Grow More Food – Part 3

Welcome back!  It’s time for part 3 in my 3-part series of how to grow your own food, how to grow organic food and feed your family on your own mini backyard farm.

You can read post 1 and post 2 by clicking the links.

Let’s recap the 8 steps to growing biointensively:

  1. Deep soil preparation,
  2. Feed the soil with compost,
  3. Use organic fertilizer (only when needed) “on the approved list of the California Certified Organic Farmers [CCOF]” ,
  4. Close spacing of plants in the growing area,
  5. Companion planting,
  6. Use open-pollinated seeds,
  7. Include high-carbon and and high-calorie plants and,
  8. Think of it as whole-system farming (closed systems).

So let’s discuss parts 6, 7, and 8.

6.  Use open-pollinated seeds

What is “open-pollination”?  It’s basically when a plant is pollinated via insect, bird, or wind, and sometimes humans.  The pollination usually creates a “true to type” offspring, meaning the offspring will be very similar to the parent plant. There are instances where this isn’t true, like if similar, but not exact, plants pollinate each other (why I won’t plant both dill and fennel).

I consider the opposite of open-pollination to be a hybridized offspring.  The problem with a hybrid plant is that the seeds won’t create the same offspring as the parent, and a person could wind up with a tomato plant that only makes leaves and no fruit, or something like that.  Hybrid plants are vigorous and strong but the offspring produced from their seeds will not be.

If you’re looking to save money growing your own food, open-pollinated seeds are what you need.  Seeds can be a each just cents on the dollar when you buy them, and free if you’re saving seeds from your best plants. And when you save seeds from your best plants, those genetics give you stronger and better producing plants.  

Open-pollinated seeds lasting many generations are known as heirloom varieties.

7.  Include high-carbon and and high-calorie plants

Why high carbon plants?  Plants that have a large amount of carbon in them, when broken down during composting, gives us back those carbon molecules that then go into our soil.  The carbon molecules were in the air, as the plant grew, it snatched them from the air.  Now that the molecules are in the soil, they’re more stable.  Organic matter in the soil feeds the microbes, which then adds nutrition and taste to our food.  We are looking for balance here.  We want a soil that is alive with microbes and organic matter.  We don’t want a dead soil.  And we need the carbon to help make more compost.

What are high-carbon crops.  Grains.  Yes, wheat, oats, rye.  Or corn.  But I also say there’s other high carbon plants.  Plants like zucchini with their big leaves, sunflowers with huge stems (I wouldn’t put the flower heads in there, too many seeds to worry about), brassicas (kale, cabbage, broccoli, etc), or a perennial legume like alfalfa (which is also nitrogen fixing)

Why do we want high-calorie crops?  Well, because our bodies can’t survive on fruit and greens alone.  Part of saving money is getting nutrition we need from our own back yards and that means food our body needs to move and get up in the morning.  

What is high-calorie crops?  Root vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts.  Beans, seeds, and nuts also have the benefit of adding some protein and/or fat.  Try these crops for your calorie-rich foods:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Corn
  • Winter Squash
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts (a legume)
  • (I’d also like to add Walnuts but keep in mind that these are a bitch to peel and shell)
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Avocado (if you’re in the right climate.  Zone 8 or above)
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
    (Don’t ask me what to do with the last two, I’ve never planted them or eaten them.  But they’re psuedo grains and I’m told fairly easy to work with as they don’t need to be hulled.  One of our local “Food Not Lawns” gurus plants amaranth in her front yard garden.)

8.  Think of it as whole-system farming (closed systems).

I’ll be straight up here, the term “Whole systems farming” had a pain in the ass definition that I can’t quite break down.  So I can’t explain the definition but I CAN explain the examples.

Basically you look at all the components in your system as a whole (“system” meaning your mini farm, homestead, garden, house, property as a whole) (“components” can be water, the food beds, the animal area, the compost bin, etc).  For example, you can look at what waste you have and how can you have less waste and keep the things on your property.

These are just some examples of ways you can incorporate closed-system thinking and whole-system thinking into your food production.  But there are many ideas out there and you can get as complex as you want (I don’t live with you, I’m not the boss of you).

Water

  • Harvest rainwater (see infographic, below) (check your laws first)
  • Use berms and swales on contour (more on this will be in another post
  • Build a greywater system (check your laws first)

 

Heat

  • Build a lean-to greenhouse against your home.  Plants produce heat and can grow in the winter months.  The heat generated can warm a portion of your home, reducing your use of the grid resources.

