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Mini Farming, Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre

Mini Farming

 

I admit to being a little skeptical when I started reading Mini Farming, Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre. I’ve seen a few books that were written by people who didn’t have a clue what they were writing about with titles similar to this. Some of these books have unworkable ideas and make claims that are just not true.

This book on the other hand has much useful information and ideas that can help you gain a greater level of independence on fairly small areas of land. I think a better and more accurate title would have been “Mini Farming, How to Gain a Greater Level of Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre”. Obviously, no one can have total self-sufficiency on a 1/4 acre but the author of this book grows 80% of his family of three’s food on just that much land.

The author has developed a system of gardening that takes the best of the Biodynamic, Grow Bio-intensive and Square Foot Gardening methods. He utilizes double dug raised beds, vertical gardening, compost and organic growing techniques. His “mini-farming” system also includes raising chickens for eggs and meat.

I appreciated one area that Markham covered in the area of economics and “mini-farming”. He shows how the two income family is much better off by having one spouse stay home and raise food and children. He runs through the numbers and proves that in all actuality families are further ahead financially by doing this. I think that his argument will wake up many working mothers to fact that they are running themselves into the ground for very little return.

If nothing else, this book shows how to grow a substantial amount of a family’s food on a very small amount of land. Granted, the average Christian homesteading family is much larger than the author’s, but it still drives home the point that you don’t need a huge amount of land and if fact you probably haven’t even begun to utilize the land you already have.

I think that the book is ideal for beginners because it covers everything from seed selection to harvest and preservation. Not an exhaustive treatment of any subject, but very informative. I thought that the section on soil health was very well done. Considering how inexpensive this book is, I think that anyone who is trying to utilize a small holding of land to raise food should own a copy.

Read full article on North Country Farmer

Gardening Book Recommendations

 

The holidays are a time that many people use for reading and planning what they’re going to read in the new year.  So I thought I would share some of the books with you that are favorites on my bookshelf and some recommended by guests on our Food Leaders Webinar Series.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

 

Farm Anatomy by Julie Rothman

Farm Anatomy by Julie Rothman

This is one of the newest books I’ve just discovered, and is perfect for anyone what wants to teach children about farming, gardening and animal husbandry.  The illustrations are absolutely fantastic and it makes a great coffee table book!

 

Born Again Dirt by Noah Sanders

Born Again Dirt

Noah is a young farmer who is seeking to apply the Bible’s wisdom to his farming and family lifestyle. He provides a great lens through which to view any agrarian pursuit with a goal of glorifying God, whether it’s how you treat your soil or raise chickens.  Also, be sure to watch the recording of Noah’s webinar if you haven’t seen it yet.

 

Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman

The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman

Eliot Coleman is the recognized expert in year round gardening. Likely because he grows his market crops off-season.  In the winter.  In Maine.  This is the best book if you want to implement season extension for your garden.

 

Small Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery

The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery

Backyard chickens are making a comeback. They are the ultimate food waste disposal tools and provide fresh eggs and compost for your garden. This is by all accounts the best guide to raising chickens and other fowl.

 

Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

Rodale is a long-time standard in publishing great gardening resources, and I’ve used their big reference books for years. This Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening is one of the latest that needs to be in every gardener’s library.

 

Health for Godly Generations by Renee DeGroot

Health for Godly Generations by Renee DeGroot

One of the most important aspects of leading a healthy lifestyle is to put first things first.  Renee DeGroot provides good food for thought about how the Bible provides guidance for healthy living and food preparation. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to watch the recording of our webinar with Renee.

 

What do you think? What are your favorite books on gardening and backyard farming?  Let us know in the comments.

What's So Healthy About Squash?

 

Recently, our friends blessed us with a ton of extra squash from their abundant garden.  I sautéed a lot of it for dinner, froze some for future meals, and steamed some. As I was working on a picture of it for my recipe blog, I wondered, “What’s so healthy about squash?”  I mean, we pick it from our gardens, so it must be pretty healthy.  So, what are the health benefits of squash?

Squash is a super-food!  Packed with nutrition – vitamins, carotene, and fiber – it is huge in helping fight diseases, great for filling up with (but not out), and provides you with all your vitamins in one helping.

