Homesteading, Organic Gardening, How to Farm, Preparedness, Self-Reliance
This is a guest post and entry in Round 2 of the Farm Dreams writing contest. The prizes for this round include:
Door #1: A Travel Royal Berkey Walter Purification system from Directive 21. Valued at $228!
Door #2: Two Super Survival Seed packs from Seed for Security. Valued at $150!
Door #3: A 164' roll of electric poultry netting from Kencove. Valued at $140!
Door #4: A 60 serving entree pack of emergency food from MyFoodStorage.com. Valued at $119!
Door #5: A $100 gift certificate from Baker Creek Seeds! Valued at $100.
Round 2 ends began May 7 and ends July 7 so GET BUSY WRITING and email your entry to us today!
If you’re like me, then you probably like to read a book on everything before you give it a try. Whether its rebuilding an engine, raising a flock of laying hens, or planting a garden, I’m sure you’ve said to yourself at some point, “The book never said anything about this!” While no book can be exhaustive, I do feel like there are a number of things that gardening books have left out that would have been helpful to me in my three years of market gardening. Maybe half the fun is finding them out for your self. But hopefully applying them in your garden will be a help and a joy.
1. Mulch Everything! - Well, maybe not quite everything. But why not mulch your carrots, beets, cabbages, celery, and leeks and most other garden crops? If you bought a dozen bales of straw for $50 for a 20x40 garden, you could mulch everything at the perfect time to suppress weeds, moderate soil moisture loss, prevent disease and pest problems, all while adding nearly a quarter ton of organic matter. Not only this, but you could utilize mulch where you would normally be hilling up your potatoes, or otherwise blanching your leeks, and celery.
Some things to consider:
2. You don’t need all the latest tools and gimmicky gadgets. -I think progress is wonderful. I have my Eliot Coleman designed collinear hoe and love it. But I leave the upside down tomato pots, water bladder cloches, and any number of weeding tools that promise to make weeds disappear almost by shear imagination on the shelf. My wife and I grow tons of vegetables in a year, and we rarely use any other tools than the collinear hoe, stirrup hoe, a wheel hoe, our tiller, the simplest seeder in the catalogue, and your standard rakes, shovels, and trowels. Aside from a roll of row cover, twine and stakes, there’s not much other infrastructure on the farm. Its simple, its cheap, and our tools are of a good quality.
3. Work your soil while working with your soil. - Most beginning gardeners and farmers don’t have the patience to begin rehabbing soil or preparing a garden area 6-18 months in advance. This means that most people will either buy tons of expensive soil amendments, or just bust up some sod and see how it works. Neither my thrift nor my impatience likes these plans. Why not plant a small area, tilling in, side dressing and top dressing with a quality inexpensive organic input like composted chicken manure (I get mine for $5 for a 50-pound bag)? Meanwhile, plant a green manure mix, like clover, rape and rye, or try lasagna bed composting in another patch. That area will be fertile for years if you did a good job, and you will have learned a lot about gardening and your garden in your first year beds.
4. Just try it out. Some time and seed are all you really have to lose. - The extension agency or garden book don’t actually know when the first hard frost will come, when the first heat wave will show up, what filtered afternoon shade will do to help a heat intolerant crop, or how harsh this winter will be on those artichokes you mulched heavily that they say need to be two more zones south. You can always use the concepts and principles you have learned, and roll the dice around the edges to see if you can create success where they all said you’d fail. Those veggies taste EVEN sweeter when you prove them wrong! And when you have unprecedented success, you can always brag about it on farm-dreams.com!
5. Overwinter as many things as you can think of. - Overwintered celery, leeks, lettuce, spinach, kale, and root crops –especially carrots, turnips, and parsnips, are exquisitely sweet, tender, and a welcome relief from the boredom of winter in the kitchen and in the garden. Most of these will never taste better than after a hard freeze. It’s not too hard to time them just right to have them maturing just before winter, and holding in the field, or growing a little (depending on the crop and your climate) all winter. Many can also be timed to germinate in the freshly turned fall soil for winter dormancy and early spring growth. Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook is very helpful here; but so are trial and error.
A few tips:
6. Grow something you’ve never eaten before. - I suppose the biggest reason is that its just fun to have to figure out how to eat Jerusalem artichokes, ground cherries, bronze fennel, purslane, sorrel, or banana melons in the kitchen. But it’s also fun to learn and watch them grow.
7. Don’t do tasks in the same position for too long. - With an acre and a half in garden crops, I could spend whole days bent over planting transplants, weeding, harvesting, and mulching - and do, sometimes. But my joints, my mind, and my whole body thank me when I at least break it up, pounding some tomato stakes in, picking okra, hoeing, or watering all my transplants when I feel that I’ve been bent over too long. It seems like common sense, which is probably why I’ve never seen it in a book.
8. Let the sun chase you around the garden. - There are whole days in the summer where I spend all my time in the shade. Almost all my garden gets a great deal of sun. But with a north-south tree line down the middle of the garden, I have whole beds that on a summer day are shaded until 3 PM, and I have whole sections that are in the shade from 1 PM on. It doesn’t always work out that I spend most of my day in the shade. But it’s nice when it does!
9. Pick your varieties very carefully. - What tastes best? What grows best in your area, in your soil, and in your microclimate? What fits your space requirements? What seed company is it from? Talking to gardeners and farmers in your area will help. I asked an older farmer who grows lots of heirlooms what he thought of one particular heirloom seed company. He told me that he thought they should probably have let some heirloom varieties stay lost forever. He, like me, had been burned by some varieties that seemed to not thrive, or they produced way too much of the wrong part of the plant, for no apparent reason other than the genetics were poorly maintained or never good in the first place. You’re working hard to grow your garden. You want to have the right seeds.
Also find the best tasting varieties that grow well in your area and stop growing varieties that taste terrible or just ok. You may notice that your seed catalog recycles words used to describe flavor quality. Go ahead and cross of varieties that have the lowest quality flavor adjective. I have regretted my five pound purchase of the “good” flavored heirloom sugar snap peas. This fall they will be used as a very expensive cover crop.
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