Food/Compost

  • Compost your scraps, or
  • Use vermicomposting and get the added benefit of worm castings, plus worm tea.
  • Use the compost to build your soil
  • Food grows and gets composted again.

Animals

  • Let rabbits and/or chickens eat kitchen scraps (do your research on what they can eat)
  • Let chickens live under rabbit cages, chickens eat flies
  • Chickens also eat black soldier fly larvae that might grow in your vermicomposting bins.  BSF larvae eat meat and baked goods and compost those items down.
  • Use compost from BSF larvae, rabbit manure and chicken manure.
  • Eggs from chickens
  • Potential meat from rabbits and chickens (depends on you).

Aquaponics
(here’s another infographic)

Source: Fix.com Blog

Grow More Food – Part 2

*this post contains an affiliate link.

Welcome to the week-long blog series to grow more food in your mini homestead garden through bio intensive methods.  In yesterday’s post I discussed the first two parts, let’s discuss the next three.  As a refresher, here are the parts to growing with this method:

  1. Deep soil preparation,
  2. Feed the soil with compost,
  3. Use organic fertilizer (only when needed) “on the approved list of the California Certified Organic Farmers [CCOF]” ,
  4. Close spacing of plants in the growing area,
  5. Companion planting,
  6. Use open-pollinated seeds,
  7. Include high-carbon and and high-calorie plants and,
  8. Think of it as whole-system farming (closed systems).

So let’s discuss parts 3, 4, and 5.

3.  Using organic fertilizer.

Hopefully you’ll only need to use this once per season.  I think of organic fertilizer as things like kelp, ground oyster shells, compost tea, worm castings tea, legume cover crops that have been “chopped and dropped”.  These are things that are at it’s most basic form, not messed with or processed.  Teas are concentrated mixes of water and the compost or castings.  Simple enough, right?  Kelp, oyster shells and legumes are still practically in their original form.  Chemicals and compounds haven’t been extracted or added.  And if you build up the soil properly with compost each year, you should only need fertilzer on the heavy feeders like squashes or tomatoes.  Or to amend the soil for things that need more acidity like blueberries (check your PH before you try to make the soil more acidic).

Legumes are a neat bunch.  Things like green beans, peas, alfalfa, clover, and lentils are in the legume family and they are able to “fix nitrogen.”  Nitrogen fixing means that the plants can pluck nitrogen right out of the air.  And when the legumes are cut back, the nitrogen is added to the soil and then other plants are able to use it.

Now, regarding the “approved list”.  I couldn’t find one.  I could find a list of what’s not permitted for certified organic producers through the federal code of regulations. But the CCOF website only allows members to view their materials list.  I’m not a member, I don’t plan on being one with my “whole” almost 1000 sq foot mini farm (and that includes 400 sq feet for the eventual chickens and honeybees).

4.  Close spacing of plants in the growing area.

This is where we get “intensive” with bio intensive.  We don’t plant in rows.  Instead, we plant in a hexagonal shape, or somehow offset the plants so that they fit in just a way that their leaves barely touch, giving us more plants in the same area.

In row planting the plants are measured on their center and spaced apart according to their maturity size.  For example, you would plant an Early Girl tomato 36 inches apart in rows.  In a 3 foot x 3 foot area that would give you ONE plant of Early Girl if you’re doing rows.  But, when I do intensive planting, I’d put SIX to NINE plants in that same 3 x 3 space.  Here’s a visual to help:

 

The first image shows hexagon planting, the second, row planting, the third is an overlay.  I count 15 plants on the hexagon grid and 12 on the row.  The images are the same size, as you can see from the overlay.

5.  Companion planting.

This isn’t just “plant tomatoes with carrots because they’re friends.”  This is (not not necessarily all):

  • plant things that share the same water requirements
  • plant legumes (nitrogen fixers) with squash (heavy feeders)
  • plants flowering plants that flower throughout the season to encourage honeybees.  Look for early flowering plants and late flowering plants.
  • plant things like corn, with sturdy stalks, to provide vine support
  • utilize all the layers of your garden (tall trees, small trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, ground covers, vines, and roots)
  • use green mulch: living plants that cover the soil to prevent the sun from baking it, block out the weeds, and hold in the moisture longer
  • this also means keeping similar plants further away from each other.  You might wind up with orangeish lemons, or really big oranges if you plants lemons, oranges and grapefruits together (I’ve seen it happen.  They were tasty but you never know if that will give you good results or bad results).  And dill should not be planted near fennel.  Be mindful of similar plants being cross pollinated and not giving you the results you want. Some sites recommend planting dill and fennel together, I personally would not do it.

