New Mexico Urban Homesteader

Hello, I am A 50 Something, Prepper ;-}; former 60's Flower Child, don't believe in taxpayer subsidized special interest groups (political parties), DO believe in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (1st 10). Long time Independent & Informed Voter. Lover of the outdoors and firm believer that History Teaches - if only we will listen!

(No longer Urban or in NM. Now Rural in the mountains of Maine.)

This blog was started at the request of some dear friends that wish to become Preppers.

“No man who is not willing to help himself has any right to apply to his friends, or to the gods.”

Demosthenes (384–322 BC, Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens)

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Lazy Gardener and Self Reliance

“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.” - Helen Hayes

Ah gardening. That easy laid back relaxing past time – NOT! I’m a lazy gardener; I want the quickest, easiest, least amount of work and costs garden to produce the food I need. I have an advantage over most folks right now because it is just me and I. My children are grown and on their own and my daughter and grandson live in another state.

Although I am not an expert gardener I have gardened most of my life from the east coast to the west coast; arid lands to wet lands and I spent a good number of years on my grandparents farm in upper state New York. I have learned from others and made a ton of mistakes along the way and if I can help just one tentative gardener be successful then I will be happy and content.

When you garden for self reliance you must be vigilant and you must work for the harvest. There is nary a spare minute even if you are lazy like me. Let’s face it, self reliance is not a walk in the park, you have to want it enough to work for it and then reap the rewards. However that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy and have fun despite the work.

An advantage of self reliant gardening that quickly pops to mind is that you are not locked into huge plantings that would require machinery to harvest the produce. So that leaves you with the weeding and watering, along with the usual “frost patrol” responsibilities until harvest. You have the advantage of knowing what has gone into the soil of your plantings. You know the produce hasn’t been washed in some chemical bath or forced to ripen with some gas. I haven’t seen any scientific studies on this but, homegrown produce to me just plain tastes better too.

"Gardening is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow." - Unknown

I grew up back east and was always taught to do raised bed gardening. There was so much moisture that plant roots often got bogged down, hence the raised beds. When I moved to New Mexico I had to learn gardening all over again.

In the Southwest you need to protect the ground surface around your plants from arid, hot desert winds that suck the moisture right out of the soil very quickly when they blow by. Raised bed gardens are not the wisest things in the Southwest unless you create an elaborate wind break around them.

There are several ways to avoid the hot and dry winds. You can use sunken bed gardening or protected bed gardening. The Native Americans of the Southwest used “waffle” dry desert companion gardening. These were 1-2 foot sunken squares that were planted using the “3 Sisters” method of companion planting. The second method is to put a wind barrier around your garden, however if your garden is large, more than 6 feet along any side, you may still experience dried central areas of the garden and will need to water those areas more often. I prefer the waffle style of gardening. You plant in rows of waffles. Where each waffle is 1-2 feet square and these have raised sides of 6-8 inches.

I live at a rather high altitude in New Mexico so I had to also adapt to the temperature differences even though the growing season is not shortened like it is up north (east or west). Soon I will be moving to a semi-arid far north area and will have to adapt to a much shorter growing season.

I love the waffle companion method of gardening as it is the lazy person’s way to have a bountiful harvest without much work. I have a friend in Tennessee who uses a raised bed version of the desert waffle garden and she loves it.

The common trait between eastern and southwestern waffle gardening is really in the companion plantings per waffle. This type of gardening reduces the need to fertilize the soil or spray with any type (organic or poisonous) pesticides and crowds out most weeds, even the tenacious ones here in the desert. The companion plants of each waffle help ward off the insects, molds and diseases for each other while they draw and replace different nutrients from the soil. If the waffle is sunken or raised sided, in accordance to where you are located, you can reduce your water usage as well. In the Southwest the Native American’s rarely watered their waffle gardens after the plants neared their flowering stage.

For cheap easy gardening try straw bale, this is a type of raised bed gardening. If you live in the southwest place a straw bale in a large lawn and leaf bag; expose the top, then cut the baling wire; add your seeds and put some mulch or dirt on top; water and sit back and watch them grow. I have grown potato, corn, tomato, green beans, chili, cucumber, squash, melon, pumpkin and bell pepper. Many flowers grow in straw bale as well. If you live where it is humid, don’t put the bale in a trash bag and instead of cutting the bailing wire, just stab the top center a bit to loosen things up a bit and then plant.