Summer Squash is very helpful in preventing diseases such as cancer, inflammation diseases (like arthritis or asthma), heart disease, and so on…  This is because of the vitamin C, Beta-Carotene, Folate, and Fiber that Summer Squash contains.  Summer Squash includes all the fruit within the species of Cucurbita pepo.  This includes: Delicata Squash, Acorn Squash (one of my favorites!!), Gem Squash, Heart of Gold Squash, Spaghetti Squash, Zucchini, Yellow Summer Squash, and so on….

Like Summer Squash, Winter Squash also is filled with a lot of different health benefits.  These include Beta-Carotene that fights Heart Disease, Cancer, Cataracts, Type 2 Diabetes, and also reduces inflammation within the lungs and emphysema.  Besides Beta-Carotene, Winter Squash has large amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, Vitamin B6 Vitamin C, Niacin, and Potassium in it.  Winter Squash includes: Sweet Mama, Sweet Potato Squash, Pumpkin, Sugar Pumpkin, Sweet Dumpling Squash, Toadback, and so on….

There you have it…  Squash is healthy!! So, if you are looking for a fruit that contains several vitamins in it, lots of fiber, and helps to prevent tons of different diseases…  Squash is the answer!!

 

Why We Farm! Or a guide to relational farming…

Farm fresh produce

The ritual begins during a fading Texas evening. I open the rear hatch of my van, and pull two picnic-worn coolers out onto the chapped pavement. I clear the beads of sweat from my forehead before opening the big white cooler and pick out a healthy specimen of cantaloupe. Behind me stands a small gathering: two newlywed couples, a gurgling baby in a baby carrier, a father and daughter, and a doting grandmother perched over the infant. Their task in this ritual is to watch.

“These were picked this morning,” I say, carefully handing my charges to the first couple in line. The husband flips the fruit around in his hand, inspecting the tiny ridges, and nestles his nose into the plant’s navel. He sniffs in the aromatic perfume with pleasure and satisfactorily deposits the fruit in his wife’s handbag.

I move onto the blue cooler, pulling out a crinkling store-labeled grocery sack stuffed with purple pea snaps, bell peppers, okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, banana peppers, basil, and oregano.

“Eighteen dollars and fifty-eight cents.” I recite from the yellow receipt, and the husband hands me a crisp twenty.

“I hope you have change,” he states, subtly reminding me of my lack of change the previous week.

“Yeah, I do,” I say, quickly shuffling through the stuffed envelope of coins and cash until I find the right amount. After he is done, the couple stands there and admires their food while I move onto the next couple’s order. The wife occasionally glances back to her mother-in-law and infant and smiles.

“My baby girl just loves the squash you gave us last week. I mashed it up, and she just took it right down.” I turn my head far enough so she can see me smile, and reply, “I’m not sure if anymore will come this season.”

“Really?” 

“But I’ll check to see if any will be here by next week.” My brother, Gerred, owns and runs the farm, I just run the business side of the operation. I often find myself telling customers that I must check, since he keeps a constant check on the farm's pulse.

“Thank you! I like using it as her baby food.” I listen as she describes how long the produce has been lasting in their fridge, longer than any produce they could purchase in a store. I listen on as her mother-in-law, a woman whose eyes light up at the red beefsteak tomatoes, describes just how good the cucumbers were last week. 

“Best cucumbers I’ve tasted in my life,” she states and goes on to describe the thin skins and moving down to the rich, succulent meat of the vegetable. Having eaten some earlier that day, my own mouth revisits the textures and flavors. One by one, I finish the orders, finally passing off cantaloupes to the father and daughter; the former sniffs the fruit without saying a word, while the latter chuckles, “I think he’s really going to enjoy himself tonight.” Everyone trickles off except for the newlywed couple with the infant, who now sleeps soundly in the growing dusk.

“You know, this coming growing season we’d love it if you would grow some acorn squash,” the husband requests, “I can eat that all day! Oh, and we love spaghetti squash.”

“Do you think you could give me an estimate of how much you’d eat in a month?” I ask. They provide me an answer and I mentally log the numbers for my brother to consider.

