Thursday, April 24, 2014
Over the last couple of weeks 'two' new Neighborhood Dirt groups have been formed, they will henceforth be designated as Neighborhood Dirt #2 and #3. A fourth group is in the making as I write this. We have for obvious reasons opted not to disclose the areas in which these groups are located in, that is up to them to release that information. Great work people, keep it up and as it begins to catch on, this area could bolster even greater things!
Sunday, April 20, 2014
April 9, 2013 By Fritz Kreiss
First of all, Monsanto or nobody else can actually OWN these varieties of seed, but as developers of some of these varieties and as suppliers of them under many different companies it can be hard to tell who owns what. It does not stand to reason that any crop of these varieties growing today or anytime in the future will be genetically modified in any way. Some of these varieties can be found without any continuing connection to Monsanto or Seminis but it is important to be a little more cautious with these.
If you are the type of gardener who purchases vegetable seeds or seedlings, including tomato plants from a local garden center, be mindful the varieties you choose. Conversely, you might be placing money into the hands of Monsanto Corporation. Below is the list of Seminis/Monsanto home-garden vegetable variations. It’s often best to buy directly from seed farmers and companies that you can trust (you can find many of them here)
Print this list, and keep a copy in your wallet. Don’t be caught off guard the next time you impulse shop at a big-box garden center.
The seed varieties you have obtained as “heirlooms” from heirloom or organic seed companies are “NOT” GMO seeds, even though they are officially “owned” by Monsanto. As far as we know, the only GMO vegetable seeds available for sale today are new hybrid varieties of zucchini and summer squash, so be sure you order these from certified organic suppliers.
Please understand that Monsanto only owns the trademark names for these “heirloom” varieties. This strategic move holds two advantages for Monsanto:
1.) It prevents new companies from naming new varieties with these or very similar names.
2.) It is an effort to stop lucrative sales by these other companies trying to leverage the heirloom name and consumer loyalty for those heirloom varieties.
If you have left over seeds, do not be reluctant to plant them. Monsanto will only profit from customers purchasing these varieties from companies that are stocking seeds obtained directly from Monsanto or one of its distributors.
Beans: Aliconte, Brio, Bronco, Cadillac, Ebro, Etna, Eureka, Festina, Gina, Goldmine, Goldenchild, Labrador, Lynx, Magnum, Matador, Spartacus, Storm, Strike, Stringless Blue Lake 7, Tapia, Tema
Broccoli: Coronado Crown, Major, Packman
Cabbage: Atlantis, Golden Acre, Headstart, Platinum Dynasty, Red Dynasty
Carrot: Bilbo, Envy, Forto, Juliana, Karina, Koroda PS, Royal Chantenay, Sweetness III
Cauliflower: Cheddar, Minuteman
Cucumber: Babylon, Cool Breeze Imp., Dasher II, Emporator, Eureka, Fanfare HG, Marketmore 76, Mathilde, Moctezuma, Orient Express II, Peal, Poinsett 76, Salad Bush, Sweet Slice, Sweet Success PS, Talladega
Eggplant: Black Beauty, Fairytale, Gretel, Hansel, Lavender Touch, Twinkle, White Lightening
Hot Pepper: Anaheim TMR 23, Ancho Saint Martin, Big Bomb, Big Chile brand of Sahuaro, Caribbean Red, Cayenne Large Red Thick, Chichen Itza, Chichimeca, Corcel, Garden Salsa SG, Habanero, Holy Mole brand of Salvatierro, Hungarian Yellow Wax Hot, Ixtapa X3R, Lapid, Mariachi brand of Rio de Oro, Mesilla, Milta, Mucho Nacho brand of Grande, Nainari, Serrano del Sol brand of Tuxtlas, Super Chile, Tam Vera Cruz
Lettuce: Braveheart, Conquistador
Melon: Early Dew, Sante Fe, Saturno
Onion: Candy, Cannonball, Century, Red Zeppelin, Savannah Sweet, Sierra Blanca, Sterling, Vision
Pumpkin: Applachian, Harvest Moon, Jamboree HG, Orange Smoothie, Phantom, Prize Winner, Rumbo, Snackface, Spirit, Spooktacular, Trickster
Squash: Ambassador, Canesi, Clarita, Commander, Dixie, Early Butternut, Gold Rush, Grey Zucchini, Greyzini, Lolita, Papaya Pear, Peter Pan, Portofino, President, Richgreen Hybrid Zucchini, Storr’s Green, Sungreen, Sunny Delight, Taybelle PM
Sweet Corn: Devotion, Fantasia, Merit, Obession, Passion, Temptation
Sweet Pepper: Baron, Bell Boy, Big Bertha PS, Biscayne, Blushing Beauty, Bounty, California Wonder 300, Camelot, Capistrano, Cherry Pick, Chocolate Beauty, Corno Verde, Cubanelle W, Dumpling brand of Pritavit, Early Sunsation, Flexum, Fooled You brand of Dulce, Giant Marconi, Gypsy, Jumper, Key West, King Arthur, North Star, Orange Blaze, Pimiento Elite, Red Knight, Satsuma, Socrates, Super Heavyweight, Sweet Spot
