From the author:

From the author:

Monday, May 12, 2014

My version of the Square Foot Gaden

When we first moved into our house, I planted a garden. Actually, that's not entirely the truth. I had my husband rototill a 20 by 40 foot plot in the farthest corner of our backyard. Then I got busy planting. I had plans for a huge harvest, and nothing was going to get in my way. Then I realized the hose didn't reach all the way back there, but the deer did. But I am nothing if not stubborn. I lugged bucket after bucket of water out there ever day. And the plants grew. And so did the weeds. But somehow those deer I mentioned earlier were able to tell the difference, because they ate my plants down to the nub, but left all the weeds alone. It was an absolute failure. I crawled back to my corner, convinced I would never garden again.
One year passed.
Two.
Three.
The landscaping around my house needed some TLC, so while I was busy working on that, I stuck some herbs in with the flowers along with a tomato plant. And they grew. And I could water them without lugging buckets of water, and the deer didn't touch them because they was so close to the house.
I was in love.
Cautiously, I came out of my gardening hibernation. I knew I wanted another garden, but I knew enough to know I didn't have a clue what to do. That's when my sister handed me the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. It was ingenious. I set to work and by the end of that summer I had more food than my family could eat, which led to a whole new arena for me to get lost in: Food Preservation, but that will come in a later post. For now, I want to talk about Square Foot Gardens. Mel basically looked at the traditional garden, and it's wide rows and thought that was dumb, which for a home gardener, it is. We don't have tractors we need to worry about, there isn't a purpose for those rows except to be a place for weeds. So he developed the square foot gardening system, which, basically, gets rid of the rows. I'm not going to repeat here what he so brilliantly explains in his book. If you want a square foot garden (And who wouldn't? It's the easiest, best way to get lots and lots of produce), then you'll need to buy the book for yourself. You can find it at just about any bookstore, or at http://www.squarefootgardening.com/ 

So what is my point in this post? Is it just to sell you Mel's book? No. But you should. It's the best book on gardening I've ever read. My point is to share some improvements I've made on Mel's technique.

First: for the boxes, cedar is best, I agree, but cedar is also expensive. And pressure treated lumber can seep chemicals into your soil; not good if you're trying to produce food that you actually want to eat. What I did is bought regular untreated pine boards and rubbed them down with beeswax thinned with olive oil (Melt beeswax in a pan you don't care about anymore, seriously this will not wash off, and mix in olive oil). This provided the weather protection I needed without the cost of cedar, or the hazards of pressure treated lumber

Second: In Mel's book, he talks about a soil mix to put in your garden box, and it's a good one, but I found it cumbersome to blend it together. So now when I make new boxes, I just buy bags of potting soil. Aldi sells them cheap this time of year. That's just for the first year, after that you can use your own compost.

This is one of my boxes, ready to be planted
 
Third: I hate weeding. And with Mel's Soil Mix, or potting soil, you eliminate most of the weeds. But that wasn't good enough for me. A lot of weed seeds travel through the air, and those were the ones finding their homes in my garden beds, not to mention the neighbor's cat who thought my new boxes were her litter box. My answer? Weed cloth. Each year, after I add new compost to my soil, I put a piece of weed cloth over all of it; it tucks in nicely along the boards (I use a spatula). This also helps warm the soil, and keep in water, which is one of the few downfalls of square foot garden; being elevated, they tend to need to be watered more often.  

I'll be posting more on my garden in future posts, but for now, this should get you started. If you have any questions or suggestions, don't hesitate to reply.

