Think you have to grow a huge garden to be self-sufficient? Think again! It’s amazing what a big difference even a small garden can make in securing food independence and security!
By Cheryl Aker, Pasture Deficit Disorder
Hello, fellow Homesteaders of America! I’m a new contributor here and I’m excited to share my homesteading journey with you. Let’s dive right in.
Tale of a Garden Fail
My garden last year was an epic failure. I think it got too hot too soon and then the grass and weeds started growing with a vengeance. Why is it that grass in the yard dies without lots of water, but grass and weeds in the garden grow with wild abandon with no watering, no rain? It’s like the garden was determined to return to a state of native pasture. Ugh. While I was disappointed, I also have to say I didn’t miss standing out in 100+ degrees with 85% humidity last summer to keep the garden watered.
I always have such a sense of wonder when something that started as a tiny little seed is now providing me with food to eat. But this spring, while I was reading about everyone planning their gardens and starting their seeds, I was doing exactly none of that. I was still so disappointed over last summer. But I also found myself missing the whole process – dreaming over the seed catalog all winter, starting little seeds, delighting when they sprouted, transplanting them, and eventually harvesting the fruits of my labors.
And then, enter a global pandemic.
I started thinking even if I was getting a late start, anything I could grow would be better than nothing. Garden Fever took hold once again.
Gardening doesn’t have to be all or nothing, go big or go home. You don’t have to plant a whole farm. You can grow a lot of food in containers, backyard gardens, and raised beds.
At the beginning of the pandemic and all the grocery store hoarding, I was really worried about the availability of fresh food. Mid-March is late to just be getting started in my area (central Texas, zone 8), but let’s face it, I rarely get my garden planted on-time anyway. 😉
Getting Started Growing a Small Garden
The garden was still a certifiable mess and it was already getting too hot for me to spend the serious time required to get it under control (I should have been doing that all winter). I usually grow bush beans – I really like Roma beans – but this year I decided to grow pole beans and let them climb the garden fence. I chopped and hacked about a foot-wide strip along the fence – just enough to get some bean seeds sown and I planted two rows of beans about twenty feet long.
Meanwhile, I put my beautiful potting bench that I built (all by myself) to work and started some zucchini, yellow squash, basil, cilantro, and jalapeno seeds. I didn’t have a plan for where to put all those yet, but I started them anyway.
In the past, I tried using weed barrier in my garden, but last year the grass and weeds just grew right through and around it. Now I can’t even rent a tiller to try and get the garden under control because where there is weed barrier it will get all tangled up in the tiller. Hard lesson learned. I’ll have to work on excavating that over the winter because it’s just not something I can do in the brutal Texas summer heat and humidity.
Switching to Raised Beds and Containers
I’ve been rethinking my garden strategy for a while now. I put a lot of thought into switching to raised bed gardens, but I just didn’t think I could pull it off this year.
On a day off from work in April, I went to buy some supplies for a raised bed. Using non-treated cedar decking boards, I built a 4 ft. x 8 ft. x 1 ft. raised bed all by myself while hubby was stuck at his computer for work. Yes! Unsupervised with the power tools. HA! (Watch for a post on building my raised bed coming very soon.)
Even though I didn’t buy any new seeds this year I had plenty to choose from. (Hello, my name is Cheryl and I might have a seed-buying addiction). I planted several in each little starter pot, not knowing how successful the germination would be. Well, everything came up! Am I the only one that can’t bring themselves to pitch out a little seedling, even when I don’t need that many full-grown plants? I mean, that cute little seed went to all the trouble to sprout and grow a beautiful first set of leaves. Who am I to deny it a chance to show its stuff?
When most gardeners in my area were harvesting squash and beans, my plants were barely big enough to transplant. I just kept reminding myself that it’s better late than never, and a little bit is better than nothing.
