Growing Potatoes in a Spud Barrel

This year, I plan to test out the “Spud Barrel” method of growing potatoes.  If you have never heard of a spud barrel, this is essentially a process of growing potatoes in a barrel (or trash can, a stack of old tires, or some other type of cylindrical object) and filling it with new soil as the potato plant grows higher.  Once the growing process is complete, you tip it over and – VOILA! – you are rewarded for your efforts with pound upon pound of potatoes.  Or so I’m told.

I haven’t tried this method before, but I have considered it.  I seems entirely reasonable and considering my limited growing space, I like the idea of using containers that I can place pretty much anywhere.

If you have limited space, don’t want to give up garden area for potatoes, or if you just like trying new ideas, the “Spud Barrel” might be something you’d like to try, too.

An excellent description of the process can be found here: http://www.weidners.com/spud_Barrel.htm

Mother Earth News has a good article on how to grow potates in a barrel as well: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/1980-03-01/Taters-in-a-Barrel.aspx

I’ll report on the spud barrel as the project progresses.

Planning Ahead for Preserving

It seems like it would be putting the cart before the horse to think about canning already.  Really, there is still some snow on the ground around here.  However, I want to be “putting food by” this year so I need to be planning ahead of planting.  If I put some thought into what we would like to be eating next winter and how we will preserve that food, I should plan what that food will be (and how much) so I can plant appropriately.

I expect to improve my skills at freezing and dehydrating this year.  As for canning, I have never canned, so I can’t really improve skills I don’t have.  But we will be canning this year.  I didn’t put up any tomatoes last year even though I had a huge crop – and by huge, I mean WAY more than we could consume.  I regret not canning all of those tomatoes, especially in the middle of winter.

If you haven’t thought about canning, you should.  I think it is an important part of self-sufficiency.  It should help you reduce your reliance on the grocery store and what you spend there.  It is also a dying art.  I recall both of my grandmothers and my mother canning every year.  My parents had an enormous garden and we ate its bounty throughout the year.  But my wife does not can, nor was she taught this art by her mother; something that previous generations had passed on.  In fact, most of the women I know do not can, nor do they know how.  And why should they?  Food is plentiful at the store.

But what happens when the day comes that food is not plentiful at the store, or money is tight, or both?  Should you be relying on outside systems for your daily nutritional needs?  I would argue that it is just plain foolhardy to put off learning any longer.

I will be picking up a copy of the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, considered the Bible of preserving by some (or most?).  I was also considering a copy of Putting Food By by Janet Greene.

If you are looking for more information on preserving, canning, freezing, and dehydrating, definitely check out Ball’s site freshpreserving.com.  It has a lot of information, resources, recipes, ideas, and also some crafts.

And if you intend to can this year, start thinking about what you will be preserving.  You’ll need to plan your planting accordingly.

Deciding on a precision seeder

Earthway Precision Seeder

This year, I intend to use a garden seeder to assist with planting.  I have spent a great deal of time deciding on what seeder to use.  In fact, I’ve put this decision off for at least the past year as I could not make a decision.  Since the cost of even the simplest seeder is a decent size outlay, I wanted to be sure that I would be satisfied with my purchase.

I have finally settled on the Earthway 1001-B Precision Garden Seeder
(pictured at right).  I have heard both good and bad about this seeder, but one thing seems certain – that even people using other seeders have an Earthway as well.  For around a hundred bucks, I thought even if I don’t like it, I’m not out a huge pile of cash.  I like the versatility of the various seed plates and I think that even if I don’t continue using it for planting things with smaller seeds, I probably will continue to use it for larger seeds like beans or peas.

Some of the other seeders under consideration were quite a bit more expensive, so I thought that the Earthway was a good place to start.  I may try one of the others at a later time.

One was Johnny’s Seeds Six-Row Seeder.  I expect to increase my leafy green production and I thought this would work well.  The biggest problem was two-fold.  First, there are mixed reviews on the web.  Some people love it, others absolutely hate it.  At $549, I just don’t want to work with the possibility that I might hate it.

The other type that I considered was like the European Push Seeder (also available from Johnny’s).  There are others available that work on the same principle, such as the Planet Jr.  This type seems to be the most reliable.  However, it’s principle is similar to the Earthway with a bigger outlay.

I think I am going to work with the Earthway for now and consider one (or both) of these other types next year.  If you have any personal experience with any of these units, feel free to comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on these.

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.

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.