Tomato: Amsterdam, Beefmaster, Betterboy, Big Beef, Burpee’s Big Boy, Caramba, Celebrity, Cupid, Early Girl, Granny Smith, Health Kick, Husky Cherry Red, Jetsetter brand of Jack, Lemon Boy, Margharita, Margo, Marmande VF PS, Marmara, Patio, Phoenix, Poseidon 43, Roma VF, Royesta, Sun Sugar, Super Marzano, Sweet Baby Girl, Tiffany, Tye-Dye, Viva Italia, Yaqui
Watermelon: Apollo, Charleston Grey, Crimson Glory, Crimson Sweet, Eureka, Jade Star, Mickylee, Olympia
For more info on how to boycott Monsanto in the seed industry please check out Monsanto-Free Seed Companies for a listing of safe and secure seed suppliers that have no Monsanto affiliations.
Dr Sears (alsearsmd.com/GMOfoods) Reveals the Shocking Truth About GMO Seeds and Food: by Sara, The Healthy Home Economist.
Seed catalogs are starting to arrive in mailboxes across the Northern Hemisphere with home gardeners everywhere starting to plan which seeds they will sow in their spring gardens.
A positive trend in recent years is the growing number of gardening enthusiasts choosing to plant gardens using organic and/or heirloom seeds.
What most of these home gardeners don’t realize is that corporate behemoth and GMO titan Monsanto has been gobbling up the seed market faster than a caterpillar can munch a tomato plant! With one fell swoop in 2005, Monsanto grabbed approximately 40% of the US vegetable seed market with its acquisition of Seminis.
This means that a home gardener could unknowingly be supporting the development and proliferation of genetically modified crops if the seeds used are from Seminis. In addition, Monsanto now apparently owns many of the names of the seed varieties themselves!
Planting a sustainable home garden is much more than just choosing certified organic seeds and seedlings because Monsanto has cleverly positioned itself to make money off the home gardening trend.
Does this mean that even if you buy organic or heirloom seeds from a completely independent company some of your purchase might be supporting the bad guys?
Yes, it does.
Home gardeners would do well to bone up on where to purchase their seeds so they aren’t inadvertently doing business with companies that maintain a working relationship with Monsanto-Seminis or were acquired by them.
My friend Beth in Minnesota, an avid food researcher, has been digging around to figure out the best ways to buy seeds and seedlings for your home garden without one red cent going to Monsanto.
Buying Organic or Heirloom Seeds Without Supporting Monsanto
Beth has done her very best to make sure the information she has uncovered is current and pertinent with updated listings for the 2013 growing season. Here are the steps she recommends for those who want to truly strike a blow for sustainability in every way with their home gardens:
1. Avoid buying from the seed companies affiliated with Monsanto. Here’s a list of these seed companies (click under “Where to Buy” and select your location for a list of dealers to avoid): http://www.seminis.com/global/us/Pages/default.aspx
2. Buy from this list of companies Monsanto HASN’T bought and are not affiliated or do business with Seminis. http://www.seedsave.org/
3. Avoid certain heirloom varieties because Monsanto now apparently owns the names. This article lists the seed varieties to avoid:
http://againstthewall.info/2013/04/09/monsanto-owned-heirloom-seednames-to-watch-out-for/ Unfortunately the foregoing site has been shut down.
4. Ask seed companies if they have taken the Safe Seed Pledge. Here’s a list of companies that have done so:
More Background on Monsanto’s Quest for World Seed Domination
Monsanto’s corporate quest is clearly to make money on each and every one of us whether we choose to eat supermarket frankenfoods produced with abominable, patented GM crops or carefully plant and tend an organic garden at home. Here’s some background information on the subject you may find interesting as well as enlightening:
-http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2012/02/forewarned-is-forearmed-veggie-varieties-owned-by-monsanto/ -http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2012/02/keep-monsanto-out-of-your-veggie-patch/ -http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/keep-monsanto-out-of-your-garden-this-spring.html
Please spread the word via gardening forums you may participate in that folks need to be very careful when seed sourcing for their spring gardens this year else they might be unknowingly supporting Monsanto.
