Six Good (and Overlooked) Vegetables to Grow

Many of the most useful vegetables are neglected in the majority of home gardens. Okra, Swiss Chard, Leeks, Brussels Sprouts, Scotch Kale, and Kohlrabi tend to be overlooked, yet they are all appetizing, healthy additions to the table, and require no special conditions to grow.

Okra

Bucket of raw okra pods Okra, or gumbo, as it is invariably called in the South, figures very largely in Creole cooking. Soups, stews, gravies and innumerable other dishes are all improved by a little okra, and it is the basis of many special dishes. Cut into slices and spread with rice and tomatoes in a casserole, add butter, curry-powder and salt, and bake for three hours, it is a deliciously savory luncheon dish.

The ground for okra should be thoroughly enriched and well cultivated. Make a furrow about an inch deep, and if only a home supply is wanted, about thirty feet long. Sow the seeds two inches apart in rows and cover. Thin to eighteen inches apart when the seedlings are about two inches high. If more than one row is to be grown, make them two and a half feet apart.

Okra is a semi-tropical plant, so is best not to sow until the second week in May. Once started, it grows very rapidly, yields and continues a supply of pods throughout the season. The flowers are large and rather pretty, but only last a few hours; after they fall it takes about twelve hours for a pod to develop sufficiently for gathering. To be in perfect condition for cooking they should not be much more than an inch long. Any surplus can be dried or canned for winter use. Sliced, they are a splendid addition to mixed pickles.

Swiss Chard

Chard in the Victory GardenSwiss chard is a true cut-and-come-again and is invaluable for home or market. A poultry- keeper can find no better or cheaper green food for your chickens. The leaves and stalks are the edible part, and can be boiled like spinach or use the stalks alone. They are white and run the full length of the leaf. Cut them but and tie loosely; cook and serve just as you would asparagus. Make the ground very rich; sow in rows three feet apart, about the end of April or the first week in May. Thin the plants when they are about two inches high to stand eighteen inches apart. When used like spinach, cut the leaves when they are ten inches high. If the stalks are to simulate asparagus, then gathering should be delayed until they are about fourteen inches high. Then cut off the green part of the leaf, which can still be used as greens. No matter how the leaves are to be used or at what height the crop is cut, be very careful never to injure the heart of the plant. If you do, successive crops will be spoiled.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussel SproutsBrussels sprouts should certainly be in every garden. They possess all the healthful qualities of cabbage, and the flavor is much more delicate.

When small, the plants look exactly like cabbage, but instead of firm, solid heads, the stalks run up to twelve or fourteen inches in height, and baby cabbages spring out all around the stalk for the entire length. One plant often yields thirty-five or forty of these diminutive cabbages.

One great advantage of Brussels sprouts is that the seed does not need to be sown until June and the plants are not ready for transplanting until July, so it can succeed early peas in the same ground. Brussels sprouts are gluttons and positively must have heavy and rich ground. Sow seed in shallow drills; transplant when seedlings are about three inches high, two feet apart in rows three feet apart. For early spring harvest, sow seeds in hotbed during February or March. Mature plants are quite hardy.

Leeks and Winter Onions

Leeks in the GardenLeeks and winter onions are members of the onion family which are usually overlooked. Leeks should be sown on very fine, rich soil. A heavy dressing of poultry manure, applied the fall before planting, is an ideal fertilizer. Scatter the seed thick in rows two feet apart and thin out the plants so that they stand nine inches apart. Cultivate the ground constantly and hill up as the plants grow. This encourages growth and bleaches the stalks. A slight frost won’t hurt them, but they should be banked up and covered with mulch if they are to stay out in the ground until spring.

The winter supply of these vegetables should be dug in December and stored in the house for convenience. Pack them, standing up as they grow, in boxes; scatter earth between them, and keep them in a dark cellar. For soups they are superior to ordinary onions. Boiled and served with white sauce, they are an enjoyable vegetable.

Winter bunch onions are really the earliest of all spring onions. Sow the seed in shallow drills, a foot apart, in May or June. Cultivate until fall, and then cover with mulch. Early in the following spring rake off and cultivate lightly between the rows, and you will have delicious green onions for table or market when other people are thinking about sowing seed.

Kale

KaleKale should be considered indispensable in every garden. It comes in season late fall, when frost has demolished all other greens. Even in the vicinity of New York it can be relied upon to furnish early spring greens almost before the snow is off the ground. Seeds should be sown about the middle of June, and the seedlings transplanted into rows two feet and a half apart. The leaves are curly and of a dark green, and should not be used until there has been some frost, for until frozen. They are as tough until Jack Frost has visited them.

