Archive for April, 2012

Growing your Independence

Growing food is not only simple, it is a critical step towards your independence.

Most people live their lives completely dependant on systems of provision that are not well understand. In fact, the people who work as part of this system don’t understand the complexity and interdependence.

The just-in-time production systems means that grocery stores only keep 24-72 hours of food at any one time. The processing plants only keep a few days of raw materials on hand at any time since it is too expensive and inefficient to keep more. The intermidiaries that supply the processing plants rely on warehouses and storage facilities that are large to supply vast geographic areas. All of these count on the availability of electricity, labor, fuel, and trucking. Any blip in the systems of supply and guess what happens? No food at the store and no gas at the gas station.

Growing even a small percentage of your food will give you the knowledge in case you need to grow much of your own food. It seems so inconceivable that bad times could cause the conveniences of modern life to be unavailable, but it happens from time to time, even in our country. Have you ever been in a grocery store when there was no food left? I have, several times. If you learn how to grow and store your own food, you can protect yourself and your family.

If it is only an ice storm or a hurricane, or a power grid failure that lasts for a week, could you stretch your supplies to last? The average family has less than 3 days of supplies on hand at any time. Learning how to grow your own food and learning how to store it is just simple math. Can you make it for 3 days or 30 days?

The joy gardening will bring to your life cannot be compartmentalized in just the produce brought to your kitchen. The product of your garden will also grow in other parts of your life. The confidence you gain from learning “I can do this” can be contagious.  Building self-confidence and esteem is not a matter of others telling you how important you are or how precious or valuable you are. True value comes from making a difference in your life and the lives of others. You can really make a difference in the life of your family by showing them that they can grow your own food and by providing them a nutritious and delicious option.

Growing your own food puts you in control. There is really no need to convince you of the health value of growing your own food. You already know about the numerous threats to you health including pesticides, herbicides, hormones, genetically modifications, food additives, bacterial and viral contamination, food treatments for appearance, and just unhealthy food handling. If you control the garden, the plants, the handling, and the food preparation, you cut out all of these threats to yourself and those you love.

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Gardening Excuses Part 2

In my first post about gardening excuses, I wrote about the many excuses people make for not starting or keeping a garden. These included wishing without the effort, wishing for a garden without the time, and the ever present “Black Thumb” excuse.
There are more excuses not to garden with most of them being surmountable. Here are some more:

4. “It’s too hard to garden”

“It’s so easy, a caveman could do it”. Anthropologists generally agree that human groups learned to transition from hunter-gatherers to agrarian societies as knowledge was gained in the growing of crops. If prehistoric man (and women) could do this before alphabets were available, why can’t we? With usually 12+ years of some form of education; are we not more capable, and don’t we have the tools to figure this out? Between the internet, books, friends, grandparents, and neighbors, can we get this done?

 5. “Why garden when the grocery store sells everything I need anytime I want it?”

Great question. I eat a lot of food from the store, but not all of it. I grow a percentage of my food. I save money. Could you use a little extra money? Who couldn’t? The price of food keeps going up. Inflation does take it’s bite. If you have access to a small plot of land, you can end up saving money. My food is better than the grocery store food. It is rich in minerals, naturally grown without pesticides or herbicides, and I can do it again and again. I save my seed. I let some of my plants go to seed and collect it at the end of the season. What other kind of investment do you make that can replace itself year after year? Gardening is not free, but it can be cheaper than the store and it is certainly a cheap form of prevention of disease. There is truth in the statement that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”.

6. “Gardening is too expensive!”

Gardeners exist in all income levels and socio-economic strata. In fact, some of the most successful gardeners are the ones who don’t have much money. Why? They garden for food that they can’t afford any other way. During the depression, everybody gardened to sustain their families. During WWII, there were the victory gardens to grow your own food so that farmers could grow food for the war effort.

 7. I need help building a garden.  “I’ll get my ___________(fill in the blank…) to build one of these gardens for me”. 

We all need help from time to time. But when I hear this, I know that 99% of the time, they will not succeed. The will not get their husband to build it. It is not necessarily that they have lazy husbands, although some do. It is a question of ownership. You need to own your garden. If you and your spouse share a garden, it needs to be clear who takes care of what. This is true in relationships as well as professional organizations. When it is not clear who owns what, nothing gets done, the garden looks abandoned, and bitterness is the fruit of your labor.