Let’s make this the year when Monsanto’s grip on the worldwide seed market loosens and the movement to seed sustainability gains momentum!
**Update: The day after this article was published, the CEO of a large soybean seed company in the Midwest emailed me complaining that the article was short sighted and insisting that Monsanto is helping feed the starving people of the world. He even went so far as to say that GMO crops are “proven safe”. Click here for the text of this CEO’s entire email plus my written reply.
I have also received email complaints from two other seed companies, one in Canada and one in Arkansas, that do business with Monsanto-Seminis and were offended by what they viewed as inaccuracies in the post. In response, I have adjusted the text slightly and moved linked sources to within the text rather than only listed at the end to make the message of the post as clear and precise as possible so as to not result in any consumer confusion over the information.
I have received no complaints about this article from seed companies completely independent of any affiliation or ties to Monsanto-Seminis.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Companion Planting with Asparagus: Plant with Basil, Parsley and Tomatoes.
Parsley and asparagus are mutually beneficial in promoting one another’s health and vigor. Tomatoes contain a substance called solanine, which protects against asparagus beetles; tomatoes also attract the natural predators of the asparagus beetle. Diseases: Asparagus Rust, Fusarium, Needle Blight, and Purple Spot. Pests: Asparagus Aphid, Asparagus Beetles.
Adverse plants: none.
How to grow: Asparagus must be grown in rich fertile soil (preferably sandy loam) in full sun (no shade), which helps to prevent diseases. This perennial vegetable is extremely easy to grow once established, which can take 2-3 years (3 years from seed) before you can harvest your first spear. Soil should have a Ph of 7.0 and a temperature of 50 degrees at planting. Soak crowns an hour or so before planting.
Preparing the bed: After amending the soil with good rotted compost or manure, plant asparagus crowns in trenches eight to twelve inches deep having a convex (arched or rounded) center running lengthwise to the trench. The middle of the asparagus crown is placed on top of the raised portion of the bed down in the trench allowing the long roots to gently rest on either side of the slope. Spread the roots out in the trench 12 to 18 inches apart and cover them with two inches of soil. As the hair like ferns appear cover them again. Do this until the trench is filled.
Asparagus plants are monoecious meaning each individual plant is either male or female. Some varieties of asparagus, such as ‘Jersey Knight’ and ‘Jersey Giant’ produce all male or primarily male plants, so they’re more productive. Male plants yield more harvestable shoots because they don’t have to invest energy in producing seeds. Choose an all male variety if high yields id your primary goal. If you like to experiment, you may also want to grow an heirloom variety or purple-stalked variety like ‘Purple Passion.’ With an all male variety, 25 plants are usually adequate for a family of four; plant double that amount for standard varieties. Ardent asparagus lovers recommend tripling these quantities.
Starting asparagus from one year-old crowns gives you a year’s head start over seed-grown plants. Two year-old crowns are usually not a bargain. They tend to suffer more from transplant shock and won’t produce any faster than one year-old crowns. Buy crowns from a reputable nursery that sells fresh, firm, disease-free roots. Plant them immediately if possible; otherwise wrap them in slightly damp sphagnum moss until you are ready to plant.
Leave winterkilled foliage, along with straw or other light mulch, on the bed to provide winter protection. Remove and destroy the fernlike foliage before new growth appears in spring; it can harbor disease and pest eggs. I prefer cutting the ferns out in the fall after several hard freezes and place more chips and not straw on the beds. Straw seems to attract slugs in my garden so I generally stay away from it.
In the North, like here in Idaho, start seedlings indoors in late February or early March. Sow seeds in damp newspaper and place them in a sunny window or under lights; use bottom heat to maintain a temperature of 770F. When seeds sprout, lower the temperature to 600 to 700 F. When tiny flowers appear, observe them with a magnifying glass. Female flowers have well-developed, three-lobed pistils; male blossoms are larger and longer than the female flowers. Weed out all female plants if high yields are desired. The following spring transplant the males to the permanent bed.
Problems: Healthy asparagus foliage is necessary for good root and spear production. Asparagus beetles, which chew on spears in spring and attack summer foliage, are the most prevalent problem. There are two kinds of asparagus beetles, one of which over-winters in fallen berries- so if you cull the females, you'll only have the other kind to combat. I've found that the females just don't thrive as well as the males- especially when conditions are less than ideal. Maybe the extra energy used to grow the berries taps them out. Or maybe it's that my Martha Washington’s just aren't a good as those Jersey Kings.
