It is Planting Time- Part 1, by L.R.

PART 1 (Of 3)

With the end of winter and the frost date for my area passed, my thoughts naturally turn toward my vegetable garden and this year’s crop. During the harvest last year, I saved a number of seeds for planting again this year, I also saved a ton of money purchasing seeds from our local Co-op left over from the end of last year’s growing season. Properly stored, I’ve found they germinate at very respectable rates and I have always had good luck planting them.

I’ve been an avid home gardener for better than twenty years; that’s certainly not to say that I know all about raising my own food, I don’t. I still make mistakes, still experiment, and still sometimes fail here and there. But, I generally have enough successes to eat healthy home-grown food during the summer, and preserve food for my family for the coming months. My wife cans quite a bit; we also freeze some food, and I have done some dehydrating – I need to do more this year.

I’ve also been into prepping for five or six years and consider myself an experienced learner (that’s my way of saying I know the basics reasonably well and have done a lot of things to help me and my family prepare for a possible a grid down situation), but I am certainly no expert. I still read books, still search for quality articles on prepping, and still look at quality blogs and a few YouTube videos on the subject. I strive to be well rounded in prepping just as I strive to be a well rounded gardener.

Storing water and food is basic to all our prepping endeavors. How much and what kinds is a personal decision, and I’m making no recommendations for that in this article. But in looking at many articles dealing with food storage, I’m given to believe that while our stored food is foundational it is also temporal. That is, all our food will eventually run out if a grid down situation lasts long enough. We might weather a grid down of a few weeks or even several months with our stored food, but what will we do if a TEOTWAWKI situation lasts much, much longer? The purpose of this article is to look at a resupply plan through home gardening.

Everyone’s personal situation is different, and I am not prescribing what you need to do… only you can decide for yourself the best course of action. But as for me and my family, raising food in our own vegetable garden is – at least part of – the answer. In this article I want to point out a few things that work for me. If you are an experienced gardener, then this article is not for you. If you live in a city and have no opportunity to have a garden, then nothing here really relates to you. But, if you have the time and available gardening space, and have decided this is the year you want to get into gardening, then perhaps some of my thoughts will be helpful to you.

Let’s Think About This

If the grid were to collapse today… now, right now… how long could you feed your family? Take all your pantry foods, everything in the frig (and freezer), and all your long term food storage (if you have some). Add in food that you may (no guarantee at all) be able to still get from markets or convenience stores in your community for a few more days. Now add all the food together. So how long do you think you could feed your family? When it runs out, what then?

We all realize that a “grid down” means no transportation, no resupply anywhere. Maybe you’ve stored enough food to last a few weeks or even several months. Maybe you’ve planned for a long-term scenario and you know you have enough food stored for a year or longer. But what happens then? What’s the resupply plan? Keep your fingers crossed and hope Uncle Sam will take care of things? No, not really. For me, the best answer is to procure my own food through fishing, hunting and especially through home gardening.

The Time To Start Is Now

If you’ve thought about starting your own vegetable garden, then I encourage you to start this growing season. Begin now. You don’t have to be a master gardener, invest in a lot of expensive equipment, or plant an acre of food. Starting small and learning as you go, still allows you to gain some experience at growing your own food. If you plan carefully, you may even be able to raise a spring/ summer crop and a late summer/ fall crop using the same garden space. What you learn this year will get you off to a better start next year and year by year you can expand your knowledge, skill level and comfort zone as a gardener.

If you are starting as a “newbie” this year, there are a world of YouTube videos you can consult to help you in your beginning efforts. Also, there are many good books and self-help manuals on the subject. After you review a number of these, you will begin to naturally gravitate to the gardening method you think will work best for you. Container gardening, raised beds, Mittleider gardening, traditional straight row gardening, it’s all up to you. And, I won’t even get into planting by the moon!

There are advantages and disadvantages to most any “style” of gardening you may try. You’ll find some gardeners that swear by one method over the others… and that’s OK if that is what they prefer. You make up your own mind. That said, you might try a couple of different methods and experiment. Determine for yourself what seems to work best for you. I tend to favor raised beds for things like lettuce, kale, spinach, brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage; most everything else I plant in traditional rows. But you don’t have to make this decision alone.

