Planting Basics Q&A

I have spoken at many events over the years, from small gatherings, for the Master Gardener’s Program, to large sustainability and gardening shows.  I take the fear out of gardening.  Dispel the idea that you need a backhoe to clear an appropriate plot.  That you need a yard at all!  These are questions and answers that might seem obvious to the seasoned gardener (there is always something to learn from each other, however) but hundreds of people wondered at these events.  I thought this would be a good time of year and a good forum to share on.  Happy planting!

cornucopia-farmer-meme-705x705

How do I know when to plant? 

Look up your last frost date.  You can plant cold crops four weeks before that date, summer crops on that date, and seedlings (young plants) four weeks after that date.

Jpeg

How deep do you plant a seeds and starts?

Twice the depth of the size of the seed.  A carrot or radish seed will just have a dusting of soil atop it, whereas a pumpkin seed could be two inches deep.  The same goes for pots of plants, bushes, or trees.  Dig a hole twice as big as the pot.  Fill it in with garden soil.  Then give it a good, gentle watering.

Jpeg

How far apart do I plant the seeds?

Plant the seeds the width of the plant.  So if you want radishes that are about two inches wide, plant your seeds every two inches.  Plant corn every foot.  Plant tomatoes every foot and a half.  Carrots are every inch or two.

sunflower

How about soil?

Until your soil has had a couple of years of amendments and care, you can use organic gardening soil.  Dig a hole, plant the seed, top it with a handful of garden soil.

Alternatively, dig a three inch trench, place the seeds in the trench, and cover with the appropriate amount of soil.  This aids in watering, as you can just run your hose right down the trench. (Not too strong of current or you will dislodge the seeds!)  This also helps the bases of the plants get stronger because they are not subjected to the wind.

You can also plant in pots!  Here is a fun decorative idea to flank a sunny entrance to a porch.  In a large pot, plant a kernel of corn in the middle, a bean on either side, and four pumpkin seeds around the edges.  The three sisters will be a showstopper come late summer!

day with g and p

Keep a compost pile!

In the corner of your yard between a couple of pallets or in a fancier version, throw straw from the chicken coop, grass clippings, leaves, coffee grounds, and any manner of food (no meat) that the chickens don’t eat into the mix along with a bag of soil.  In the fall, sprinkle all of that compost onto garden beds and let them sink in over the winter then blend in in the spring.

corn

Annuals vs. Perennials

Let your annuals go to seed!  Mother Nature has a job and it’s to keep things growing.  The seeds disperse and will come back next year.  Since we are not doing any intense tilling and we are planting up in layers as opposed to digging out a garden bed, the seeds start where they land.  I have romaine lettuce and arugula in the path.  I planted both in nice, straight-ish lines elsewhere, but because these came up earlier, being planted by Mother Nature, I get to enjoy them earlier.

Annuals are a must.  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn; all these things are annuals.  You can save the seeds of the last fruit or vegetable you pick from each and dry and save them for the following year.

Perennials are really where it’s at!  I love that the raspberries, burdock, dandelions, roses, sorrel, rhubarb, and strawberries come back on their own, bigger and better!  They are really what gives us food security.  Perhaps one year you might be ill and cannot plant a garden, but you can still feast on salsify, sorrel, sunchokes, dandelions, and fruits from trees and bushes.

Jpeg

How much water?

I can only speak for my state and surround.  We are bloody nose and cracked hand dry.  Like seven percent humidity would be a lot.  Water every day, folks.  Even the “drought resistant” plants like herbs and such love a bit of water every day.  One inch of water for seeds and two inches of water for plants.  If you count for ten seconds, you have one inch of water, twenty seconds=two inches.

Use a hose without a sprayer.  Use your fingers to divert and control water flow.  It will take six times longer to get enough water from a sprayer.

Place your hose by a tree while you walk over to turn it off.  Or use a five gallon bucket with a nail sized hole in the bottom, fill with water at the base of the tree and let it slowly get into the roots once a week.

home 4

Lastly

The thing to remember here is that Mother Earth loves to grow stuff.  She shakes the seeds out of my chile ristras and plants them willy nilly.  Seeds want to grow.  It is their life purpose.  Water, sun, soil, they are off and running.  Expect that 1/3 of your seeds will make it.  Animals, wind, viability all play a part here.  I grow equal amounts of bind weed, mallow, and straw to purposely planned vegetables and fruit.  Forget the idea of perfectly manicured gardens.  Here is the deal, Mother Earth does not like barren soil, so if you have space, she will fill it.  Grow plants together.  Lettuce next to potatoes.  Beans next to corn.  One with deep roots, one with shallow.  All through the beds.