The ¼ inch long, metallic blue-black pests have three white or yellow spots on their backs. They lay dark eggs along the leaves; which hatch into light gray or brown larvae with black heads and feet. Control by hand picking; spray or dust seriously infested plants with insecticidal soap. These methods also control the 12-spotted asparagus beetle, which is reddish brown with six black spots on each wing cover. Asparagus miner is another foliage-feeding pest; it makes zig-zag tunnels on the stalks. Destroy any infested ferns. Planting tomatoes close by will attract predators that feed on asparagus beetles (see notes above), also it is said that powdered eggshell sprinkled on infected areas will detour and even kill beetles, slugs and snails. Planting parsley will increase vigor in asparagus plants.
How to grow seed: Asparagus is a perennial, pollinated by insects. Female plants have a fewer number of thick stalks. Male plants have a higher number of thinner stalks. The female plants will yield the seed berries. The berries are ready to harvest when they turn red and their fern-like top leaves flop over. Cut the tall berry stalk off the plant and hang it inside for ten days to dry. Remove the berries from the stalk and let them soak in a bowl of water for at least an hour to make them easier to open and remove the seeds. Dry the seeds on a paper towel for several days and store in a paper envelope or cloth bag in a dry, cool area. Asparagus grown from seed takes THREE years to produce asparagus for the table. It will then produce asparagus each year for about 15 to 20 years.
How and when to harvest: This spring plant should not be harvested the first year after planting and best not to harvest the second year as well. In warmer environments mature asparagus spears needs to be harvested twice a day because of its quick growth. Harvest spears when they are 9 to 10 inches tall. They can be snapped off separating the tender editable portion from the woody by bending them over with the thump, index and forefinger close to the ground, it is best to cut them below ground level to prohibit disease. It is thought by most people that the thick spears are woody and the thin spears are tender, not so; the thick spears are the earlier growth yielding the greatest harvest, the thin or skinny spears come at the end of the harvest season telling the grower that the plant is dwindling in strength. When thin spears equate to 40 to 50 percent of the harvest it is time to curtail harvesting for that year.
How to prepare for winter: Cut out all yellowing and green asparagus spears (stalks and ferns) an inch or two below ground level. Clean out all weeds. Rake back all of the old mulch (save, it will be added back later). Add azomite rock dust and new compost and mulch to the bed, then replace old mulch. Note: If you are using wood chips as a mulch/fertilizer just add the azomite and compost on top of the chips, the fall and spring rains will help this material penetrate to the root system without involving the above labor. (Love those chips!)
Health benefits: Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin B6, calcium, zinc and magnesium. The vegetable also contains relatively high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K (blood clotting and strengthening bones), thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic acid, iron, phosphorus, copper, potassium, selenium and manganese. Asparagus contains a unique carb called inulin, which remains undigested until it reaches the large intestine where it helps absorb nutrients better, cutting the risk of colon cancer.
The second century physician Galen described asparagus as “cleansing and healing” and research indicates that eating asparagus can help control diabetes, acts as a diuretic, prevents kidney stones, and reduces the risk of neural tube defects in babies.
Diabetes: Research at the Karachi University in Pakistan found that eating asparagus may help control type 2 diabetes. Their study was published in the British journal of Nutrition. According to the authors, asparagus “exerts anti-diabetic effects by improving insulin secretion and B-cell function, as well as the antioxidant status.”
As a diuretic and preventing kidney stones: According to an article titled: “Chemical constituents of Asparagus”, published in the journal Pharmacognosy Review, asparagus, “helps flush out the kidneys and helps in the prevention of the formation of kidney stones.”
Reducing the risk of neural tube defects in babies: Asparagus contains almost half a person’s recommended daily intake of folate. Folate helps prevent neural tube defects in babies. According to KidsHealth.org, there are various studies that have shown that “women who eat 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily prior to conception and during early pregnancy reduce the risk that their baby will be born with a serious neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord) by up to 70 percent.
Asparagus can naturally reverse cancer and is a good detoxifier; 10 to 15 spears daily to fight cancer. Most important it is a great source of Glutathione, which is the most significant Phytochemical in the body (a super antioxidant), which can protect the skin from sun damage, pollution and the effects of aging.
Risks: You should not eat asparagus if you are allergic to it. People who are sensitive to other vegetables belonging to the Liliaceae family (onions, garlic, and chives) should be cautious as they are at a higher risk of being allergic to asparagus.