The points above are also known as “guild building” and is an element of permaculture, a style of growing food that I study and follow.  A great book to read about permaculture and guild building is “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway. (affiliate link)

How Can I Get The Most Food From My Garden?

…and ere long the most valuable of all arts, will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community whose every member possesses this art, can ever be the victim of oppression of any of its forms. 

Abraham Lincoln made that statement as part of his speech before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society in September, 1859. In that speech he encouraged farmers to farm in smaller spaces. That the labor of farming would be lessened if they grew their wheat from five acres, down to one acre. But my biggest take away from that speech was that every member of this nation should be able to derive “a comfortable subsistence” from their own postage stamp on this planet. That we should all be growing and/or raising food for ourselves. But, who has the space and the time for all that?

My opinion? Bio Intensive Mini Farming is the answer to get the most food out of your garden.

Continue reading “How Can I Get The Most Food From My Garden?”

So You Want to Eat Organic, But It’s Too Expensive?

Maybe you’ve recently had kids and realize you want some better quality edibles for them.  You’ve decided to make your own baby food and organic sounds like something you’d want to try.  Or, you’re interested in changing your diet, maybe lose some weight, but definitely get healthier.  You’ve decided to eat real, whole, foods.

Continue reading “So You Want to Eat Organic, But It’s Too Expensive?”

Renovation Diaries: Kitchen Part 2 | Motivation and Clarity

At my weekly Al-Anon rallies we recite the Serenity Prayer at the beginning and end of each hour. The prayer reminds me that I must not waste energy on things I cannot control; and that I can direct my energy towards something more positive. Something that I can create, and grow, and nurture

I call it a rally because we support each other in a purpose. Rally, defined, means a group of people gathered together for a common cause or a target issue. In this case, our target is alcohol and how it’s made our lives unmanageable.Continue reading “Renovation Diaries: Kitchen Part 2 | Motivation and Clarity”

The Mini Farm Update

Note:  This post is image heavy.

 

Growing food, in a sense, is supposed to be simple and easy.  For me, it’s my chance to be in the dirt and to get centered.  It’s my escape from the chaos of parenting two high needs kids (even if they’re in the garden helping me) and working in the public sector.  And, for the most part, gardening IS simple and easy, but it can take a while to see results.  One change from year-to-year will take, well, a whole year, to know if the change I made was effective or not.

And so I started 2017 with a goal to feed our family of four 25%, from our own minifarm, of the produce we eat by the end of 2018.  We turned half of the backyard into a space for food production with about 580 square feet.

I dug paths and flipped sod over to create frameless raised beds.  I sowed seeds and transplanted seedlings.  I watched my young peach and cherry trees blossom and hoped that the tomatoes would grow tall enough before the walnut tree that hovered over the garden fully leafed out and shaded out the midday sun.

Here’s a detailed account of the HPF minifarm so far, for 2017:

Continue reading “The Mini Farm Update”

Urban Farm Tour 2016 | Watch As We Visit Four Urban Farms in Spokane

Summer 2016: we took an urban farm tour organized by the Master Gardener’s Extension of WSU in Spokane, WA, and learned about urban goats, chickens, market gardens, stacking income funnels, and that even in the summer, under greenhouse plastic, tomatoes love it when it’s hot.Continue reading “Urban Farm Tour 2016 | Watch As We Visit Four Urban Farms in Spokane”

Renovation Diaries: Kitchen 

We moved into our home in December 2014.  The neighbors thought we were some pretty nutty Californians moving in during winter.  Turns out it was a very mild winter and the governor of Washington declared a drought for 2015.

We bought our house sight unseen, except through photographs and a floor plan diagram my mother drew.  We left it to my parents to evaluate the state of the house and neighborhood.  Unfortunately even the home inspector couldn’t tell this place was lipstick on a pig.  My Mechanic jokes that we bought our own Money Pit.  Thankfully the stairs haven’t crashed down…yet.  Continue reading “Renovation Diaries: Kitchen “