Life is hard. People are deeply obnoxious – that goes for you, at times, too, trust me. I hear what people are saying. But I still like you.
But you can’t change people, you can’t change the world, and you can only change yourself a little at a time. But you can grow food almost everywhere in the country that has soil and water – because it’s almost summer.
It’s Time To Plant.
Here are things to grow: Greens, roots, gourds, beans, berries fruiting bushes, fruit trees, nut trees.
Here are things not to grow: too many tomatoes, cucumbers, exotic, demanding, or inbred ‘hothouse’ plants. They’re water hogs and everybody’s growing them. And they have precious few calories – you can’t sustain yourself on them. Grow one mini-tomato bush for color and garnishes, but with the majority of your plot, grow real food. Real food is caloric food – dense, robust, rich food.
Grow beets and gourds and starchy roots and tubers of all colors and variety. Grow piles of cilantro and parsley, grow mountains of kale and cabbage. You can make sauerkraut all fall and winter with cabbage. Gourds (squash) and cabbage will keep for months in a cool cellar.
You need fats! You need seeds! Plant rows of heavy sunflowers. Plant a hazelnut tree this year!
Grow roots and roots and more roots. They’re storeable just like the winter squash. Plant Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips and onions, and three varieties of potatoes – and three of yams, if you’re tropical enough.
How Do You Plant A Garden?
You get a couple pointed shovels, a lot of good soil, and you dig a bed! You do it in your back yard! If you don’t have a back yard, someone you know does – and you can make them an offer – one they can’t refuse! No, not that kind!
You’ll help them plant and care for theirs, in exchange for produce! Easy-peasy.
And if you DO have a back yard, but are afraid to make a mistake…don’t worry about it! You’ll change your garden from year to year, season to season, as you learn what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re in a gated community where gardens are “supposed” to be Monsanto-grass, go tell your neighbors that you’ll help them plant one, if they’ll help you. And tell them that Monsanto probably isn’t the best friend of food…bring them over for dinner. Have some wine, and show “The World According to Monsanto.” That should help.
Now it’s time to dig. Bring your people – friends, family, yoga-sisters, bar pals, co-workers, whatever – over to dig out old soil, turn it and mix it with compost. Now it’s ready to plant. Once you scatter seeds and press them down a little into the dirt, cover the planted area with a thin layer of hay.
Hay? Yes – someone in your area (unless you live in the desert) grows tall grass for feed. They’ll sell you a bale for cheap.
How Do You Grow Vegetables?
You can start right in the ground, but you’ll be fighting more pests and rodents that way. So, I like using a hill (hugelkultur – we’ll cover in an upcoming blog), or with a raised bed. That’s the easiest way to insure soil quality and protection from rabbits and gopher (for gophers, you’ll need a pretty heavy weed mat – I like to dig the wood down a bit into the surrounding soil. A layer of pebbles just below can help prevent invasion and aid with drainage. And if you really have gophers, you’ll have to catch them and maybe eat them. Maybe!! Maybe just catch and release. Somewhere far away…)
Anyway… raised bed. Easy.
Get four pieces of wood – boards from the Home Depot or lumber yard. Get untreated (no chemical) wood. Each board should be about 4 to 6 feet long. You can make a square or a rectangle. Each board should be about six inches high – I’ve found that’s plenty. Eight is too much and requires you to buy or make too much soil to fill it. Four will work for some plants, but will be a bit shallow for other root systems, though it’s possible to work with.
You’ll sink the boards down a half inch or more into the soil, so about six seems to work best for me. (We’re talking about gardening here, people. What are you thinking about??)
Make a standing square out of them and nail the corners together with small, thin nails. Put the big square on the ground on a weed mat. Put on a layer of pebbles for drainage. Then a thin layer of compost. (Do you have a compost bin? We’ll cover that in an upcoming blog, too.) Then a tall layer of good soil. That’s organic, moist, composted soil. Not the kind sold to grow pesticide flowers, but good, non-petrochemical soil.
For inspiration, you can look up “square foot gardening” on the web and see pictures and examples. Inspiration.
You’ve got your beds. You’ve arranged them near each other with walking paths in between. Put down a lot – loads – of wood chips (aka “mulch”) around your bed to make a foot path and to prevent grass growth into your planting area.
Plant your seeds, usually a half or a quarter inch into the soil. I sometimes germinated (soaked and sprouted) the seeds a little the day or days before planting to give them a head start, but you don’t have to. It did seem to speed up growing initially, though.
You can also plant seedlings – those packets of four, six or eight baby plants sold at home and garden stores. They’re inexpensive and they’ll really get you started at good speed.
Now, water your raised bed, then keep it moist as days go by. Remember the hay? That will help it retain moisture. Truth is, it’s easiest to put the hay on AFTER you plant – I just wanted you to start thinking about it earlier. Because most people don’t do it, and their beds are constantly drying out at the top, seeming to require more and more water. What I’m saying is, get the hay. You’ll be happy to have it.
Now let the world turn and watch the little things sprout through the hay.
You might need some bird or pest netting. You can get a bendable PVC pipe, those long white tubes sold at Home Depot, about an inch or less in diameter, and arch it from corner to corner, making a dome which you can hang and tie the netting over.
If you’re ambitious, you can try to catch the pests – rabbits, etc – if you think you might want to eat them. Try not to eat skunks. You won’t like it.
You’ll have some insects that try to devour some of what you grow. You can try a variety of tactics: shake them off, plant flowers that draw insect predators (ladybugs, and others), or blow them off with a spray of water. In the end, you’ll lose a few vegetables to insects every season.
If you’re suffering for it, you might consider planting a few vegetables or flowers that insects love away from the ones you hope to save from all calamity, to divert them from your main garden. Permaculture gardeners talk about this sort of “tactical gardening” as a means of avoiding pesticides. I’ll write more about that in future.
Start This Afternoon
Gardening and growing food is the best thing you’ll do with your summer. You’ll reduce grocery bills, fight GMO bad guys without having to protest or petition anyone, and you’ll take control of your own food supply (that thing that we used to participate in, but now off-load to petrocorps which don’t really care about our well-being).
Grow food. Don’t wait. It’s the right season. Find a local gardening and permaculture group on Meetup.org. Grow together. Grow in groups. Grow as a project for camp, school, class, club, family, church, non-church, company…whatever, wherever, however. Grow food. It’s the new iPhone. It’s the new Dancing with the Stars. It’s the new New.
One more time: Grow food.
Liam Scheff is author of Official Stories, a reverse textbook to all the fibs you were taught in school; his current project and next book is “The Oil Alarm” all about the collapse we’re just beginning to soak up, coast to coast.