This Year’s Secrets of the Garden

Already I can feel the air shifting, changing.  I had been watching the birds and animals a month before the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a hard winter.  My crops are finishing up weeks early, ready to be placed asleep beneath layers of heady compost and blankets of straw.

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This year’s lessons were plentiful.

#1 I sought to use up all the seeds that I had collected over the many years of gardening and not purchase any this year.  Most were not viable and I had to do mad dashes to the store to get seeds/seedlings in order to have a garden!  I grew tomatoes from seed.  One large vine was struggling to turn ripe so I pulled the whole thing out and hung it in the kitchen.  It is now producing luscious, red tomatoes.

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#2 I did not purchase expensive potato starts.  Instead I filled my apron with potatoes from the kitchen.  Organic and growing eyes, fingerlings, reds, and a few yukons from a friend’s nursery.  They took off better than any potato start I have ever had.  I filled baskets and had three huge harvests of delicious potatoes.

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#3 I discovered a little nemesis to my farm’s name.  The Squash Bug.  Few pumpkins were found last year and this because of that wretched little bug and his army.  I shall be spending this winter’s reading time perusing garden books for organic methods to killing said enemy.

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#4 If it doesn’t grow well over here, then plant some more over there.  I never plant in rows.  I plant everything together.  This year the weather soared above a hundred degrees way too early and I did not have any spring crops.  Almost all of my new herb seedlings were toasted quickly beneath the scorching May sun.  I planted many things on the east side of the house and they thrived.

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#5 Mother Nature grows best.  The squirrel that hid a pumpkin seed in front of the porch is my hero.  The vine is up on the porch and produced the only pie pumpkin because the squash bugs didn’t know where to look.  The ristras hanging from my porch had their seeds scattered in an April wind and I will have New Mexican red chilies soon.  A rogue head of popcorn I didn’t know was there planted itself and grew in the herbs gardens.

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#6 Let things go to seed.  I had prolific basil and arugula.  The radishes and carrots reseeded, as did lettuce and spinach.

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#7 My perma/straw beds that I created this spring were genius (I say so modestly) and I had little work this year to keep them weeded.  I will add three more next month.

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#8 Some things cannot be tricked.  I grew ginseng and gingko until they realized they were in Colorado and promptly died.  Peppers, which have always been impossible to grow up north, grow plentiful and flavorful in Pueblo.  (The eucalyptus and ginger were tricked successfully, I must add.)

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#9 Water and compost are all you need.  The sun does the rest.  Plants want to grow.

#10 I love gardening.

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My porch and many gardens were taken over by morning glories, which effectively shielded many herbs and young trees from the record-high temperatures.  I enjoy feeding the birds and watching the wildlife.  I let the rogue “weed” trees grow and ended up with a lovely privacy fence.  We ate well.  Every year is different.  Even when some things don’t work, something else always does.  A good lesson for life from this Farmgirl’s perspective.

How to Make Raised Garden Beds Easily and On the Cheap

I pour myself more sludge (strong coffee) as I write, the world encompassed in white, me not trying not to fall under SAD (seasonal affective disorder), knowing in a few weeks I will be planting those first seeds.

I told you that I was going to move the garden to the backyard because zoning had come by last fall and given me a warning post-garden to clean up my front yard into fancy neighborhood status.  I thought it would be easier to grow grass and flowers in the front yard and fence off a 25×25 designated garden in the back yard.  Enter large puppy, large expense for fencing, and here I am back in the front yard.

The weeds last year were incredible.  I have never seen lamb’s quarters ten feet tall!  I have never experienced mallow whose roots may actually tickle the top of Australia.  I was humbled.  This year I know we will still have weeds (they are medicine and food, but they do like to take over the world some…) but this year I will be a little better prepared.  Even though my crops did great in their sandy, never-been-gardened spaces I did want to amend the soil.  Did I mention on the cheap?  Because I never have as much extra money for gardening as I think I will!

This first-of-several beds coming this spring is a combination of everything I have learned over the years.  It is part Hugelkultur, part Permaculture, part straw bale gardening, part raised bed, part ingenious way to use what I have on hand.

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First I laid down sheets of cardboard.  Cardboard will break down within one season but it will help immensely in keeping weeds down.  I sure wish I hadn’t sent all that cardboard to recycling!  I would have layered on a few extra sheets of cardboard if I had it.

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I thought of large stones.  I thought of cinder blocks.  I thought of 2x4s.  I checked the bank account, and went into the back yard to see what I could find!  I have large limbs from the dying Elm tree that were ready for firewood.  We have lots of wood right now and these are so beautiful with the bark still on them.  They were easy to place in an 18×4 rectangle (with the help of my husband) to create a frame.

