THIS is my absolute favorite time, regardless of the fact that there's still snow and frigid temperatures to come. This is the time when I get all my seeds together, come up with a game plan for the growing season and begin my indoor starters.
I've been gardening now for about a decade and I've never felt so connected to nature or God doing anything else. There's something so spiritually rewarding to planting a seed and watching it grow into a full, fruiting plant. ESPECIALLY organically. I refuse to use chemicals or anything unnatural in my gardening so far as I can help it. I don't care if it's nitrogen, manganese, zinc, iron, or anything else. If it's made in a lab and thrown into dirt as an additive, it's not natural OR organic.
I have a lot of goals for this year's garden:
I want to compost this year at both my parents' house and at my future in laws'. Since I don't get to have my own garden due to living in an apartment, I use their yards and we all share in the labor and fruits. It's kind of a sweet deal, especially since at my future in laws' we have 14 awesome chickens consisting of 13 egg layers and a rooster and they've been VERY productive! Best part of about that is chicken poo makes some of the best fertilizer money can buy...and for us it's free! Of course, you can't use it fresh or it has the potential to burn the plants and kill them. One whiff of that stuff and you'll understand why. But I plan on composting their poo and anything else that's biodegradable and thusly provide the gardens with their own helpings of all natural fertilizer that does more than add a few key nutrients, but the entire SPECTRUM of nutrients. It's going to be a challenge to get out there and turn that crap each day, but I'm making a point to stay motivated! Nothing worth doing ever came easy, right?
Proper crop rotation.
I've had a nasty habit of planting whatever I want wherever I want and then wondering why certain plants produce less fruit than others....DUMB on my part! I never thought too much about crop rotation before as a necessity. "Can't we just fertilize the crap out of it and hope for the best?" Sure. We can do a lot of things. For instance, we can eat 20 McDoubles and then fast for a month in order to maintain body weight. The thing is, it isn't practical or smart. Artificial fertilizers like Miracle Grow have a huge impact on your plants, absolutely. The problem is, those plants are getting an overdose of key nutrients and are starved of others. The result is one heck of a showroom tomato...but if we're going by taste, I'll take the smaller, more flavorful organic tomato any day. When we deplete the soil of specific nutrients via growing the same crop over and over again year after year in the same place, letting the soil rest or artificially enhancing that soil aren't enough to really bring the quality back. Monocultures have a nasty habit of creating deserts. If you pay attention to what's happening between soil and plant, you'll really get an idea of how nature was intended to work. For example, one year you decide to fill your yard with corn. Corn as far as the eye can see (up to the back fence...then it's just fence and another yard that you WISH was yours but whatever). Corn requires a LOT of nutrients, a key one being nitrogen. If you keep planting corn over and over again, you'll deplete the nitrogen content of the soil down to nothing. BUT if you rotate from one year growing corn to the NEXT year growing beans, well you've effectively replenished the soil with nitrogen! I know, I know....that's crazy talk! Plants USE nutrients..they can't possibly replenish them! They do both, in fact. Mother Earth News has some wonderful tools to help with knowing which crops to rotate and when. If you can rotate between crop types, you can have a successful garden.
Utilizing ground cover.
I'm not talking about fancy tarps so much as fancy herbs! I want to try something this year that I've never heard of anyone else doing, but it could be fun! I want to minimize weed growth around my plants that I do NOT dig up each year by planting creeping thyme, oregano, mint, and parsley all around. Yes, I'll still have a good number of weeds poking up, but it'll make better use of the space around my grapes, trees, yucca, and so on than wood chips or a tarp.... Plus, weeding the garden is therapeutic for me. I like to take out my aggression on that stupid crab grass and whatever else the crap is growing where I don't want it by pulling them out by their roots and throwing them into the fence where they'll hang and die! If we weren't talking about plants, that would have sounded incredibly morbid....but yeah, I like to get my hands dirty and yank out those pesky weeds. There's just something fulfilling about doing things yourself, you know?
More raised beds.
Raised beds are absolutely wonderful. I didn't think so before, but after experimenting a little last year, I'm sold. They provide better protection from rodents, certain bugs, and weeds on top of looking nice. They're also great for creating good drainage situations for your plants that are rather particular about being water-logged. I know my parents' backyard tends to flood after a good rain and having the one raised bed made a big difference for those plants. It's also easier to harvest, especially root veggies like carrots and beets, or leafy greens like chard and lettuce. However, I refuse to go out and BUY raised bed kits. That's just dumb to me. Why would you spend money on something when you can use pretty much whatever's laying around! I used a whole bunch of old bricks I had laying around the yard from when I wanted to build my own pizza oven...obviously I didn't accomplish it so I utilized the bricks and created a raised bed next to the garage where the ground was severely sunken in. It worked like a charm! You can use old pop or wine bottles, old leftover lumber, paint cans, plastic tubs, whatever you want or have laying around basically! Yes, you'll need to fill them with dirt and that can be pricey if you're buying it all from a store...but if you're composting already, problem solved. Of course, if you're already composting...you've probably thought this through!