“We’ve enjoyed your produce,” are their parting words, “I don’t think I could ever find better produce at the store.” They scurry to their car, and the ritual ends, and I watch my charge, my food, become another item in someone's fridge. As I drive home, my mind wanders to the farm work, keeping communication with our various buyers, trying to determine what they will want next growing season, and all the feedback I need to get back to my brother. It’s that time of year, a transition from summer to fall, zucchinis and cucumbers will dissipate to allow in cabbages, lettuces, pumpkins, and squash; as I calculate the figures of how much we can make on our small plot of land, I consider the grand scheme that has brought me to this most basic of professions.

* * * * *

Where does your food come from?

Why farm? Why choose a profession and lifestyle that runs against a cultural tide of sharply dressed, well groomed talking heads, who preach the advantages offered by fancier, cleaner, and more lucrative careers? American culture may claim to romanticize agrarian life, but the love is less than legitimate. USDA statistics show small farms and their farmers have been declining in size since the 1940s, even though number of large farms producing single crops have grown. Yes, the dirt and grime attend to the farmer as an occupational certainty, but any college management class will inform you that “employees” are more motivated more by “intrinsic rewards” than “extrinsic rewards,” or, more simply, workers want to feel as if their work has lasting value. What greater reward could be given than the foreknowledge that one is satisfying the hunger of humanity and your community? The answer lies with the changing idea of American food philosophy, what I would call a purpose-driven understanding of the role of food and American food suppliers in culture.

In an age when food has cheapened with advances in science and technology, we have allowed the doctrines of food and food production to shift, even from my grandfathers’ time to my own, when he grew apples in Washington state during the 1960s. He lived under the philosophy touted by the US Department of Agriculture, which made the US farmer out to be a national hero. He says to have grown food to supplement his teacher’s salary, but the country also saw a national icon and international competitor for American interests, and the American farmer had an built in intrinsic value that extended beyond profits.  

My grandfather’s generation of men sat in darkened movie theaters and watched Frank Capra's classic series, “Why We Fight!,” which taught them why the nation’s role in World War II was necessitated. My grandfather went on to rivet B-17 wings for the war effort, and when he was done, he found that his country needed him in a new capacity. The Government had gifted my grandfather and all American farmers with a new vision: The farmer could forget about the people and the land, and see only a machine, carefully oiled, static, and prosperous for the faithful user. For farmers like my grandfather, any affects that the land experienced were of no concern to him. The system made him more money as long as he kept improving the “machine,” and the food appeared unchanged. If the soil was affected, he could believe that a fix would be over the horizon. The miracle workers of World War II had made a new miracle. 

* * * * *

Industrial farming has taken the heart out of our food

The USDA produced films that showed the miracle of modern food production: thousands of individual farms brought together in a large corporate system to supply supermarkets with a cornucopia of produce, meat, dairy, and canned goods from disjointed regions of the US; the laboratory extending into the field, making larger, more nutritious, and better tasting crops; and the consumer, offered the convenience of this food, enjoyed the prosperity of American ingenuity. The purpose for growing food was simple: Be a part of a new miracle and make more food with less land using whatever means suited that end. It was a system that begat success, so long as the system’s management was carefully regulated. Our food philosophy had shifted, and despite this growth, one factor from previous generations of farmers remained: The community knew the farmer, and the farmer had a social accountability to that community which the government could not override. Even as farms began to cannibalize each other to remain in the system, the farmers were still “independent agents," able to still create life-filled nutritious food, instead of merely "safe food."

The USDA first began to preach this system during World War II, praising farmers for working alongside the government to slowly bring this massive food supply system to being, accepting the government’s aid, and producing what they needed for the war quotas. In one film titled, “Henry Browne, Farmer,” the farmer was described as a “soldier of production” who must produce the right amount of "oil and fats" to combat the Japanese agricultural production. Government had a reason for centralizing farming, out command the marketplace. The farmer’s duty would not be divided between field and national duty.

The national audience grew accustomed to this changing view of farming. Originally, our former food doctrines allowed for a collection of decentralized family farms that occupied the 1910s and 20s, and these businesses had not satisfied the nation's stomach during the depression. Food had lost its plentifulness in the land of plenty, and the government was determined to make ordinary food into something it could have never been on its own, and for a broader use in the world stage. The farmer still had his local connection, he still provided food for his neighbors, but the marketplace was making a way for him in the world, a way that my grandfather would fill, and now, a way my brother and I could fill: the way of mass production, yielding a greater world, filled with complacency toward the simplest action of our humanity. 

