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Sonlit Acres

Encouraging sustainable living

Starting Out With Basic Hand Tools

I'm going to get started with the basics of gardening for folks who are coming here that may be looking to learn or just getting started on planting a garden. So I'll start at simply beginning.

If you know someone who is just starting out or would like to learn before they get started please send them here for our lesson on the garden. I know it seems crazy to talk gardening this time of the year, but there is plenty to cover in this series about gardening. I am hoping to post something at least once a week or more often if it appears we're are running behind. Please take the time to join our mailing list if you would like to be informed by email when we post on our news page or have made changes to this site.   

Breaking ground:

My very first garden was some 31 years ago. It was only ten feet by twenty feet, and with only a shovel, hoe and a rake I began to spade it with the shovel. With my back to the garden site I dug in and turned the sod over burying the roots and the grass, working my way across the width of the garden until the end was reached. I waited a couple days and then started chopping the soil to loosen it as well as I could. The garden was chopped several times over several days to make the soil as fine as I could. If one wanted they could pull the sod up and shake all the soil out of the roots and place them in a compost pile for composting. This would help to make a finer seed bed that is easy to dig and smooth out for planting. In my area rocks are plentiful and I think sometimes I can grow them better than anything. But rocks aren't such a bad thing to have, as they deposit minerals into the soil. I don't pay much attention to them if they are smaller than a baseball, anything bigger is removed.

Ground that has never been prepared should be done in the fall after mowing down any weeds turn the soil exposing the roots to the air. In areas that freeze it will do a good job of killing off many weeds and help break up the soil for you. Spading it a couple more times in the spring should be all that you need to do to make a plant able seed bed. If you know someone with a tiller or tractor you may be able to hire them to do the digging to save much time and work.

Types of soil

Sandy soil:

 If your soil reminds you of the children's sand box you have sandy soil. With sandy soil you can plant earlier in the season because it dries out and warms up sooner. Soil particles don't stick together therefore it remains loose allowing water to drain through faster. Sandy soil will need to be watered more often than other soils.

 Clay soils:

 Clay soil is normally fertile, but is heavy and prevents good drainage, and can't be worked as early as sandy soil. Clay soil particles are flat. They would remind you of a deck of cards scattered on a table. The soil particles compress and become slick when wet and hard when dry.

Some people try to improve clay soil by adding truckloads of sand to it. Nice thought but it really doesn't work very well. You would need a huge amount of sand to make a difference; the best way to deal with clay soil is to make raised beds to overcome drainage problems.

Loam:

Loam is what we all look for or wish we had. If you have loam you have it made, it is easy to work. It is very fertile rich in organic matter and drains well but retains enough moisture for plants to thrive.

No Matter what soil type you have it will benefit from adding organic matter, organic matter will change the characteristics of any soil. It is very important to any garden. We use literally tons of organic matter a year in our garden. We have clay soil and this past year has been the best year we have had on it. It has taken several years adding compost, leaves and animal manures to make considerable gains but has paid off.

Organic Matter:

Organic matter is something that is alive or once was alive. When we are done with our harvest everything is turned back into the garden with either a tiller or moldboard plow. That makes up for allot of organic matter. Allot of people don't realize how much organic matter is in the roots of most of their crops. Once plowed under the garden is usually covered with mulch or is harrowed and winter rye is planted.   

When soil is moist and the temperature is warm, Organic matter will decompose. Many soil organisms attack organic matter and feed off it. Earth worms are probably the best known, but bacteria, fungi and mites are also there after their share of what they call food. They are all excellent workers in the garden but require a steady supply of organic matter to remain doing their job. 

Earth worms digest organic matter and deposit castings in the soil, worm castings are high in nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. Where ever earth worm are you will have extra nutrients in the soil. If you dig your garden and notice you don't have many earth worms in it the best way to get them there is to add organic matter. Even if you bought some and placed them there they couldn't stay unless they have a good food supply. So the bottom line in regards to your soil. "If you build it they will come." Organic matter helps dry soils retain moisture and helps heavy soils drain better.  

When organic matter breaks all the way down it is called humus. Humus retains water very well and in sandy soil it can make up a large part of its moisture retaining ability. In clay soil humus's particles wedge themselves between the flat plates and keep them apart, allowing for better drainage. Giving all soils a steady supply of organic matter will keep the soil alive and healthy, by feeding it a steady diet of organic matter.

  

 

Genesis 2:15   And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 

Soil Tested, Now What?

The PH Tests.

When you did your PH test all you were doing was taking a count of two different hydrogen molecules, the positive charged and the negative charged. If the positive charged outnumber the negative you have acidic soil, the greater the difference the more acidic you are. When adding lime you are adding negatively charged molecules. As A result of your PH test you will have a number that tells you if your soil is alkaline or acidic your soil is. If the number is within .5 of the number your plants desire you are good to go, you don't have to do anything to change it. If the number is more or less than .5 you will have to make some changes.