As soon as the weather becomes colder, mulch each side of the rows up to the top of the kale for winter harvest.

Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi in MarketKohlrabi is a vegetable which comes in when other things have faded. It really belongs to the cabbage family, but it is more like the turnip. The edible part is the bulb which develops above ground. When cooked it looks and tastes like a delicately flavored turnip. Since they must be cooked while young and tender, it is best to make several sowings; one in a hotbed in February, and two others in the open ground; the first in May, the second in August. They can stand quite a heavy frost and are usable until December or January, according to the season.

Sow in rows placed about two feet apart, and after the young plants have attained sufficient strength to withstand attacks from beetles and such insects, thin them to two feet apart.

Here are a few hints about the general cultivation of these vegetables and are actually useful for all gardening. Cultivation should be constant and thorough, especially when the soil is light and sandy. Of course, no good gardener will permit weeds to get a foothold in his territory, but the constant use of the rake is much more important. It keeps up the supply of moisture in the soil around the roots of the plants, and so insures their being well fed and making rapid growth.

After a rain, rake a mulch of dry dust to cover the base of the ground. This prevents the moisture from escaping because it checks the capillary process by which moisture travels to the surface and is carried into the air. The soil may be rich in the mineral and animal components which constitute plant-food, but unless sufficient quantities of moisture are present these are not available to the plants.

How to find cheap gas

Paramount to the agrarian lifestyle is frugality.  Avoid debt, don’t buy new when used will do, make what you can yourself.  In other words, be a good steward of your money.  This applies to gas as well.  But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to drive around town looking to save a nickel finding the cheapest gas since that in and of itself is using up gas.  That’s being penny wise but pound foolish.

That’s where Gas Buddy comes in (http://gasbuddy.com).  I’ve noted Gas Buddy before on one of my other blogs.  It’s a great network of sites that can help you find the lowest gas prices in your local area without driving around wasting gas doing it.

GasBuddy.com can help you find cheap gas prices in your city. It is a network of more than 181+ gas price information websites that help you find low gasoline prices. All web sites are operated by GasBuddy and has the most comprehensive listings of gas prices anywhere.

Gasoline prices change frequently and may vary by as much as 20 percent within only a few blocks. It’s important to be able find the service station with the lowest priced fuel. GasBuddy web sites allow motorists to share information about low priced fuel with others as well as target the lowest priced stations to save money when filling up at the pumps!

Since I wrote about Gas Buddy, they have added Gas Buddy Mobile.  This is a great tool!  If you are like me, you don’t really think about checking gas prices online before you go somewhere.  I tend to think about gas prices when I am already in the car and looking at the fuel gauge.  Now you can check local gas prices on your mobile phone using either a mobile web browser, text message, or email.  I have added this to my favorites and use it often.  (If you are an iPhone user, they have an app for that as well.)

Small Farms are on the Rise

According to the results of the most recent Census of Agriculture, we may be witnessing the return to small, diversified, family farms.  This article in US News and World Report indicates that new farming techniques make small farms more viable and demand for fresh organic food is increasing. With the current economic environment, it should come as no surprise that small farms are on the rise.  People are looking for ways to supplement income, get out of the rat race, become better stewards of the land (and their food), or all of the above.

This article from Clark County, Washington indicates that many of these farms are started by people who are looking for extra income and these farms are on the rise, even as large scale, industrialized agriculture is dying.

Unsung, unorganized and unsupported by most federal subsidies, backyard fruit, vegetable and meat growers have been popping up in the county almost as fast as the biggest farms have been dying, new federal statistics show.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, between 2002 and 2007 Minnesota gained 2,200 farms 180 acres or smaller, but only 100 farms of 2,000 acres or more.

Minnesota’s growth in small farms is largely concentrated in the Twin Cities area and is beholden to the state’s strong organic product movement and its large immigrant populations in quest of ethnic meats and vegetables. For example, inventories of goats have quadrupled in the state during the past decade.

And small farm operations can best serve those niche markets.

This is good news.  The demise of the family farm in the latter half of the twentieth century was a detriment to our society and culture.  We have reached a point where industrial agriculture controls a significant portion of our food supply and there has been a quiet revolution to that system.  That quiet revolution has been growing and will eventually reach a shout.  I am looking forward to that day.