Monday, April 14, 2014
It took over 20 years of gardening to realize that I didn’t have to work so hard to achieve a fruitful harvest. As the limitless energy of my youth gradually gave way to the physical realities of mid-life, the slow accretion of experience eventually led to an awareness that less work can result in greater crop yields.
Inspired in part by Masanobu Fukuoka’s book, One Straw Revolution, my family experimented with gardening methods which could increase yields with less effort. Fukuoka spent over three decades perfecting his so-called “do-nothing” technique: commonsense, sustainable practices that all but eliminate the use of pesticides, fertilizer, tillage, and perhaps most significantly, wasteful effort.
Here are the strategies we used which enabled us to greatly increase our garden yield, while requiring less time and less work.
1. Use the ‘no-till’ method of gardening
‘No-till’ gardening is a series of methods in which the soil is never disturbed, thereby protecting the complex subsoil environment for the benefit of growing plants. Amendments such as compost, manure, peat, lime and organic fertilizer are simply added to the top of the garden beds, and over time they will be incorporated into the subsoil by watering and the activity of subsoil organisms. There is no need to dig anything into the soil.
With ‘no-till’ gardening, weeding is largely eliminated. The use of mulch blocks soil-borne weeds from emerging, and any weeds which do emerge are easy to pull out because the soil is always moist. This moist, spongy soil is also the perfect medium to boost the growth of your seedlings and transplants. This process mimics the way plants grow successively in nature.
By switching to ‘no-till’ methods, you won’t have to do the heavy tilling or shovel work which so many gardeners suffer through each spring. You will need to ensure the beds remain well mulched, and take care to never step on the beds. To learn more about this gardening method, read our article No-Till Gardening.
2. Mulch, and mulch again
A thick layer of mulch around your plants and over the entire bed will enhance the growing conditions for garden plants while reducing time spent weeding and watering.
Mulch saves water because it reduces water lost to evaporation, and it prevents the surface of the soil from drying out. The need for regular watering is greatly reduced. Mulch also blocks weeds from sprouting, and any weeds that make it through are easy to pull since their roots are in moist, loose soil. Mulch is an essential garden amendment in areas where water is scarce.
Gardeners are always on the lookout for free sources of clean organic mulch to add to their garden. Lawn clippings are a ready source, and fresh clippings are nitrogen-rich. If plants are close to fruiting, however, let grass clippings go dry and brown before using. Fall leaves, straw (not hay), seaweed, and forest duff can be used as mulch. Bark mulch, landscape cloth, geotextiles or plastic materials should not be used as mulch on vegetable beds.
View this chart of the common materials used for mulch and their properties when in use.
Once mulch is in place, it doesn’t need to be disturbed. Amendments like lime, compost and rock phosphate can be top-dressed. When transplanting or sowing seeds, simply part the mulch to sow seeds, then fold it back in place as seedlings take root.
The mulch you apply to your beds will gradually disappear as it breaks down and becomes incorporated into the soil. You’ll need to reapply mulch to your beds regularly, how often depending on the type of mulch used and the time of year. As the mulch gets thinner and disappears, you’ll know it all went into building new soil for the next crop.
3. Plant ‘green manure’ cover crops between rotations
By planting green manure cover crops, such as peas, vetch, rye or buckwheat, between crop rotations, we don’t have to purchase and haul heavy bags of peat moss as often. And we buy fewer bags of composted steer manure for fertilizer. The green manure crop is easy to seed, and when mature, it’s easy to turn under in preparation for the following vegetable crop.
Using green manures complements the ‘no-till’ method. Green manures and cover crops can be used to improve soil aeration, tilth and fertility without digging into the soil. Cover crops should be turned under before going to seed, but this can be done with minimal soil disturbance. We cut our cover crops to ground level using a garden shears, and leave the clippings in place, or we ‘smother’ the crop with a heavy mulch like seaweed. This creates a ‘lasagna effect’, and enables us to replant the bed without disturbing the soil. It also saves the work of tilling and weeding usually associated with gardening.
Here are some other ways green manure saves work:
*Displaces weeds. Nature abhors a vacuum, and any exposed soil will soon be covered with weeds. Planting cover crops makes it more difficult for new weeds to get established.
*Reduces the need for peat. Each bag of peat we use has to be picked up and put down about 4 times before the peat is spread onto the garden beds. We need the peat to lighten and help aerate the soil, but green manure also contributes to the soil in much the same way.
*Reduces the need for fertilizer. Leguminous green manures will fix nitrogen into the soil, thereby reducing the fertilizer needed for new crops. We still need some fertilizer, and use canola meal for this. A benefit of using canola meal is that, unlike steer manure, it is lightweight and gardeners don’t have to worry about stray seeds being imported into the garden.