How to sweeten soil that is acidic. 

The most common way to raise the PH of your soil is to add lime. Calcitic and dolomitic lime and wood ash all contain lime. Dolomitic limestone is a combination of calciumand magnesium; wood ash is composed of about 1/3rd calcium with significant amounts of magnesium and potassium.  I use wood ash from our wood stove as much as possible. The wood ash is stored in 55 gallon drums with covers through the winter and is sifted over the garden when it is needed. What you use will depend on what nutrients your soil test showed you are deficient in. Amounts for different soil types will very, with clay soils needing more than the other types. Following the directions given on the bag should get you on your way.

How to improve alkaline soil.

The best way to improve alkaline soil is to use acidic organic matter such as peat moss, leaf mold, pine needles, oak leaves or aged sawdust or shavings. These items will not only reduce PH but will aid in the in the content and structure of your soil. A quick fix would be to add agricultural sulfur but it doesn't last long. Agricultural sulfur like lime should be added in the fall, but can be added in the spring if it is done early enough the sulfur is spread the same way lime is.

Timing. 

Fall is the best time to adjust PH. But if you find it needs to be adjusted in the spring you will have to deal with it at that time. When doing so in the spring do it as early as possible and at least three weeks before planting, because it will take a while for the PH to begin to change.

 

Nitrogen will be covered in our next article.

 

Proverbs 20:4   the sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing. 

 

Nitrogen

Nitrogen is the nutrient that plants need for healthy leaf growth. It is very important for such plants as lettuce, spinach and cabbage as these plants leaves are what we eat. If you should notice your plants leaves having a light green or yellowing color or being too small, chances are you need more nitrogen. The best way to keep a steady supply of nitrogen in your soil is to add compost on a regular basis.  A lack of nitrogen can occur even if you have plenty of nitrogen in the soil, this problem happens when nitrogen gets locked up or soil conditions prevent mycobacterial activity. Nitrogen lock up occurs right after turning or tilling in fresh organic matter and it begins to break down. This nitrogen lock up is temporary however and shouldn't last for more than a couple of weeks, as organic matter breaks down it release a steady amount of nitrogen that becomes available to your plants. Fresh organic matter such as green plants that are worked or tilled into the ground will break down fairly fast and cause the microorganisms to remove nitrogen from the soil and locking it up so plant roots cannot use it. Again this lock up is only for a couple of weeks and then nitrogen is available to plants. Therefore adding compost from a pile or if you garden as we do, by making the garden your compost pile it should be placed there in the fall and turned in. Nitrogen is also locked up if the soil is to cold, wet or dry. That is why one must be sure that all soil conditions are right before testing the soil.

Green Manure 

There is nothing new about green manure, and the use of it is in near every gardening book going.  Simply put they are plants that are sowed and allowed to grow to maturity and then tilled or turned into the soil to richen it. Green manure plants that are called nitrogen fixers of the legume family such as Alfalfa, beans and clover. They draw nitrogen from the air in the soil and convert it into a form that plants can use. In order for these plants to fix nitrogen you must run them back into the soil plant, fruit and leaves. Then if you plan to plant a fall planting over that area, just wait two weeks to allow it to break down then plant.

A quick temporary fix. 

The plants are in and you find that your plants need a boost, and then blood meal is a quick but temporary fix and should be followed up with a more permanent fix. Blood meal has about 12% available nitrogen and one must be very careful in its use as if over done it will burn the plants roots and kill them. Be sure to follow application directions.

Too much is possible

If you have ever grown a big beautiful dark green plant with little or no fruit on it or your greens taste bitter, you may have too much nitrogen. All plants will over indulge on nitrogen if there is too much. This is normally done by adding too much manure. Again adding manure works best if done in the fall.

Exodus 23:10   And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof:

 

Our next article will touch on Phosphorous.

 

Phosphorus and Potassium

Because I ended up a little busy, I will be touching on both phosphorus and potassium in this article in an attempt to keep caught up.  I have started with the basics for those that need the help to get started for the first time. With the information discussed thus far one should be able to get started toward a good garden. There are some other things that we will discuss that will be important and helpful to improving your garden. These articles will be about soil structure, tilling, worms and composting etc. Also we will be putting some livestock raising information in the very near future, so be sure to check in or subscribe to our email list so you will be notified when we have updated.

If you have a slow growing garden it may need phosphorus. A healthy tomato plant will have rich medium green leaves. If you have some that look reddish purple it is a sure fire sign that you are deficient in phosphorus. This deficiency goes far beyond the color of your leaves. Your plants will grow slow, have fewer flowers and have poor production. Phosphorus is the one nutrient that is likely to be deficient or become so in most soils. It is so common that it is a good idea to add phosphorus by adding rock phosphate to your soil whenever you start a new garden. Using about 10 pounds of rock phosphate per every one hundred square feet of garden will be a good insurance policy against future phosphorus deficiencies. When reading the label on a bag of rock phosphate remember the number of the content of phosphate is what is available now, it is about 30% phosphate and a little over 25% will be released over time and will continue to feed your soil.

