Growing your own food

Posted by: Susan

Growing your own food - 12/01/07 08:27 PM

Well, growing your own food isn't as simple as it sounds. There's a lot more to it than just sticking some seeds in the ground and standing back.

A few things that I've learned about growing food in the past few years here in the Pacific Northwest:

That old farmer was right: you need to do everything when it needs to be done, not when it's convenient.

The condition of the soil is 90% of the battle. Poor soil = poor crops. If a Depression started right after Christmas, I would be SOL.

The soil test shows some nutrients are missing. I need to grow more cover crops like clover to add nitrogen, and add lime to raise the calcium level and the pH.

Beans really will grow up corn stalks. The corn was poor due to nutrient deficiency (they take more nitrogen than practically any other crop), but the Romano pole beans were wonderful.

I think I've got the corn planting thing figured out: plant the early kind when the soil temp is at least 65F three inches deep, then 10 days later plant the mid-season kind, then 10 days later plant the late-season kind.

Asparagus are a pain to plant, but they can produce for over 25 years.

Don't try growing strawberries unless you have a good supply of Sluggo or other non-toxic iron phosphate-based killer. Same for lettuce.

Artichokes can be grown here as perennials -- the guy who told me to mulch them heavily with ground bark knew his stuff.

Homegrown carrots are totally superior to store carrots. Fence them off next time so the dog doesn't do the harvesting.

Blueberries also do well here. Again, fence them off next time so the dog doesn't do the harvesting. And the chickens will chase the dog off and then jump straight up and grab the berries. That explains why there were no berries less than three feet off the ground last year...

If you grow pole beans on supports other than corn, put up the supports even before you plant the beans. Having to tear them apart, cut off the tops and wind them around supports when they're half-grown is a PITA, and they don't produce well afterwards. (Dummy!)

Bush beans need to be picked all at the same time (good for freezing or processing), but pole beans produce gradually so you can have them fresh over a longer season.

Don't plant cucumbers that close together again -- there wasn't enough room on the trellis.

Eight Butternut squash plants planted in improved soil can produce about 50 viable squashes.

Investigate drip irrigation... handwatering takes too long and probably isn't as effective. Remember those poor watermelons.

If you grow sunflowers for seeds, put paper bags over their heads before they even start to ripen. The birds don't care if they're ripe-- maybe they're easier to eat when the shells are softer. But they can strip a big sunflower in 1.5 days.

The neighbor says to plant pumpkins all the way around the corn patch to keep out the raccoons, as the pumpkins are stickery. I don't know about this, as they're pretty stubborn. But, since the corn was such a bust, it didn't matter this year.

The 2x4 welded wire fencing laid flat on the ground really does keep out deer.

Fence out those chickens! It isn't their pecking as much as it is the scratching damage from their big feet! Fortunately, they're a heavy breed that doesn't fly much, so 24" poultry netting will do fine.

Bell peppers either need to be planted earlier and covered, or just kept covered with some kind of clear, ventilated little greenhouse, esp if you want colored ones.

Plant the tomatoes earlier and put the 5-gallon water jugs (with cut-off bottoms) over them. This esp applies to the larger types of tomatoes.

Keep the dog away from the cherry tomatoes.

Try leeks again, but get them in EARLIER!

Grow more sugar snap peas as they can be eaten whole. Regular English peas sure take a lot of hulling to make a few servings!

Grow potatoes under soil next time. This business about setting them on the top of the soil and covering them with straw doesn't seem to work too well. Esp if you're not religious about keeping the straw deep enough (sunlight makes green potatoes).

One or two zucchini plants are enough.

Alfalfa meal makes a good fertilizer for adding nitrogen.

Learning more all the time. Next year should be better.

Posted by: CityBoyGoneCountry

Re: Growing your own food - 12/01/07 08:35 PM

Gardening is my favorite hobby. I love doing it so much that I even considered starting my own nursery business. Unfortunately, the amount of money needed to start any kind of business is more than I have, so it remains a dream for me.

