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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Water, Mulch, and Reseeding (ways to assure a good crop)

I suppose a drip system would be the most effective way to adequately water without wasting and would save time.  Doug and the neighbor laid out their respective plans over the winter for an elaborate drip system for our gardens.  However, come spring we have enough budgeted for a new hose and maybe a sprayer.  A drip system didn’t fit into our meager farmstead funds!

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The system we came up with wouldn’t work in clay soil or in humid environments but here in the high plains of arid Colorado, it works really well.  It also saves us a lot of money on the water bill.  Last year I wrote a post about trench planting during the fires (see post here) and wondered if that would work.  This year when Doug rototilled the front yard rows, I left all the dirt on the sides creating a long trench.  I planted the seeds directly in the trench which is about six inches deep in some spots.  We can water quickly by filling the trenches with a few inches of water which happens in ten seconds per area.  It seeps in quickly and keeps two inches of soil wet for the next twenty hours or so.  The plants are protected from the wind and the moisture doesn’t get whisked away so quickly.

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In the garlic, onion, and potato rows I used the hoe to create small trenches along the sides of the rows.  I can quickly fill them with an inch of water and they will seep in right to the roots.

Once the plants are established a thick layer of old straw cushions the plants.  (See last year’s post on mulching here) I leave a little space around the stems so they won’t rot, but the entire area gets a nice blanket of weed squashing straw.  This is a far easier way to keep up with the straggly and strangling crab grass and other fun weeds here.  It really does slow down the weed growth and keeps the moisture in so that on some days we do not even have to water.

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My biggest failures for the first twenty years of gardening came from these factors.  Not enough water.  Not enough weed control.  And not enough diligence planting seeds.  If seeds didn’t come up, I felt that that particular bed was a failure.  I never heard of the saying, “Plant Three; one for God, one for the birds, one for me.”  Boy, is this true!  Every third seed seems to come up.  The birds help, no doubt, and apparently there is a tithe involved with planting.  So, if some seeds don’t come up, I am now out there planting another seed where I want it.  All along the pumpkin patch there were spaces of missing plants.  I just reseeded them.  Same with the corn.  Same with the brassicas.  Through the middle of June one can keep planting seeds that will be ready for harvest and mid-July for the fall crops.

Three ways to assure good basic crops.  Now we just hope for great weather and that Mother Nature looks kindly on our gardens!

To Mulch or Not to Mulch

…That is the question.  Shakespearian cliché, I know, but gardening brings out the drama in me.  Oh, whoa is me, doth that weeds?  Crap.  I thought I just killed thy evil heads a fortnight ago.

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I mulched the potatoes as I placed hills over them, keeping their little round orbs out of sunlight.  Green potatoes not being the most appealing, or healthiest, and covered them with straw.  I haven’t had to weed them a bit.  They keep snug in their golden carpet.

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I looked at the carrots and didn’t want to mulch between every single feathery stem.  I didn’t know if all the seeds had come up yet in other beds and didn’t want to smother new seedlings.  However, as you can see, I have lost the row to the pumpkins as the purslane and everything else has decided that compost and daily waterings are divine and they have taken up the property.  Mulching around pumpkins would be very smart indeed.

Combined with the trenching technique I told you I was going to try, I think I have a fine idea for next year’s garden.  (I know, I know, it’s September, why on earth am I planning next year’s garden?….It’s just what I do, can’t help it.  My heart doth lie in the beauty of the flower’s face, in its tines of leafy elegance, and in its delicious enslavement of promises of food.  I think on it all year.)

The trenching technique works great.  I planted some things in a two inch trench.  It is incredibly dry here and we are not at risk of fungal diseases or overwatering.  I simply fill the trench with water in two seconds to the top, and it soaks down into the roots, no run off.  The wind just hits its tops as the plants try to grow and they are strong by time they get out of the trench.  The roots are kept in a bit of shelter and are so easily watered.  Now, if I mulch around the trenches, I will cut down on work, water, and weeds (my nemesis).

Tis beautiful to plan, and so beautiful to behold, the garden’s ever changing beauty and demure, as well as its challenge and careful planning.  I say mulch!