Friday, February 1, 2013

5 Ways to Have a Self-Sufficient Garden

You've probably noticed that there's a lot of talk these days about self-sufficiency.  People are striving to reduce their impact on the environment by improving how things work.  Self-sufficiency is a great goal to have for your garden as well.  Not only does being self-sufficient help the environment but it makes a cheaper and healthier garden.  Today for the Friday Fives we'll explore a few ways you can make your vegetable garden more self-sufficient!


5 Ways to Have a Self-Sufficient Garden


(Please note that these are only five of many possible ways to improve self-sufficiency in the home garden.  They are hopefully the easiest ways to implement for any home gardener!)


Compost

Compost can work miracles in the garden!  It's not just about the soil but it's also about the microbes in the soil that do all the work.  Those microbes break down the waste materials in the compost into usable nutrients that aid with plant nutrition. Compost rich soil is great for balancing water issues.  It does a great job at retaining moisture in the right amounts.  Compost comes from your kitchen, your yard waste, animals, and anything organic.  My favorite form of compost comes from the leaves of the trees.  I mulch with it and throw it in the bin to decay over time.  Compost is one of the best ways to have a self-sufficient garden.  Your plants need the nutrients! Compost bins can be as simple as my pallet bin or a mound in the back corner of the yard.

Catching Water

Capturing water from the rain is a great way to improve your garden's self-sufficiency and have a water-wise garden.  Rain barrels or cisterns capture the rain water to save it for a dry periods.  Some gardeners collect the condensation water from their air conditioner in the summer to use in the garden.  Others will stick a bucket in the shower with them when they bath to collect water and use in the garden.  Systems for rain catching generally use an existing structure like the roof of a shed or barn to catch water for later use.  Larger operations will use retaining ponds to save water and irrigate crops with it.

Growing Cover Crops

Plant nutrition is essential and cover crops can help with that.  After growing nutrient intensive vegetables a garden needs replenished with compost or fertilizers.  The need for fertilizers can be greatly diminished by planting cover crops that return the nutrients to the soil like clover.  As a legume, clover does an excellent job at capturing nitrogen.  When it decays in the soil the nitrogen breaks down and other plants get to use it.  I've even used clover clippings from the yard to make a clover tea.  I'll let it the clover steep in the sun for a day or two in a bottle of water then water plants with it.

red clover cover crop
Red Clover planted as a cover crop on a farm near us.

Avoid Pesticides with Companion Planting

Companion planting is one of my favorite techniques for pest control.  Companion plants offer protection for crops by encouraging pest predators to visit the garden.  My favorite garden vegetable is the tomato which I also always plant near basil.  Basil protects tomatoes from the tomato hornworm (in my experience).  I haven't seen that fat green worm eating tomato plants in my garden since I started planting basil nearby.  Other companion planting combinations can be used to protect other vegetables.  An excellent resource on companion planting is the book Carrots Love Tomatoes (Amazon Link). Not only does it contain companion planting ideas for your vegetable garden but it also has some very useful information on how to grow many of your favorite plants.

Save Your Own Seeds

I love collecting seeds.  It's one of the reasons I primarily grow heirlooms in my garden.  An heirloom plant generally will breed a very similar plant from its seeds as long as it hasn't cross pollinated with another variety.  That makes a hybrid.  To save seeds reliably you often have to isolate plants if you grow more than one variety of the same plant.  If you grow a 'Moon and Stars' watermelon and nearby have an 'Orangeglo' you might end up with one you could call 'Orange Moon', 'Orange Stars', or 'Glo-Moon' but chances are it would not be the same as the mommy and daddy watermelon. That's not a bad thing necessarily unless you really want the exact same plant from your seeds every year.  Hybrids can be tastier, more unique, or have a better disease resistance.  Often they aren't.  It's a roll of the dice that can be kind of fun to experiment with and see the result.  The key is to never plant a vegetable you don't like so that if something does cross you'll end up with a plant that has some of the good qualities of the parent plants.

Saving your own seeds saves you money but if done selectively can also create better adapted strains of the vegetables you like.  Only collect seeds from plants that have performed very well in your garden and display desirable characteristics.  If you planted two 'Brandywine' tomato plants next to each other and one experienced wilt but the other didn't - save seeds from the one that didn't.  You may have discovered a strain that could be more resistant!  That would be something worth saving!


From the soil to the table a self-sufficient garden would do it all. How self-sufficient is your garden?

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