4. Grow in Raised Beds
After a few hours in the garden, my back would gradually get sore and tired, sending me indoors for a cup of tea and a different activity. And as middle-age wanes, the flexibility of the back and knees seems to diminish. One day I noticed that our best beds, the ones which were well tended and yielded good harvests, were the tallest beds. My wife and I, it seemed, each gravitated to these beds because they were easier to tend than the ground-level beds.
Over the years we have converted the entire garden to raised beds. Today, we can enjoy gardening longer, without sore backs! And the garden is evenly productive, since all beds are equally comfortable to tend. After experimenting with various configurations, we’ve settled on beds which are 4’ wide, so we can reach across the bed from one side. Our garden is on sloping ground, so we built our beds 18” tall on the high side and about 6” – 10” on the low side. We work mainly from the high sides.
Raised beds have also enabled us to control the pathway weeds which used to encroach on the ground beds. By having the bed sides as barriers, it’s easy to control pathway weeds by laying down sheets of cardboard or bark mulch. The garden is tidier now and gives us a feeling that things are not growing out of control. And we spend almost no time weeding!
5. Use soaker hoses for watering
For too many gardening seasons, we dragged the hose from bed to bed in order to keep our garden watered. We were slaves to dry weather, often changing our personal schedules to be in the garden to water a bed with starter plants. Care was taken to avoid watering the leaves of some plants, like tomatoes, to prevent blight, which meant we couldn’t just set a sprinkler and leave. Watering was done by hand since different crops had different water requirements.
Today, we simply turn on the water spigot and each bed receives a slow, steady flow of water directly to the root zones. Soaker hoses are laid on beds, delivering slow, steady dripping to the plant root zones. This saves us time, and also saves water since no spray is lost to wind, and our pathways do not get watered. This is important because pathway weeds will dry up and require less work in weeding. Less work!
Soaker hoses can be laid beneath light mulch, like straw, so they’re not visible. We also use a battery-powered electric timer to turn on the soaker hoses, and to turn them off after a designated period. This enables us to be off-site, without worrying about watering our vegetable plots.
To our surprise, we’ve had more consistent gardening results since switching to the soaker hose and timer system. The plants are bigger and the yield is greater. The slow, steady supply of water enables the roots to maintain a slow intake, feeding their natural absorption capacity. Our hand-watering practice, on the other hand, applied the water faster, and in larger amounts, which resulted in considerable water lost to runoff (which watered the pathway weeds) and less water actually being absorbed by the plant roots. We found that use of soaker hoses helped us achieve better garden production with less work.
Here in North America, we have a cultural notion that hard work is a good thing. I prefer to think that results are a good thing. If we can enjoy better results in gardening with less work, more people will be encouraged to try gardening, and those who already have gardens will enjoy it that much more.
This article is an excerpt from The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, written by the late John Seymour and first published by Dorling Kindersley in Britain in 1976. The book has become a treasured classic for back-to-the-landers and is now available in a beautifully illustrated 400-page edition.
Expert advice on how to establish self-sufficient food production, including guidance on crop rotations, raising livestock and grazing management. Your 1-acre homestead can be divided into land for raising livestock and a garden for raising fruits, vegetables, plus some grain and forage crops.
Everyone will have a different approach to keeping a self-sufficient homestead, and it’s unlikely that any two 1-acre farms will follow the same plan or methods or agree completely on how to homestead. Some people like cows; other people are afraid of them. Some people like goats; other people cannot keep them out of the garden. Some people will not slaughter animals and have to sell their surplus stock off to people who will kill them; others will not sell surplus stock off at all because they know that the animals will be killed; and still others will slaughter their own animals to provide their family with healthy meat.
For myself, on a 1-acre farm of good, well-drained land, I would keep a cow and a goat, a few pigs and maybe a dozen hens. The goat would provide me with milk when the cow was dry. I might keep two or more goats, in fact. I would have the dairy cow (a Jersey) to provide the pigs and me with milk. More importantly, I would keep her to provide heaps and heaps of lovely cow manure to increase my soil fertility, for in order to derive any sort of living from that 1 acre without the application of a lot of artificial fertilizer, it would have to be heavily manured.