Have fun.  Have tea in the garden!  Enjoy the birds and the lady bugs and the sounds of real life.

Everything I Do Kills the Planet

mother-earth-wallpapers-for-android-For-Free-WallpaperI still get those dreams.  The “if-we-don’t-change-things-now” dreams, then glimpses of what will be.  They frighten me and I become extremely aware.  I look at my fake nails (I have no idea what came over me to go get nails last week) and can see all of the plastic nails in all of the salons and the chemicals that pervade the colors and liquids and fumes.  I sigh and look at my fingers…ooh sparkly!

Mother Nature can and will, of course, change as she sees fit.  Fires, floods, and I well know that her own temperature has raised and lowered over many more eons than I have been here having dreams.  I know that the polar bear on the internet could have died from illness.  Yet my heart breaks all the same.  My ancestors would have never seen that.  They would only know what they could do to heal the waters or the air in their own neck of the woods.

People spark outcry for the drilling on our beautiful lands then fill their cars with the very same fuel that they protested at some point and drive…everywhere.

I would love to live in a little off grid sanctuary- full knowing the work involved- and heal a small area of space in time.  That is not my husband’s dream though.  What can I do, then, in this space of the planet to be mindful?  The bouncing Christmas lights color my home with joy (and electricity) and my coffee is hot and welcoming to the day (and comes from who knows where) and my car doesn’t drive on air and the gifts I am buying may end up in landfills and I sigh and know that we really have gotten ourselves way over our heads.  We know that we are doing great harm and that we need to change as a society but we have no idea where to start because by the time we get done looking at starving polar bear pictures and put away our protest signs we have lost sight in despair followed by complacency.

What can we meditate on this Yule season to spread healing to the waters and air and lands of this earth?

Perhaps I will get a bicycle.  Stop coloring my hair and nails for godsake.  I could start making my own cleaning products again.  Unhook the pipes and let the water run into 5 gallon buckets that I could then water the trees with.  Sneak a composting toilet in this place.  Or I could stop using paper cups while getting coffee.  I could stop buying packaging.  I could stop buying junk.

If I were to feel more gratitude and wonder here in this place in time that I breathe, I would naturally remember what is good for me and the earth and be more mindful in the coming year.

That could be my new dream.  I can’t save the world, but I can start here…

What will you do?

Emergency Preparedness with Apple Juice Jugs (storing water)

Two dilemmas solved.

jug

This is the time of year for jugs of apple cider and apple juice.  I love apple juice and cider, but those glorious glass jugs in the recycling bin seem such a waste.  I will save a few for wine making next year but there will still be empty glass jugs.  Other glass containers make their way to the recycling bin too that could be reused for something.

There are a lot of natural disasters, big and small, when water is not available.  There could be issues with the water company; main breaks or other problems.  If you go and turn on the water and nothing comes out, well, you are going to panic.  That means no coffee, y’all, and that’s a real problem.  We want to be prepared for disasters.  We have lots of food put up, now we need water.

water

Now, I tend to think big or nothing which keeps me from doing anything.  I don’t have large barrels of water nor a well with a hand pump, but I do have glass jars.  I have half gallon Ball jars, I have gallon apple juice jugs, and I have other glass containers that pass through the kitchen.  If I just fill those cleaned containers with water I will have emergency water started.

Sources say we ought to put up a gallon of water per day per person to last three to fourteen days.  Just in case.  Most of the sources I have read say to put bleach in the water.  Gross.  I have no desire to add bleach to my water.  There is already chlorine in the tap water so you can store that and it will keep bacteria out and you won’t have to think about it!  (Ignorance is bliss.)  Make sure you start with real clean jars.  Water your trees with the water and refill every six months or so.

Having some emergency water stored will give you a little more peace of mind.  That is the whole point of homesteading, even urban homesteading, peace of mind.

Hugelkultur Gardening

hugel

Hugelkultur gardens.  Heck, that is just fun to say!  This German word means “hill culture”.  It is an easy form of raised beds.  Some beds can be seven feet tall!

hugelkultur-2

Logs and branches are your foundation. We have branches piled up behind the chicken coop.  Doug was going to use them for firewood, but I claimed them for my gardening project!  One could dig a trench or place rocks or other materials around the bed to hold it into place.  The logs are laid out, filled in with branches, straw, leaves, then topped with gardening soil.  The bigger logs take many years to break down and hold on to water.  So a seven foot tall bed would never have to be watered, even in the desert!  Now, mine will be just a foot or so tall once it settles and shrinks.  The microorganisms in the wood benefit and improve the soil.  It’s all pretty ingenious.  By the time the wood completely breaks down, the soil beneath should be pretty cleaned up.

hugel-3

I’ll have enough materials to make one bed like this.  We’ll do many beds of different styles so that we can compare them at the end of the season.