Potassium is important in many ways. It helps regulate the plants processes such as photosynthesis, moisture content of the plants cells and stomata, which controls carbon dioxide exchange. It also helps move vital nutrients from place to place. Potassium also helps the formation of proteins which affects the nutritional value of the plant. There are some telltale things to look for in the garden to alert you to a potassium deficiency.  Plants may look weak and spindly; they may attract more pests than usual and bear smaller than normal fruit that lack good flavor. This may occur in sandy soil where it is leached away by irrigation and or rain. Green sand, wood ashes and granite dust can fix a potassium deficient soil.
Greensand:

It is green and it looks and feels like sand. It is also the best way to fix potassium in the garden. Green sand is mined and not only contains potassium, but also contains iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and many other trace elements. As with rock phosphate add about 10 pounds to every one hundred square feet of garden.
Wood ashes:

Is about 5% potassium and is a quick release form. Because wood ash also raises PH also known as a liming affect only use it if your garden could use lime. Wood ash can burn sensitive plants and is best added in the fall or early spring before planting.
Granite dust:

Is a rock powder and helps correct potassium in a couple of ways, it is about 6% potassium with 3% available now and another 3% released over time and does not affect PH

 

Genesis 1:29   And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which [is] upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which [is] the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 

Soil Structure

Garden plants do best when the soil they are planted in stays loose and aerated through the growing season. Plant roots don't just grow to a particular size and stop, if they are given the room they will continue to grow.  Fine root hairs grow along the main root and draw nutrients from the soil and feed the plant. These fine hairs slough off after a few days and are replaced by new ones as the root grows in length. Root friendly space promotes this root growth.

Instead of just being fluffed up, a soil full of long lasting air spaces has structure. Particles of clay, silt, sand and organic matter are actually bonded together by a waterproof substance which is a byproduct of soil organism feeding activity. These bonded substances are known as aggregates and because they are waterproof they remain intact trough the wetting and drying process and the soil retains air spaces allowing for roots to spread and go deeper.

If you are starting out with heavy clay type soil as we did, tilling will do wonders in loosening and conditioning your soil, along with mixing in much organic matter. If your soil already has good structure and isn't heavy and stays loose, tilling could very well do more damage than good. Tilling well-structured soil can cause damage to the worm welcoming environment. The pulverizing action of a tiller breaks up the aggregates, demolishes the worm tunnel system and disrupts capillaries.  In my case I couldn't keep a good garden without a tiller. My soil is of the heavy clay type and compacts tightly. Though it has improved dramatically over the years by adding literally tons of organic matter, it will still compact and therefore needs to be tilled a couple of times a year.

Another problem with over tilling is compacting of the subsoil that is just out of reach of the tines. The downward thrust of the tines tends to pack the soil just under them. If you have this problem, a moldboard plow will no doubt help out. Pulling deeply buried weed seeds is another issue with tilling much. The tiller will bring these weed seeds to the surface were they can then germinate and cause a weed problem. Again I would never tell anyone not to till as everyone has differing conditions in their soil. I use much animal manure in my garden and this does produce weeds and sometimes they get a head of us and the only way to catch up is to run the tiller through to chew them up. We have taken much more control over weeds by putting down a heavy layer of mulch once the plants are up and off to a good start and when the soil temperatures are good.

This heavy layer of mulch has helped us to keep the weeds down and saves allot of time. I have also noticed that our plants do better as the soil retains moisture and the soil temperature remains more constant. My best advice would be,  till when you have to, feed your garden allot of compost and organic matter and when everything is doing well use heavy mulch to keep the weeds out, moisture in and soil temperature more constant. The mulch should be left on the garden and allowed to rot adding even more organic matter in the soil. The more you add the better the soil becomes and the less you will have to till, but like anything good, it will take time.

 

Open Pollinated or Hybrid, What's The Difference

Hybrid seeds

 Hybrid seeds and their required fertilizers`, pesticides and irrigation systems have trapped many of the world's poorest farmers into a cycle of debt. 

The substitution of chemical fertilizers' for organic methods Hybrid seeds are the first generation offspring's of two distant and distinct parental lines of the same species. Seeds taken from a hybrid may either be sterile or more commonly fail to breed true, not incorporating and expressing the desired traits of the parent.


The development of hybrid seed enabled the beginning of the commercial seed market. Farmers were persuaded to buy new hybrid seed each season, replacing the traditional practice of farm-saved seed, due to the "hybrid vigor" which can improve yields.

Hybrid seed is also known as "high response" seed. These seeds require fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and lots of water to achieve their high yields.

Hybrids have been bred with an emphasis on yield at the expense of hardiness and resistance. Breeders will sacrifice disease resistance where pesticides are available.
Reliance on these seeds enforces the use of chemical inputs of returning nutrients to the soil, such as composting, crop rotation and manure creates lifeless dusty soils prone to soil erosion. An estimated 24 billion tons of soil are eroded from the world's agricultural land each year. Dust levels in the lower atmosphere have tripled in the last 60 years.

