Friday, November 20, 2009

gardening year round and eating with the seasons

Someone suggested a list of what we plant here n how we preserve it all in order to have food supplies for the entire year. Much of this is taken from an old post I made on this subject but I will bring it up to date.

fresh over preservation
I will be the first to tell you that for the most part I do not enjoy canning foods and although dehydrating is great as are other preservation methods, I personally would much rather eat fresh foods. To eat fresh foods year round can be a bit of a challenge especially to those in extreme cold climates or to those that have limited space but we can all contribute to our menus immensely just by using a bit of imagination and ingenuity. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to grow atleast some of your own food and often times given the right set of circumstances we can grow all our food or dang near all of it. Another thing to consider when using fresh over preservation is the overall economic benefits. Soil to table even with a bit of lighting help is much cheaper than canning lids or freezer electricity.

When we grow our own foods we realize we have Mother Nature to contend with, therefore I find it important to be able to grow in many different conditions and environments in order to hopefully ensure that I will have a viable food source at all times. Don't get me wrong, we preserve plenty of food as well for just in case, when we are in a hurry or when there simply isn’t enough fresh food to supply our needs. We just find fresh tastier, simpler and overall suits us and our needs.

eating with the seasons
To garden year round and make it worth the effort of the work you must learn to eat with the seasons. One must learn that because we think tomatoes are in season year round doesnt make it so, same goes for salads. It means repetitive meals because your cucumbers did really well but all your corn molded. It means being flexible with what you are willing to eat as well as becoming primarily planning meals on whats being harvested rather than planning meals around meats .

We are at an advantage to some given our location, we are in zone 6 a-b so we dont have super harsh winters and we have a fairly long growing season. The shack was built to be passive solar therefore, the loft is situated so that it gets a good 5-6 hours of sunlight a day through glass doors all through the winter. To get the plants through the winter doldrums and to give them a bit more light we use a cheap one fixture cfl light and most things do quite well. We have a small greenhouse which adds to our growing abilities. We do not use a heat source in it other than water barrels. To be able to use it all winter long I simply make small greenhouses or hoop houses with in the green house during the cold spells. Our summer growing season goes from may 1 until late October .Early spring crops go in the ground late January to mid February and late spring crops go in the ground mid march. Fall season crops start going in mid July and i continue planting until the first of September. For all intent purposes both manthing and I are retired so this is now our full time occupation. Everything we do here revolves around our survival long term with the likelihood that neither of us will ever have a "good paying" job again.

Being 100% self sustaining is the ultimate goal but one we will never completely reach I am sure. There are some things that we can not raise or grow here or that would just be simpler to continue purchasing until we could no longer afford it and then we just learn do with out or how to make up for it through foraging or networking with others. There are some things that so long as we have a means to buy them it isnt worth the time to grow with just two of us to do the work. At this point food wise we are about 90% sustainable. We buy very basic staples and nothing more other than the occasional splurge for some gmo goodness of prepackaged cookies. Our biggest issue right now and for always will be critter food. Sugars are another area we are currently slack in. If we can conquer those two things in the near future we will be satisfied with what we have done with our little place.

Sustainability also requires that every aspect of what you do intertwines with the other aspects of what you do on your place. From scraps to fats from animals to manure it all intertwines. I dare say it has to in order to be successful at becoming sustainable. Literally nothing is waste and everything has a purpose for future use.