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Then two to three inch slabs of straw went on top of that.  The straw will suppress more weeds, will create an airy environment for the seedlings, will break down and become mulch and amendments, and helps fill the space so I didn’t have to buy so much garden soil.

Next went on pails of finished compost.  It never fails to amaze me that a banana peel in six months becomes dirt.  That scraps, and straw, and grass clippings, and chicken straw, and everything I put out there turns into rich, dark compost.  I won’t have enough for all the beds I am planning on putting in but I can purchase mushroom compost pretty cheap once I run out of my own.  It is only for this year.  From here on out my own compost will act as fertilizer in spring and fall sprinkled on the beds.  I won’t need quite as much.

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Then went on five bags of organic gardening soil.  I wanted to get it spread on the new bed now because it will have a few weeks to settle into the straw.  I want to make sure I don’t lose seeds in the settling soil!  We will know in a few weeks if I need more soil.

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The tiny trees I planted are in the tomato cages.  They will be watered regularly by being in the garden bed.  Once they grow nice and tall in as many years and begin to shade the patch, the patch can move.  Gardening is as much about flexibility as it is growing food.  Nature will work with you.  The main idea is to improve the soil and to create as many perennials so that each year we have more and more food and we are helping the soil regain health.

Done!  Now, the straw will try to sprout but the grasses easily pull out.  If a weed makes it through eight inches of cardboard, straw, and soil, it, too, will be easy to pull out.  At the end of the season I will pour some leaves, straw from the chicken coop, etc on top, and blend it in come spring.

*Side note- the empty soil bags will be set around perennial herbs and bushes with straw or wood chips placed over.  Weeds will not get through them!

Grab another cup of coffee, Folks, and hang in there.  We are almost back in the garden…

 

Farm City

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Novella Carpenter has captured me.  I am having trouble leaving the book alone long enough to get my work done!  I am busy dreaming up crazy ideas, nodding and crying with her, smiling at her triumphs, comparing them to my own.  “Farm City; The Education of an Urban Farmer” is a great book.

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It makes us think of an option we have long looked at.  Would we enjoy an urban farm?  The cons we always looked at were the finite amount of garden space, the limited farm animals, the close neighbors, the noise, pollution, city water, and limited wood burning.  But this book brings to light the marvelous perks that appeal to us.  My great friend, Ethan, who was my farm intern a few years ago, texted me something to the gist of, “Read Farm City!  It will make you want to take over empty lots and garden.”

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Yesterday, my truck wouldn’t start.  It seems to be on strike.  I lasted about four hours in my apartment then jumped on my bike and ran errands around town stopping in between to sit on random benches and soak up the sun, answer business calls, and eventually ended up at Purgatory Winery where I devoured a few more chapters and a cool glass of Chardonnay.

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Even out on our little homestead on the prairie surrounded by peace and quiet and astounding natural beauty, we would be tending the fire, finishing chores, then would suddenly drive forty-five minutes to town to pick up one thing from the store.  Call it stir-crazy, attention deficit disorder, or cabin fever, Doug and I don’t stay put.  We also love the freedom of jumping on a bus, a bike trail, or walking to wherever we need.  Perhaps that comes from our long string of unreliable vehicles.

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We love restaurants.  For fifteen years we keep saying we are going to give them up!  Expensive, unhealthy, waste of time…ooh look, a new Indian place.  Our friends that never go out to eat, frequenting restaurants for special occasions only are amazing to us.  But, we know we aren’t giving up eating out a few times a week and that is that.

Where neighbors are a con to city living, they can also be a pro.  Good neighbors are family.  Local music, karaoke, coffee shops, book stores, we want it all.  So, a farm in the city makes quite a bit of sense to us.

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My passion is farming, sharing farming, food security, children knowing where their food and medicine can come from.  If I have a magnificent large country farm, who will see it?  Only school groups and locals will be inspired.  It is easy to grow on a large plot in the country, the real inspiration is given to those rounding the corner on a city street and coming across a veritable Eden in the middle of town.

Still a year away, but the ideas are swirling.  Pick up “Farm City” by Novella Carpenter.  See what crazy ideas you come up with!

 

Out of Space Farming (finding garden space in unusual places)

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We need a bigger garden in the next house!  This is always our mantra.  The next house will indeed have a bigger garden and I will inevitably run out of space.  We have already begun saying it again.  This quarter acre garden is the largest we have had and succeeded at but the drive to farm and garden and grow more veggies and succeed at the farmer’s market and at filling the root cellar leaves me looking for nooks and crannies of dirt.  I need more space!  Our lease doesn’t run out for another garden season or two so what is a farmgirl to do?  Find space.