RAISING A DAIRY COW
Cow or no cow? The pros and cons are many and various for a self-sufficient homestead. In favor of raising a cow is the fact that nothing keeps the health of a family — and a farm — at a high level better than a dairy cow. If you and your children have ample good, fresh, un-pasteurized, unadulterated dairy products, you will be well positioned to be a healthy family. If your pigs and poultry get their share of the milk by-products, especially whey, they likely will be healthy, too. If your garden gets plenty of cow manure, your soil fertility will continuously increase, along with your yields.
On the other hand, the food that you buy for this family cow will cost you hundreds of dollars each year. Compared with how much money you would spend on dairy products each year, the fresh milk supply from the cow plus the increased value of the eggs, poultry and pig meat that you will get, along with your ever-growing soil fertility, will quickly make a family cow a worthwhile investment. But a serious counter-consideration is that you will have to take on the responsibility of milking a cow. (For different milking plans and estimated savings, see Keep a Family Cow and Enjoy Delicious Milk, Cream, Cheese and More.) Milking a cow doesn’t take very long — perhaps eight minutes — and it’s very pleasant if you know how to do it and if she is a quiet, docile cow — but you will have to do it. Buying a dairy cow is a very important step, and you shouldn’t do it unless you do not intend to go away very much, or unless you can make arrangements for somebody else to take over your milking duties while you’re gone. So let’s plan our 1-acre farm on the assumption that we are going to keep a dairy cow.
1-ACRE FARM WITH A FAMILY COW
Half of your land would be put down to grass, leaving half an acre arable (not allowing for the land on which the house and other buildings stand). The grass half could remain permanent pasture and never be plowed up at all, or you could plan crop rotations by plowing it up, say, every four years. If you do the latter, it is best done in strips of a quarter of the half-acre so that each year you’re planting a grass, clover and herb mixture on an eighth of your acre of land. This crop rotation will result in some freshly sown pasture every year, some 2-year-old field, some 3-year-old field and some 4-year-old field, resulting in more productive land.
At the first sign the grass patch is suffering from overgrazing, take the cow away. The point of strip grazing (also called intensive rotational grazing) is that grass grows better and produces more if it is allowed to grow for as long as possible before being grazed or cut all the way down, and then allowed to rest again. In such intensive husbandry as we are envisaging for this self-sufficient homestead, careful grazing management will be essential.
Tether-grazing on such a small area may work better than using electric fencing. A little Jersey cow quickly gets used to being tethered and this was, indeed, the system that the breed was developed for on the island of Jersey (where they were first bred). I so unequivocally recommend a Jersey cow to the 1-acre farmer because I am convinced that, for this purpose, she is without any peer. Your half-acre of grass, when established, should provide your cow with nearly all the food she needs for the summer months. You are unlikely to get any hay from the half-acre as well, but if the grass grows faster than the cow can eat it, then you could cut some of it for hay.
The remaining half of your homestead — the arable half — would be farmed as a highly intensive garden. It would be divided, ideally, into four plots, around which all the annual crops that you want to grow follow each other in a strict crop rotation.
An ideal crop rotation might go something like this:
— Grass (for four years) — Plot 1: Potatoes — Plot 2: Legumes (pea and bean family) — Plot 3: Brassicas (cabbage family) — Plot 4: Root vegetables (carrots, beets, and so on) — Grass again (for four years)
Consider the advantages of this kind of crop rotation. A quarter of your arable land will be a newly plowed-up 4-year-old field every year, with intensely fertile soil because of the stored-up fertility of all the grass, clover and herbs that have just been plowed-in to rot with four summers’ worth of cow manure. Because your cow will be wintered on purchased hay, and treading and dunging on purchased straw, you will have an enormous quantity of marvelous muck and cow manure to put on your arable land. All of the crop residues that you cannot consume will help feed the cow, pigs or poultry, and I would be surprised if, after following this crop rotation and grazing management plan for a few years, you didn’t find that your acre of land had increased enormously in soil fertility, and that it was producing more food for humans than many a 10-acre farm run on ordinary commercial lines.
HALF-ACRE CROP ROTATION
Some might complain that by having half your acre down to grass, you confine your gardening activities to a mere half-acre. But actually, half an acre is quite a lot, and if you garden it well, it will grow more food for you than if you were to “scratch” over a whole acre. Being under grass (and grazed and dunged) for half of its life will enormously increase the half-acre’s soil fertility. I think you will actually grow more vegetables on this plot than you would on a whole acre if you had no cow or grass break.
