If it hasn’t come across to you yet, I am a big believer in the principles of self sufficiency. Now I sometimes feel very under qualified to speak on the subject. No, I do not live on a homestead. No, I do not provide my own drinking water from a well, or have solar panels to provide my energy needs, or chickens for fresh eggs. I would love to be doing all those things, but I am not able to at this point in time. But I can do somethings, and that’s what I’m doing. Each of us can do something that make sense. Maybe you aren’t going to be buying a draft horse to plow a field anytime soon, but you can grow herbs in the window sill of your apartment. I’ll be sharing my experiences and learnings as I go and I hope it inspires you to do something on the level that makes sense for your own life.
Since the age of 10 I have been fascinated with primitive skills like flint and steel, foraging, leather tanning and basic survival skills. To me, these feel like the foundation of human existence. Sure, we live in an advanced world that makes all of these skills feel straight out of the stone age (which they are). I would argue that they are still important to know. Some things don’t ever truly become obsolete. Human survival is one of those.
I will certainly be talking more about those skills later, but today I’m going to move up a rung on the ladder of human progression to agriculture. Being able to plant and harvest food without having to travel great distances foraging allowed humans to establish permanent residence and really develop. And on an emotional level, there is something very healthy about working in the soil to produce your wont food!
Every year that I grow a garden I learn a lot. Mostly, it seems, through failures. But that’s how we figure things out, right? Hopefully sharing my failings will help others learn and avoid them.
Last year we built a few garden boxes and ended up grown quite a lot of food! Lettuce, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, chives and a carrots. We ended up eating salads from our garden once a day for a couple months. It was fantastic! I think it was the first year that we feel like we actually saved money from it. So this year we doubled the space and are going all in! We ended up adding some raspberries as well for a nice, perennial feature. So what did I learn last year?
#1 THIN YOUR SEEDLINGS!
I hate thinning plants. It feels like I’m killing all my hard work just as it’s starting to grow. So I didn’t do it very well and my plants suffered. Especially the kale. It was stunted, and grew and strange angles to try to get sun. The leaves never ended up growing to full size. We still got a lot of food from them, but they would have produced much more. This year I have been way better at it, and have already seen huge benefits. I thinned our radish plants and the ones left immediately started to thicken up. Within a week and a half they were ready to eat. Thin your seedlings. Many seedlings (like beets, kale, lettuce, radishes, and more) can be thrown into a salad. So don’t think of it like thinning, but as the first harvest.
#2 Kale will grow for 2 years
Kale is super hearty and grew through the week of snow that we got this winter. They got a little wilted and I thought they were gonners for sure, but they came back after that. You can get 2 years of growth without having to replant. I’ll be leaving them where they are for my winter garden this year.
#3 Prune your tomatoes
You can get way more tomatoes if you learn to prune them. Each branch puts off a sucker stem in the “armpit” of the branch. Pinch those off. They will never produce fruit. Plucking them lets the plant focus its energy on tomatoes and growing taller. Be careful not to pitch the top branch of the plant! It will stop growing taller if you do.
#4 Go with indeterminate tomatoes
There are two kinds of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate plants will grow to a specific size and produce through a determined season. Then then stop. Indeterminate will grow as tall and produce as many tomatoes as the weather conditions will permit. I had both last year and loved that the indeterminate plants gave us tomatoes way longer than the others. If you’re super smart about pruning and fertilizing you can grow 8’ tall plants that produce a ton of fruit! This year I made sure to only buy indeterminate plants.
#5 Copper foil for slugs
This is a classic, but it came in handy for us already this year. Our first round of kale starts got decimated by slugs… Very disappointing. So I put copper tape around all our garden boxes and they haven’t been an issue since. Worth the effort!
I think that’s enough for today’s entry :)
I will check back in from time to time as I learn more (from success or failure).
Please share your gardening learnings with us!