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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gardening Lessons Learned, by Chet in Michigan

I have been a reader of SurvivalBlog for some time now and have slowly moved into the preparedness mindset. I have been trying to increase my supplies, but this year I decided to try to grow a substantial amount of my food. I have grown small gardens in the past, but this is my first large scale project. The final results remain to be seen, as it is still quite early in the growing season, but I've already learned some invaluable lessons. I hope I am can offer some new insight, and not just repeat what others and experts have said. I am writing from the perspective of, and to the perspective of a suburban survivalist who can't/won't leave suburbia for a more secure rural retreat.
I began by cutting up the sod from most of my suburban back yard late last summer. I added grass clippings and leaves to the soil and worked them into the soil by hand. I chose to perform this task my hand rather than buying/renting a motorized “rototiller” in order to simulate the conditions I would be growing in a TEOTWAWKI situation. Lesson 1: Growing your own food is very hard work. I know, “thanks captain obvious”. But I'm writing this to try to inspire and explain to those who have never tried, and only read about growing a large garden. It is back breaking, tiring work.
After letting the leaves and grass clippings and such decompose over winter and early spring, I added some commercially prepared (i.e. I bought it a Lowe's) composted cow manure to the soil. Again back breaking, but Lesson 2: Realization of high amendment costs. Soil amendments, whether manure, humus, peat, or whatever will be in short supply if you are in a suburban locale during TEOTWAWKI (not to mention the cost of buying them now in good times can easily add up and negate the cost savings of growing your own produce). As I mixed in my conveniently packaged 40 lb. Bags, I realized I must start my own composting operation. These types of natural soil amendments may be available in rural locations, but in suburbia, they would be nonexistent, should the Schumer hit.
About the same time I was mixing in the manure, I began sprouting many varieties of seeds indoors, as the early spring here in Michigan is too cold to support seed germination. I purchased trays to start my seeds in (again, an item that would not be readily available). I planted lettuce, cabbage, eggplants, melons, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions, and carrots. I placed these seed trays in several rooms and areas, wherever I had space. But I soon realized that for many of these vegetables, I did not start indoors soon enough. The results remain to be seen, but I may not have enough time in my growing season (Zone 6) to grow some of these plants that take a long time. So, Lesson 3: Do your research now, while your garden is not a life or death matter. Plan ahead. Learn when and how to sow these vegetables. I tend to be excited and impatient when I start a new project, I didn't do my research. I just started planting and didn't give it the necessary thought and planning.
Of the seeds I planted, an expected percentage did not germinate and grow. However, several of those that did start off strong petered out and died on me. To this day I'm not sure why; too much water, not enough, to much sun, not enough, I don't know. But this experience taught me another lesson. Lesson 4: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Seeds are cheap and plentiful now, so plant many more than you think you'll need or have room for. Learn how to grow them now before your food supply depends on their success. I plan on continue my experimentation and talking to the local gardening club for tips. Hopefully I will learn what I did wrong and be able to correct this next year.
I have planted some of the hardier plants outdoors now, and have learned yet another lesson. I thought I had adequately fenced in my garden plot, with wooden fencing backed with 48” chicken wire buried 6” deep to leave 42” above ground. Yet some critters have already been nibbling on my plants. Lesson 5: Build your fence twice as high, twice as strong, and twice as resistant as you thought you'd need!
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, this is the first time I've attempted a large garden intended to provide a substantial part of my food supply. So far the absolute biggest, most important lesson learned is... Lesson 6: Get out there and try it yourself. For rural readers, I may have not given any good or new advice. But for those who are forced, or chose to stay in suburbia, storing seeds is not enough. I know this has said before, but please, take it to heart: Get out there and try to grow a garden now! If you never have, try now, make your mistakes now. If you have some experience, challenge yourself to grow a bigger garden. I know it has been said, and is obvious, but I don't think I was alone in believing the growing a large garden wouldn't be that hard. It is. Try it. Gain valuable experience now. Reading about doing it is not a substitute for doing it. Do it now, while it's just a fun hobby, and maybe a way of saving a bit on your grocery bill, so you don't starve later.