I urge you to make a decision to garden successfully and stick with it. By reading this, you have taken a step toward gardening success. Now commit to this not as a project, but as a process of learning. This can bring you a lifetime of joy.

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Gardening Excuses Part 1

Growing food is not only simple, it is a critical step towards your independence.

It involves a little bit of work and time, both precious. Gardening competes with other priorities. It is time to get serious about growing your own food.

As with any change in your life, you much first start by making a decision. For example, losing weight is about first deciding that you will not accept the status quo and that you want to reach a destination different from where you are headed today. Gardening is also about making a decision first. It is not about wanting to “try” to be better. It is not about “doing your best”. It is about the decision to take control and taking concrete steps. Gardening is easy, but you much start with the decision that you want to grow your own food and that you will not be deterred by the many obstacles that will inevitably stand in your way.

Here are excuses I hear:

1. I Wish, I Wish, I Wish:

I have people stop by and tell me that “your garden is beautiful. I wish I could do that”. Wishing is for people who aspire for things that they do not care enough to reach. “I wish I could win the lottery, then all of my problems would be solved”. Huh? Your odds of a great garden aren’t any higher than the odds of winning the lottery if all you do is wish for it. I am advocating for hope, for the realization of dreams, not the pointlessness of wishing for something that will never come due to a lack of courage to take action. Every journey begins with a step. And then another, and another.

2. If only I had time…

Others say ‘I would have a garden like this if I had the time”. This is utter nonsense. Most people have so many projects or work going on at any time, it is a wonder how you could have time to garden. But it is about a choice. A choice about what is important and to make time for it. Also, do you know how little time is involved in beginning gardening? Not much at all.  If you set up the garden properly, you can minimize the maintenance and maximize the rewards.  I will teach you how to do this.

Black Thumb - Please Don't Kill My Plant Cartoon

3. Black Thumb?

“I have a black thumb”. “Everything I try to grow dies”. This is just an excuse. Did you know how to walk when you were born? Did you eat steak and potatoes or mother’s milk on that day?  You learned the basic skills of all people one step at a time. If you stink at gardening, welcome to the club. I was a really terrible gardener. I hated gardening when I was younger. The realization that I could do it, that it was important to me and my family, and that everyone can do this, was liberating. So you have a history of horticultural death? Get over it. Life begets more life. Start small. Literally “Taste” success. You can do this. I will show you how.

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Design Rules for a Square Foot Garden – Part 2

This is the second part of a 2 part post on the design rules for a Square Foot Garden. You can see the first post (Design Rules for a Square Foot Garden – Part 1) here. These concepts are very simple and are good guidelines to help you on your gardening quest.

This is your garden. You don’t have to follow these rules to the letter. You may have to adapt to your conditions and available materials. The goal is less work for you and more food and beauty. If you break these rules, you risk increasing your work load.

5. The sides of your raised bed must be strong enough to keep the soil from deforming the bed.

6. The soil should be raised above the level of the surrounding area.

7. The bottom of the bed should include a weed barrier to prevent surrounding or pre-existing plants from invading the bed. This step can be very important

Square Foot Garden How to Build

A level site for a Square Foot Garden is Important

8. The bed needs to be level. Keep in mind, almost not soil on earth is without a slope. If you are locating the square foot garden on a slope, you must level the soil under the bed. Gardening should be about food and beauty. Placing a square foot garden on sloped soil without first leveling looks bad (I tried it, and yes, it looked bad)

9. Don’t make the bed smaller than you need. You will be surprised at how quickly you fill a bed and will want more space. It is kind of like the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. Sometimes the porridge is too hot, sometimes too cold, and sometimes it is just right. Build a garden that is just right.

10. Don’t make the bed bigger than you can maintain. If you make a 4’ by 100’ bed and don’t have the time or energy to maintain it, you risk it getting overgrown and ugly.


Design Rules for a Square Foot Garden – Part 1

A Square Foot Garden is the simplest garden to build, easy to plant, the most productive, and the simplest to maintain.