Modern hybrid seeds require large amounts of water often necessitating the construction of irrigation systems and dams. The experience in poor countries is that dams serve the rich minority and disrupt the natural watersheds essential to poorer farmers. To build these dams millions of people have been forcibly moved from their homes and fertile soils in river valleys have been flooded.

Open pollinated seeds

Open-pollinated varieties are the traditional varieties which have been grown and selected for their desirable traits for millennia. They grow well without high inputs because they have been selected under organic conditions.

These varieties have better flavor, are hardier and have more flexibility than hybrid varieties. Breeders cannot manipulate complex characteristics such as flavor as easily as they can size and shape. These seeds are dynamic, that is they mutate and adapt to the local ecosystem, as opposed to modern hybrids, which are static.

Commercial breeders lack the incentive to produce new open pollinated varieties from which farmers could save seed and replant. 

 

Weed Control

Now that the garden is sprouting; controlling weeds can be the worst part of any garden, it also seems like they never end. Weeds can be such a chronic problem that they can over run a garden. Weeds compete heavily with your garden plants and rob nutrients from the soil.  In the case of sever weeds one may have to take extreme measures. One extreme is to cover the rows up to the bottom of the plant with plastic in order to snuff out the weeds. I have even seen folks that have gone into the garden with a propane weed burner in order to kill them off. My favorite way is to keep these pesky weeds in the dark if at all possible. I do this in the way of heavy mulch once our garden has had its final hilling.

This final hilling takes place once the garden plants are tall enough to drag the old horse hoes down the row pulling soil from the walk ways up to the plants. Normally for our garden this is done around the end of June or about the time our beans come into bloom. At that time the family goes out to the garden and we spread hay mulch over the walk ways at approximately a foot thick and mulching up to the base of the plants. This method of weed control seems to kill off or prevent most of the weeds from continuing and also serves to insulate the soil helping keep the soil temperature more even. It also helps the soil retain its moisture by preventing the hot summer sun and wind from drying the ground out, and adds organic matter to the garden, as it is left there to rot.

In the meantime it's out to the garden with a hoe and the tiller or cultivators and a little hand work near the plants. I have found that getting weeds under control starts the day after the garden is planted. If I see a weed even if it is alone I will go and pluck it out. also, a once a week tilling down the walk way and a little of the soft soil pulled up over very small weeds to cover them will choke allot of weeds out. My garden is by no means a perfectly weed free garden and I don't expect it to be.

I had a year when time was so limited the weeds got so far ahead of me I went down the rows with a weed whacker to cut them down. If that sounds extreme, it is and I have never allowed the garden to go into such dismay since. Another proven method is to take a section of garden that is so over run and plant Buckwheat in that area. Buckwheat will grow very thick and shade the soil thus preventing weed seeds from germinating. Normally one season with Buckwheat will do the trick for annuals. You must remember that once the buckwheat flowers it must be tilled or chopped into the garden and in a week or so reseed the area with more. A full season of this should bring the weed problem under control and add much organic matter to that area.

Weeding is not by any means my favorite gardening chore, but it is a priority; as no one needs these pesky plants competing with the food plants that we are so depended upon. The best way to control weeds is to get them and keep them under control by not letting them get a hold in your garden. (Get them when they are small.) The first year for a newly tilled garden should be your worst if you keep a good weed control program in place they should give you very little problems. 

 

 

 

Let's Get To Vegetables.

Not enough can be said about conditioning ones soil in preparing it for planting. Harvesting quality and quantity from a vegetable garden starts with the gardener's ability to provide nearly ideal growing conditions for individual crops. What is needed for highly productive gardens is rich soil, high in organic matter with annual additions of compost and/or other organic matter.

The following gardening hints summarize much focus on quality and quantity of vegetable production. The next several articles will focus on these vegetables.

 Asparagus

Soil: Asparagus tolerates a wide range of soils as long as they are well drained. It prefers soil high in organic matter, and full sun (eight hours/day minimum).

Fertilizing: Asparagus is a heavy feeder. Fertilize in spring as growth starts and again in mid-summer after the harvest period. Using much compost and dried manures.

Mulching: Asparagus competes poorly with weeds and other crops for water, nutrients, and space. Organic mulch is recommended. Mulch also provides winter cold protection for the roots.

Harvesting: The asparagus bed can be weakened or destroyed by over harvesting. The harvest period for an established bed is only four to six weeks (May into mid-June). Harvest only larger spears. Stop harvesting if spears decrease to pencil size or smaller. Leave the ferns (foliage) to grow until fall or let stand through the winter, finally cutting before new growth begins in spring.

Planting: Extra efforts in plantings new beds pay off with increased production.