The modern world driving home I see different farms as I drive home from my delivery run. These farms are still run by grandfathers, with some migrant workers that drift through. Some have families who work together, but most do not. The crops I see are one of three: Corn, Sorghum, or soybeans, grown to fill the stomachs of cows and humans as cheaply as possible, while the farmer remains accountable to state regulations only. And what a world those regulations have built. The fields are still alive with food, but the food is empty, plastered together with an assortment of chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins that render the life still imagined in the soil a hopeless corpse; at least they can say our food is safe, free from the bacteria that harms us. The plants grow as they are supposed to, guided by their genetic modification, but they remain merely signposts set against the sky of what this world has become. Vastly rich, but hollow-shelled, flavorless, and impotent. The modern farmer can assert he has the same reason for growing food as his predecessors, for although he still feeds that masses, his food has no heart left to give to the table. That's why we don't farm anymore. The life that was found in the fields, is no longer life to us. It doesn't provide substance to our bodies, it doesn't even provide a bottom line for the farmer, it just replicates mindlessly, without thought.

* * * * * 

The beauty of the harvest

I return to the farm after the delivery run and help my brother plant the fall crops. I think about the series "Why We Fight!," and wonder, if I made a documentary entitled, "Why We Farm!" what would it try and communicate to an audience. The answer slowly comes to me among the rows of peppers and tomatoes. I mentioned in the beginning of this piece that I consider my work a ritual. This ritual is the familiar way to be a farmer, or the way I have found familiar. For far too long, farmers have become familiar with growing food better, but I want to be familiar with growing food right.

In "Why We Farm," I would say I grow food because I imagine myself being a part of the world that takes longer to mature, to achieve success, but remains a work in progress. I grow food so it becomes rich again, full of life, and containing the DNA it was supposed to contain. I grow food because I imagine one day, when I have kids, I will want them to grow as they were intended to grow, at a slow, steady pace, ready at the right season to accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish. I grow because a mother sees her child starting that journey, and believes the food I am growing will yield an abundance for the body. I hope that people will see the value in the food, the richness of nutrition, the communities that knew the seminal work that made any table look like a feast. The joy of the God-given command to, “Be fruitful.” I grow food, and the reasons why sprout up to say hello without fail every season.

Now, I am hoping you will ask yourself a similar question to mine, “Why am I not farming, or at least growing food in a pot?” I think the answer is easily found. You only need to look in a mirror, and see a face that is packed full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and rub it until you know it’s real. Then, stand at the edge of your child’s room or find them in the yard and watch them play, see their muscles attached to tendons attached to bones moving back and forth; lastly, I go to the fridge, and take a stock of what is contained inside. Consider the value of that food, whether it was made to give you strength, or whether it was made just to fool an eater. I believe the answer to your question will come easily. 

Walk Your Farm with THE Owner

Walk your Farm with THE Owner

It is a very busy season around the farm here, and it is hard to take time to blog. I guess blogging on a farm changes with the seasons along with everything else. The Lord is very gracious and merciful, and has blessed our growing season more than my skill and efforts merit. May he help me to be faithful in the little things everyday. The picture above shows the beautiful garden of a dear family that we visited this past weekend.

The following is an excerpt from my book that several people have said they appreciated, so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Walking Your Farm with the Owner

One thing that could help promote a better sense of stewardship in our hearts is taking a walk around the farm. The goal of the walk should not be to dwell on the work you need to do on the farm, but rather to simply walk the farm with its Owner. Apparently God walked with Adam, the first steward, in the garden of Eden. And I think the Lord would enjoy walking with us around the farms He has given us.

On your walk with the Lord go alone if possible. Pray out loud or whisper if that would be more comfortable. But just talk with the Lord and give Him a tour of the farm. Give Him thanks for all that He has blessed you with. Show Him the garden, the chickens, the pasture, the greenhouse, the cows—whatever you have, and give Him an account of how you have been caring for and working them. Acknowledge that they all belong to Him and ask Him to show you how you can better manage them. When you come across the chickens that are walking around in mud because you have been putting off moving them, then repent and ask Him to help you do a better job. Tell Him about the problem you have with disease on your tomato plants, or erosion in your newly planted pasture and ask Him to show you a solution. At times just be silent and observe. Look at His design in Creation. Pay attention to the needs that you may have previously overlooked. And give notice to any opportunities that He may reveal to you, like the acorns in the woods that could be fed to the pigs. At the end of the walk give thanks to God for granting you this land and dedicate it to His glory.

