Apr 102011
Unloading a truck-load of mulchy soil for gard...

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Regardless of “how” you homestead…on an idyllic 5 acre spread, on a quarter acre lot in suburbia, or even on the patio of an urban apartment…the self-sufficient lifestyle of homesteaders has as its core putting in a garden and “putting by”, an old fashioned term for canning or otherwise preserving food for later consumption.

It doesn’t matter what else you do right; doing your own repairs around the house and on your vehicles, making your own clothing, having a chicken or two and maybe a dairy goat… If you aren’t producing and preserving at least some, if not most, of your food, you are not self-sufficient and you are not living a homestead lifestyle.

Since you can’t “put it by”, or preserve it, until you produce it, and since it’s that time of year…warm, beautiful spring with the world waking up from its winter sleep…let’s talk about spring gardening.

The “garden spot”. We all have that ideal garden spot, don’t we? Just 30 feet from our back door is a flat, rock and root free plot with deep, dark, rich, nutritious topsoil that gets plenty (eight plus hours a day) of sun.

Yeah, right!

There are probably a dozen or so folks in the whole country that have the “ideal” garden spot, but for most f us we have to make do with something a little…or a lot…less desirable. So…what do we do?

We go with the flow.

Big corporate farms “fight” the land they have, molding it to what they want it to be, and it works….for a while. Then Mother Nature shows she can be worked with but not dominated and farmland becomes wasteland…depleted of nutrients, and barren.

Smart gardeners work with, not against, what they have. Sure, we amend soil with nutrients…NATURAL nutrients, not chemical garbage produced in a lab. A common term for what we do with soil is “building” good soil, and that is what we do…build, not deplete and destroy.

A good example is my garden area, an area FAR from ideal. It is a long (250 ft), narrow (30 ft average), rocky piece of land on a gentle slope, running north to south with tall, 80 ft pine trees bordering it, close on one edge and about 45 ft away across a dirt road on the other.

Poor soil, perhaps 5 hours of sun a day…not good, but it’s what I’ve got, so I work with it…both in garden preparation and in plant selection. Sometimes we just have to acknowledge that some things we WANT to grow we just can’t.

I must admit here though…I’m ALWAYS on the lookout for that heirloom tomato species that will flourish in such little sun!

Sure…one COULD fight with such a piece of land. An east-west lane could be cut through the trees…trees that compelled me to buy this land in the first place…so I could get more hours of daylight for veggies like tomatoes.

I AM going to find that low-sun tomato species…I am I am I am…

One could plow the cleared land. Plow it deep and then go through it with a root rake to clean out the roots and larger rocks.

This would get you what? A bit more sun, a bit more garden space…along with a hillside of loosened soil to erode away when it rains, fewer trees that captivated you when you first chose the land, and more trees that will die because the plowing and root raking so close to them tore up their root system.

That’s bending nature to your will, not you to nature’s, and it only works short term. It s NOT good stewardship of one of God’s gifts to us.

Instead, I’m working with what God gave me.  Barren, rocky soil means shallow tilling the hillside (4-6 inches max) and building raised beds across the face of the hill, running east to west, four feet wide by 25 feet long, with three foot wide paths between them so I can work the beds from either side.

With raised beds you have less total square feet of soil to nurture and build up, consuming less resources.

Since you work the beds from either side, never walking on the planting area, the soil stays loose, holding water and nutrients better, and needs FAR less preparation for your spring and fall gardens.

Raised beds you can work from both sides and not walk on, combined with adding back nutrients like compost and manure (rabbit crap is best. Avoid horse manure if possible. More on that in a later post.) allows you to practice “intensive gardening”, allowing plants to be much closer spaced than normal. This will increase your total yield from the garden as well as actually lowering some of the weeding since the leaves of the closely spaced plants keep sunlight from the earth, and weeds, so weeds grow slower or not at all.

If you have an “ideal” garden spot with lots of room and great soil, I envy you…and so do most of us out here.

If, like me, your garden spot isn’t perfect, work with, not against what you have.

Either way, try intensive gardening this year. Watch your yield go up and your workload go down…always a good thing on the Family Homestead.

The next post to Family Homesteading will be on amending your garden soil to improve it and on plant selection, from the sales at the local farmer’s market perspective AND for your homestead table.

Then we’ll be talking about “putting by”. Remember…canning is FUN!

With spring here, new posts to the Family Homesteading category AND to other categories at JuicyMaters in general will appear MUCH more often than in the past. Keep checking back.

Please…comments are not only welcome…they are ENCOURAGED! Give advice, ask questions, or just say, “Hi”!


All about Bob the nutjob!

Bob is a N Georgia blogger, homesteader, yurt liver, self-sufficiency nutjob, pig farmer, political activist, politician baiter...and the best damn cook you know that doesn't make a living at it.He can be followed onTwitter. You can also "Like" our Facebook page.

  3 Responses to “Putting in a garden and “putting by””

Comments (3)
  1. Bob…I do raised beds too. It’s the only way to go, and allows ya to do some intensive gardening, and concentrated soil building. I’m fortunate, living north of Los Angeles on what used to be prime agricultural land. I live in a frost free zone, and can garden year round. Still, I have to deal with shade trees not on my property, and lack of truly hot summers, as I live close to the coast. Good luck with the garden.

  2. Hansi, between the trees and cool weather you have the same tomato issue I do. If you find something that will grow, let me know…and I’ll return the favor, OK?

  3. I keep thinking about doing the raised beds…haven’t got to that point yet. And as for “putting up” things….we opened up a nice bottle of apricots yesterday and a great plum jam tonight…it is so worth having some of those great fall fruits basically fresh now! I need to go get my jalapenos out.


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