Take care
-Mel




Friday, May 9, 2014

Cloning your plants

Sorry about the delay, I was caught in the blogging world that is A to Z. But that was April, and now it’s May. In May, I’m crazy busy in my yard because certain things take place in May that can only take place in May and if I miss it, I miss it. One of those things is splitting perennials, which I discussed on an earlier post, but today I’ll be talking about how to split those none clumping perennials like grapes, roses, rosemary, and lavender. There are two methods to doing this: there is the cheap, easy, but not always effective way, or the easy, expensive, but always works way.
First for the cheap: You make a cutting on the plant you want to clone. Aka: prune it. Immediately stick the end without foliage on it in a bucket of water. Let sit for several weeks until roots start to form. Transplant into soil, making sure to water often; fertilizer isn’t a half-bad idea either.
Now for the more expensive: After you make your cutting, immediately dip the non-foliage end in a rooting gel (Like Olivia’s Cloning Gel, available at http:///www.spray-n-grow.com). Skip the water step and stick it right in the ground. Keep well watered and fertilized.
I personally use option number one. What can I say? It’s free. You have to compensate for the fact that not every cutting is going to make it though, so cut about twice as many as you think you’re going to use. If you end up having extra, pass some on to your friends.
Next week I’ll be talking about my main way of gardening: The square foot garden. Make sure you stop back.
Until then,
Mel

 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Splitting Perennials


Splitting Perennials
This is the time of year to move things around in your garden, when the ground is soft and the plants themselves are in relative dormancy.
A little over ten years ago, a wonderful woman named Betty Taylor led me into her enormous flower garden with a shovel in hand. This generous woman let me fill most of my trunk with clumps of dirt that would someday become peonies, flax, daises, and irises. Was her garden diminished? No. The next time I came back to her house, you’d never be able to tell that I’d come at it with a shovel less than one month before. That’s the beauty of splitting perennials.
How to do it: The easiest and best way to split perennials doesn’t start now, it starts in the summer, when you can scope out your garden (or your friends) and decide what you want and where you want it. It would be rather disappointing to think that clump of dirt you moved had rhubarb in it only to find out what you really planted was that mint you’ve spent years trying to get rid of.  But let’s say you’ve done that, or, like me with Betty, you don’t mind being surprised.  As I said before, most plants are in relative dormancy right now, so all you have to do to split them is take your shovel and take a clump (make sure you get some good roots) and move it to a new spot. It’s as easy as that. This works best with plants that grow in clusters, not on a single trunk. I will show you later this week how to multiply those.  But let’s say you are starting with nothing. You don’t have a garden, and neither do any of your friends. Well, then you’re going to have to buy some perennials, but only buy one of each kind. Remember, next year about this time, you can split those perennials you’ve purchased and that one little plant can become ten. That is the beauty of splitting perennials.
Examples of cluster perennials: chamomile, hosta, peonies, mint, daisies, irises, flax, ivy (the list could go on and on, but you see my point)
Examples of single trunk perennials: roses, butterfly bushes, lavender, shrubs

 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Planting


Spring Planting

This is the time of year to plant your trees and split your perennials. I buy my trees and shrubs from two places: Schlabach’s- a mail order Amish nursery by my house, and Aldi’s. Yes, I said Aldi’s- the discount food store.

First for Schlabach’s- They are local, which I love to support local businesses anyhow, but for planting that is especially useful because it means the products they sell are indigenous to where I live. AKA: I won’t have to use a lot of pesticides and anti-fungals to keep them alive. But even if you aren’t from my neck of the woods, they are a good choice, because they have high quality products, (All my trees from them have done very well, except for that one my husband ran over with the lawnmower, but that’s a different story) and their selection is amazing. They have hundreds of varieties of apples, so chances are they’re going to have that rare heirloom variety your grandma had, but you can’t seem to find. They aren’t online, but you can request their catalog at: Schlabach’s Nursery, 2784 Murdock Road, Medina, NY 14103. I know snail mail is a pain, but they’re worth it. I promise.

Now, for the second source of my plants: Aldi. This one surprised me as much as I’m sure it surprised you. I was doing some shopping there several years ago right after we put a sunroom on our house that needed some shrubs around it, and Aldi had some for sale, cheap, so I bought them, and let me tell you, I have never had such healthy, beautiful plants.  And as an added bonus, the lovely rose plant I bought from there turned out to be none other than the Rosa Rugosa plant. You know, the one that produces edible petals and loads and loads of huge rosehips? You can imagine my glee. Here I thought I was planting a pretty shrub, and instead got a Vitamin C producing powerhouse! Last time I checked, Aldi still carries this variety, so grab them while you can. Unless you know someone who already has them; then you can ask them to share.  

