Becoming Self-Sufficient: Gardening
The First Steps
What was once the normal way of life is now a goal for many. Self-sufficiency is on the rise as people want to bet back to the basics of life. Our ancestors grew their own fruits and vegetables, raised their own meat and built their own homes from trees cut down with an axe. We as a society have become very dependent on large chain grocery stores, RTM homes and having everything we want at our disposal. It's no wonder our world is getting so messed up.
This Hub will concentrate on the gardening part of self-sufficiency. There is much more to it (self-sufficiency) overall, but being able to feed yourself and your family is the first step to living a simpler lifestyle.
- Plan out your garden space. The first step in any project is planning. Without having some sort of vision or end result in mind, you'll be running in circles and not getting anywhere.
- Decide on garden bed size and how close they will be to your house. I suggest garden beds, as they are easier to maintain than a traditional plot. The fruits, vegetables and flowers (you have to have some flowers) are planted closer to one another, thus giving the weeds less chance to become a problem. Weeds need light to germinate; if your plants are growing quickly they will shade the soil and weeds will be less of a problem. 4' X 8' beds are the perfect size as they can be accessed from both sides, making it easier to plant, weed and harvest. By placing the beds close to your house you will be giving yourself the convenience that you aren't able to get by going to the grocery store.
- Build the beds. You can make your beds out of rough cut lumber, or use fancier wood. The key point to remember is not to use treated wood. The chemicals will leach into your soil and contaminate your food. The idea of growing your own food is to avoid all of the chemicals and preservatives used on commercially grown produce.
- Add soil. Your soil should be loose and loamy, with a lot of organic matter (compost). If you are just getting started, you can buy your soil from a garden center or a neighbour. I suggest getting started on making your own compost as soon as possible.
Now that you have done your planning, building and adding of soil it is time to plant.
Planting Your Garden
This is the fun part. I love planting my garden, but I also know how easy it is to get carried away. Perhaps that is why I am so in favour of garden beds as opposed to a traditional plot. Beds only allow a certain amount of room, while a plot will call to you until you have filled every inch with seeds.
There just isn't enough space here to list every vegetable, fruit and flower, so I'll leave it up to you to do your own research on varieties to plant. There are a few points to keep in mind however.
- Make sure you like what you are going to plant. It doesn't make sense to plant zucchini if you or family members hate it.
- Plant taller crops on the north side of your beds so they don't shade the smaller plants. Adding a trellis for climbing plants/vines is a good thing to do. It allows for more space to be utilized.
- Follow seed package directions for seed/seedling spacing. If you plant them too far apart you will be encouraging weed growth, but too close together and they won't thrive.
- Make notes on what was planted where. It is easy to forget, no matter how good you think your memory is. I find that if I write something down, I'll remember it better.
- Plant cool weather crops first, then use the same space to plant warm weather crops after the first crop is harvested. Add some compost to the soil between plantings, and you will be able to make the most of your space.
By keeping track of what has been planted, you will know when to expect the harvest of each fruit/vegetable.
Maintaining Your Food Source
Maintenance is important no matter what it is. A home needs regular maintenance so it doesn't fall down around you. A vehicle needs to be maintained regularly so you aren't left stranded on the side of the road. Your garden is no different. Regular watering, weeding and culling of weak plants will ensure you are well-fed.
A properly maintained garden may sound like a lot of work, but if you keep up with it you will find it doesn't take much time at all.
- Watering is usually taken care of by Mother Nature in the form of rain. If you live in a warmer climate, or your summer is hotter and drier than usual, you will need to supplement it. The best way to do this is to give your garden a thorough soaking once a week (the equivalent of one inch of rain will be enough each week). By watering thoroughly and deeply, you will encourage stronger root growth. A strong root system is vital to a plant's survival.
- Weeding should be minimal if you started with uncontaminated (with weed seeds) soil. Having loose soil rich in organic matter (compost) will make it easy to remove the weeds that do sneak in. Your pulled weeds can be the start of your compost pile (if they haven't gone to seed).
- If it's weak, get rid of it. Face it, some seedling just don't have what it takes to grow up big and strong. If you find weak plants, pull them out and toss them in your compost pile. They will break down and help next year's garden grow.
- Bugs aren't always bad. If you are unsure of which bugs are, visit your local library and borrow a book on bugs in the garden. If you spot a problem, tend to it quickly. Spidermites can and will take over an entire garden bed if given the chance.
- Avoid the use of chemicals, sprays and herbicides. Fight any problems using natural ingredients. It's amazing what a bit of orange peel can do.
By tending to any problems quickly, you will be able to have a bumper crop year after year.
Because You Can
Preserving the Harvest
Your garden has flourished, and you are faced with buckets of peas, beans, carrots, potatoes and more. You can enjoy your home-grown food well into the winter or longer if you preserve your harvest.
- Freezing your fruits and vegetables is a quick and easy way to stock up for the coming months. If you are unsure of what is the best method, I suggest getting a book on ways to preserve your bounty. Some vegetable can be frozen fresh, while others need to be blanched (dipped in boiling water for a certain amount of time) before being bagged. I like freezing fruit on a cookie sheet before bagging, as it is easier to take out just a few pieces instead of having to thaw the entire amount.
- Canning is a more time consuming process, but it doesn't require freezer space. Plus, if canned properly you can preserve your harvest for in upwards of two years. A bounty this year may easily get you through next winter if something happens to your garden next summer.
- Dehydrating is also a lengthy process, but by far the best for preserving many fruits, vegetables and meats (more on raising meat in another Hub). Once dry, the produce can be vacuum packed and will last for several years. Plus, it is also the most space-efficient way. The best part is, you do not need a freezer to store it in.
By preserving whatever you can, you will cut down on your grocery bill considerably.
Summing It Up
There is a lot of work involved in getting your garden set up the first time, but it is well worth the effort. When you are sitting inside during a blizzard, with no chance of getting to the store for a few days, you will truly appreciate the time you put into your garden. Homemade fruit roll-ups, dill pickles and a five bean soup can all be as close as your pantry.