Gardening: A Vital Step To Self-Sufficiency
The Freedom Of Self-Sufficiency
By Rhonda Crank, firstname.lastname@example.org; www.thefarmerslamp.com
With the changing economic times we are in, more and more people are planting gardens. Some are planting in old flower beds; some are exchanging their lawn mowers for tillers and using the front yard; still others are using raised beds all around their lots in town, while people who already garden are increasing their plot size. Gardeners know that being able to provide as much food for yourself and your family as is possible is vital to the freedom that comes with self-sufficiency. Wherever you live, whether you have large acreage or a lot in town, you can grow your own fruits and veggies. This may seem a strange time of year to be talking about starting a garden, but this is the time to be planning. Seed catalogs, neighboring farmers, or even a family member who gardens are a good place to start gathering information about what you want in your garden.
If you’re a beginner vegetable gardener, there are some basic things you should consider about vegetable garden planning: things like site selection, plot size, which vegetables to grow, and how much to plant. Remember, “It’s better to be proud of a small garden than to be frustrated by a big one!” One of the common mistakes beginners make is planting more than anybody could eat or want. Trust me, you can only give away so many zucchini, cucumbers, and peas. So unless you want to have storage issues and excess waste, plan wisely. I would recommend talking with someone you know who has a garden and the experience you need for your area. I was fortunate to have my great-grandparents and grandparents as a big part of my life and among the many lessons they taught me, gardening was one of them.
There is just something wonderful about planting a seed and watching it do exactly what God instructed it to do: grow and produce fruit. We’ll take a short look at a few things for you to consider. Please know that I am not a master gardener so I won’t claim complete knowledge and authority on the topics. I am just experienced and love the garden!
Be sure you have enough sun exposure. Vegetables love the sun. They need at least six hours of full sun every day, and preferably eight. Some, like lettuces and spinach appreciate a little shade, so be sure to check the sun requirements of your chosen veggies. I like to put my tender plants in raised beds placed where they can be sheltered by the shade in the late afternoon.
Know your soil. Now I have never tested my soil; it’s just not something that has ever been necessary to me. I garden much the way my grandparents taught me, and they never did this, so I don’t. I am an organic, non-GMO gardener, but not everyone is, so you decide how you want to grow your garden and head that way. (If you want to know more about organic or non-GMO gardening, you will find help on my website www.thefarmerslamp.com.) Soil can be enriched with compost, and I do this in many ways. We plant a cover crop of buckwheat in the late summer, early fall, after it goes to seed and comes up a second time, we put our chickens in the garden. Doing this lets them “till” for us. They aerate the soil and add their manure to it. They benefit by receiving bugs and nutrition from the garden, making them happy and making for really good eggs! When we move them to a new section of the garden, we cover the “tilled” section with leaves and let it sit all winter. If you have cows, or know of someone who does, you can add their manure to your compost pile or directly to your garden.
If you are a non-GMO, organic gardener, be sure to know how the cow was fed and grazed. Remember, vegetables love good, loamy, well-drained soil. You can check with your local nursery or local cooperative extension office about free soil test kits, if you want to assess your soil type.
Placement is important. Don’t plant too near a tree, which will steal nutrients and shade the garden. I know a lady who, on her first attempt at a garden, tilled and dug around trees in her back yard. She unknowingly killed the tree by destroying its main root system and her garden didn’t do so well because of the drain on the soil by the trees. A garden spot close to the house will help to discourage wild animals from nibbling away your potential harvest, maybe. I have had deer come right to the back porch to eat the blooms off my roses and the squash from the vine in the raised bed.
You can decide about tilling, lasagna gardening, no-till gardening, raised beds, or like most of us, any combination of these. Raised beds are great for people with bad backs, or some other issue that makes stooping or kneeling on the ground difficult. If you have bad soil, this is a great way to start. Again, search the internet, ask your extension agent, but most importantly, seek out someone in your community to learn from. Attend your local farmer’s market, this is a great place to meet farmers, form relationships with them, and learn.
Vegetables need a lot of water, at least one inch of water per week. There are many systems, ways, and techniques for accomplishing this task. There are too many to go into here, but if I do have to water, I prefer soaker hoses, catching rain water, and we are blessed to have springs here on the farm.
Of course, you’ll need some basic gardening tools. These are some of the more essential tools depending on which type of gardening you decide to do: Tiller, spade,garden fork, soaker hoses, hoe, hand weeder, seeder, broadcaster, and wheelbarrow (or bucket) for moving around mulch or soil and for harvesting. It is definitely worth paying a bit extra for quality tools.
Most gardeners start looking through their seed catalogs in January, maybe February, just because the desire to plant something is starting to bud in us. We save most of our own seeds, but when I do have to order, I use Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Wood Prairie Farms, and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, but you can find the one you trust and like doing business with. It may take some trial and error, but be patient, it will be worth finding someone you feel good about doing business with. Be sure to order early. Your local co-op or farm supply is also a great place for help with all your gardening needs, they can be a valuable asset to you.
Know your local frost dates. Be sure to know when the first and last frost dates are for your area. Remember the date in the almanac is approximate, keep your eye on your local weather, and be sure to talk to a local farmer, most of them are only too happy to share information and help you. Plant too soon and you lose the crop, plant too late and you lose the crop, don’t be frightened by this, nature is designed to give us clear warning and prep time, at least in this case.
What about garden size? A 16′ x 10′ plot can feed a family of four for one season, longer if you preserve the harvest. That’s another article, but the basic ways are canning, dehydrating, or freezing. If you want or need more space, adjust your size the way you want it. If you choose this size, making your garden 11 rows wide, with each row 10 feet long would probably be the best use of the space. Again, adjust to your own needs. If possible, the rows should run north and south to take full advantage of the sun.
Some vegetables yield more than one crop per season like beans, peas, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, spinach, mustard, tomatoes, peppers, turnips…. Be sure to plant what you and your family will eat. If you don’t like beans, don’t plant them, but who doesn’t like beans? Some of the easiest and most popular home garden vegetables are:
Tomatoes—very high yielding
Zucchini Squash—these are super productive! Trust me.
Peppers—any variety you want, usually very productive
Beans—any variety you like; we plant five different varieties.
Marigolds and Zinnias mixed in help discourage some predators and add a little splash of color.
So, now that you have some of the basics, what are you waiting for? Get to gardening, you will never be sorry you did. Be sure to involve your whole family in the process. Remember, even as an experienced gardener I am always learning. That is one of the beautiful things about farmsteading, you never stop growing as a person, or a farmer. Happy growing! Happy eating! Happy times.