the dirt to show it.  We've found everything from pipes to chunks of asphalt buried below the surface and several seemingly healthy plants have died for no apparent reason.  So... we weren't exactly crazy about the idea of eating plants grown in our dirt.  To provide as big a buffer as possible between our yard and our veggies, we decided to dig a 6" trench underneath the bed.  This was definitely the hardest part -- John and Haven took turns over a few evenings.

hole.JPGStep 4: Get some dirt.  We ordered composted soil from Cambridge Bark & Loam, which cost about $125 including delivery.  To save on the shoveling, we had them dump most of it right into the bed.  (We also had them deliver new mulch for the yard at the same time.)

dirt.JPGStep 5: Add a worm.  Ok, this step is optional, but we found two FAT worms while we were replanting a couple of bushes to make room for the bed.  It only made sense to put them in the garden.

worm.JPGStep 6: Add plants. This is where we're at right now.  We've picked out some veggies we like (Boston lettuce, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, and a bunch of different hot peppers) and have them all ready for transplant.  We're coordinating our plantings with our neighbors, though, so we'll get all the plants in the bed one evening this week.

lettuce cabbage.JPGStep 7: Step back and admire all the hard work!

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Growing Challenge: I'm in!

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VictoryGardens.jpgNearly 100 years ago, citizens of the US, Canada, and the UK planted victory gardens in their yards and on their rooftops in support of their countries' wartime efforts.  From Wikipedia: "It was emphasized to home front urbanites and suburbanites that the produce from their gardens would help to lower the price of vegetables needed by the War Department to feed the troops, thus saving money that could be spent elsewhere on the military: 'Our food is fighting', one poster read."

Today, home gardeners are at it again -- but this time, there's a twist.

In his book In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan says that "to reclaim this much control over one's food, to take it back from industry and science, is no small thing; indeed, in our time cooking from scratch and growing any of your own food qualify as subversive acts.  And what these acts subvert is nutritionism: the belief that food is foremost about nutrition and nutrition is so complex that only experts and industry can possibly supply it." (My emphasis.)

Anti-nutritionism is just the start of it... Other home gardeners are picking up the plow to help fight global warming, mediate the risk of terrorist attacks on our food supply, and eliminate the ingestion of pesticides and other toxins.

Growing Challenge.jpgSeveral online citizens aren't keeping the dirt to themselves, either -- they've issued a challenge to us all: Plant an organic garden this year.  A big garden. A pot of tomatoes. A single basil plant. Anything. Just start sourcing some of your food as locally as you can -- at home.

According to Wikipedia, victory gardens "produced up to 40 percent of all the vegetable produce consumed nationally" during WWI and WWII.  With the proliferation of suburban homes since that time, it really makes me wonder what we're capable of now.  What kind of impact could this have on our industrial food system?

Want to help me find out?

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