First, we must define what it is we are talking about here.A SquareFootGarden is a raised bed gardening system with a specific soil mix and with markings to

Square Foot Garden Winter How To

You can have this Square Foot Garden

The rules of design of a Square Foot Garden:

  1. The beds cannot be any wider than four feet. Any more than this and it will not be within the comfortable reach of the human arm. If you can’t reach the soil you garden, you can’t take care of it.
  2. I recommend that you don’t make the beds any longer than sixteen feet or any shorter than four feet. A four foot by four foot bed is a great place to start, you can reach around all sides of the bed, and is the least expensive.  Exception: Apartment balconies should have smaller, lighter beds.
  3. The bed needs to have at least twelve inches of soil at an absolute minimum. I recommend at least 18 inches of soil to succeed. I differ with other authors on this point. I recommend more soil because I am writing this to encourage you to succeed. The less soil you have, the lower your odds of success. Same exception for apartment balconies.
  4. Make the dimensions of the bed in even one foot increments. The plants do not know how you mark the bed, you do. This is to simplify the garden for you.
  5. The sides of your raised bed must be strong enough to keep the soil from deforming the bed.

More to come on design of a square foot garden.

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One of the Effects of Drought

Drought has been upon our part of the world for several years now. In spite of some winter rains, we have been way behind on overall rainfall and it looks like we are going into a hotter than normal summer.

Ranchers prepare for this by thinning their herds. Farmers prepare by setting up expensive irrigation systems. What are you going to do for your garden?

No water, Even for the Fountain!

5 things to do to prepare the garden for a drought:

1. Plant water-wise plants

If you know it is going to be a dry year, plant more Okra and less Tomatoes.

2. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch…

I have posted on this before but it will make all of the difference in the world.

3. Add organic material to the soil.

I have heard a story where a man went to the desert, dug a hole, buried a bale of hay, and came back a year later to a green dot in the middle of the desert. Organic content of the soil acts as a battery, storing water for the lean times.

4. Put up a shade cloth

For the plants that don’t need direct sun, a little shade can really take the edge off.

5. Plant so that the ground is always shaded.

Don’t let the sun hit the ground, and the evaporation rate will be much lower.

6. I know, I only said 5… Water with drip irrigation at each plant…

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Gardening in the News – April 19, 2012

Gardening in the News for April 19, 2012:

Look at what just popped up!

Somebody thinks it is a good idea to attract butterflies. I agree!

Memories in the Garden

Think your weather is bad for gardening, how about Alaska?

Why plant ornamental trees when you can plant food?

If you liked my post on container gardening, you might like these tips too.

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Garden Ideas – Attracting Birds

Do you want to control insects, naturally fertilize your garden, hear beautiful music, and to the life of your garden? Then you need some birds! If you are just now learning how to garden or if you are an expert just looking for some “gardening know how”, you needs birds.

Birds are your workers. If you don’t get birds in your garden, then you will have to do the bird’s work.

To strike a balance between insect control and the loss of your food crops, cover your veggies in bird netting. My square foot garden already has bird netting in the frame around it. This protects it from deer (yes, we have very hungry deer), birds, and other hungry animals.

Regarding insect control, it’s the birds, or it is poison. Since we don’t use poison, we need everything nature has to offer to balance out the bad insects. Birds can eat over 1000 insects in an afternoon. This beats the heck out of you doing all of that work. Some organic gardeners will pick the insects off of the plants one by one. This seems like a lot of work. Why not just get them to do it for you?

5 ways to attract birds to your garden:

1. Build them a place to live

Birdhouses in the Garden

There are thousands of bird house designs on the inter-tubes. Learn the types of birds you want to attract and build a house specifically for that type.  A Purple Martin needs a different house than a Finch.

2. Give ’em something to drink

There is a saying that you can only go 3 days without water. Birds need lots of water too. Give them a birdbath or a shallow pond, and they will find your place

3. Feed the birds

I feed birds to attract them. It takes money and time but the birds are a treasure to my garden

4. Give them something to help them build nests

I have cedar(Juniper actually) posts in my backyard and they strip the bark to build their nests. I have also seen the birds and squirrels use the Coconut fiber from hanging baskets. You don’t really need to do much, but anything helps.

5. Limit the garden time for the cats and dogs

My cat likes baby birds, exactly the way you think, as a meal. If you want the birds to hang around, make it a friendly neighborhood.


Birds are part of the natural gardening way. To work with God’s design, use what He put in the garden to help you with your garden.

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What didn’t work for me

As I think about the garden, I can spot the many failures I’ve had. In a previous post on experimentation, I shared that all gardeners should always be learning by trying new things.

As in life, our failures teach us through the pain and difficulties of loss. Victor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning that true learning comes through suffering (a paraphrase). In the garden, true learning comes from our mistakes.