1. Thoroughly work in four inches of well-composted and aged organic matter through the soil to a 12 inch depth.

2. Before planting, soak roots in warm water for a couple of hours.

3. Dig a trench four to five inches deep and wide enough to accommodate the spread-out roots. Space roots, typically 18 inches apart, covering with only two inches of soil.

4. Add additional soil during the growing season, as plants grow. Asparagus roots are easily smothered if planted too deep initially. (Many texts talk of planting six to eight inches deep. However, this deep planting will decrease yields.) When planting from seed, start seeds indoors 12 weeks prior to transplanting outdoors. Harden off seedlings before transplanting outdoors.

 

More Vegetables.

 Regardless of the times, whether it is good bad or someplace in between. My advice has always been to plan the garden big, get some chickens, a pig or two or a cow if you have space to graze one or two, to ensure your families food supply, and remember that a trio of breeding rabbits will produce allot of meat.

If you are trying to figure out how much ground to plant or how many quarts to put up use the rule of 100 square feet of garden for every family member and 125 quarts of vegetables per family member. This should be close, as it is not an exact science, if you’re not sure it will be enough, go bigger because soil fertility will have allot to do with garden productivity.


Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Kohlrabi

Quality is dependent on the weather and the grower's ability to provide conditions for rapid growth.

Soil: Being shallow rooted; Cole crops require a fertile, moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter and nitrogen.

Fertilizer: Cole crops are heavy feeders of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. We normally prepare the soil with allot of manure and compost the fall before planting and then add compost about 1 to 2 inches thick several times during the growing season.

Mulch: Because Cole crops are poor competitors, mulch to stabilize moisture and control weeds. For early spring plantings, black plastic mulch helps warm cold soils. However, plastic becomes too hot when warm weather arrives. During the warm weather, a grass clipping mulch cools the soil and micro environment.

Moisture: Cole crops are intolerant of drying. Dry soils quickly lead to strong flavors.

Temperature: Cole crops prefer growing temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees. Hot weather reduces sweetness. Since seeds do not like cold soils, use transplants for spring planting. For a superior quality fall crop, direct seed the main planting in early-July (Front Range area). Both broccoli and cauliflower tolerate some frost (down to lower 20's) on maturing plants.

Pest control- Should be accomplished with an organic spray and not a pesticide. We haven’t had allot of trouble with pests as we don’t plant every year, and any we do get float out when we soak them in a salt and water solution.

Transplants: Preferred growing temperature for transplants is 60-70 degrees. High temperatures result in too rapid growth, and tall, weak plants that are easily broken off in transplanting. The ideal transplant is about four inches tall and about four weeks old. Avoid transplants older than six weeks. Quick maturing varieties should be transplanted within four week of seeding.

Heading: Yield is based on plant size as the head (curd) starts to develop. Bolting [rapid head formation] Broccoli and cauliflower are prone to bolting when exposed to cool weather before three to four pair of true leaves develop Long days and hot weather in the summer cause broccoli to bolt and go to seed, and cause cauliflower curds to develop a red-purple discoloration.  Cabbage bolts if exposed to two to three weeks below 50 degrees. Avoid planting too early in the spring. Buttoning [development of small heads or curds (buttons) on immature plants]

 Factors - that restrict early plant growth (including nitrogen deficiency, cold temperatures, shock to young transplants, and drought stress) lead to buttoning. Follow practices that will result in rapid vegetative growth. Blindness [plants having lost their terminal growing points produce no head]

 Damage - to the terminal growing point due to low temperatures, cutworms, damage or rough handling of transplants, will result in blind plants. Handle transplants carefully, control cutworms, and avoid planting in low temperatures.

 

Let's Plant Beans

It is our hope that the information we share here is helpful to folks that want to or are new to the garden. We cannot take credit for all of the information that is given here in regards to growing vegetables as there are many sources that we over time have collected in our reading as well as our firsthand experience in growing them.

With uncertain times many folks have looking to others with experience in being more self-sufficient and are picking the brains of those that have gardened or have lived a more sustainable life style. These folks are looking for ways to cut their food bill or are just trying to find ways to be more sufficient in their lives. We feel this is something that should have been going on in the normal lives of people from the beginning.

Modern man has moved from the land and has lost touch with it in their quest for riches and an easier less laborious life. This quest has lead most to rely on others to raise the food they eat and has put them in danger of being dependent on a food distribution system that is less reliable, energy inefficient and as we have seen in the past couple of years dangerous to their health. By growing your own, or buying locally you have control of how your food is handled and grown.

There truly is no better way to eat than vegetables from your own garden, or meat from your pasture or back yard.

Beans

Beans are tolerant of a wide range of soils, as long as they are well drained. Beans are rather sensitive to soil salt. A soil rich in organic matter (to hold water and nutrients for growth) is preferred. Research has clearly demonstrated that early growth sets potential yield.

 Avoid planting too early in the spring. Soil temperature should be above 50°, measured at 8 a.m., six inches deep. This is typically early May for well-drained sandy soils to late May for clay type soil.

