This is the driest terrain I have ever gardened upon. It is straight high desert, cactus loving, rattlesnake calling, no-rain-in-sight, sand and limestone. Luckily, I like a good challenge and I believe that if I work with the land instead of against it I will have great results. Putting grass everywhere is not a sustainable option. So, how does one turn a pasture (or yard of dirt) into an oasis and meandering garden? Let me show you how.
You don’t need a rototiller or tractor. We are barely disturbing the earth here. First decide what you want to plant. The area in the front of our house has been designated the Perennial Garden. Doug fenced it off from the chickens. It has dozens of medicinal herbs, fruit trees and bushes, and perennial foods, like asparagus, spread out across the area. Maybe you want lots of the same flowers. Maybe an herb garden.
For each plant, dig a hole, put a handful of garden soil in the hole. Put plant in the hole. Cover with garden soil. Water for fifteen to twenty seconds. Every 10 seconds= 1 inch of water. Plants need at least two inches of water per day.
Walk a few feet away and plant the next one. You can also dig a hole, plant seeds, cover with garden soil, water. I planted pumpkins among the herbs and trees. This is Pumpkin Hollow Farm, after all.
A few feet from that, perhaps plant a tree or a bush. In the case of a meandering garden, invasive is a good word! I want the plants to fill the space. One giant butterfly and bird garden that provides perennial, sustaining foods, and medicine.
In between the plants, you can lay down cardboard and cover with thick mulch. Wood chips are especially good. Do know that some wild plants, like bind weed, can and will permeate all cardboard and mulch but the mulch keeps things tidy and makes it easier to pull up weeds, and looks rather nice. I would never use weed barrier. Oy, all that plastic. Mama Earth sure doesn’t love that. Bind weed gets through that stuff too, anyway.
We added a large rectangle of thick cardboard ringed with bricks and rocks. We topped with cardboard with 3 inches of straw, and 3 inches of garden soil and planted green beans, soybeans, collard greens, pumpkins, Hopi amaranth, and other beautiful annuals.
A garden can thrive in absolutely any soil and in any climate without the use of machinery and chemicals. We hand water each night so that we can see how each plant is doing. They get plenty of sun. (Maybe too much, all forty of my tomato starts in the kitchen garden fried!) And the plants will reseed and spread themselves, creating an enchanting meandering garden.
This was hard to narrow down, because in each area of homesteading, there are many great tips available. I wanted the most useful tips for this article; the ones that I use all the time.
1. Steaming Eggs- even following a plant based diet, we have happy chickens that lay a lot of eggs. Not ones to let things go to waste, and knowing that it isn’t harming anyone, we do enjoy our farm fresh eggs. Now, how to hard boil them so that peel without exhaustion, frustration, or loss of all the white part! The best tip I learned was to steam the eggs. Place the eggs in a steamer basket above boiling water, covered for 30ish minutes. Perfect every single time.
Last year, I asked my granddaughter, Maryjane, if she wanted to color Easter eggs. “Grammie, the chickens already colored the eggs!” The Araucanas are her favorite chickens with their beautiful blue eggs.
2. Freezing Greens- we grow a lot of greens. How I love curly kale, lacinato kale, 5 Silverbeet Swiss chard, spinach, and wild greens. But, how do you preserve them? Jars of mushy greens turns my stomach. They won’t stay good forever in the fridge. A great tip I learned from an old timer’s homesteading magazine was to stuff all the fresh greens tightly into a freezer bag, seal, and place in the freezer. A few hours later, or so, as the greens freeze, quickly use your fingers to crush up the greens through the bag. Don’t let them defrost. Keep doing that occasionally until you have a whole bag of crushed frozen greens. To use, just sprinkle a handful into soups, scrambled eggs, or stir fry. It is a delicious way to preserve excess greens.
My favorite recipe for frozen greens comes from my friend, Rodney. It is a rough recipe that we alter every time we make it. It is a delicious soup of potatoes, garlic, onions, greens, veggie sausage, and lots of white wine.
