Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Garden

Although this blog is primarily about renewable energy, it’s also about surviving and living comfortably in the event of a short or long-term disruption of energy or food supplies. While storage is a good solution for a short-term food shortage, growing it is the best solution for a long-term problem. As a bonus, those who grow their own enjoy tastier, healthier, and less costly food.

I begin early each spring by double-digging my garden area. In addition to the main area I prepare a couple of raised-beds by deeply loosening the soil and mixing in compost. I don’t use a tiller because I don’t want to chop up worms and beneficial bacteria, or destroy aeration and drainage. My garden is 100 percent organic and I don’t use pesticides or chemicals on my lawn, shrubs, or trees. This practice allows me to use plant wastes as compost. I find that because of composting, my plants don’t seem to need fertilizer. I avoid composting weeds because I don’t want their seeds to sprout, but all other plant matter is composted. Egg shells and waste such as shrimp peelings add calcium to the soil.

Late in July each year I have enough tomatoes to make canning worthwhile. I also freeze tomatoes and other vegetables, but I prefer canning, since those need not be refrigerated, and a long-term power outage will not result in spoilage.

Not being content with what I can grow in the summer, I’m also experimenting with techniques for growing vegetables indoors during the winter. I’ve found varieties of dwarf tomato plants that do well in cool weather, and with limited sunlight. Dwarf plants allow me to efficiently use the limited space that I have available for indoor growing. Some of the plants grow no bigger than 8 inches tall, yet produce clusters of good-tasting tomatoes. I use “free-power” from my solar photovoltaic system to run grow lights and bottom warmers in my sunroom. My plants seem to like a cycle of warm days and cool nights. I place fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent bulbs very close to the tops and sides of the plants to supplement natural light from windows. Growing veggies in the winter is an interesting project, and I’ll devote another blog post to that subject in the future.

To take advantage of the limited space available in my backyard, I’ve planted raspberries along a section of fence. Each summer I have raspberries to snack on, and enough to freeze for later use. I’ve made some tasty pies and jelly.

I attempted to grow field corn this year to fuel my corn-burning stove but had some problems with squirrels. I salvaged a few ears to use for next year’s seed and bought a live trap. I’m planning to relocate the squirrels I’m able to catch, and hopefully reduce the squirrel population in my neighborhood.

In order to minimize city-supplied water usage, I bought two fifty-five gallon plastic drums. I’m planning to divert rain water from my garage and home roofs to the drums, and then use the stored water as needed in the garden. At the present time I use soaker hoses, and I suspect that I’ll be able to pump water from the drums through them. I’m also considering a more sophisticated system using drip emitters. In the event of a water-supply disruption, this stored water could be filtered and used in my home. Stay tuned as I report my success or failure in this endeavor.

If you’re new to gardening it’s important to understand the importance of open-pollinated seeds and heirloom varieties. By using open-pollinated types you’ll be able to save seeds from your own successful crops for future use, reducing your gardening expenses. Don’t try that with a hybrid, the results are unpredictable. The amazing thing about open-pollinated seeds is that they are able to mutate and adapt to the local ecosystem, where hybrids cannot. Heirloom varieties are those that have been handed down from generation to generation, and are usually better-tasting than hybrid types.

Genetically altered seeds produce crops that are more suitable for marketing than their natural counterparts, but taste and nutrition usually suffer. Plants such as these may cause harmful reactions in those with allergies or sensitivities. In addition, these plants may have lost their ability to prevent cancer. On the other hand, fruits and vegetables produced from plants that have not been genetically modified taste much better than any you’ll ever buy from a grocery store, and they’re better for you. They make gardening worthwhile for me.

Support biodiversity: Because of standardization, all plants of a specific variety share the same strengths and weaknesses. Since they share the same weaknesses, a single fungus or disease can wipe out an entire crop. Growing heirloom vegetables provides humanity with a hedge against future massive crop failures.

It’s also important to understand the dangers of using chemical fertilizer and pesticides in the garden. For more information, visit: If you’re as old as I am you might remember tadpoles and crawdads in creaks and streams. Sadly, because of chemical runoff from products such as Monsanto’s Roundup, you don’t see them anymore. I hope you’ll do your part to reverse this trend, and encourage others to do the same. It is unfortunate that we cannot rely on our government, or on agribusiness, to do the right thing.

Although I’ve been gardening for many years, the gardenweb forums have been extremely helpful, especially when it comes to indoor growing. Check them out at:

Here are a few sources of seeds, and other supplies for the organic gardener:

Solar John

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