Self-Sufficiency Sundays: Grow Cat Grass!

Readers, I am totally stoked because now, today, at this moment, I’m unveiling a new feature to get you all fired up about eco-kashrut: Self-Sufficiency Sundays.

What exactly is self-sufficiency? In activist terms, it’s a process of disengaging yourself from the habits and lifestyles that are fostering oppression and destroying the environment. Don’t ruin the lives of indigenous peoples in South America and poison multiple climates with chemicals and jet fuel so that you can have a banana in January – choose the food you eat based on seasons and regions, and then start growing your own. Don’t fuel unbridled capitalism and deplete resources in order to use crappy furniture from Ikea and Target – learn simple carpentry and restoration techniques so that you can make your own. Self-sufficiency is, in the (paraphrased) words of Permaculture founder Bill Mollison, learning how to stop depending on the very power structures you’re trying to dismantle.

My main interest is gardening, so most of my posts will center around growing food. However, self-sufficiency expands far beyond producing crops, and I’m going to try to reflect that here. Most of what I post will come from books or other web resources, often directly reprinted.

A quick note (which I’ll probably stick to the beginning of every SSS post): I’m a relative novice at this stuff. Please! Post additional advice and corrections in the comments, and consider these posts collaborative ventures rather than lectures.

Anyway, cat grass. I’m choosing this as my first topic because it’s a great project for people who are interested in gardening, but are afraid to try growing things from seed, either because they live in an apartment or because they have trouble keeping houseplants alive. Cat grass is not only useful – cats need greens as part of their diet, and providing grass alongside their food will keep them away from other, potentially dangerous plants – but frighteningly easy to grow. Starting with it will give you a chance to observe what seeds look like when they’re germinating and sprouting, and help build a little confidence for when you decide to move on to plants that humans like to eat.

You’ll need:
1 packet of cat grass seed
2 4″ pots per cat (so if you have 2 cats, 4 pots)
water
potting soil
an opaque cover, such as an old saucer or lid
a spray bottle and compact florescent lamp (optional)
a cat is probably helpful

The type of grass that cats like is oat grass (although wheat and barley are also possibilities). You don’t even need to worry about that, though, because garden stores sell packets of cat grass seed right between the carrots and the cilantro. Fill the first pot with potting soil and water. The soil level will sink; fill the pot again until the top of the soil is a little under an inch from the rim of the pot. Sprinkle on a 1/4 inch thick layer of seeds – you shouldn’t see much soil once they’re in – and mix them into the top inch of soil. Sprinkle about a 1/4 inch of soil on top of them, so that they’re mostly covered. Moisten the top layer of soil. The spray bottle works well for this.

Cover the pot with the saucer or lid and keep it away from light for a day or two; the seeds need darkness to germinate. When you see little tips poking out of the soil, put the pot in a sunny place. If you don’t have any sunny spots (with winter approaching, I haven’t seen any evidence of the sun in several days), shine the compact florescent light on the seeds for several hours each day.

When the grass is four inches tall, put it down next to your cat’s food. Remember to keep the soil moist – if you pick up the pot and it feels light, that means it needs water. Don’t let the soil get soggy, though, and don’t let too much water run out of the drainage holes in the bottom, because that washes away nutrients. (I learned that lesson the hard way, after weeks of growing yellow spinach and white dill.) The soil should feel like a wrung-out sponge when you touch it.

Eventually, your grass will wither and die; so goes the life of cat food. After a week or so, just before the tips start to turn yellow, take the other pot and start over. One seed packet should contain enough seeds for several plantings. Alternate between the two pots to make sure your cat always has grass available.

If you’re really ambitious, you can learn how to get oat grass to go to seed and cut out the trip to the garden center. I haven’t gotten that far, although I am uncomfortably aware of the fact that our seeds are probably coming from the same environmentally and socially destructive monoculture farms as our produce. (More on monoculture versus polyculture in a few weeks.)

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