These beautiful, sunny 65* January days only attribute to the spring fever I get every year about this time. Frank and I got out a vegetable list yesterday and started planning the garden for this year. Over the past two months we have made some fairly drastic changes in the way we eat. We’re not calling it a diet, because this is the way we plan on eating for the rest of our lives. You see, we are both over weight, and it is way past time to do something about it. Something permanent. Not something that will last a while, help us lose a few pounds, then go back to the way we used to eat and gain it back. This is a permanent change and we are very excited about it. And from another perspective, if we truly believe that our country and world is in for a very serious collapse, which we do believe, then we need to be healthier and better able to deal with the physical challenges that will come when we are in long term survival mode.
That being said, we have made some fairly significant changes in what we will be growing, not only for ourselves, but for our animals as well. We will not be growing potatoes, sweet potatoes or corn this year. They are very starchy and full of carbohydrates that we really do not need. There are other vegetable choices that will provide us with the energy we need, along with many other nutrients, that don’t have the significant carbohydrate load. There are some vegetables that we haven’t been very successful at growing, that we are going to get very serious about. Things such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, onions and winter squash. I have looked into buying some green lace wings and lady bugs to try and increase the predatory insect population while at the same time decreasing the cabbage worms and aphids. Since we are both home full-time now, the garden will also get more attention than it did with only few minutes during the evenings on weekdays and weekends. I’m hoping that will make a big difference.
Each year as I start to think about rotating crops in our small garden, I pull out last year’s map to make sure I remember what was growing where then. Last year’s map is one of the messiest ones yet, but it still contains the data I need for this year.
After Frank and I made the list of vegetables we want to grow, I went back and separated this list into early cool weather plants, and warm weather plants that won’t go outside until after the last frost. Most of these will be grown as seedlings, but a few will still be directly seeded into the ground. We have found that growing seedlings, even with beets and carrots, gives them a much better survival rate than direct seeding, which is the traditional way to plant. If we give them a good start as seedlings, they survive the early spring weeds much better and we get more harvest for our efforts.
After we made our list, and lists of lists, I got out last year’s map along with this document that contains companion plant data for the vegetables we grow. I have several garden books that cover this information that I was referring to over and over. So, I kept looking up the same information time and again. After a few years I put everything on this document and printed it out for my notebook, which is much quicker to reference.
I use it every year when choosing locations of vegetables. Companion planting really is effective. Before I knew beets were inhibited by pole beans, I planted two rows of beets on either side of my pole bean trellis. They all died and I didn’t know why until I started incorporating companion planting into our garden design. This is another example of layers of knowledge. The more I learn, the higher our vegetable yield becomes, and the more I realize I don’t know.
Armed with our list of vegetables, last year’s map and my companion plant list, I am ready to map out this year’s garden. Initially I do it in pencil, because I always have to move something. Either I put it too close to last year’s planting, or next door to something it doesn’t get along with too well. But after a little jockeying around, everything usually falls into place. I thought I had everything on this map and was satisfied with the results until I realized I had left out the tomatoes, which means I had left out some of the carrots. I have the companion planting book Carrots Love Tomatoes, and they really do. Some of the best carrots we have grown have been on either side of the tomato trellis.
|Taking down trellis, end of summer 2013|
Speaking of trellises. We use stock panels on t-posts. Each year at the end of the season, we take them down and stack them beside the garden. Then after we have everything tilled up for the last time and ready for planting in the spring, we install the panels and t-posts wherever we want the trellis to be for that year. There are just about as many ways to trellis tomatoes and beans as there are gardeners, and this way works very well for us. It’s easy to pick from either side of the panel, and we don’t have any trouble even with some of the strong winds and thunderstorms we get here sometimes. One of the trellises will initially be for the sugar snap peas. After our last average frost, which is April 1st, I will plant beans in amongst the peas to take over the trellis when the peas are finished. I did this with peas and tomatoes last year.
Since we haven’t had any luck with fall planted winter squash for the past two years, I will be planting my winter squash in the spring when I plant the yellow summer squash. We would like to get as many winter squash as possible to store for both us and the animals. The same goes for the mangel beets, which are an old time traditional animal feed.
We planted a larger than usual patch of cowpeas, purple hull peas, last summer which actually grew pretty well even though the grass overtook most of the patch during Frank’s back surgery and recovery. Many, many peas dried and went to seed in this patch, so we expect they will come up again this summer. Because of that, this will be one time that we won’t rotate this crop. We make it a standard, rather strict practice not to grow the same crop in the same place two years in a row, but instead of pulling up many volunteer pea plants, this year, we will replant the peas here and let them share space with the expected volunteer plants.
We will be growing a fair sized patch of sunflowers again this summer for the chickens, goats and pigs. (The pigs will be joining us in a few months.) The amount of sunflowers we can grow in the garden will not be enough to provide a lot of animal feed, but will be a supplement, and it’s good practice. If our plans work out to get a larger area ready to plant in one of the pastures, we will grow many more sunflowers, cowpeas, maybe some field corn, beets, winter squash, turnips and carrots there. All for animal feed. That would be a dream come true. We have had plans for this pasture for many years.
This year I will plant the spinach, lettuce, celery, celeriac, leeks, collards and swiss chard in the herb bed. There is room there to do small successive plantings, and that will leave more space in the main garden for the larger vegetables. I will also work at getting more herbs established in the herb bed again this year. There are many things that are started, and some of the annuals are reseeding themselves, which is the goal. The weeds and grass had a hayday last summer during Frank’s recovery as well. But there are many things still growing in amongst the weeds that we hope to give more attention to this summer.
There is much to learn, study and do to provide a good, balanced adequate diet. I continue to try to determine the nutritional content of the vegetables we are growing, to make sure we are getting what we need to be healthy, active people. Because when the time comes that we must depend upon our little patch of dirt for our sustenance, I want to be ready. I want to know how to coax that nutrition out of the ground. I want to be able to put a healthy, satisfying, life sustaining meal on the table in front of my husband. I want to live.
Until next time – Fern