Read Full Article on Redeeming the Dirt

An Experimental Potato Plot

growing potatoes in hay

 

As regular readers know, our family is pretty big on potatoes. We eat them 3 meals a day, every day! I’ve always grown good potatoes. The boys took over potato planting back when we lived in southern NY and even won first prize at the Broome county fair with their Red Pontiacs. After moving up here my success with taters ended. Heavy clay soil is one thing, but wet clay soil is another. Our farm is very wet and has standing water in most areas from spring till freeze up. Its almost impossible to grow good potatoes here. I had thought about trying to grow them in vertical towers but decided against it because we would need such a large number of them to grow any decent amount of potatoes. This year I decided to try growing them above ground under a heavy hay mulch. Here is the process we used…

The first thing we did was bring up several loads of composted hay/manure from a spot where cattle had been fed round bales outside several years ago. We covered a 15ftx25ft area with this material about 8 to 10 inches deep. Some of it was well rotted compost, some was half decomposed hay and some of it was clay.

Next we planted 50 lbs of potatoes intensive style, about 12 inches or so apart across the whole area. We didn’t bury them, just layed them on top.

After we got the potatoes on the ground we brought over a round bale of hay that was baled with a roto-cut baler. We spread 3/4 of the bale over the spuds.

Read full article on North Country Farmer

The Ultimate Compost Turner (Yes, it's a Power Tool!)

 

fresh compost

Composting.  It's one of the most wonderful and mysterious processes in God's creation.  A sign of our mortality and yet a giver of life.  The deep thoughts could continue for a while, but you want to know about power tools, right?

So if you've ever used the traditional method of turning compost with a garden fork, you were one of the fastest to click through on this post, because you know what difficult, back-breaking work it is, and how ineffective it can be (unless your pile is rather shallow).  I've got good news!  Save the fork for turning soil in the garden.

Garden auger AKA Yard Butler

Enter… the Garden Auger!  This simple attachment (AKA the "Yard Butler") is a 2-3 foot long rod with an auger screw on the end that fits most 3/8" or larger electric drills.  While it is ostensibly designed for digging holes for planting bulbs or spot tilling around plants, I think that it's most powerful application is for turning compost.

Garden auger on drill

Rather than using your arms for leverage to lift heavy wet organic material, let the beauty of a strong cordless drill with a garden auger attached do a better job of mixing your compost with much less work.  Not only will it be easier, but it will mix between layers of compost in a way probably unattainable by any other method.

Garden auger compost turning

Important to note: the resistance of the compost material will create a high-torque rotation that you will have to counter, so I highly recommend using a drill with a second handle attachment to gain the leverage needed to keep the beast in line.

If you're not already convinced about the supremacy of this Tantalizing Tool of Torque for Turning your compost, consider this: I was able to mix two compost bins in about 10-15 minutes total.  Turning by hand with a garden fork would take at least twice and long and wouldn't do half the job in terms of quality.

So what are you waiting for? Order your garden auger today!  While you're at it, order an extra one or two to give as gifts – it's some of the best money you can spend in garden tools.

Have other great tool recommendations for gardening and farming? Let us know in the comments so we can share!

 

You Might Like:

Homestead Blessings Real Food Pack

 

 

Homestead Blessings Real Food Pack – Gardening, Herbs, and Canning

 

 

 

The Ultimate Compost Turner (Yes, it’s a Power Tool!)

 

fresh compost

Composting.  It's one of the most wonderful and mysterious processes in God's creation.  A sign of our mortality and yet a giver of life.  The deep thoughts could continue for a while, but you want to know about power tools, right?

So if you've ever used the traditional method of turning compost with a garden fork, you were one of the fastest to click through on this post, because you know what difficult, back-breaking work it is, and how ineffective it can be (unless your pile is rather shallow).  I've got good news!  Save the fork for turning soil in the garden.

Garden auger AKA Yard Butler

Enter… the Garden Auger!  This simple attachment (AKA the "Yard Butler") is a 2-3 foot long rod with an auger screw on the end that fits most 3/8" or larger electric drills.  While it is ostensibly designed for digging holes for planting bulbs or spot tilling around plants, I think that it's most powerful application is for turning compost.

