And what about you and I? How do we get started with gardening and farming, if we did not grow up with our hands in the soil? How do we jump start the learning process, and become proficient ourselves? This article is to help break down the process a bit, and make it easier for your to create a garden this coming growing season. Perhaps you are like us, and have had a hobby garden, and are now ready to get serious with your farming activity, and want to expand your farm land, by reclaiming some existing ground around your home.
The size of your garden would depend on your needs and produce goals. So, what are your goals? Do you want to feed your family with 80% of your food consumption for one year? Do you want to plan on extra for hard times or for your neighbors if they become in need? Find a realistic goal, and don't bite off too much all at once.
Several sources talk about 1/2 an acre being enough land to feed a family of 4. I agree this is enough to provide the vegetables for a family of 4, but it would not supply all of the grains that my family consumes in a year. Your growing season and soil quality should also be taken into consideration. Growing cycles per growing season is a key consideration. How many times can you produce a crop from seed to harvest in the growing season? With creative planning, you can sneak in an extra growing cycle and perhaps two. (More on the idea of maximizing growing cycles further down in this article.)
|Three Stump Killers|
- Determine the largest plot or total plot area possible for you to farm. Note that I have increased what I thought was possible now three times, so count in the bramble patch, and perhaps even an area with trees, as the max potential you would have available.
- Determine the size of the area you would like to farm, regardless of the land available. If you want to farm more land than you have available, then you need to be more efficient with the space you have, and pray that the Lord leads to enlarge your borders. It may be a neighbor would let you grow crops on their land, or perhaps you could relocate.
- Clear the land if it has shrubs or trees. If there are large roots or rocks, it would be good to clear these also. When I have reclaimed land, I have removed what I could and I kept what I could not remove from the ground from growing again. What you leave in the soil will take years to rot away, and that after it has stopped trying to regrow.
- Take a soil analysis of the garden plot. I have written an article about why building your soil is important, and how to take a soil analysis.
- Amend your soil based on the soil analysis results to build the soil back to ideal nutrient quantities. Consider how to introduce organic matter to the garden. If the soil has not been actively improved, I would bet it could use more organic matter. Adding organic material to your farm will be one of your constant tasks. To impact the organic matter percentage of a large garden will require massive inputs of organic material.
- Gather the materials you will use for mulch. If you have access to manures, obtain as much as you plan to use for several years, and allow it to age and heat in a mound to kill the weed seeds. Note, you do not want to till in low nitrogen materials into your soils. The effect will be to rob the garden of nitrogen. Mulching on top of the soil is suggested, but remember if you mulch with wood chips, it may take several years for these to break down sufficiently to incorporate into the soil. Plan on adding nitrogen to wood chips and straw.
- With your goal dimensions in mind (from #2), set out your parameters and draw it out on paper, with dimensions. Note the lay of the land, and any shading that may impact your garden space. This drawing will be the basis for your garden planting and rotation plan.
- Figure out how much of each crop you would like to harvest. (Crop yields, garden yields). Your plan could be as elaborate as how much your farm will distribute each week via your CSA, or as simple as our plan to put up 104 quarts of pickles for the season, providing 2 quarts per week.
- Decide when you will grow what crops. Remember your predicted last frost date in the spring, and the first frost date in the fall. Here is a CSA harvest schedule as a sample, another, another, and another. (If you are launching a full blown CSA, you have a lot more work to do than I will list here in this article. Review the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Resource Guide for Farmers.)
- Layout your planting plan, based on what you need to grow, by row foot. Depending on the slope of your land you may want to lay out your rows with or parallel to the slope. If slope is not a factor, many references suggest planing your rows stretching north to south. The tall crops such as peas, beans and corn, should be planted on the north side of the vegetable garden. In this way they will not shade the rest of the vegetable crops.
- Determine your planting schedule, and what plants you want to start for transplants to get a head start on the growing season. Remember that you want to stretch your harvest out, so progressive plantings should be in your plan. For example: plant some lettuce every other week for a steady harvest of greens. You will need to have room for these future plantings. If you can fit in a cover crop, all the better!
- Weed the garden on a schedule. While your seedlings are small, keep the weeds down. When your vegetables are larger, mulch heavily to keep out the weeds, and improve the growing conditions. This pattern will greatly reduce the amount of work you have to expend on your garden in both weed control and watering.
- Take good notes. There is no way to recover information if you do not record it. Take notes on your planting, dates, pests and yields. You can use these records to create next years plan, and remember to rotate your crops.
- Try something new each year, just as an experiment. Try a new variety or new gardening method.
Also review the article: Creating an Orchard