If you live in a subdivision or in close proximity to others, look around and see if anyone in your neighborhood has a backyard garden. They would be an excellent resource to help you with your gardening questions. Most gardeners I know are always willing to help others get started. Or, if you live in more of a rural area, I’d bet there are farmers not too far away you could talk with. So, take the family for a Sunday afternoon ride and look around for someone who already has a garden spot. Meet and greet and let them help you get started. County agricultural agents are also an excellent source of gardening help. My only caution is if you decide to start a garden this year, begin planning soon. Don’t let the growing season slip up on you.

Be Realistic

Time is a precious commodity these days, especially for those with full-time jobs, kids to raise, yards to mow, chores to attend to, and all the many other things we call “life.” But one thing is for certain, home vegetable gardens take time; time to learn what to do and do right, time to prepare the soil, time to buy and plant the seed, time to weed and cultivate the ground, time to fertilize (if you choose to do so), time to water in periods of drought, time to harvest. If your harvest is more food than you can use right away, time to can, freeze, dehydrate or pickle to preserve what you’ve grown. So don’t kid yourself, there’s work to it all.

Honestly, one of the most difficult parts of gardening for me is to make time for working my garden. One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that a home vegetable garden will not wait for your next day off . You simply cannot work the ground when it’s wet or when it’s too dry. There is a sweet spot when you’ll want to prepare the soil for planting, weeding or cultivating. Many a time when I’ve put off working the garden after a long day at work thinking, “I’ll do that Saturday,” I’ve sat in the house Saturday and watched it rain. It rains again Monday and Tuesday, and before long my beautiful garden is covered with a nice blanket of grass and weeds. “If only I’d…!” Yeah, it happens.

When I say be realistic, I mostly mean think about how much time you have to devote to your garden. Talk to others gardeners and get some ideas from them about how much time they spend for the size garden they have. Maybe for your first year effort you’ll decide to have a 10′ by 15′ garden… 150 square feet. That’s respectable enough in size to grow several different vegetables and gain some experience without breaking the bank or denying your kids trips to the ball park or dance recitals. On the other hand, if you really want to commit the time and effort to something larger, then go for it. Again, your best guide to time commitments and cost may be a local gardener who has experience with a garden about the size you’d like to have.

Don’t Expect Perfection

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed with something in my gardening year. Last year I had nine rows of corn with about 120 stalks per row of the prettiest yellow sweet corn you’ve ever seen. It was at it’s full growing height and beginning to form cobs when we experienced 40 mile per hour straight line wind with two inches of rain. Eighty percent of my beautiful corn was blown down and laying in mud. My wife and I managed to salvage some stalks, but the crop was far less than what I’d hoped for.

The year prior to that, my garden was planted and growing well when my wife had surgery for a torn meniscus and a week later I was diagnosed with a slipped disk and was prescribed six weeks of physical therapy. Between us we were still able to harvest some vegetables, but our garden was less than mediocre simply because we did not have the time to devote to it. Sometimes, life just gets in the way.

Other years are not as dramatic and we’ve experienced an abundant harvest. Some years we have tons of green beans, other years not so much. One year we put up 64 large bags of frozen summer squash, the next year our harvest was only enough to eat on during the summer. One year I counted 58 quarts of canned tomatoes, the next year we only canned a dozen. The very first year I had a garden, I planted purple hull peas… had a nice little row coming up until the rabbits found them and all but cleaned them out. (It was then I decided to put a fence around my garden!)

Some years the weather cooperates and some years it does not. My wife grows blueberries. Two years ago we picked 110 gallons… we froze six gallons for ourselves, gave several more away to family and close friends, and sold the balance for $15 a gallon. That brought in some extra income, and was more than a fair price for home grown, completely organic blueberries. Last year we experienced three cold snaps below freezing after the traditional frost date of April 12th for our part of the country. We only picked a few gallons and the berries were not very good. No one’s fault – it just happened.