Additional articles:
U.S. farming is growing in numbers but shrinking in size of farms

Homemade Gas (Biodiesel and Ethanol)

When talking about self-sufficiency and zero inputs, the thoughts of most folks turn to organic farming, composting, natural growing methods, and raising your own food. But what about your energy inputs? If you run a vehicle or a tractor, what do you fuel it with.

The thought of fuel inputs has been on my mind as I think about how I can become more self-sufficient. This has been especially on my mind after last year’s run-up in gas prices. We have become so reliant on outside sources of energy that any disruption in that supply could threaten life as we know it.

Biodiesel

How about making your own fuel at home? Great!

For about 70c/gallon? Even better!

Freedom Fuel America is the place to shop for your own setup. I’ve also found these courses on making your own biodiesel fuel at home:

Also, check out biodiesel.org and journeytoforever.org.

Ethanol

Another consideration is Ethanol. I have been looking at the E85 fuels which are quite interesting. E85 is an 85% grain based ethanol blend. While cars and trucks that use the E85 don’t seem to get any better gas mileage, I believe the cost of operation coupled with the cleaner burning fuel make for a popular combination. Add in that mass implementation would make us more energy independent, and you might have a winner.

I know that Ethanol has gotten a bad rap in the media – mainly it has been painted out as a government boondoggle because of subsidies to producers.  While government intervention is not a good thing, the bad press given to ethanol has made people turn away from an otherwise good thing.

I don’t want to get into a debate on ethanol fuel here, but rather point out that brewing your own alcohol based fuel is real alternative for the homemade energy enthusiast. An E85 vehicle is already equipped for you to run an 85% blend of alcohol without modification. All you really need to do is brew the alcohol. This can be done with a home-based still, and as long as you license it accordingly with the BATFE, it is quite legal (Go to the BATFE web site to download form TTB F 5110.74 – Application for an Alcohol Fuel Producer Under 26 U.S.C. 5181). You may even qualify for a tax break on the fuel you produce.

If you would like to learn about making your own ethanol, here is a place to start.

Get additional information on E85 at www.e85fuel.com and the US DOE here.

Seed Order and Garden Plots

I have made a significant dent in the daunting task of ordering this year’s seed.  I have put it off several times throughout the winter, primarily because we intend to expand our growing this year to include selling at farmer’s markets.  This requires quite a bit more planning, especially because I don’t want to over-order a significant amount and cut into my profit margin.

So far, everything does seem to be fine, but my concern is that seed companies may be overrun by procrastinators like me, especially in light of the current economic situation.  This had been in the back of my mind and then I read this post on Herrick Kimball’s blog – The Delibarate Agrarian.  He just reiterated what I had already feared, that it is likely we will see a surge in people trying to produce their own food in order to cut costs in tough economic times.

I witnessed the beginnings of this trend last year when our local community garden plots sold out for the first time in recent memory.  With open registration for plots beginning yesterday, I physically went to the office when they opened in order to add to my plot and make a move.  Our community gives priority registration to last year’s gardeners, but you are only guaranteed what you had last year – same number of plots in the same location.  I wanted to move closer to the watering station, be in the organic only section, and also add an additional plot.  I was the first one there yesterday morning, so I got what I wanted.  While there wasn’t a line out the door, there were a few people coming in behind me.  I expect things will again sell out like last year.

If you are waiting around to get started this year, don’t.  Get going today on your planning or you’ll be banging in the door of the ark when it starts to rain.

The $64 Tomato

The $64 TomatoThe $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden

In a style reminiscent of Erma Bombeck, Alexander takes on a hysterical journey through his “quest for the perfect garden.” I found myself unable to put this book down, laughing out loud on nearly every page.

In his quest for the country life, Alexander and his physician wife move from Yonkers to a small town in the Hudson River Valley. After restoring an “historic” house, if not to its former glory, at least to a livable standard (there was no plumbing when they moved in); they begin the garden by hiring a landscaper.

Of Alexander’s trials and tribulations, we witness his failed attempt at growing organic apples, only to discover why there are no organic apples in the Northeast. Attempting to outsmart, outwit, and outplay a genetically superior, tomato-eating woodchuck leads him to boost his electric fence to 10,000 volts. From the town fire chief who tells Alexander how to build a 16 hour bonfire, to the contractor that left his backhoe outside the kitchen window for six months, every citizen of the town seems to have stepped right out of the movie “Funny Farm.”