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A palm reader once told me that I would be farming in pots.  Yeaaah, sure.  Pots of farm vegetables are reserved for the day our kids stick us in an apartment.  Pots of vegetables are for when you don’t have a yard to tear up.  And pots are expensive!  I don’t want to go out and buy all those pretty ceramic pots.  They would break in the first hail storm anyway.  (You can see my wheels turning here, can’t you?)  What about five gallon buckets?  I could put them between the rows of the garden!  I could line them up the driveway!  I could fill the porch with them!  So, off to Walmart we went to get five gallon buckets.  I needed over two hundred dollars worth.  Yikes.

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I wrote on our website and on our Facebook page our wish list for the farm including five gallon buckets.  Two different folks wrote back that we should check the bakeries at the local grocery stores.  That seemed odd, but the frostings and other products come in those buckets and they just throw them away.  (Read the ingredients on those suckers and never buy a cake or donut again.) So, back to Walmart we went and scored a few buckets.  Every time Doug thinks about it, he pops by the bakery and gets me more buckets.

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I have nine buckets of peas going next to the house and they are coming up wonderfully.  If an impending hail storm were to come, I could easily move the buckets to the covered porch.  Twenty seven tomato plants and ten peppers will hop into buckets of potting soil as well.  Okra, green beans, pinto beans, and more will find their way in a cushy bucket to grow.  They will line the house and wherever I can sneak them in.

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The other place I found was this patch of driveway.  It is a hill of sand and ants.  It has been overlooked long enough!  I will plant medicinal herbs there.  I will dig a hole, put some garden soil in it, then drop the plant in.  I plan on this being a spiral design down the little hill with thick hay in between the plants.  (Speaking of which, the hay was free too.  It was sitting at the feed store, moldy and unwanted.)

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One could also use a children’s swimming pool with a few holes drilled in the bottom filled with potting soil.  It could easily fit in about any size yard.  Most any large container or few feet of overlooked ground can hold vegetables and fruits.

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Anyone can grow vegetables.  A south facing window can provide all the salad fixings one would need.  We new farmers just need to look at space with new eyes.

Save Some For Me!

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Lisa came over to get some herbal medicine.  I walked her through the gardens and we gushed over how incredible all of our respective plantings are doing this year.  This is my first year farming a quarter acre and she asked a reasonable question, “Do I think it is enough to feed my whole family for a year?”  Unquestionably, no.  I thought it would be, but it is not even close.  I do see all the wasted space though, five gallon pots that could be filled with more tomatoes to line the porch, criss cross the rows, add more here…there.

I sold all of my beautiful purple green beans as soon as they hit the tables at the farmers markets.  I got a handful of the remaining growing and cooked them up to add to fresh potato salad; the lovely purple fading to green as they cooked.  I only got one serving!  I also realized that I was being really silly with my new farming mentality.  ‘Can’t eat that, that is to sell.  Save that for Woodland Park!’  I get bushels of vegetables from my friends at Miller Farms to can.  Granted, I am not growing bushels of anything yet, but I could also be saving some of my own produce for..*gasp*…us.

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My original plan since I was a child was to be a homesteader.  To follow in the footsteps of Laura Ingalls.  To skip through fields of wild flowers instead of cement sidewalks.  To can my own side dishes instead of consuming who knows what from poisonous cans.  To build a fire on a stormy night and heat up a kettle of tea on the stove; cozy and warm reading by oil lamp light.  To spend most of my time in an extensive garden among the bees and butterflies, tending to all the life around me.  To hold an infant lamb, to laugh at chickens running by, to feel the breeze and know the weather.  To not hear traffic, to hear only silence (except for cows lowing).  I am half way there, working my way towards this complete homesteading dream.

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I also have an extreme passion for farming that I could talk one’s ear off a hundred miles an hour about.  Non-GMO’s, organic, heirloom, urban farms, country farms, feed the masses!!!  Or at least the neighborhood.  I need to teach.  I need to get people started on creating their own mini-farms.

“How are the onions?”  Someone asked at the market.  I have no idea.  Sheesh, I planted all these onions to put in the root cellar and here I am selling them off for a buck a piece.

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The time will come when I can create a larger farm.  For now, though, I better sell what we can’t eat, but eat what we can!  Homestead first, then feed the masses….or the neighborhood.