My point is this. I am not a perfect gardener and I’ve never met anyone who has made that claim. Sometimes things go really well and sometimes they don’t. But we still garden every year, and season in and season out, we “put up” quite a bit of food. In bountiful years we might put up far more than we will use during the fall and winter months. That’s okay. We may not be as fortunate next year. Even experienced gardeners far better at their craft than I am, experience poor crops some years. So, don’t expect perfection. Learn all you can, and start doing something to reach your goals.

(Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.)




15 Comments

  1. L.R., although I have been gardening for years and just started saving my own seed in the past 10 years, I continue to read everything I can find on gardening and I also continue to experiment. I may never get to master gardener status, but I don’t care. I just want to feed my family. Keep up the fight so to speak. 🙂

    1. Like you, Jody, I continue to experiment and sometimes fail. Ever grateful that my failure do not result in someone going hungry. This is the time to figure it out, folks, when the stakes are low.

      I was once introduced as an “expert gardener” and made haste to correct that by telling everyone I am an “experienced gardener”. Experience born of many mistakes and also many successes. I learn from both.

      Carry on

  2. My wife still plants flowers. I plant nothing I can’t eat. I just picked up two fig trees. I’m very excited to plant them. They are zone 5/7, the little description says you will get 150 lbs. of figs per tree. The Plus is they are a beautiful tree.

  3. We planted a handful of heirloom “Bloody Red Dent Corn” we purchased from Baker Seed as an experiment and even after storms and very hungry raccoons, we harvested a 5 gallon bucket. That was only about a third of our crop after losses. The experiment was to see how much bulk food can be grown in a small garden (ours was about 80×40) with future reproduction in mind. Guess I’m trying to figure out how to feed all those visitors that may show up some day… Oh, as an aside, we purchased a reproduction manual cast iron corn huller and it worked great and the grandkids thought it was fun to operate. Tom Sawyer… 🙂 Genesis 47:15 Money is used to buy food.

  4. Great article, as gardening can teach people about the Providence of Nature (God). A person can labor in a garden and end up with a bounty, or end up just eating dirt, because of circumstances (weather or whatever) beyond their control. ~ A lesson in Humility.

    From the article: “I also saved a ton of money purchasing seeds from our local Co-op left over from the end of last year’s growing season. Properly stored, I’ve found they germinate at very respectable ~rates and I have always had good luck planting them.” [SurvivalBlog has advertisers selling ‘storage seeds’ for any future need.]

    ……… I took a Botany course in college. Seed germination was part of the ‘test’ for the course. Using old seeds, we had to have them germinate. The college supplied old seeds to germinate; even the old bean seeds would have a success rate of 50% ~ for seeds 25 to 30 years old. (Maybe, the future growing plant would NOT be as strong and productive, as with fresh seeds.)
    The teacher knew the ~expected success rates.
    ………. Commercial farmers need fresh seeds with very productive crops just about every year to stay in business. The taxes, regulations, and bills are all burdensome now days, for all the commercial farmers.

    As a note: I’m a soil tiller; NOT a gardener. With my ‘strong’ back, I can manipulate a shovel, a grubbing hoe if available, the iron rake, which are all used to prepare the garden soil. A lot of gals really enjoy the gardening part; quite a few men enjoy gardening too.
    [As a man, I just prefer being a soil tiller. … But, I do know the basics of having a ‘green thumb’ ~ as opposed to the ‘black thumb of death’ when gardening.]
    At the end of the year, a garden needs to be cleared and cleaned up, with the soil turned too. = A good job, for the strong back willing to manipulate a shovel and the iron-rake. [For big gardens, a tractor is a Blessing from God.]

    I had some neighbors, they said, the family had a big garden during the Great Depression. The front yard was planted in potatoes, which was NOT as susceptible to strangers helping themselves, to the ripe fruit and/or vegetables. The other crops were planted in the back yard.

    1. My comment about the college Botany course seeds is NOT a reflection on the storage seeds advertised on SurvivalBlog. The Botany seeds were stored in big glass jars; two or three gallons with a glass lid. The commercially sold storage seeds might be a good idea to have, for future usage.
      [Botany was a science course. The glass jars were of the type used by Doctor Frankenstein to store brains for future transplants ~ in the movies at least. … The glass jars were just put away in a science laboratory closet, with a bunch of other science gizmos.]