Paying more attention to the needs of the plants.
Men. We never stop to ask for directions and HATE to use instruction manuals. However....even I can admit that I probably should. So, I vow to follow the instructions provided on the seed packets much more closely this year! I have another nasty habit of planting things where it's convenient for ME and not where it'll be the most productive for the plant. This year, I'm reading every step provided and doing my best to follow them and plan my gardens for SUCCESS.
MORE SEED SAVING!
This is a key thing for me. Anyone who knows me knows how strongly opposed to Monsanto and their big ag attitude of "no seed shall be grown that we do not own". These corporate bullies are all about buying a whole new crop of seeds each year from their distributors. That's one way to keep food costs up and farmers' profits down... Not for me though. I'm going to expand on my seed saving project that I started last summer and try to save as many seeds from each crop as I can. I'm still learning the ins and outs of it all, but it's a process. I want to make it so that I never need to buy seeds again...now, wanting to buy new varieties or new types of seeds is a completely different story. That's because I want to try something new. But I want to keep a steady supply of "staple" seeds on hand at all times, saved from previous seasons and free for me to share or store.
Aquaponics (take two)
For those that don't know, aquaponics is the all natural, waste-free version of hydroponics. Basically it combines aquaculture and hydroponics to create a super-charged growth method and complete ecosystem. You start by setting up a hydroponic grow area, outdoors or indoors is largely irrelevant for this. Then, instead of the gallon buckets and bubblers and artificial additives for the water, you set up a fish tank and raise fish. Now, they can be fish for decorative purposes or you can raise something edible like trout or tilapia. The type of fish only matters if you plan on eating it. Instead of using a filter to clean the tank of fecal matter, you pump the water out of the tank and into the grow beds just like in hydroponics. The water floods the beds and the plants soak of the ammonia and other waste from the fish, then the water pours back into the fish tank clean and ready for another go around. It's a no waste system that, once established, can produce fruits at up to 6 times the rate of a conventionally grown plant. Too cool. I had a set up like this at my in-laws' last year and it was AWESOME! The problem is, I had too many fish in too small an area....and not a big enough grow bed or enough plants to filter the waste properly. THIS YEAR I know what I did wrong and plan on correcting it. I won't give up!
Spending more time in the garden.
Life gets in the way too much sometimes and I end up wanting to just sit inside and read a book or watch TV rather than go out and observe my plants, pull weeds, or work on a compost pile. Instant gratification isn't always all that gratifying. I want to spend more time learning patience through watching my plants grow and produce. Nature in action is better than any TV show or movie EVEN on Discovery or National Geographic. Just sitting in the garden gives you time to reflect and plan. It's got a healing quality to it. Just being surrounded by God's work...by things you had a hand in growing...it's an indescribable feeling that so many don't stop to even consider. I spend a good amount of time in my gardens, but not nearly what I'd like to. This is a new year and a new chance.
So I started some seeds today. Not a whole lot, but enough to get my blood pumping with excitement and anticipation! I planted some Artichokes, Asparagus, Purple Broccoli, Black Krim Tomatoes, Eggplants, Jalapenos, Orange Bell Peppers....all heirloom seed varieties from www.victoryseeds.com and I'll be planting more as the directions allow..you know since I'm following them and all.. I'm really pumped about the prospects of my gardens this year and all the joy they'll bring to me and those I share them with. This year is kind of my beginning the rest of my life year....I'm getting married in May to the most wonderful girl on the planet (for me!) and raising chickens and gardens and getting closer to earning my degree and becoming a registered interpreter for the deaf! All in all, I'm happy. Money is always tight and always an issue, but give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. I like to think of me doing my part in gardening sustainably as giving back to God somehow.
|The outer edge of one garden. In this section I grew carrots, beets, herbs, cucuzzi, zucchini, and cucumbers mostly. There were some tomato plants as well, but only a couple. On the far right is the entrance to our chicken yard!|
|My first raised bed. As you can see, the bricks are all different colors and sizes, but it got the job done at no extra cost and my beets, lettuce, carrots, greens, and herbs were all AMAZINGLY productive!|
|Here is my bamboo trellis. I've become pretty proficient in constructing sturdy trellises out of bamboo and twine. The plants here are sunflowers, broccoli, cabbage, blue corn, cucuzzi, and wildflowers.|