Archive for October, 2015

Northwich - allotment gardens and recreation area beside Birdcage Walk. Seen from the footbridge over the railway on Northwich footpath 12. SJ 6528 7385 at 295 deg.

During the gardening ‘off season’, my plan is to write a series of encouragement and ‘how to’ articles with the beginner and wannabe gardener/homesteader in mind.  There is a lot of good information available for getting started down the road of increased self-sufficiency, but there’s even more misinformation and ignorance being tossed around out there. My goal is to simplify the process of gardening and homesteading to make it accessible for more people. It is my belief that nearly EVERYONE can grow some or all of their own food, regardless of your age, or where you live.

Sure, some situations require more thought and planning than others, but whether you live on a large acreage, in a suburban HOA controlled neighborhood or in a big city high rise, the only thing holding you back is you.  If you’ll join me, and stay the course, I’ll have you ready to grow by next spring. I guarantee it.

I hear regularly from people who say things like, “Someday, when we have some land, we’re going to do what you do,” or, “We’d love to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle, if we only had the land to do that.”

If you are thinking those, or similar thoughts, I have some GREAT news for you: you can get started right where you are.

Stop laughing, I’m serious.  Do some research and learn about the Dervaes family in California, who live on 1/10th of an acre and not only provide their own food, but operate a full time thriving farm from their suburban plot.

I know plenty of stories of families living self-sufficiently, or virtually so, from a quarter of an acre.

We’re all rather familiar with the “Victory Gardens” that sustained many millions of people during WWII.

And let’s not forget about the allotment gardens (community gardens) that dot the British landscape each spring through fall, where families can rent small spaces to grow their own food. The British Parliament has passed laws that require local governments to provide spaces for allotments, if there is a demand. Here in the USA, some towns and many Churches could make space available for community growing.

My point is, it doesn’t take acres and acres to become self-sufficient; it takes creativity, out of the box thinking and elbow grease. If you want to start growing your own fruits and vegetables, and maybe your own meat, fish and/or eggs, you don’t have to wait until ‘someday’. In point of fact, I looked, and someday isn’t on any calendar, somewhere isn’t on any map, someone isn’t in any phone book. There is today, here, and there is me (you).

Brittan and I began our edible suburb when we lived on ½ acre in a typical suburban neighborhood, under the watchful eyes of a Home Owners’ Association. In that location we grew tons of fruit and vegetables, made our own compost, raised rabbits for meat and manure, raised fish and even managed to sneak in a few goats and chickens from time to time.

I share that last paragraph to help you understand that I KNOW from experience what can be done. I’ve grown fish and vegetables in my garage, herbs on our back deck, kept rabbits in the basement, and once we even hid 150 baby chicks in our garage for 10 weeks.

During the next several weeks, I’m going to show you a step by step plan to make sure you can succeed in your own edible suburb, but it will be up to you to implement what you learn.

I hope you’ll join the adventure. Please add your thoughts and questions to the comments section, or email any questions to us.  Also, please email or comment and let me know some of the subjects you’d like to discuss. I’d love to hear from you. Let’s do this!


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One of our first attempts at container gardening

One of our first attempts at container gardening

Walking through the garden the other day, examining my raised beds and my containers I realized for like the one millionth time, how much I prefer containers to either the raised beds or to a traditional tilled garden spot.

I use a variety of containers: buckets, flower pots, Earthboxes, and Rubber Maid Stock Tanks, plastic barrels and IBC totes. Some of my older buckets and pots are pretty traditional, but my newer ones and all the other containers are set up as either wicking containers, DWC hydroponics or Aquaponics systems.

I use different methods for the simple reason that if something isn’t working, another style probably is. For example, my raised bed zucchini did not do well this year, but in wicking buckets it thrived like never before. On the other hand, my pole beans did so well in a raised bed I didn’t bother with any other ways. My hydroponics kale has outperformed that grown in either raised beds or buckets. Gardening is full of surprises, so variety really is the spice of life.

Please don’t get defensive if you’re a raised bed or tilled bed gardener. I don’t disapprove of them, I’ve just gotten better results (mostly) from other methods. Your experience may be totally different.

There are three primary reasons I like containers: Mobility, simplicity, and Spontaneity.  Let’s dive about two inches into that and let me explain.

  1. Mobility – We live in NW Georgia right on the edge of Zone 7 a/b. and we have a medium sized greenhouse (40’ x 24’). Our great weather allows us multiple growing seasons already, but by combining the benefits of containers and the unheated greenhouse I can get a very big head start in the spring and extend the season in the fall dramatically.
Earthbox wicking containers

Earthbox wicking containers

I plant many of my varieties in January, and by mid-April they are already quite large when I move them outside. I’m usually harvesting snap peas, cabbage, Jalapeno peppers, kale, bok choi and lettuce long before most of my neighbors. By growing Parthenocarpic zucchini and cucumbers, my wife and I were enjoying them in March.

Similarly, when night temps begin to drop, I can move containers from the garden back to the greenhouse and continue to enjoy fresh peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, etc. until very nearly Christmas. Greens will keep growing all winter.

Even before we had our greenhouse, I would take my hot pepper buckets and set them up against the south side of the house to keep them producing even after the garden was getting regular frost.

I could never do that with my raised beds. For example, I have some very healthy roasting pepper plants in a raised bed that I’m going to have to make a cover for because I can’t get the bed into the greenhouse.

Even the hydroponics and aquaponics systems can be emptied and moved relatively easily. Because I use compact systems that don’t have a great deal of complex plumbing, it’s mostly a matter of emptying the beds and tanks, then reassembling them inside or outside as need requires.

  1. Simplicity – Containers are uncomplicated. There is very little preparation or space required. It’s a matter of filling with your favorite planting mix, inserting your chosen seed(s) or seedling(s) and you’re gardening. There are no special tools or groundwork required. The most important decision is the size of the container. You wouldn’t want to put an indeterminate tomato in a window box, but that container might be just fine for cilantro.

Weeding is a snap, as is mulching. Watering is generally required more frequently that with raised beds or tilled gardens, but wicking containers can mitigate the work load, as can automated watering systems.

  1. Spontaneity – If I get impulsive (which happens to me a lot) and want to try a new variety or increase number of plants after my garden is already planted, containers allow me to simply grab a new bucket and try it. Similarly, if a plant is not thriving, I can pull it up and begin again without the risk of damaging the plants around it. When plants are getting ready to flower, I can decide at the last minute to isolate one or two for seed saving by moving the container a little and using row covers for protection. This is especially useful for peppers and tomatoes.

Container gardening is an outstanding option for beginners and gardeners with small spaces. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can repurpose buckets and flower pots you already have around, or you can buy very inexpensive ones from your local Big Box Store or online.  Let’s face it; you can buy a lot of containers for the cost of buying and maintaining a rototiller.

We haven’t had a tilled garden since 2001, when we lived in Iowa. With our busy schedule and my ADD that option just wouldn’t fly. We have a few raised beds, most of which are being converted to growing berries.  We have many dozens of containers. If you consider aquaponic and hydroponic systems as containers (which I do) then our garden is 90% containers. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are you a container gardener? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your experiences. Please share. I value your opinions. Besides, we’re all in this together.


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