  5. Thanks for doing this series.

    I’ve posted here before about city gardening. The strip between fence and driveway gave us 30 feet by 2 feet of luscious berries. The 2 foot by 30 foot strip next to our garage gave us 3 months of perennial strawberries, and so on.

    Food security is rarely mentioned in all the cool gardening stuff, but it’s serious business.

    Must build soils. Yes, must build good soils. Rich gardening soils. Buy good, clean, weed free certified materials. Turn them under to make the top 6 inches most productive.

    If you spent 600 bucks on one gun, you darn well better spend 600 bucks on producing your own food. As so on, pro-rata.

    Our beautiful 5 acres with little pond attracts cool visitors like ducks and geese. The ducks ravaged our clover and the Canadian geese are actually pillaging our emerging garden crops.

    I am still working on the fencing and bird netting, so it’s proof of needed better project prioritization and sequencing. And a stronger rock throwing arm.

    Best wishes, everyone.

  6. Yep long term all stored food runs out. You need to be able to grow your own.

    We just moved into our ranch finally last year, and this will be our first year really getting plants in.

    Our first focus is getting about 50 fruit and nut trees in. We are doing about half and half fruit and nuts. I’m hoping the nuts will provide plenty of protein and healthy fats. I’m not entirely sure if some will work out though. We are southwest oregon. So I don’t know if almonds and pistachio’s will work or not. But I’ve got hazelnut, chestnut, and walnut as backups.

    After that the garden and chickens will go in. plus more berries. as much as possible I’m trying to focus on perennials.

    1. Be sure to plant your walnut trees as far away from your vegetable garden as possible.

      Walnut trees provide grace, shade and delicious nuts in a home garden, but they make poor neighbors for some other kinds of plantings, especially vegetables. All walnut trees contain allopathic chemicals, juglones, that inhibit the growth of many popular summer vegetables anywhere close to the tree. Of all walnut varieties, black walnut trees contain the highest percentage of juglones. With some planning, it is still possible to grow some summer vegetables in the vicinity of a walnut tree.

  7. Thanks for doing this series.

    I’ve posted here before about city gardening. The strip between fence and driveway gave us 30 feet by 2 feet of luscious berries. The 2 foot by 30 foot strip next to our garage gave us 3 months of perennial strawberries, and so on. You all should have something growing now, even if just a big container with one or two meals in it.

    Food security is rarely mentioned in all the cool gardening stuff, but it’s serious business.

    Must build soils. Yes, must build good soils. Rich gardening soils. Buy good, clean, weed free certified materials. Turn them under to make the top 6 inches most productive.

    If you spent 600 bucks on one gun, you darn well better spend 600 bucks on producing your own food. As so on, pro-rata.

    Our beautiful 5 acres with little pond attracts cool visitors like ducks and geese. The ducks ravaged our clover and the Canadian geese are actually pillaging our emerging garden crops.

    I am still working on the fencing and bird netting, so it’s proof of needed better project prioritization and sequencing. And a stronger rock throwing arm.

    Thats my suggested Food security tips.

    Best wishes, everyone.

  8. I just gave up on organic practices for blueberries and raspberries. My manure and woodchips is good for a lot of food but not those two. A little ammonium sulfate has really made a world of difference on those two. Now I need to figure out what my minimum amount to get the pH and the greenness I’m looking for.

  9. Garden fails… ‘Been there, done that! I once asked the advice of an organic farmer as to why my tomatoes weren’t doing as well as his. A short discussion later, I went home and set the drip irrigation to water longer than I had been. I walked away thinking “mission accomplished,” never thinking to turn the timer back to “AUTO.” I had to leave town for a few days, during which time the temperature hit 117*. So much for the garden that year…

  10. I absolutely agree. Talk to the neighbors with the healthy gardens. We’ve moved twice to new regions of the country with completely different growing conditions. I struggled both times until I was able to find a mentor that could teach me the tricks for our particular part of the world.

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