Rich soil fertility should push early growth of plants. However, heavy nitrogen fertilization will lead to excessive plant growth at the expense of fruiting and increased disease problems. Spacing will impact yields. The potential for disease explodes once the plant canopy grows to cover over the patch; avoid over-crowding! Crop spacing should be followed.

 24" between rows with two inches between plants

 18" between rows with three inches between plants

 12" between rows with four inches between plants.  (Gives 20% higher yield than 24" x 2" spacing, but may increase disease pressure.)

 Six inches between rows with six inches between plants (This block style spacing will predispose the patch to foliage diseases.) High water demand during flowering and fruit production, beans have the highest water use of any vegetable crops. If the water supply is optimum, most varieties will produce until frost. If the water supply is low, beans will respond by:

1. Dropping blossoms

2. Producing pinched, Polly-wog-shaped fruit

Water use during fruiting will be 1/4" to over 1/2" of water per day, depending on temperature and wind. Frequent watering in the right amount is essential for bean production.

 

HOW ABOUT SOME CORN

Now is as good a time as any to start looking into your own sustainable future by growing as much of your own as you possibly can. I think folks would be surprised to see that there are many out there that already do. There is a basic security in this way of life along with the economic benefits in uneasy times.

Corn

Yield = water + nitrogen + space

 Water stress will reduce overall plant growth reducing yields. In particular, water stress will delay silking beyond the time when tassels shed pollen preventing kernel formation.

 Side dress with nitrogen fertilizer frequently we prefer compost and or blood meal. (every three to four weeks) through the summer to maintain a dark grass-green color. Sprinkle one cup 21-0-0 (or equivalent) per 50 feet of row, and water in. We prefer blood meal; Please follow directions on the box, because if done wrong it will burn the roots.

 Spacing affects yields. Crowding decreases sunlight to the leaves, reducing the number and size of ears. Optimum spacing is 36 inches between rows with nine inches between plants or 30 inches between rows with 12 inches between plants. Allow side shoots to develop, but do not plant in clumps.

Plant in Blocks: Corn is wind pollinated, so plant in blocks at least three rows wide, preferably four to five rows wide. Single blocks may include only a portion of the row length, with the remainder of the row being part to a block of another variety that matures at different times.

Pollination: Corn is wind pollinated, but bees collecting pollen also frequently visit it. If applying insecticides, use caution to protect pollinating insects. Do NOT spray tassels with insecticides. We do not use insecticide of any kind nor do we encourage their use! We do get the occasional corn borer. But we can live with it, and if corn bores get bad we skip planting for a couple of years.

 

LEAFY GREENS AND ROOT CROPS

As spring days become longer and warmer we are getting excited to get the homestead season under way.  Getting our hands dirty in the garden, starting the cutting of next year’s wood supply along with haying of course and some other building upgrades planned for this season.

It will prove to be a busy summer here on the homestead. Many of the vegetables we grow will be grown not only for quality this year but quantity as well. 

 

Leafy Vegetables and salad Crops: Lettuce, Spinach, Swiss Chard, etc.

Quality lettuce, spinach, chard and other salad crops is the mark of a great gardener.  Quality is based on the gardener's ability to match ideal conditions for rapid growth, including water, fertilizer, space, and temperature.

Soil: A rich soil, high in organic matter, is necessary for quality.

Mulch: Organic mulch (like dry grass clippings) reduces summer soil temperatures producing sweeter produce, conserves moisture, and controls weeds. Weeding by cultivation will damage surface roots.

Moisture: Keep soil moist with one to one and one-half inches of water per week (including rain). If the crop gets dry, it will become tough and stringy.

Thin: Thin the crop to reduce competition for nutrients, moisture, light, and space.

Planting for fall harvest: Plant lettuce and spinach in mid to late summer to produce exceptional harvest quality during cool fall weather. It can also be planted mid-fall for extra-early spring crops. Cover the small seedlings with organic mulch for winter protection.

 

Onion Family: Garlic, Leeks, Onions, Shallots, etc.

 

Soil: The onion family has a poor, inefficient root system, making the crop intolerant of poor soils and competition from weeds. The plants are heavy feeders. Quality produce arises from a well-drained, fertile soil, rich in organic matter.

Mulch: The onion family thrives with organic mulch (like dry grass clippings), which cools the soil, conserves moisture, and controls weeds.

Photoperiod sensitivity: The onion family is sensitive to the length of night, which triggers bulb development. Temperatures above 65°. Plant size at the time conditions trigger bulb development determines the size of the bulb. Plant onions as soon as soil conditions allow in the spring.

Seed head: Keep seed heads picked. They pull plant resources away from bulb development.  

Transplants: Onions can be planted from seed, sets, or transplants. If planted from sets, sort sets larger than a dime from smaller ones. Plant small and large sets separately. Harvest from larger sets first because they do not store as well as onions grown from small sets

 

Peas

Soil: Peas grow best in a rich soil, high in organic matter. They require a well-drained soil.