Hubby surprised me by suggesting we put my newly built raised bed in the barnyard, the only other place around here besides the old garden that is safe from our dogs, chickens, and cows. We’ve already been transplanting a lot of our herbs that made it through the winter in the barnyard. We got my new raised bed filled with soil just in time to get things transplanted.
I also got six big heavy-duty empty cattle protein tubs from our neighbors to use for container gardening. I drilled holes in the bottom and filled them with soil. I planted all my tomatoes and cilantro in those containers and placed them on a bed of mulch along the fence.
But please do yourself a favor and whatever you’re using to stake the tomato plants, set it up early while the tomato plants are still small and don’t need to be staked yet. (Ask me how I know. Smacks forehead.)
Along another fence, I planted most of the squash seedlings in the ground and planted another four squash in half of my raised bed. All the jalapenos are in the raised bed too. The basil went into several five-gallon pots. Anyone else have a problem with growing too much basil? I mean way too much basil. That’s not just me, right?
Harvesting the Small Garden Bounty
My garden may be much smaller this year, but it is producing mightily.
I planted six zucchini and six yellow squash, a dozen tomatoes, and a dozen jalapeno peppers. I’ve given away over 20 pounds of squash. I’ve made dehydrated squash chips, zoodles (spiralized squash) for cooking fresh, zoodles for the freezer, grated up squash for cooking/baking fresh, and more for the freezer. I still have squash on every counter in the kitchen!
I have 11 pints of diced tomatoes in the freezer and I canned four pints of spaghetti/pizza sauce. There are lots more tomatoes right next to the squash on every counter. No really. Every. Counter.
I also have jalapenos waiting to be made into jalapeno poppers for the freezer and I’m going to try dehydrating some and making jalapeno powder. My favorite go-to summer meal is toast and tomatoes with crumbled goat cheese with a side of cheesy squash “breadsticks.” Mmmm mmm!
Oh, and those green beans? We pressure-canned green beans on three different occasions. Each batch was between 15 and 21 jars and now we have a total of 58 pints of green beans! Those little batches add up. For the two of us, eating about one pint of green beans per week – that will last us for a year.
There’s More To It Than Just Vegetables
I’ve got all the materials to build another raised bed. I’d like to get it ready for a fall/winter garden. I have to remind myself throughout the brutal Texas summers that the reward is an almost year-round growing season. We have encountered some shortages of certain foods here and there throughout this pandemic. Have you thought about or read about our broken food system?
Do yourself a favor and grow your own food. Any little bit is better than nothing. Just get started and grow something. Anything. Not only are you less dependent on others to supply all your food, but you are also better prepared to endure tough times.
You also have the opportunity to teach your children to garden and the value of understanding where food comes from. And it is a wonderful chance to create lasting memories while you do it.
I was talking to a dear friend of mine about gardening and she vividly remembers her mom’s huge garden when she was a kid. She realizes now that her mom was canning and putting up food to get them through lean financial times. But she also lovingly recalls some of her happiest childhood memories were times that they sat on the front porch snapping beans and shelling peas. She loved digging potatoes, onions, and carrots and couldn’t wait to see how big each one was – it was like a treasure hunt.
I’ve always loved the sayings “when you garden you grow” and “playing in the soil is good for the soul.” Now go grow something! You’ll be so glad you did.
In 2011, when my hubby and I bought our little 10-acre homestead, it started out resembling a moonscape. But it came roaring back to life with some tender loving care and well-timed, much-needed rain. The Pasture, as it has come to be known, is now teeming with life. And we suffer from Pasture Deficit Disorder anytime we’re away from it. Along the way, we’ve added chickens, longhorn cows, and plenty of cats and dogs to the mix! We grow a few veggies, a few peaches, lots of herbs, and harvest native pecans and wild dewberries. We’ve taught ourselves how to install hundreds of feet of water lines, build a chicken coop, build lots and lots (and lots) of fencing, build decks, and we even built a 28 ft. x 56 ft. post-frame barn – all just the two of us! Grab a cup of coffee and join us for our adventures.