Garden auger on drill

Rather than using your arms for leverage to lift heavy wet organic material, let the beauty of a strong cordless drill with a garden auger attached do a better job of mixing your compost with much less work.  Not only will it be easier, but it will mix between layers of compost in a way probably unattainable by any other method.

Garden auger compost turning

Important to note: the resistance of the compost material will create a high-torque rotation that you will have to counter, so I highly recommend using a drill with a second handle attachment to gain the leverage needed to keep the beast in line.

If you're not already convinced about the supremacy of this Tantalizing Tool of Torque for Turning your compost, consider this: I was able to mix two compost bins in about 10-15 minutes total.  Turning by hand with a garden fork would take at least twice and long and wouldn't do half the job in terms of quality.

So what are you waiting for? Order your garden auger today!  While you're at it, order an extra one or two to give as gifts – it's some of the best money you can spend in garden tools.

Have other great tool recommendations for gardening and farming? Let us know in the comments so we can share!

 

You Might Like:

Homestead Blessings Real Food Pack

 

 

Homestead Blessings Real Food Pack – Gardening, Herbs, and Canning

 

 

 

5 Important Steps for Creating your Vegetable Garden Plan

Garden planning

Whether you’re planning a small kitchen garden or a large garden to produce most of the food for your family, proper planning will provide a tremendous benefit to the success of your garden and reduce the amount of work and difficulty you face in managing it.

First, a few tips if you are starting a new garden:

  • Assess your site
  • Measure your planting area
  • Determine the type of garden to use
  • Obtain the right tools and materials

Here are five tips to help you plan your vegetable garden this year:

Lessons Learned – If you’ve gardened in previous years, consider your lessons learned.  Consider these questions and research alternatives and remedies to problems you experienced in the past:

  • How did my garden plot and layout work? Could I change the design to increase its usability?
  • How well did my plants grow?  What conditions may have contributed to poor performance? (drought, heat, cold, etc.)
  • What pests did I have the most trouble with?

Seed catalogs

Inventory and Order your Seeds – take out your seed collection and seed catalogs, grab a notepad and pencil (or fire up your spreadsheet program, if you’re like me), and do the following:

  • Make a list of all the seeds you have.  You’ll want to use your oldest seeds first.
  • Browse your catalogs for plants that you need or want to try this year.
  • Browse good gardening and seed websites like Seeds for Generations**, GrowOrganic.com and Rareseeds.com for ideas for plant varieties.  Don’t be afraid to try new types and varieties of veggies.
  • Consider buying and planting only heirloom varieties – they help preserve biodiversity and generally provide better taste and quality than hybrid varieties.
  • Order your seeds early enough to be able to plant any seeds indoors that need time to grow before transplanting outside.

Determine how much of each vegetable you want/need to grow – If you don’t do this essential step, you will end up being one of the many who unfortunately end up drowning in zucchini or don’t have enough lettuce or peppers to satisfy their needs.

  • Determine how much of each veggie you want to eat fresh
  • Determine what you plan to can, freeze, or otherwise preserve for the winter
  • Calculate how many plants will yield the desired amount of produce.  There’s a very helpful produce calculator on PlanGarden.com for this purpose.
  • Develop a list of your vegetables and how many of each plant you need to grow
  • Consider successive plantings of quick growing plantings like lettuce, radishes, and other greens

Decide on your garden layout based upon your unique considerations – there are numerous methodologies, some of which are listed below.

  • Row gardening, which is usually best for larger gardens, where plants are arranged in rows, with paths between them for foot access
  • Raised bed gardening, where frames are used to contain the soil.  This makes weed control and foot access easier, and enables intensive spacing techniques such as those described in the book Square Foot Gardening.
  • Vertical gardening, which uses trellises to train plants to grow vertically, gets more production out of a smaller lateral area.  This can be anything from tying up tomato plants on stakes, to training cucumbers on trellis netting, to growing pole beans on an arbor structure, and more.
  • Permaculture, where perennials are arranged in a strategic way to provide beneficial interaction with other plants, including annuals planted amongst them
  • Greenhouse gardening, where a greenhouse or cold frame is used to retain warmth from sunlight and soil for season extension and even year round vegetable production.
  • A combination of any or all of these approaches.  Some crops, such as corn and winter squash, lend best to row gardening, while others such as salad crops in a kitchen garden, are well suited for a raised bed setup.  An herb garden can utilize permaculture principles well, and having a small greenhouse or set of cold frames for season extension can provide fresh produce into and through the winter.