TIPS FOR THE SELF-SUFFICIENT HOMESTEAD
A dairy cow will not be able to stay outdoors all year. She would horribly overgraze such a small acreage. She should spend most of the winter indoors, only being turned out during the daytime in dry weather to get a little exercise and fresh air. Cows do not really benefit from being out in winter weather. Your cow would be, for the most part, better if kept inside where she would make lovely manure while feeding on the crops you grew for her in the garden. In the summer you would let her out, night and day, for as long as you find the pasture is not being overgrazed. You would probably find that your cow did not need hay at all during the summer, but she would be entirely dependent on it throughout the winter, and you could plan on having to buy her at least a ton. If you wanted to rear her yearly calf until he reached some value, you would likely need a further half-ton of hay (much more for Kooskia Idaho). I have kept my cow on deep litter: The layer of straw gets turned into good manure, and I add more clean straw every day. I have milked a cow this way for years, and the perfect milk made good butter and cheese, and stored well. Although more labor-intensive, you could keep your cow on a concrete floor instead (insulated if possible), and giver her a good bed of straw every day. You would remove the soiled straw daily, and carefully pile it into a muckheap that would be your fount of fertility for everything on your acre.
Pigs would have to be confined in a house for at least part of the year (and you would need to provide straw for them), because, on a 1-acre farm, you are unlikely to have enough fresh land to keep them healthy. The best option would be a movable house with a strong movable fence outside it, but you could have a permanent pigpen instead.
The pigs would have a lot of outdoor work to do: They would spend part of their time plowing up your eighth of an acre of grassland, and they could run over your cultivated land after you have harvested your crops. They could only do this if you had time to let them do it, as sometimes you would be in too much of a hurry to get the next crop in. As for food, you would have to buy some wheat, barley or corn. This, supplemented with the skim milk and whey you would have from your dairy cow, plus a share of the garden produce and such specially grown fodder crops as you could spare the land for, would keep them excellently.
If you could find a neighbor who would let you use a boar, I recommend that you keep a sow and breed her. She could give you 20 piglets a year, two or three of which you could keep to fatten for your bacon and ham supply. The rest you could sell as weanlings (piglets eight to 12 weeks old), and they would probably bring in enough money to pay for the food you had to buy for all your other livestock. If you could not get the service of a boar, you could always buy weanlings yourself — just enough for your own use — and fatten them.
Poultry could be kept in a permanent house in one corner of your garden, or, preferably, in mobile coops on the land, so they could be moved over the grassland and improve soil fertility with their scratching and dunging. I would not recommend keeping very many birds, as just a dozen hens should give you enough eggs for a small family with a few to occasionally sell or give away in summertime. You would have to buy a little grain for them, and in the winter some protein supplement, unless you could grow enough beans. You could try growing sunflowers, buckwheat or other food especially for them.
Goats, if kept instead of a dairy cow (or in addition to), could be managed in much the same way, however you would not have as much whey and skim milk to rear pigs and poultry on, and you would not build up the fertility of your land as quickly as you could with a cow. You would only get a fraction of the manure from goats, but on the other hand you would not have to buy nearly as much hay and straw — perhaps not any. For a farmer wanting to have a completely self-sufficient homestead on 1 acre, dairy goats are a good option.
Crops would be all of the ordinary garden crops (fruits and vegetables), plus as much land as you could spare for fodder crops for animals. Bear in mind that practically any garden crop that you grew for yourself would be good for the animals too, so any surplus crops would go to them. You would not need a compost pile — your animals could be your compost pile.
Half an acre, farmed as a garden with wheat grown in the other half-acre, is worth a try if you kept no animals at all, or maybe only some poultry. You would then practice a crop rotation as described above, but substitute wheat for the grass and clover field. If you are a vegetarian, this may be quite a good solution. But you could not hope to increase the soil fertility, and therefore the productiveness, of your land as much as with animals.
Most of us living in Kooskia have more than just one acre to work with, so by just doubling the acreage to 2 acres from that which presented in the above article one should find adequate success. It is no secret that the vast majority of the acres in Kooskia may be on a hillside or at least sloped but with a little dozer work and some ingenuity, we too can attain our goal of a self-sustaining homestead; especially if high tunnels (hoop houses) row covers and cold frames were employed instead of the conventional plowing and planting method. I have always loved sitting on a tractor tilling the ground (as a hobby), I have also believed that it was just the way things ought to be if one wanted to produce an abundance of food, but even old dogs can learn new tricks. Personally I have been amazed at my results using the no-till gardening process; additionally I am greatly pleased with the water conservation and nutrients offered by the use of wood chips as mulch! Just think about it, no back breaking labor with a rototiller, maintenance and fuel of a tractor, the saving of our precious water resources (especially for those whose only supply of water is a spring) and the financial savings by not using soil damaging chemical fertilizers, it all just makes sense to me.