IF YOU want to feed yourself from your own
garden, plan your menus around what grows
happily in it, & seasonal produce.
Discover the food plants most suited to your climate, soil type, & water availability.
Observe the garden carefully - through one full year if you are planning permanent residence - before planting, to give plants the best places you have available for their particular requirements.
Donít waste time & space on out of season crops that require nursing.
PESTS & DISEASES
are part of a cycle which will bring itself into balance if you have the patience to wait until it is established.
ESTHER DEAN says if she gets 8 & the bugs & birds get 2, she thinks itís fair enough!
Slaters, millipedes, leopard slugs, spiders, centipedes,lizards, frogs, toads & birds are your allies. So encourage them - & donít forget the ladybirds & lacewings - learn to recognise their strange looking larvae, which eat aphids.
Healthy plants have thick skins & resist insect attack. Mix up your plantings, rather than planting in rows of one species. This slows down the progress of problems when they do occur, giving you time to work out strategies for dealing with them.
need some degree of sunlight, annuals most of all. Morning sun is more important than evening sun, & winter sun than summer, so for annuals, find the sunniest spot in the garden.
If your growing season is short, make the most of the long summer days by planting in rows which allow the greatest amount of sunshine to reach the plants & warm the soil.
In warmer climates, you do better if you place plants in mixed groups, & mulch well.
This will affect the length of your growing season, as well as the crops you select. Talk with gardeners who have lived in your area for a long time, as well as using gardening books. Some magazines have local sections which deal with climatic variations.
Where winters are very cold, the use of cold frames, & greenhouses - even very small ones - will considerably increase the size & variety of crops you can produce.
Study also the principles of creating microclimates - these can be used to advantage wherever you live, & significantly extend the range of your produce.
See water for some tips on protecting plants in extreme heat.
In cold climates you may be able to extend the season in Autumn by using 'living mulch'- a green manure crop sown around your established plants in late summer - keeping the soil moist, & covering susceptible plants at night. Even an old net curtain can make the difference in light frosts.
varies according to your chosen method.
None is needed for the Esther Dean/Ruth Stout no-dig method.
For the French Intensive Method, thoroughly loosen soil to a depth of 60cm. & remove large stones. Mix compost & vegetable matter into the top 10cm - this will make a raised bed.
Use planks or pavers to make paths for access in both these methods.
Permaculture - sheet mulch, using something thick, like 3-4cm. of thoroughly soaked newspaper, flock or wood fibre from old mattresses, old carpet, or similar soaked porous material, directly over grass & weeds. It is important never to let this first layer dry out, or it could become water-repellant - the last thing you want to happen! Add looser materials such as grass clippings mixed with fallen leaves or shredded paper, seaweed, animal manures, sawdust, - anything organic will do provided it is shredded or broken up, & the mix remains open when it is wet. Make holes in the mulch to accomodate perennial plants, shrubs, & trees, keeping the mulch clear of the stems or trunks to prevent rot.
CLAY OR SILT
soils can be improved by adding gypsum to the surface of the soil at the rate of 1 kg.(5 or 6 large handsful)per sq.metre. before you begin preparing your garden. You don't need to dig it in. If the subsoil is dry when you begin, give the whole garden a good long soaking, making sure the water goes into the soil instead of running off. Shallow trenches or swales, placed at intervals, can keep the water from running off until it finally soaks in.
However you garden, keep the soil well
mulched - as deeply as l5cm.in summer, & at
least 5cm. in winter, in warm climates. Reverse this in cold climates, unless for some reason you want the frost to get into the soil.
Mulch reduces evaporation, modifies soil temperature, makes weeds easier to pull, supplies nutrients & essential micro-organisms, & improves the texture of the soil. You will be amazed at how much of it breaks down & becomes rich soil during warm weather.
There are many good books about compost, but if you shred all organic material except things which root like crazy (eg Wandering Jew, couch or kikuyu) straight onto your mulch layer in summer, & simply put it in bins or heaps protected from rain during winter, you will save yourself a lot of work. At the end of winter, use the top layers as mulch, then use the compost at the bottom of the heaps as required. However this 'slow-burn' method will NOT destroy pathogens or weed seeds. As for the intractibles - drown them! Cover with water in a large covered receptacle for at least 6 weeks. The resulting brew smells vile, but the plants love it!
See also Nitrogen Fixers & Green Manure
by hand if possible, using waste water from the house, or rainwater. Trenches, saucers, & furrows strategically placed will allow you to use water efficiently without wetting foliage. If you really havenít time, instal a tailored drip system. Even a soaker hose placed upside down is better than a sprinkler. Soak the soil thoroughly no more than once or twice a week, to encourage deep rooting. This is essential so that plants get trace elements from the sub-soil, & are not so vulnerable to hot spells. Over-watering leaches nutrients from the soil (into the groundwater, where they encourage algal blooms in our rivers & lakes) & encourages disease.
In extreme heat, temporary shade is better than too much extra water. Old umbrellas, cane blinds, even old net curtains, can be used to help plants through the worst of the mid-day heat. Or cut the plants back so they don't have so much foliage. Harvest everything daily in hot weather - don't force plants & trees to sustain fruit, pods & leaves which have reached the edible stage. Preserve or give away what you can't use or store.
wear suitable clothing to protect yourself from sunburn, insect bites & minor injuries.
Keep tools clean, sharp, & in a safe spot at all times. Never leave them lying on the ground, or where small children can get hold of them.
Keep your tetanus shots up to date, & use an insect repellant, preferably a natural one.
Note: In researching & answering questions about earthwise living, Margaret offers information, opinion, & personal experience, but no quick fixes! Readers should evaluate these offerings in the context of their own situations; they are suggestions, *not* recommendations. Any responsibility for their implementation rests *solely* with the reader.
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