Plot your garden space(s) on paper or with garden planning software, and plan your growing schedule – it is important to both plan the space and plan the timeline in order to optimize your use of available space throughout the growing season.

  • First of all, realize that time is ticking!  Determine any plants that need to be started indoors in seedling trays and be sure to get them planted on time, with respect to the amount of time they need before being transplanted outside and where on the calendar this should happen.  Your seed packets should have info on the number of weeks before or after your last average spring frost date that indoor starts should be transplanted.  Get frost data for your state from NOAA, or on a map here or here.
  • Measure your available garden area, taking into consideration room for paths (for both walking and carts), hoses for watering, and orientation to the sun.  Note any areas that get shade and during what parts of the day.  You can use Google Earth to see the orientation of the sun at various times of the year overlaid on satellite imagery of your property.
  • If you like hands-on planning, use grid paper to draw out your garden space, using the dimensions you measured.
  • If you like using technology, try out garden planning software tools like PlanGarden (that I have used successfully for several years), GrowVeg.com or SmartGardener.*  You may want to actually use grid paper for sketching the area while you’re outside looking at it and able to take measurements, as it helps you get more accurate dimensions that can then be transferred into software.
  • Realize that you don’t need to plant all of your plants at the same time and that you can double up on some planting areas by planning successive plantings of short season crops in the same space that early harvest crops after they are pulled out.  You can also follow early summer harvest crops with fall crops that need to be planted in the summer.
  • Consider companion planting techniques, especially the guidelines that tell you what plants do not like to be planted near each other.  I’ve found Carrots Love Tomatoes is a great primer on this subject, and you can download this handy companion planting matrix.

 

We’ll discuss implications of these planning steps in future parts of this series on garden planning and management.  Please ask questions and share your experience in the blog comments so everyone can learn, and participate in the True Food Solutions gardening group by asking questions and sharing your insights with other gardeners.

 

 Get Heirloom Garden Seeds from a Multi-Generational Gardening Family

Seeds for Generations

* Seeds for Generations is one of my family businesses, started to give my children an opportunity to work together and learn valuable business skills while sharing our love for gardening.


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Inherit the Land

Inherit The Land: Adventures in the Agrarian Journey

Inherit The Land: Adventures in the Agrarian Journey

Inherit the Land: Adventures in the Agrarian Journey will cast a vision for your family by providing an introductory look at the blessings found when families work in an agrarian lifestyle. We’ve traveled across the US and captured stories of families experiencing the joy of working in God’s creation. More Info »

Price: $20.00$17.00
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by
Jason Matyas

Homestead Blessings: The Complete Eleven Pack – Hosted by the West Ladies

Homestead Blessings 11 Pack

Homestead Blessings 11 Pack

The Homestead Blessings Collection is now available with eleven DVDs included in this complete series pack. This wonderful new complete set is sure to provide hours of fun and useful instruction. The set includes The Art of Bread Making, Candle Making, Soap Making, Canning, Gardening, Herbs, Cooking, Dairy, Sewing, Quilting, Crafting. More Info »

Price: $180.00$140.00

by
Jason Matyas

Homestead Blessings: The Art of Herbs

Homestead Blessings – The Art of Herbs

Homestead Blessings - The Art of Herbs

The West Ladies instruct and inspire in this DVD that is sure to bring many years of enjoyable benefits to your home. Storage, seasoning, tonics and much more, The Art of Herbs will teach the many ways you can use herbs and the benefits that come from them. More Info »

Price: $20.00$17.00

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Homestead Blessings: The Art of Gardening

Homestead Blessings – The Art of Gardening

Homestead Blessings - The Art of Gardening

Everything from a small container garden in a city backyard to a large vegetable garden, The West Ladies will show you how to create your own beautiful and useful garden. This DVD is packed with helpful instruction to help you grow beautiful healthy flowers and vegetables. More Info »

Price: $20.00$17.00

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Homestead Blessings: The Art of Canning