I just want to say that all the critters that come to eat your garden can be eaten by you... in a survival situation, of course.
Posted by: NeighborBill

Re: Growing your own food - 12/01/07 10:38 PM

Only tomatoes I managed this year were a yellow heirloom variety. My heirloom Roma's never even started to turn red...WAY too wet here earlier in the year.

Also, tomatoes don't like shade, and they don't like +95F temps.

Harvested peppers until last week. Cukes did fine but petered out by August.

Next year I'll try again smile

Maybe this time I'll pay attention to the planting guide I got from the local food co-op.
Posted by: raydarkhorse

Re: Growing your own food - 12/01/07 10:43 PM

Mother earth news put out a book several years ago about what types of plants do well together and which ones are good for pest control, both creepy crawly and four legged types. Sorry but there is no way to really stop the chickens short of the frying pan, the fence will work for a little while but my grandmothers chickens would dig under the fence.
If you use drip irrigation make sure you put plans together that like the same amounts of water, corn will not do well if you water it as much as melons.
Support your tomatoes like you would the pole beans in addition to the pails.
Cucumbers planted around the melons will produce sweet cucumbers.
A good time to add chemicals is when till under with this year’s garden. I found this good for my plot but it will cause plants coming up in random places next year.
Hot peppers are good pest deterrent to some pest but I have seen dogs harvesting them up to and including habaneros. good luck and happy gardening.
Posted by: redflare

Re: Growing your own food - 12/02/07 09:27 AM

Great info, thanks Susan!

I am guessing that one can trade with neighbors for things that are not grown on once private garden, so being completely self-sufficient is rather difficult.

How much land do you think a family needs to grow enough calories to sustain one adult? This should probably include buildings for chickens and such.
Posted by: CityBoyGoneCountry

Re: Growing your own food - 12/02/07 12:35 PM

Originally Posted By: redflare
How much land do you think a family needs to grow enough calories to sustain one adult? This should probably include buildings for chickens and such.

For one adult? Probably not even an acre.

I recommend reading The Self-Sufficient Life And How To Live It by John Seymour. It's one of my favorite books.
Posted by: NeighborBill

Re: Growing your own food - 12/02/07 02:17 PM

One acre is optimistic. A mainly vegetarian diet in less than ideal soil conditions (think raised bed gardens) would require about 2--3 acres per adult (10 acres/family of four/2 adults/2 kids under teen years).

Been there, done that. Above requirements include outbuildings, main dwelling, wellhouse, septic, pond, and fuel (scrub oak).
Posted by: Blast

Re: Growing your own food - 12/02/07 02:39 PM

Something ate all the leaves off my beans. I had to treat them every few days with pesticide to slow this down, even then I lost mos of the crop.

My zucchini never did anything. It grew maybe a foot, put out a few blossoms but never any fruit. Meanwhile the family down the street had there backyard over run with zucchini. I think mine weren't getting enough sunlight.

Even my jerusalem artichokes died. The only thing that produced well this year was the okra. I'll be planting a lot more of that along with attemps at "Three Sisters" planting. Maybe that'll work.

Posted by: RobertRogers

Re: Growing your own food - 12/03/07 01:23 AM

Yes, gardening is like working for a living. When you work for a paycheck the government is right there expecting its cut. Well, it is the same thing when you work in a garden - nature wants its cut of the proceeds too.

I might back off on the pesticide. I figure if it kills insects, some of the toughest creatures on the planet then what is it doing to you? Sure, your bigger than those bugs and so you and your family can take more of the stuff (and you will be eating pesticide residue if you use it on your crops). But is this wise? Up to you.

Often if you do some research there are more natural remedies that will allow you a good harvest even if the insects and other creatures take a small cut for themselves. I find this works better for us all around.

Posted by: raydarkhorse

Re: Growing your own food - 12/03/07 02:58 AM

When I was a teenager I fed 2 adults, 2 teenagers, and a child on a 1/2-acre. There was plenty for all of us to eat and can, and more than enough to share with the neighbors. My best friend and his wife plant a plot aprrox. 50’X30’ and it feeds his whole family for about ½ the year, they do it more to have fresh vegetables than necessity like when I was a kid. Depending on the soil and location an acre would be more than enough for you and a fairly large family leaving some for seed and to trade and barter with.
Posted by: UTAlumnus

Re: Growing your own food - 12/03/07 03:16 AM

Blueberries also do well here. Again, fence them off next time so the dog doesn't do the harvesting. And the chickens will chase the dog off and then jump straight up and grab the berries. That explains why there were no berries less than three feet off the ground last year...