3. Labeling Canned Preserves- I used to dutifully notate the contents of each jar with carefully written labels. Should the labels get wet, they fell off. Should the labels be of good quality, they never came off. Perhaps the print was smudged or maybe I ran out of labels. A useful way to label home canned goods is with a Sharpie. A Sharpie is a homestead necessity, y’all. Just clearly mark the contents and date on the lid and that will stay put for as long as your have your beautiful jars of food on a shelf. The sharpie can be rubbed off with a little elbow grease, or maybe you won’t be using that lid for canning anymore so it won’t matter.
My new house looks like a show home. It is lovely and comfortable, but not made for a homesteader. The prior owners apparently never put up several hundred jars of produce. There is simply nowhere to store them. The house is undergoing a slight makeover soon with rows of rustic shelving all along the north wall. 60 feet total. Cookbooks, canned goods, pantry staples in canning jars, and this and that, shall grace one full side of the main area of the house. It is not often that folks showcase all of their food, but it is so lovely, why not? A half wall is coming down as well to open up the kitchen to the living room and create more space for visiting and cooking.
4. Unclog a Drain- I had to use this one just the other day. It doesn’t work if it is something like a washrag or huge clot of hair, but it works for slow running sinks. Pour a heavy hand of baking soda down the drain. Top off with a good pour of white vinegar and let sit. It shall bubble and start clearing. An hour later, pour in a kettle or two of boiling water. That should do the trick!
5. Replace Dryer Sheets- should you have to wait for a clothes line until spring as I do, you can create a simple dryer sheet that will leave your clothes smelling fresh and static clear. Take a washrag, dampen it, and shake about 5 good shakes of lavender oil onto it. Throw in dryer with clothes. Brilliant.
Dryer sheets have a lot of toxic (to you and the environment and are very harsh on the skin) ingredients in them and are just not necessary.
6. Bring Back Aprons- if you know me, or you have read my blog for some years, you know my obsession with aprons. I traipse all over town in them. I adore them whether they are vintage and have a story or the ones that were made by a few Mennonite gals for me. Aprons keep your clothes cleaner so you have to wash less. Aprons have pockets for eggs, clothes pins, quarters, a cell phone, a handkerchief, and children’s toys. I cannot wait until mine are holding seed packets again!
7. How to Take Care of Plants- I had the black thumb of death for so many years, it is hard to believe that I can grow plants so well now. Houseplants and garden plants succumbed to fates that I rather regret. A fellow at the garden center said this simple statement that changed how I take care of plants, “Treat the plant as if it is in its natural environment.” Tomatoes are tropical. They need sunshine and lots of water. Succulents and cacti go for weeks without water. My jasmine plant is crawling all over the bathroom because it loves humidity and filtered sun and a good watering once a week. My fine old aloe loves water every two weeks and at least a bit of direct sun.
8. How to Water Plants- this was a big one for me. I assumed one must never over-water the garden! It wasn’t until my friend, an accomplished Master Gardener, pointed out that it is really difficult to over-water in the high desert! For every plant, place a finger into the soil next to it and it should be damp to the second knuckle. Corn, houseplants, tomatoes. It changed the game for me.
9. How to Easily Garden- well, this one I came up with myself, but it is brilliant if one does not want to rototille the dirt driveway (or anywhere else). Dig a hole or a trench. Place a handful of organic gardening soil into it. Plant seeds or transplant seedlings. Cover with garden soil. Water. Place cardboard around plant and top with straw. Do this all over the yard and driveway. Every year the soil gets better and better.
10. Plant Perennials- by planting perennial food crops, one can assure harvest of something year to year. Annuals make up the majority of our food, but perennials create food security. Fruit bushes and trees, wild foods, and annuals that reseed themselves are all helpful on a homestead. Raspberries, burdock, apples, arugula, even lettuce will reseed itself if you let it.
I have learned many things over the last ten+ years, but these ten tips can be used anywhere, on any sized homestead or garden. I hope they make your life a little easier! Do you have a homestead tip to share? Write it in the comments! Happy Homesteading!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.