Types of peas

 

 English Pea: Standard, shelled pea

 Edible Pod Pea, Sugar Pea or Snow Pea: Edible pod, pick before seeds swell

 Snap Pea: edible pod and plump sweet pea fruit, Plant as early as possible.  

 Peas are sensitive to the photoperiod (length of night), influencing yields. In our latitude, an April 1st planting will have a 50% higher yield than a May 1st planting.

 Plant when soil temperatures reach 40°. Avoid planting in wet soils. Planting for fall harvest.   Peas may be planted in mid-summer for harvest during cooler fall weather. Sweeter peas develop in cooler temperatures. However, yields of the fall crop are reduced due to photoperiodic and the vines are prone to powdery mildew in the fall.

 

Potatoes

 

Soil: Potatoes thrive in a soil rich in organic matter that provides water, nutrient holding capacity and improved drainage. However, avoid heavy applications of fresh manure or compost, as they will make the tuber surface rough and increase the occurrence of scab.

Certified Seed: The use of certified seed helps reduce disease problems. Give the plants a vigorous start.

Plant when soil temperatures rise above 50°, four inches deep at 8 a.m.

Avoid using too small of a seed piece. Cutting seed pieces to one and one-half to two inches in size provides for early plant vigor. Many gardeners prefer to use seed pieces that require no cutting to reduce decay potential.

Spacing: Tuber size is determined by spacing. Learn by experience the optimum spacing for the variety and a particular garden soil. A starting point is an equal-distant spacing of 12-15 inches between plants and between rows. Spacing that allows the plants to close in and shade the soil yields a sweeter spud. However, thick foliage and reduced airflow can also increase the occurrence of disease.

Mulch: Mulch with clean straw.

Fertilizer: Potatoes are heavy feeders of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Running out of nitrogen by August is the most common potato problem Symptoms are a general yellowing of leaves that starts with lower interior leaves. Nitrogen stress pre-disposes the crop to early blight.

Moisture: If the soil is too wet or has poor drainage, tubers will rot. If the soil becomes overly dry, tubers will develop knobs.

 

Rhubarb

Soil: Rhubarb thrives on any soil that is high in organic matter and well drained.

Yield: Yield is based on the plant's ability to store food reserves in the roots for the next year's crop. Keep seed stalk picked off.

 Stop harvest when temperatures rise above 85°.

Remove oldest stalks at the base when plants grow crowded, giving room for new stalks to grow. Never remove more than 1/4 of the stalks at one time.

Mulch: Rhubarb is a poor competitor for water and nutrients. Keep mulched with organic mulch. We put 3 or 4 inches of rabbit manure around ours in fall and spring.

Sun: It prefers full sun but grows poorly with reflected heat.

Coloration: Poor coloration of stalks develops from too much shade, too much heat, overly wet soils, or an inferior variety.

Re-planting: Reset when stalks become slender and the center of plant dies out, about every eight years. Rhubarb is best transplanted in the fall.

CANNING AT HOME

Over the years, our understanding of food safety has grown. At the same time, new technologies and agricultural crop varieties have been developed. For these reasons, it is important to follow current guidelines for home canning instead of old recipes. While they might be family favorites, older recipes may not have been properly tested to achieve adequate heat processing times and temperatures for food safety and quality. Failure to use the proper processing method and processing times can affect the quality and safety of your final product.

Today, foods for canning are classified into two types: High Acid and Low Acid. Each type requires a different method of heat processing to achieve the temperatures necessary to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms. 

Low Acid Foods, (with pH values higher than 4.6) must be heat processed at temperatures of 240 F   for a specified length of time to destroy harmful bacteria. Because boiling water canners cannot reach this temperature, Low Acid Foods must be processed in a pressure canner. Low Acid Foods include vegetables, soups, stews, meats, poultry, seafood and tomato or vegetable mixtures or sauces.

High Acid Foods, require heat processing to 212 F to inactivate invisible microorganisms. This is the temperature of boiling water, so it can be achieved in efficiently in a boiling water canner used for the recipe-specified time. The pH of High Acid Foods must be 4.6 or lower (meaning the acidity is high). Such high acid environments inhibit the growth of bacteria and other spoilage organisms. However, high acidity alone is not sufficient to preserve foods. Heat processing in a boiling water canner is still required to inactivate enzymes, yeasts and other microorganisms that can thrive in unprocessed High Acid Foods. High Acid Foods include fruits, fruit juices, jams, jellies and other fruit spreads, tomatoes with added acid, pickles, relishes, chutneys, sauces, vinegar and condiments.

The air we breathe and all foods in their natural state contain microorganisms, such as molds, yeasts and bacteria as well as enzymes. Food spoils when enzyme, mold, yeast and bacterial growth is not controlled. Proper, safe home canning procedures control the growth of spoilage microorganisms allowing us to keep food beyond its normal storage period.