Try bird netting the whole bush instead of fencing. It will also keep out the assorted flying birds in addition to the chickens.

Investigate drip irrigation

Either that or use a movable yard sprinkler

Grow potatoes under soil next time.

Best way Granddad found to harvest potatoes was to plow the patch at the end of the season. Separate any that you cut from the rest & use them first.

Posted by: GarlyDog

Re: Growing your own food - 12/03/07 03:55 AM

If you want to grow a garden, and space is limited, these techniques work well.
Posted by: mark161

Re: Growing your own food - 12/06/07 02:24 AM


You mentioned poor soil. If you keep your chickens in one pen or close to it use their droppings, but make sure you compost it first or it will "burn" your plants. If you do that first though it is great for gardens mine produced like a champ this year.

Also watch where you plant pumpkins because mine grew every where this year and it was too close to the yellow squash and got a little cross breeding. Wierd and wasn't tasty at all frown

Posted by: Susan

Re: Growing your own food - 12/11/07 03:00 AM

Mark, I built a sturdy chicken tractor when I first got my hens. It is so sturdy that it is almost impossible to move. I got the materials to build a lightweight one for daytime use (nights = raccoons & opossums), but haven't done so yet. Then I intend to move it around with the girls in it, so they can eat the weeds, scratch for bugs, manure the soil, etc, and I can plant after them. It will also help to keep them out of all the stuff that they and their BIG SCRATCHING FEET get into.

Sue and "Attack of the Killer Chickens" (Henrietta, Agnes, Myrna, and Tallulah)
Posted by: williamlatham

Re: Growing your own food - 12/12/07 04:30 PM


There was an article in Mother Earth News a couple of years ago about that very thing. Good going. How large is yours (or what is the approximate forrage area under the tractor?

Posted by: Susan

Re: Growing your own food - 12/16/07 06:31 AM

The pen is 4'x10'x3' tall, wrapped with 1/2" hardware cloth. The top lifts up (3 piano hinges), chicken wire covered that wavy fiberglass stuff. It has a plywood sleeve around one end that breaks the wind (that's where the perch is), and the nest box hangs on metal straps inside the other end. My brother put wheels on one end, but they don't work very well due to the weight. Since I don't move it much, I keep it about 6-8" deep in oat straw. I toss a handful of sunflower chips over the straw, and they fluff up the straw looking for the seeds. If it isn't raining or snowing, I usually let them run loose most of the day. They go back inside by themselves close to dusk, and I just close the small door and pin it closed.

The light one will be 4x8x2' tall, made from just 2x2s and chicken wire, with just an 18x18" door in the top of one corner for putting them in. To let them out, all I have to do is lift the pen.

When it rains, they come up on the deck and line up, staring in the glass door. Four hens looking in, four cats staring out.

Posted by: NorCalDennis

Re: Growing your own food - 02/02/08 09:21 PM

I don't know if Handyman found this thread about 5 pages deep, but I gained a great deal of great information from this thread too.
Posted by: jaywalke

Re: Growing your own food - 02/04/08 03:56 AM

Originally Posted By: Susan
Well, growing your own food isn't as simple as it sounds.

Heeheehee. This sounds like a discussion that's been brewing at my house. My LS grew up in the suburbs, while I grew up on a farm. She wants a garden. I say, "Have a lovely time with that endeavor." I served my time in the fields from when I was old enough to walk until I escaped to college, and I won't do it again by choice.

Growing and preserving your own food is back-breaking work (during the best recreational time of the year) that only pays out at pennies per hour. I am a big fan of farmers' markets and co-operative growing agreements (i.e. buying a share in a farm, sharing the risk and being rewarded with a family-sized share of the harvest) instead.

If I had to plant a garden to survive, I could and would. Right now, I don't have to and I'd rather pay someone else, locally and directly, who wants to.