Another part of sustainability is integrating meat supplies into what you grow. The critters are by far our biggest expense here, but we are working towards weaning of that as well. Compost is our soil fixer upper, scraps go to chickens rabbits n goats, weeds and such are all fed back to critters. Worms are composters and feed for chickens. Any fats from slaughtered animals are used for our fats, soaps etc. All our animals have jobs here including the dogs and all our pets become food or are used for their product (except the dogs). Each critter here is here because it fits with what we want to do and is within our budget. What we have now is not what we had five years ago. sustainability is ever evolving and you don’t just wake up one morning n decide you are going to be sustainable

All foods are either eaten fresh or preserved through canning, freezing, dehydration, drying, brining, fermenting or curing. If we have too much of something we give it a way or trade n barter for something we could use or need. (very few foods can not be preserved in some fashion) If we still have too much it becomes critter food. We have basically become bunny eaters. We have found they are the most economical and best producing critter for our situation. We still have the goats but we use the milk and sell or trade kids. The chickens are around for egg production instead of eating. I find chicken killing to be one of the nastiest of homestead chores. We have raised a hog and a steer in the past but feed would be an issue at his point in time.

the gardens
We do not have a huge garden but all total we have somewhere between two and three acres of tilled land. Most of our gardens are in double dug beds that have been terraced out of hillside or in make shift raised beds we have built Our only modern garden implement is a tiller that can only make it in to some of the beds. Very little of our land here is flat so we do what we have to do to get by. We have three larger traditional style beds in various locations on the property.

I experiment with different plants, different conditions of soil and different methods of gardening. I push limits of when things should grow and what climates things are supposed to grow in. I also forage when possible for food, collecting acorns for flour, eating weeds, flowers, mushrooms fruits and other nuts. We grow about 70 kinds of herbs for either medicinal or culinary use.
That said here is a basic rundown of how n what we do here... this list is by no means all that we plant but gives a basic idea of how we do it.. Also note that what works for us will not work for everyone .

Early spring crops
lettuces, spinach, turnips, greens of all sorts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli peas , potatoes , onions and carrots are all planted as early in the late winter as we can. By late february or mid march these are all in the ground and growing or in the greenhouse and started. Tomatoes are also started in the greenhouse at this point. Many of these are also still growing in the ground all through the winter months (from previous fall)using small makeshift hoop houses or covers to protect them on real cold nights. Many of these can take frost and not be damaged.

Spring crops (no more frost)
beans of all sorts(dry n green ) , more lettuces, more greens , beets, tomatoes, squashes of all sorts, cucumbers, corn , grains of various sorts, melons , taters ,carrots, peppers are all planted in the ground. I keep planting until i have no space for anything anywhere. If one planting goes bad for whatever reason i replant with either that same crop or perhaps something different depending on how many times i have replanted that product. As the early spring crops are harvested and preserved or eaten, I plant something new in its place immediately. Very few plots of gardens are left empty for more than a day or two. As potatoes are harvested and put away, I plant punkins , squashes, beans , corn and melons, sunflowers on up to the first of July. (any thing with a 120 day or less grow season ) This gives most of our crops a two time bountiful harvest for not only eating while in season but for late preservation on through the winter months

Summer crops
About the first or second week of july, i begin the seeds for the late summer plantings in the green house. More cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts are all begun from seed in the greenhouse for transplant mid august into the ground. As the summer crops begin dying back I prepare the soil, add amendments etc and get the beds ready for the next crop to go in come first to mid august I also throw in a few small beds of short season growers like greens and beets, radishes and the like so that we have a continuous supply for the remaining summer months. I take clones from a couple tomatoes and peppers and put a couple back in the ground and a couple of each for containers for late season harvest.

Late summer /fall
All greenhouse babies are moved to the gardens and any other greens, lettuces, radishes, carrots etc etc are going in the ground. most of the garden from spring summer has been harvested and preserved and things begin to slow down and begin work for the following season.

I begin planting the indoor loft garden after most the outdoor plants are in the ground. I take cuttings from tomatoes to get them a better start and I keep planting up in the loft until manthing refuses to haul anymore soil filled containers up the ladder. The loft garden generally has warmer weather plants in it. This winter I have various greens and lettuces, onions, carrots, garlic, a few varieties of beans, mini zucchini, okra, tomatoes, peas, cucumber, radish and sweet tater starts for next years garden.

pictures of the gardens

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