Homestead Blessings – The Art of Canning

Homestead Blessings - The Art of Canning

The West ladies are back — Jasmine, CeCe, Vicki, and Hannah — with a new exciting instructional and inspirational DVD. The Art of Canning will teach the basics of canning as well as more advanced techniques and tricks that come from years of experience. This DVD is sure to provide you with the skill-sets you need to can a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. More Info »

Price: $20.00$17.00

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Homestead Blessings Real Food Pack – Gardening, Herbs, and Canning

Homestead Blessings Real Food Pack

Homestead Blessings Real Food Pack

The West ladies – Jasmine, CeCe, Vicki, and Hannah – teach a wide range of skills offered in God’s creation in this unique outdoors collection. These three exciting DVDs — The Art of Gardening, Canning and Herbs — are sure to provide helpful instructional. The fun-filled programs include homemaking skills presented in an educational and entertaining three DVD set. More Info »

Price: $60.00$40.00

by
Jason Matyas

Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm

Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm

Food Production Systems for a Backyard or Small Farm

This hands-on how-to video is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in gaining more self-reliance in the area of food. Producer and director Marjory Wildcraft is a nationally recognized expert in organic backyard food production. Marjory teaches people with no gardening or agricultural experience how to successfully grow healthy, vibrant, life-giving nutritious food. More Info »

Price: $94.00$59.95

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Born Again Dirt eBook – Digital Download

Born Again Dirt by Noah Sanders

Born Again Dirt by Noah Sanders

In Born Again Dirt, Noah Sanders encourages Christian farmers to evaluate their farming methods in light of Scripture. This book looks at various Biblical principles related to agriculture and provides examples of practical application. More Info »

Price: $10.00

by
Jason Matyas

Born Again Dirt

Born Again Dirt

Born Again Dirt

In Born Again Dirt, Noah Sanders encourages Christian farmers to evaluate their farming methods in light of Scripture. This book looks at various Biblical principles related to agriculture and provides examples of practical application. More Info »

Price: $15.00

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Back to Eden

back-to-eden

back-to-eden

BACK TO EDEN shares the story of one man’s lifelong journey, walking with God and learning how to get back to the simple, productive methods of sustainable provision that were given to man in the garden of Eden. More Info »

Price: $20.00$15.00

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A Journey Home

A Journey Home

A Journey Home

When his family life demanded change, Tommy Waller took a giant step. A Journey Home tells the story of the extraordinary path traveled by Tommy Waller, his wife, and their 11 children. This sensitive documentary spans Tommy’s journey from 80 hour work weeks to a remote community in rural Tennessee to the other side of the world. More Info »

Price: $20.00$17.00

by
Jason Matyas

 

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Use Cold Frames to Beat the Cold

Use Cold Frames to extend your season

It's been on my project list since last spring, but I never quite got to it.  I've been acquiring the materials and planning to build some cold frames for season extension for a long time, but it was only last week that I finally pulled the trigger and did it.  There was really cold weather and snow forecast for our area in the mountains of western Virginia, and I realized that frigid cold and snow would push the limits of the groundcover cloth I had been using for frost protection.

I had a bed of lettuce still growing – volunteers from my harvesting of seeds from the spring crop – and I didn't want to let it die when we could have fresh salad through the winter.  So I grabbed two of the storm window panes I had picked up in a batch from someone on Craigslist, took measurements, and built a cold frame to fit the window dimensions.

A few 2x10s and some scrap wood did the trick, and the cold frame was in place before the bitter cold (teens) and snow arrives (we ended up getting about an inch).

Use Cold Frames to extend your season

The design was simple – a basic box with 2x10s, plus a 2×6 cut diagonally to create the angle for the windows to rest on, and a strip along the back to create a ledge for the windows to rest and pivot on.  I'm using a 2×2 the stretches across the length of the box to prop up the windows to provide ventilation – it can be moved all the way back towards the midpoint and create an increasing gap to provide greater ventilation.

I should be able to keep this lettuce growing all winter with proper management of ventilation for warm days.  I'll check back in in a month or two to show some progress and relay any lessons learned in my winter gardening.

Have you used cold frames before? What other season extension methods have you tried?  Please share in the comments, and be sure to contribute to the discussion in our Gardening group.

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