Pre-Spring Delicious Drink

 

lemon 2Water.  I don’t actually care for it.  I don’t like to drink straight water.  But when I returned to my vegetarian lifestyle my body went through a mega detox again.  Instead of my usual standby to help flush out organs of nettle and dandelion tea, I was craving something altogether different.  Quarts of hot water with lemon, lime, and orange slices.  Sometimes chunks of spicy ginger, or sprigs of fresh mint, always honey.  Maybe a pinch of vanilla sea salt.  This little concoction also cleanses the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys and hydrates while being utterly delicious.  A pre-spring feel good drink.  Enjoy!

lemon

Lazy Days of Summer (a new experience for these farmers)

We’ll be getting a homestead soon.  Farmgirl school isn’t done.  In fact, it may be just getting revved up.  We have really been enjoying our summer.  We can’t remember the last time we had weekends and so much time in the summer sun to play and restore.  We’ll be soaking up every last bit of this season and saving it to memory.  Hope all of you reading this are having a relaxing, inspiring, and sunny summer.  Keep the good times rolling!

baby float

A Homesteader’s Guide to Preparing For Winter (not just for homesteaders!)

snow scene

When I was growing up Autumn was a time for a new pair of shoes and back to school.  For getting excited about holidays and playing in the leaves.  Each season was really no different than another.  Once we became homesteaders there are marked differences in the seasons that we have to respect.  For instance in the spring we plan, start, plant, and get ready for farmer’s markets to begin.  In the summer we farm, do farmer’s markets all week, and start canning and planning what needs to be done for winter.  Imagine that!  Planning what needs to be done for winter in the midst of July.  Now it is fall, and we will be insanely busy this month.  You could wait like we did last year to get all of our hay for winter, only buying what we needed but there was a shortage come February and we had trouble locating good hay.  We could wait to get all the wood we need but there is nothing guaranteeing dry, available wood come January and that is how we will be heating our home.  Should we be snowed in it is quite lovely to walk to the long pantry waiting for me in the new house and grab everything I need for dinner without ever worrying about a shortage or having to run to the store.  There are lessons in here for the average city citizen or the non-homesteader as well.  No one can be sure what the winter will bring and if the Almanac is correct and the weather serves prediction, our winter this year may be a doozy.

wood stove 2

1.  Heat- If the power goes out for an extended time, how will you keep warm?  We will need to make sure we have plenty of wood and coal at the ready.  We’ll have plenty of blankets and wool sweaters at the ready.

IMG_1866

2.  If you can’t get to the store, how will you feed your animals?  Make sure you store a bit extra than you normally would for just in case scenarios.  I will need to get a few months of hay at least and an extra bag of dog and cat food.

3.  If the city water gets turned off due to a water main break or other reason (or if the electricity goes out and the well stops working), how will you get water?  I will be filling several canning jars and jugs with water.  It won’t be enough for an extended time but it could certainly help get us through for a bit.

SAM_0226

4.  If a blizzard kept trucks from delivering food to the grocery store or if you were home bound, how would you eat?  So far we have 378 items canned.  I have another 100 to put up.  This is enough to get Doug and I through the winter, have some to give as gifts, and give to the kids should they need it.  I also have a freezer full of meat that we have already obtained and I am ordering another ten chickens from a local sustainable farmer.  Here is a problem though….if the power goes out I will need to find a right cold area to keep the meat in!  I should be canning meat but as of yet, that sounds like a pain and not very appetizing but I know I need to learn to do it!  It won’t go bad if it is canned.  I also have a fridge full of cheese wheels that I have made.  So, we have cheese and if the fridge goes out the cold back room will probably keep it just fine.  We have dehydrated food and have more to do.  I have canned jars and jars of juice and am doing the rest today.  We will stock up on staples like flour and sugar and other grains like cornmeal, of course beans and legumes, and salt and spices.  There should be little we need to go to the store for.

extracts

5. What if you or your animals are ill or injured and can’t get to a doctor or vet?  Make sure you have plenty of herbal remedies on hand so that you can treat yourself or your animals in an emergency.  We have remedies for colds and flu, for pain, for infection, even for broken bones at the ready.  (You can see these remedies at http://gardenfairyapothecary.com)

fire

I encourage you to think ahead just a bit just in case so that you won’t be panic stricken should the electricity go out or if you cannot get out the front door due to snow!  It will give you great peace of mind and a homesteader spirit!