If I was to write about all of my garden failures, this post would be too long. Here are a few:

1. Container gardening with Garlic

Ugly Garlic

This bombed for me this year and I just may have messed up on putting too many in one container, not given it enough sun, or not enough water. I don’t know. I just know that I have ended up with Garlic rounds which are more like green onions than garlic.

2. Corn

Ugly Corn

I planted a few corn plants in my garden last year and didn’t realize that you need a stand of corn of at least 15-40 plants for them to cross polinate. Needless to say, I ended up nurturing a few corn plants to maturity to discover that all of the cobs had just a few kernels. Don’t do what I did. Plant a bunch of corn!

3. Lemons (Meyers)

What our Lemons would look like if they actually grew...

I have had a Meyers Lemon bush growing in my garden for 3 years and we haven’t seen a lemon yet. The first year, the deer ate all of new leaves and flowers off. The second year we had a bad freeze and the plant didn’t recover well. This year, we have tons of new growth, but no flowers and no little lemon buds. We will persevere.

4. Texas Yellow Watermelons

These things were terrible. I found a package of watermelon seeds at the beginning of the season with a picture of a beautiful ripe red watermelon on it. (seed companies and seed packages may exagerate reality a bit, you experience may vary). I ignored the variety and planted it all around my garden. First, a square foot garden is not the best place to grow a vine that goes everywhere. Plant this thing where it can wonder around on the ground. When you put it in the square foot garden like mine, the only good place for it to go is up.

Welcome to the Jungle

So this plant shaded the rest of my garden, grew good size watermelons that tasted really bad. Was I experimenting? Yes. Was I thoughtful on what I planted? No.

Accept failure with your successes. Welcome the lessons. You will be your worst critic. Ease up. It’s all good.  This is your garden, do with it what you will.

Learn how to do this before you need to count on your garden in hard times.


Container Gardening – Start Right Now!

Although I have 3 large square foot gardens, I also have many containers to add to my gardening joy. I also love to see container gardening ideas from other peopla.

One of my gardening friends has two beautiful tomato plants growing very well in pots on her patio.

Young Tomato Plants in Containers

It is still early in the tomato season here and hers are doing beautifully!

Pros: The plants get full sun from morning to dusk and are protected from winds by the fences. The patio reflects light and adds to the total sunlight they plants can get. The containers are large and should accomodate a full grown tomato plant. The basil is a good plant-combining touch and will complement the tomato both while growing and for making Italian food.

Cons: The plants are in dark containers which will lead to high temperature variations for the roots of the plants. An organic farmer once told me that one of the most important tricks for growing great tomatoes in very hot climates like ours is to make sure their “feet” remain at a constant temperature and that they don’t get too hot. There are many that will tell you that if the roots of tomato plant get over 70 degrees (F), the plant will not set fruit. They will grow like crazy but you will get no tomatoes.

I recommended to her that she wrap the pots in something to protect them from absorbing too much heat and that she mulch to plants very well.

She taught me to pinch off the redundant growth shoots from where the plant has formed a new “branch” of leaves.

She also has a reception in her backyard coming up and has planted some spectacular flower arrangements.

She has a good eye for color and has blended these beautifully. These planters, accented by the Chiminea, frame the rear part of her patio.

The Chiminea (pronounced Chim-mi-nay-ah)is a very old Mexican idea for heating and cooking and has become popular in may backyards around the world.

She has mixed at least three different types of flowers in each clay pot and also mixed the colors.

If you are a budget gardener, then start these plants from seed early in the spring or late winter in a green house. It is not that hard and can save you a lot of money. All it takes is a little planning, some room, a warm place with sunshine, possibly a greenhouse, and patience.

Some varieties of Marigolds are well know for their properties of warding off bad insects from your garden. In this case, she is just using if for decoration but it does have a dual purpose.

I plant Marigolds in may spring/summer garden and love them for their beauty and function.

You can create your own soil mix or buy premixed potting soil at your local Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, or even better, your locally owned nursery. It is important to use a light soil that will not be compacted.

Our local nursury recommends expanded shale to be added to the soil. Most potting soil uses Vermiculite or Perlite (the white, lite, little specks you see in potting soil that tend to move around when you water). Just make sure that whatever soil you use is light and fluffy.

 If you have your own pictures of growing food and flowers in containers, send them my way. I will publish them, with your permission, on future posts.

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