Home canning is not complicated. It is a simple procedure that applies heat to food in a closed glass jar to interrupt the natural decaying that would otherwise take place. Safe home canning requires "heat processes” of all foods according to up-to-date, tested home canning guidelines. This includes: placing prepared food in mason jars that can be sealed airtight with two-piece metal SNAP lids using the correct type of canner to heat the filled jars to a designated temperature for the food being processed maintaining this temperature for the time specified in up-to-date, tested recipes to destroy spoilage microorganisms, inactivate enzymes and properly vent air from jars cooling jars properly to allow lids to form a strong vacuum seal.

How "heat processing" works: As the filled jar is heated, its contents expand and internal pressure changes take place. These changes allow gasses or air to be "vented" from the jar. After processing, the atmospheric pressure outside the jar is greater than inside due to "venting". This pressure difference causes the lid to be pulled down onto the jar causing a vacuum seal to be formed. The resulting seal prevents microorganisms and air from entering and contaminating the food.

When followed exactly, the "heat processing" methods and times of up-to-date, tested home canning recipes adequately destroy normal levels of heat-resistant microorganisms. After processing and upon cooling, a vacuum is formed and the lids seal onto the jars. This ensures home canned foods will be free of spoilage when the jars are stored properly and remain vacuum-sealed. The seal prevents other microorganisms from entering and re-contaminating of the food.

When home canning at elevations higher than 1,000 ft. above sea level, adjustments must be made for the higher altitudes. For details, see the "altitude" charts in  

NOTE: The cooking time that is part of recipe preparation before the food is placed in jars is not processing time. It does not alter the "heat processing" time required for safe home canned foods.

To thoroughly destroy all microorganisms that may be in a specific food, or that may contact the food as it is ladled into the jars, always heat process the filled jars by the method and for the time specified by the USDA. Use only the best, top quality ingredients. Preserve fruits and vegetables at their peak of ripeness.

There is nothing more rewarding than to look at your dinner plate and know that what you are about to eat is something that you raised and preserved right at home. Regardless to what the Skeptics say.

I recommend you purchase the newest edition of the Ball Blue Book that gives good directions, as well as canning timetables and other canning recipes.

PRESERVING

There was a time when nearly everyone canned their own, the saying eat what you can and can what you eat is so far form reality today. Though many folks do can allot of things, it's not as common now as it was in our parent’s day. There is savings in canning your own fruits and vegetables instead of purchasing them. I know, I know many will say that with all the labor involved in canning your own you can't possibly save anything.

I beg to differ with anyone on that matter, for one thing it is all done right at home, you are not paying for the processing and traveling across the country or the ocean as many do today. On average what you have grown costs you only pennies on the dollar, compared to grocery store foods.

And my family won't even blush or stutter to say that what we grow is far superior to what you can buy in the store, not only in nutritional value, but in taste, color and texture. Much prejudice has been used to convince people that canning is a back breaking chore that is too complicated for the average person to accomplish. I would like to say at this point that because of this prejudice I was a bit confused and scarred when I first canned. So what did I do? I called Mom. Why not?

I watched her can for years and she seemed to do all right, after all I'm a married adult and she didn't kill me with her canned goods. She had me come home and she showed me how simple it was along with her canning books with the time tables. Once I got home and it was time for me to start I wasn't worried anymore. Just do as the book says and be accurate about what you do.

To make the job go faster and easier, have all of your equipment out and ready before it's time to start. Do all the preparing of the vegetable where you are comfortable. We do large amounts so allot of the prep work is done in the front yard. Anything that needs its skins boiled off are done over an open fire and in a fifteen-gallon wash tub, this does a lot of them fast. All final washing is done in the kitchen.

It has been said for years that one will need to can one hundred quarts of food per person per year, I will say it takes a bit more than that but it is a good number to start with in your first year, you can always adjust. We do not use the boiling water bath method for anything except pickles. It is not safe and the pressure canner is so much easier to deal with than one can believe.  Not only that but the fruits and vegetables are not the same as they were a generation ago, Tomatoes today are less acidic than they were when my mother grew them, so stick to the pressure canner. It's the only way to go when canning, the difference with pickles is that they are pickled in vinegar and that makes them extremely acidic.

 There is some cost associated with the startup of any new project, but remember the canner will last a life time and the jars are used many, many times over. We still have most of our original canning jars and we started canning some 30 years ago. I still use some of my grandmother’s jars and I have no clue how old or how many times they have been filled and processed. A one quart mason jar will hold many more times the vegetables than the water filled cans you buy in the store, so the next time someone tries to tell you that canning at home just isn't worth it, don't you believe them.

I cannot touch on all the ins and outs of preserving here and this article is just a quick explanation of canning and its benefits. Buy putting up as much of your own you place yourself in a new class and that class is not as affected by unstable food prices. You are also feeding your family the highest quality food available anywhere.

Other methods of preserving your own is by dehydrating and freezing, those methods are something we will talk about in future articles.