Guest Post: Camilla Salem on Backyard Gardening

Please welcome Camilla Salem to the blog today! Camilla blogs over at Camilla Leila and is the founder and creative director of The Violet which is a quarterly online women’s magazine that features seasonal guides to living a full life. It is pretty awesome, so we recommend checking it out! We absolutely love Camilla’s philosophy on life and admire her passion for homegrown, real food. We wanted to turn the blog over to her today so she could share her adventures in gardening and her newest adventure of raising baby chicks with you all! She is an inspiration and we hope you enjoy learning some tips today on producing your own food! Take it away Camilla!

When I really think about it, I grew up surrounded by lush backyard gardens and unprocessed, homemade food. This lifestyle that I’m embracing now had always been a part of my life, even though I wasn’t fully conscious of it. My Italian grandmother was an expert gardener. I’m not sure she ever bought a cucumber or a tomato from the store. She cared for thriving persimmon, tangerine, cherry, nectarine, and lemon trees. She gathered leafy greens from the raised beds in her backyard and turned them into delicious, hearty, healthy meals. I recently found a bunch of pictures of myself as a little girl by her side in the garden. So I feel, now that I’ve recommitted to a slower-paced, more homemade lifestyle, that I’m honoring my grandmother and embracing her spirit.

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What led me back to the garden actually was my rather off-beat course study at Berkeley. I majored in Peace and Conflict Studies and spent a good deal of my coursework learning about the food system and all of the horrors that it entailed. I remember it hit me one day that we had it all wrong- that convenience had won out over real food, and that real food is actually the stuff of life. So I changed the way I ate and I changed the way I lived. I started in my small studio apartment, with a few potted windowsill herbs (thyme, parsley, rosemary) and now with 3 large, full vegetable beds, the beginning of a medicinal herb garden, and a flock of 6 gorgeous chickens!

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I have found such joy in spending time in the garden, preparing the soil, planting seeds, and tending to the plants. I find a sense of serenity and purpose when I see how life actually grows and thrives under my care. And let me be the first to say that I am no expert. It can be downright frustrating to put months of effort into something just to have a pest snatch it right out of your hands. I learn something each and every day about patience and food production: jus this past weekend I had to make lemonade out of lemons when a squirrel picked off a huge green tomato and left it practically untouched (I made fried green tomatoes and they were so good). As far as the chickens go, I’m very new to the process and I’m completely loving it! I have 8 week old chicks who just moved outside and are growing steadily. The day I find the first egg will be cause for a huge celebration.

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If you are thinking of entering the world of producing your own food, I will be your biggest cheerleader! Like I said, I’m still learning so much and I think in a few years, I’ll have quite a bit more knowledge to share, but here are just a few pointers from my own experience the past few years:

  1. Start small: consider an indoor herb garden near a sunny window. You can buy potted herbs at nearly any grocery store and it feels great to use them in recipes. I also love strawberries in hanging planters.
  2. Do your reading: one of my hobbies is reading gardening books and blogs. I devour them. Though many have differing opinions and advice, use your instincts or experiment and see what works best for you.
  3. It’s all about the soil: in the past I’ve kind of skimped on working the soil prior to planting (I get too excited), but this year, I’ve learned that it’s completely necessary. Everything starts with the soil so enrich it with good organic matter, get rid of rocks, and make sure it drains well.
  4. Go crazy and splurge on the fun plants: I prefer to spend my money on cool plants rather than clothes, to be honest. I know that sounds weird, but a beautiful cinnamon basil plant or finding alpine strawberries at the nursery does more for me than any sweater or skirt could do.
  5. Learn everything you can about chickens prior to purchasing chicks: I cannot stress this enough! Chicks are a big time commitment, especially the first 6 weeks. I had 6 little fragile lives in my hands and I took it very seriously. I bought books, read forums, watched documentaries until I felt
    comfortable enough to take on the challenge. And then, once they are raised, their safety becomes priority. We invested in a solid structure with precautions for every predator we could think of and I can sleep soundly at night because of that.

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Whatever you do, have fun and embrace the adventure (with its ups and downs)! Try new recipes with your garden beauty. Be proud that you produced your own food and that you are eating with the seasons! Brag about it to everyone that will listen because at the end of the day, it’s one of the coolest things you can do.

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