Grow Your Own

You Too Can Supplement Your Diet Anywhere You Live

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In these crazy times, with crumbling supply chains, farmers tossing out food and livestock due to storage, transport and markets failing, you need to grow something. It is springtime, your yard needs a garden if it doesn’t have one. Rent a tiller if need be, section off a plot in a sunny area with good drainage and till the topsoil. You can add manure from the local box store, even have droppings from a neighbor with chickens. For the promise of some food come harvest, lots of people can help you, just ask.

Before any soil gets disturbed, plan out on paper or laptop what you want to grow. You’ll need to do some research online or at your library (remember those?). You can easily determine what agricultural hardiness “zone” you are in by entering your zip code on a website. This will determine what seeds will grow well. Buy from a local store or get faster shipping online for seeds. In most parts, you are almost late already! Also, there are guides to suggest what grows well next to what, for shade, nutrients, pollination, etc. Start small if this is new to you. Try a patch 10′ x 10′ or so. You’ll be surprised what even a “starter” garden like that will yield.

Once You’ve Tilled

Section off beds with stakes and string initially. This will make sure you keep things separate. Look at the packets of seeds and see how they suggest planting them. Often it is as simple as pushing a finger into the soil and dropping 1-3 seeds in. Spacings along a row will differ by plant type.

If you want potatoes, you have to pile some dirt 8” to a foot high where you want rows to grow. This also makes for easy harvesting later, as the potatoes will be mostly near or above the ground. Once you have finished a section, put a stake in each row to remind you what to expect, preferably written on it with indelible ink covered in clear tape, or paint, or just tape the empty seed packet to the stake. Repeat until the plot is planted. The work gets easier, but frequent. Water down the plot with a hose, being careful not to wash anything away. Watering cans are great, but often are too much for newly planted seeds. Congratulations, you now have a garden!

Apartment Living is No Excuse

You can still grow things on a sunny deck or even in window boxes. There are things to consider that are unique to apartment life however. Is your deck sunny most of the time? Can it take the weight of containers of wet soil and plants? Will your downstairs neighbors be upset if you rain on their BBQ when you water things? Once you’ve figured out what you can do, then start doing it.

If your deck has a very sunny area, consider a partial shade device, like a mesh on some string. You don’t want those tomatoes shriveling up! There are helpful websites on apartment gardening if you look for them. While you probably can’t grow much, it’s better to have some of your own vegetables and herbs than none. You may even get an ok from the landlord to have a small plot in the back, encourage your friendly neighbors to do the same, you can grow a diversity of things, share, and socialize.

Historically, Home Food Production Was Common

Up until the 20th century, there were no big supermarkets. People went out to farm stands, small stores, and of course their own gardens for food. It was considered a patriotic duty to live off your garden as much as possible during WWI and WWII, the larger farms providing food for the war effort. Every dish you made from local sources was more food available for the front. They called them “Victory Gardens”.

 Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system.”

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Rose Hayden-Smith, popular gardening book author

Of course even in wartime, not everyone could grow everything. Meat was in short supply. People had to hunt and trap for their protein, at least when the ration cards for meat and dairy were used up for the week. People kept chickens, mostly for eggs and meat. Chickens are becoming a “thing” again. There’s always rabbits, ducks, and geese if the larger barnyard animals are a bit much for you.

Old Victory Garden Poster, WWI

Culling, Weeding and Watering

Ok, you have stuff in the ground, now what? Every few days or so, you have to check it. As it sprouts what you planted, you have to uproot and toss all the weeds that have shown up on your nice, tilled soil. As your seeds become sprouts maybe a few inches tall, (anyplace you put clusters of seeds) you have to get rid of the lower performers of that cluster. Ex: If you planted 3 seeds in the same hole, but one is way taller and healthier than the other two, pluck the other two and toss. This will allow for maximum efficiency and yield.

After you’ve culled what you can, all you will need to do is water and weed. If the weather has not provided rain for a few days, get out the hose as the sun sets. You don’t want to water a garden and let the sun bake it all day, it’s worse for the plants. Use a gentle hand when watering, aim upwards and let it rain down on your crops. Don’t over-do it, if the water starts to puddle, it’s best to stop.

Repeat until the plants are harvestable. The times for this varies by plant type. It should say how long this should take (approximately) on the seed packets, online, or you can check back where you got the seeds. You might get 2 harvests out of a season for certain plants, others only one. Some start producing from summer onward into fall (zuchinni, tomatoes, potatoes).

Harvest and Storage

During the summer and fall, you should experience a steady stream of produce. You have to keep checking it almost every day. As it starts to ripen if not before, you might consider covering the area in netting and making fences to keep hungry animals away. You still might lose some to the odd bird or groundhog, dems da breaks! You can then start paying back that friend for the fertilizer, and consider preservation and storage.

Keep what you will use soon in the refrigerator. For what you will use in the next months, wash, parboil, cut up and freeze it (label what and when). Don’t forget making your own tomato sauce with fresh herbs, it’s very easy, super tasty, and you can freeze it (or jar it if you immerse the sealed, almost full jars in boiling water, see a canning book). Potatoes can stand by themselves or in a cool, dry place a few months. For having any of this available this winter and next spring, you have to jar and can. Except herbs, they can be dried and bagged/jarred for months.

Unless you have fruit trees (in which case you can make jams and jellies with a large pot of boiling water, a cookpot, some clean jars, lids, pectin and a lot of sugar), you need a pressure canner. Why? A pressure canner allows you to raise the temperature inside it higher than you’d get by immersing a sealed jar in boiling water. This is needed to kill off any bacteria left on the vegetables after washing. This means you won’t get very sick in February, or whenever you eat what’s inside the jar. Tomato sauce is acidic enough not to need this extra heat.

You can even jar-up meat or potato slices this way, check the canner instruction booklet for how. Store jarred goods in a cool, dry place until needed. With a little effort, you can feed yourself, your family, and your friends extra all year ’round. It’s a good skill to have in lean times, you may even be able to barter your goods for other things. If nothing else, it’s good for you and you might make some friends!

Karl Donaldson
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