Which brings me to Monday’s topic: Splitting your Perennials. This is a great way to spread your plants around your yard, or better yet—share them with other people. Come back on Monday and find out how.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cold Frame


Cold frame



This is the single best thing I have done in my “mini-farm” hands down, and it’s simple enough and small enough that anyone can do it, even people living in apartment buildings; as long as they have a south facing terrace.

Remember yesterday when I said my garden grew all the veggies I needed for my family? Well, a cold frame is a big reason for that.

Basically, a cold frame is a box you fill with planting soil (equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and compost) that extends your growing season. I live near Buffalo, NY, and have had great success having lettuce, spinach, and kale growing all winter long.

How to do it: First build a box. It can be made of just about anything- as long as that anything isn’t something toxic. Mine is made out of recycled boards. While size doesn’t matter for you cold frame, layout does. The back needs to be higher than the front, and the front needs to be facing south. Simple as that. For the top, I found an old glass window someone was throwing out and stuck that on top. Now, I know I probably don’t need to warn you guys about lead paint, but for my own conscious sake, don’t use a window that has peeling paint, or could possibly have any lead in it. You don’t want to poison your family.

Once your box is made, butt it up against an outside south wall, and fill it with planting soil.

The seasons and uses of a cold frame: This time of year, you could still be harvesting your greens, or you could use it to start your seeds for your summer garden. In the summer, I take the glass off and let it be a normal raised bed garden. Starting in August, I plant the seeds I want to get me through the winter. This is important. If you wait too long, then your plants won’t have time to establish themselves before the cold weather comes, and you’ll be buying bagged salad mixes all winter.

 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Land


Land

Right now, our family has a small “homestead” on a little over an acre of land. On that we have square foot garden(s) that give us all the veggies and herbs we need, a small orchard, a small vineyard, and a berry patch with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, jostaberries, black raspberries, mulberries, and blackberries. Thus far we don’t have any animals, but I’m hoping to remedy that soon. My husband has been given plans for a chicken tractor and was told that it would make a wonderful mother’s day present. J In my kitchen right now I have six nut trees: English walnut, hazelnut, and heartnut. I’m letting them sweat (bringing them up to 65 degrees to force budding) before planting them. Where, I haven’t quite decided yet.

I say right now, because like all survivalists, I am looking toward the future. We have an opportunity to purchase another acre behind our property, which I hope to do this year. With that I hope to someday have some milking goats, and maybe a pig. What is my point in telling you all this? It’s that you don’t have to have a hundred acres, or even ten, to be able to produce your own food. You would be amazed at what my little acre can do. And I will show you, and teach you how to do it for yourself. The key is to start small and do it well.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Homeschooling


Homeschooling.

I know this technically isn’t a survivalist topic, but it is for me. In my books I lightly touch on homeschooling, which always surprises my family members, because we homeschool. I guess it was assumed I’d write on more of pro-homeschool bent. Not that I in any way put down homeschooling in my books, but I don’t elevate it, either. Because homeschooling is a very personal choice and isn’t for everyone. We made the choice a little over six years ago when my oldest daughter was in third grade. It wasn’t that the school she was going to was horrible, or that we wanted to hide her from the world, at that time it was mainly because I saw an attitude in her that frightened me. I am a people watcher, and in the December of that year I went to my daughter’s open house holiday party. And I watched her. She wasn’t part of the popular group, but she wanted to be. It was in everything she said and did, the way she watched them, the way they didn’t watch her. She looked like she would do anything to fit in. Anything. As a parent you can see my cause for alarm. After much praying we started homeschooling her the next year. That next year was rough. Our daughter was less than pleased with the change, and by that time we had a new baby in the mix. Let’s just say it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Slowly over the course of that year we learned things about homeschooling and about each other. We signed up for homeschooling co-ops and made a concerted effort to “socialize” our kids. Things started to improve. At the end of the year, and at the end of each year after that, we evaluate. Is homeschooling still the right choice for us? So far, the answer for each one of us has always been yes.

In the course of time I will post more on this topic, but for right now I just wanted to give you a little history as to why we started in the first place.