One neighbor just got bags of planting soil, laid them in a nice boarder around his fence; slit the tops and planted. When he trimmed his trees and hedge he put the chipped trimmings over the plastic soil bags to hide them. Created a great garden with those but had to dispose of the plastic later on.

Soil preparation will need to be accomplished no matter where you are geographically, in a greenhouse, container style or out in a field and will vary from location to location, even on your own farm or backyard. This is where good information on composting will come in handy no matter if you are an experienced gardener or not.

If you are just starting and have tons of weeds or usually get a lot of weeds; dig down about 8-12 inches and then line that with a thick layer of newspaper, cardboard or paper bags and put the cleaned dirt back on top. These will decompose but in the meantime any weed roots/seeds will be exterminated.

"What is a weed? I have heard it said that there are sixty definitions. For me, a weed is a plant out of place." -- Donald Culross Peattie

Since I’m lazy I try to avoid tilling or double turning the garden as tilling the soil creates microscopic carnage. Things like earthworms, nematodes (yeah, they're beneficial), bacteria, protozoa and fungi can all die when you till. Did you know that every time you till you add oxygen to the soil. This creates a bloom of bacteria that digest your organic matter. So the organic matter you added when you tilled is consumed without being much use to your plants. To get around the destruction and work I use compost, my valley friend’s manure and newspaper.

Lay cardboard or eight sheets of newspaper down and add organic matter or leaves on top. You can also sprinkle a little cheap fertilizer around (6-8-6 or 10-10-10). The total depth should be at 6-8". Compost any remaining cardboard (the fertilizer will help this process) that hasn’t decomposed and sow the seeds or poke holes in the cardboard to plant. Make you organic matter from dirt, compost, aged manure, straw, shredded leaves or chipped tree trimmings. If you're short on dirt and compost, pile up the shredded leaves, straw, and any other big bulky material, then put the compost and topsoil in piles on the top. Use the little piles to plant in. This will reduce the amount of expensive topsoil or precious compost you would need. During the summer, the bulky matter will break down and compress, but you can add mulch on top to keep your plant roots covered.

Or you can dig a small hole, plant your plant and spread newspaper around the plant, right up to the stem. Then dump mulch and compost on top of the newspaper. The grass will die underneath and provide food for worms and other friendly life forms.

Newspaper appears to work best with the fertilizer ON TOP because it slowly filters down to the soil without harming the good bugs or the plants you want and it acts like a poor man’s timed release fertilizer or closer to the organic fertilizers, all while it helps break the paper down to make the compost.

Plus the fertilizer will jump start the soil and with constant feeding of compost and other fiber back into the soil it will continue to build it, not deplete it, as chemical fertilizer do over time.

The only drawback to this type of no-till planting is that root crops don’t seem to do very well the first year. I had carrots that divided when they hit large pieces of stuff, like shredded leaves and the potatoes grew sideways when they hit the newspapers.

Companion planting is also good for pest control but you can also purchase ladybugs and Praying Mantis at your local hardware store and they work wonders in the garden. Or use Diatomaceous earth on and around each plant. Diatomaceous earth is made of fossilized sea creatures and sharp - to bugs. Bird houses to attract wrens, pigeon doves, robins and the like that love to eat bugs are good to have around your garden. Hummingbirds are good too, but the feeders are just too much to me as they should be cleaned every other day or two, so I only keep the humming bird feeder out until the plants start to flower. This way the humming birds are already hooked on my yard by the time I stop filling the feeder and the flowers appear on the plants.

Worms are great for your garden too. Yep worms, the wonder bug. I currently live in a city and mostly container garden and since I started my small coffee can sized worm farm two years ago my plants haven’t been better. Not only that but when the “worm farm” got too crowded, I turned the worms loose on my small grass patch out back and the lawn is healthier than it has ever been. Yeah I do get a worm with wanderlust now and then, but it sure beats having to keep treating the soil in the containers every season!

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