So You Want to Be a Homesteader- Day 1- Gardening

Growing food is going to top our list of homesteading activities.  There is nothing quite like walking outside to the gardens with a basket in hand, clipping this and that for supper.  Seeing the plethora of tomatoes hanging heavy from the vine or crisp salad greens in various colors.  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

You don’t need a large plot of land to garden.  Don’t think FARM quite yet.  Growing for excess is the goal, but it should be the goal for preserving for your own use, not to sell.  Take care of your people first before getting into a farming operation.  I think of all of the vegetables I sold for near nothing and realize that I could have used those on our own dinner table.  Later down the line, if you are feeling pretty good about the whole a crop, then designate an area, but for homesteading purposes, we are only thinking of providing for ourselves and those close to us.

Grow as many varieties as possible.  If one crop fails, you still have plenty of other choices.  And for a homestead, variety is the spice of life.  Tomatoes, peppers, green beans, for sure, but also potatoes, onions, garlic, ice burg lettuce, and lots of herbs!

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Grow perennials.  A good homestead has a food forest in the works.  Crops like Jerusalem artichokes, sorrel, and fruit bushes and vines will feed you without too much prodding year after year.

Don’t forget wild foods.  Leave a big patch of dandelions in the garden for salads and smoothies.  Mulberries will be raining down soon here.  Leaves of dock and mallow are highly nutritious.

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A ginger plant in the kitchen.

You can grow food anywhere.  You can grow a tomato in a pot in the south window over the winter.  You can use window boxes, pots from a garage sale, or the front yard.  You can garden in a rental or on your own land.  It is always worth it to garden, even if you know you will move.  Community gardens, friend’s houses, wherever you can get your fingers in the soil.

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Grow food all together.  Maybe when we get a lot of land I will give in and plant in rows, but right now seeds go everywhere in the garden beds.  They grow together snug and fill our kitchen counters with ease.  Extra seeds get added to beds.  One more tomato plant.  As long as they have the space they need to grow, they are fine.  I keep foods you might eat together, together.  The three sisters- corn, squash, and beans- grow beautifully.  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and basil grow together.  Lettuces among green beans.  Pumpkins everywhere!

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You don’t need to overhaul all the soil.  I have given you many techniques over the years to garden easily and on the cheap.  Start today by digging a little trench across an area.  Sprinkle a handful of bagged soil across the five inch deep trench.  Now put some seeds down then cover with organic gardening soil.  Water every day.  Done.

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A row of corn, sunflowers, pinto beans, and watermelon hide in this trench in the middle of weeds in rocky soil.

Growing your own produce is really, really important.  Up north of Pueblo the farmer’s markets are filled with vegetables that were not grown in Colorado.  No one has figured that out because we have totally lost sense of what grows when.  Think about where your produce trucks in from, how much gas went into it.  From South America to California, that out of season peach is costing us health and the environment.  You can grow lettuce in the kitchen window for goodness sake.  Yes, gardening is at the top of our list for homesteading!

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The Straw Bale and Other Easy Raised Beds

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There are many ways to create raised beds.  My favorite right now would be to use straw bales to create a rectangle, place a piece of cardboard in the bottom to suppress weeds (and prevent roots from accessing the soil before it is properly cleaned), then fill with soil.  That would take a bit of organic soil, but we could put a few inches of wood chips in the bottom and make it even more rich.  The soil can be half way up the bales.  We will be putting mulch on top anyways (no exposed soil!).  In the early spring and late fall an old window can be placed over the bales to create a simple cold frame.  We can sit on the bales for ease of reaching.  We are using a natural means of holding the soil in, and as it breaks down we just release the strings from the bales and blend it into the soil or use as mulch.

Old pieces of wood can be fastened together.  Large scavenged rocks can be used to rim a garden as well.  Our only limit is our creativity.

Large containers could be built to place on concrete.  Small ones to be placed on a picnic table.  Then, of course, the smaller of the raised beds is simply a pot!  There are many ways to incorporate vegetables and fruits into the landscape.