Lessons For a Novice Gardener, by D.M.

I don’t have much money to spend on prepping this year as some poor financial decisions in my past are still haunting me.  However, I did decide that I would put forth as much effort as I could to learning the skills needed to survive the nearing collapse.  I already have a few days of fishing in this year and going with experienced fisherman has taught me a lot.  I have also applied for all licenses that I could in hopes to enhance my already solid skills with hunting, and I have been learning all I can about trapping as that only increases your chances at catching game.  Although most of my goals with improving skills around feeding my family protein won’t happen until September 1st, I have decided to really get serious around learning how to garden. 

Turn back the clock and as a child I was raised with a garden in the family growing up in Massachusetts.   It was about a quarter acre and it provided us with most of our vegetables for the year.  Last year, I dabbled with the garden, growing a few tomato plants, herbs, chilies, and broccoli.  This year, I ripped out the large flower garden from the previous owner and am going full force.  I used a Sonnylight indoor grow light to get my seeds started while it was still snowing out.  Started Cantaloupe, Zucchini, broccoli, chilies, basil, cilantro, and butternut squash inside where the temperatures are warm.  Just about every pod that I planted had a sprout.
Next thing I did was prepare the soil. The flowers were thick and it was hard work getting them, the grass and all of the unneeded wood chips out.  My friend raises alpacas and their dung is great for fertilizer.  I got a load from her and dug it into the garden.  Finally, I noticed that I had an ant hill about 3 feet across in the middle of where I wanted my chilies to go.  It took a few tries but I eventually got rid of them.  I tried a dry product that you just sprinkle on the ant hill and that failed, next I tried two different sprays.  The first one was contained in its own spray bottle that failed.  The second one hooked up to the hose and provided a spray/water mix and that finally did it. 

I spent two weekends clearing out the garden, removing everything that wasn’t food and preparing the soil.  I also spent some time making some adjustments to my sprinkler system so I could water effectively.   At this point, I was feeling great, all of my indoor plants were thriving and my garden was solid with good soil and plenty of water.  This is where the easy part stops. The next few weeks would be many lessons learned. 

Lesson 1:  Read the seeds – Workable ground does not mean after last freeze and I could have had most of what I planted in the ground a month earlier than I did.  Not a hard lesson but nonetheless a good lesson.  With the short growing season in Colorado, it will mean the difference of not having a 2nd or 3rd harvest this year.

Lesson 2:  Look before you dig.  While planting my seed, I used a sharp metal rod to poke the soil to get a seed in the ground.  Well, one bad strike and the next thing I know, I am digging up the pipe to my sprinkler system as there is was a nice hole.  In the end, now I know how to repair a sprinkler system but a headache that I did not need.  Look before you dig.

Lesson 3:  Hardening my plants.  Start slow with hardening your indoor plants.  I had a great first two days with full sun and my plants getting the exposure they needed only to get a little irrigation on the third day.  Went out fishing with the kids, and then stopped at a friend’s for dinner only to come home to dried out crispy plants.  My chilies were okay as they are use to drier conditions but everything else suffered losses.  I got water on the plants immediately and about 50% came back to life however, I lost 8 weeks’ worth of work on the plants that didn’t make it.
Lesson 4: Consider your water source.  My sprinkler system is fed from my local reservoir and is not treated with chemicals however, my inside water for drinking is treated.  Plants do not grow as well with town water as they do with rain or a natural water source.  I am doing a test now just to see how much of a difference and I tell you, with only a few weeks in, the plants watered with the water from my sprinkler system are much greener than the other. 

Lesson 5: TBD – Last year I bought a few books with a gift certificate I had on the topic of gardening. I thought by reading through them and having them as a reference that I would have success with my garden but that is not the case.  I am still only a few weeks into the growing season and already I have had so much pain.  I can only imagine what I will learn in the future.  I plan on still trying to get two harvests out of a few types of plants this year and I plan on canning and preserving my harvest.  I plan on root cellaring and practicing seed saving.  I can only imagine what mistakes I will make there as it will be my first time will all of that as well.

I know I have much to learn and have some dependencies that make it obvious that I am not self sufficient.  The water source for my property comes from a reservoir that is more than 15 miles away.  It gets to my house through a series of ditches and pipe systems.  It crosses roads and could easily be sabotaged to where I have no water.  It hasn’t rained here in more than two weeks now and that would effectively kill anything I have going.  Some 55 gallon drums and a way to catch water from my roof would be my first option in saving water.  Buying the drums is on my list and I hope to have them soon but I would not install it until I needed too. 

Another dependency is soil and keeping my soil full of nutrients that keep my garden ideal for growing.  I need to pick out an area in my yard suitable for a compost pile.  Just today I found an article about 99 things that you can compost. I had no idea all the things that can be used to keep my garden soil healthy each year.  Items like paper, pencil shavings, chewing gum and even toe nail clippings can be used according to that article.  We had a compost pile growing up and it consisted of four fence posts with chicken wire wrapped on the outside to hold everything in.  The one thing that I remember most was digging into it in the winter and feeling how hot it was inside.  Nature at work.

The last thing that I would like to add to my house is a greenhouse.  With that addition, I could extend my growing season over a month on each end of the season.  That is one thing about Colorado that is so unpredictable is the weather.  We have been here for over 10 years and each one has been different.  We have had Thanksgivings with 65 degree temperatures and snow in June; you just can’t depend on what is going to happen.   I would want my greenhouse to have a good drip system and some type of fan system for regulating the temperature.   I feel that with these few things, it will be very effective. 

Overall, you can have all the knowledge you want on your bookshelf and you can plan for how you will feed your family in the looming collapse. You can have all the survival seeds you can store, soil test kits, and fertilizer as well.  The truth is, as many others on this site have stated, experience is king and without it, it could mean the difference of living or dying.  I am very fortunate to live in the area that I do more than 180 miles from the nearest city.  I am very comfortable outdoors, am in decent shape, and have many friends that share my same values.  I still have much to learn.  I have two small children and they will be dependent on me for survival.  My hunting and gathering can improve, my retreat could use some improvements, and I could really use a few more years to learn to garden effectively.   The good news in all of this is that the grocery store down the street is still open and has a wonderful produce section and the farmers markets are in full swing.  As much as I want to rely on my garden, my backup plan is still there.  I can only imagine how much these mistakes would be amplified if it no longer existed.

Thank you Mr. Rawles from the bottom of my heart for a great blog site and for your passion to helping the many of us that are willing to learn.  Please keep up the outstanding work and God Bless.