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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Improving My Quick Garden Bed Method and Marvelous Summer

20180717_075151There were pros and cons to my quick raised beds but overall they are a success.  I had first put down a layer of cardboard, surrounded it with logs, then put in thick slabs of straw, then compost, then organic gardening soil.  The whole thing cost about twelve bucks.

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This row was planted directly in the soil and is doing just as well as the beds but has a lot more bind weed!

At the beginning I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough gardening soil but was tapped out of funds so couldn’t get more.  It took a lot longer to water because I think too much sand (we have sandy soil) got into my compost.  Don’t forget to check your beds after watering.  It should be wet to your second knuckle.  Beds can be deceiving, they look wet, but aren’t!  I will add more soil this fall or next spring to build up the bed.

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The second issue was an obvious one, but I didn’t think about it.  Some of the corn has to be staked up with re bar because the roots can’t get through the cardboard.  The beds aren’t that deep and the straw takes up most of the space.  So, some of the deeper reaching plants can’t get enough space and nutrients.  They are doing fine now though.

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The potatoes are prolific planted directly in the soil.

The weeds certainly found their way through the cardboard but not nearly as bad as in the regular beds.  I have had a much easier season this year with much less work keeping the beds clear of weeds.

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20180717_07533820180717_075405My yard looks pretty and more organized with the makeshift beds.  Doug can mow easier around them.  It’s been so incredibly hot and dry here that the grass all died early in the season, but at least the weeds are green!  Because of the early heat, my spring crops came up (if they came up) and promptly died or went to seed.  I will be planting the same crops today as fall crops and hoping for better luck.  I need radishes!

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I planted a tomato seedling in the porch planter and it is doing amazing!

This fall I will build more of these beds and let them sit for the winter before planting in them.  How quickly logs (that I can still use in the wood stove this winter) and railroad ties make creative beds.  I like the look of them.  The bark gently peeling off, the varying colors, the moist soil within.

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20180717_075436The lizards dart here and there, drinking water from small leaves.  The birds come for their seeds.  And the cooler morning breeze rustles the sunflowers into dance. I hope you are all enjoying your gardens.  How I love summer!

 

Vegetables Playing Nice

We hear about companion planting often; combine plants together that are beneficial.  Sometimes they flag down good bugs or bees for pollination, or sometimes they repel insects that enjoy eating their companion.  They like each other.  Basil and tomatoes.  Potatoes and greens.  Corn and squash.  All good friends.  I do companion plant but I do more than that.  Even if I did have a zillion acres, I wouldn’t mono-crop.  Meaning long rows of one plant.  I know in commercial farming that it is considerably easier than digging out the cabbage from the lush onion tops, but I will probably never be that big!  Furthermore, even though I don’t want to mono-crop, I do some companion planting, my real reason for growing plants all together in the same space is…well, space!

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Now that we are trying to provide most of our own food and do some market growing, the corn can not leisurely take up all that space.  It best share.  There is a full foot between the stalks.  Squash and melon plants can be meandering around down there keeping weeds down.  There is also room for some beans to climb up the corn stalk. (Sounds like a nursery rhyme!)  This, of course, creates what is known as the Three Sisters, the Native American form of gardening.  Yes, they are beneficial plants for each other but they also save on space.

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Any blank few inches of dirt gets spinach, kale, chard, or lettuce seeds added to it.  Baby greens are delicious, good for us, and easy to grow.  They get put everywhere.

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Onions share space with neighbors above ground, namely cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels.  Potatoes share with sunflowers.  We have Irish blood in us, we need potatoes.  When ours sprouted and ran for the hills in the root cellar, we were saddened.  Thank goodness the ones at the store were available.  This year we are planting them everywhere, in barrels, next to the extra row of beans, next to the carrots, and in another large raised bed.

The first set of lettuce and greens that I planted early were sparse and even though I can harvest them still, there is a lot more space in that bed.  I could plant more greens or soybeans, or whatever I have left seed wise.  Probably shouldn’t plant pumpkins, they would pummel the little lettuce guys once they started spreading!  Common sense helps with gardening. (I could use a smidge more…)

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One can also think this way; something growing underground (potatoes, carrots, turnips….), something growing short that is early (lettuce, kale, collards….), and something that takes awhile to get harvested (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, beans….), and make them share a bed.  They all have enough room.

Now you can never have to say your garden is much too small.  You can have pots, five gallon buckets, trash cans, upside down tomato plants, and all the vegetables in the garden playing nice and sharing the soil.  Just envision that harvest!