All of this leads up to Alexander’s realization that every tomato he raised cost him $64. And that is after amortizing the major costs of his garden over 20 years, by which time he figured he would either be gardening someplace else, or given up altogether.

An easy yet enjoyable read, there’s a laugh on every page. Whether you like gardening, a good yarn, or both, you’ll love the $64 Tomato.

Click here to buy The $64 Tomato from Amazon.com

Hard but rewarding work

I had every intention of getting this blog going last year.  My mistake was setting it up in the spring when I was actually at the height of planting my garden.  Then one thing led to another and, as anyone can plainly see, it was shelved.  Well, it is high time to pull this idea back off the shelf, blow off the dust, and get started!

The point of this blog is to be an encouragement to others that leaning toward an agrarian or self-sufficient lifestyle.  The principles of agrarianism and self-sufficiency will be quite necessary in the days ahead.  With the impending implosion of our debt based, consumer driven economy, the reality of this will become apparent for many of you that have put things off.  I believe that some people, rather than relying on government for their help, will turn to God and begin to cut the ties of this bondage.

In these scary economic times, the first place that people will turn is to grow their own food.  This tends to come out of necessity to save money.  If this is you, be encouraged.  It is hard work, but it is rewarding work.  There is no greater satisfaction than sitting down at the dinner table and enjoying the fruits of your labor.  But you will need to persevere.  The road is long and hard.  You will find that a great deal more work goes into growing your own food than running across the street to the grocery store.

I use a garden plot that is provided by the city.  This year, our family intends to expand that operation to include more plots and possibly some additional land.  We may be driven to find additional land elsewhere as the demand for garden plots grows.  Last year, with the economy beginning to falter, more people made the decision to start a garden to, hopefully, alleviate some of the paycheck-to-paycheck cash crunch.  When I went to pay for my plot, the woman at the park district told me that this was the first year in all her time working for the park district that they had sold out every plot.  I suspect that demand will be even higher this year.

Sadly, by the middle of summer last year, many of these plots were overgrown and abandoned.  People find that tending a garden is a great deal of work and they are simply unwilling to sacrifice their modern (and busy) lifestyle to do it.  This is sad for a number of reasons.

First, it shows a lack of perseverance.  What if the Pilgrims who came to this country, after finding out that the work was harder than anticipated, had decided to pack up and go back to England?  What if the Revolutionaries had decided that fighting for independence was too hard?  America is known for rolling up its sleeves and going to work when things get tough.  If your family’s survival depends on producing food, then you need to persevere through the hard times.  Turn off the television and get out there and do it.

Secondly, and I think this is most important, is that to give up on growing your own food when you realize how hard it is will put you behind in your learning curve.  And the economy is worse this year so the need is even greater.  What would you do if the economy totally collapsed?  Would you be able to survive?  Could you care for your family?  These are important questions and if you haven’t worked toward self-sufficiency when the going was easier (notice I didn’t say “easy”), then what will you do when it is not only harder, but critical to your survival?

I don’t want to be bleak, but these are very real things to think about and they have been weighing heavy on my heart for these past few months.  That is why I want to encourage you to persevere if you are already working toward self-sufficiency and to get started if you haven’t already.  It is hard work, but it is rewarding work and you will be better off for it.  And I will commit to continuing this blog with (hopefully) helpful ideas and encouraging words as we go on this journey together.

Welcome

Welcome to The Suburban Agrarian, a blog by Chad Butler.

This is not my first blog by any means.  I have been involved in blogging for a number of years, going back to early 2003.  My primary blog (http://butlerblog.com) focuses primarily on WordPress, its development, and the plugins I have developed for it.  That is also the site of my technically focused articles (or will be, if I ever finish all my content migration).  At this time, there is other content there not related to these topics, but I am trying to move that to a more relevant location.

The focus of suburbanagrarian.com is to be a running commentary of my journey to a more agrarian lifestyle.  I believe in agrarian living and would love to move to a self-sustaining existence in the country.  But that is not happening at this point.  Instead, we continue to live in the suburbs.

That does not mean we cannot incorporate agrarian principles into our everyday life.  I believe that by incorporating agrarianism into our here and now, we can live better, healthier lives with less impact on the environment.

I believe that God has given man dominion over His creation.  Man is charged with the care of creation.  To that end, we should be good stewards of the land.  But we should not forget our purpose, nor our Creator.  So this blog will focus on bringing the principles of Christian Agrarianism into our everyday lives – even if those lives are lived in an urban or suburban setting.