Hey, let’s go grow an apocalypse garden
At the beginning of each month I clear the family dry-erase calendar and write in the next month’s dates, and then fill in the important activities. For the first time ever I awoke to the surreal realization that there was not a single activity on our calendar. I mean, I knew there was nothing going on but the visual for some reason brought it all home. The weekends and weekdays no longer matter too much but although nothing is on the calendar it doesn’t mean nothing is happening, there has still been plenty to do and our family has found ourselves very busy at times and then not so much at others. Of course, for those that are providing vital services, i.e. the medical care workers and grocers, etc, likely have lives that verge on frantic. It’s true that the activities on my calendar are not vital. For most of human history people did not go out to rock concerts, take their kids to soccer games, go out for tacos and margaritas, etc. Nope, the primary focus for most families was to acquire food, prepare it and eat it. Recapturing some of this spirit will serve us very well and now is as good a time as any to roll up the sleeves and dig in. Clearly many families are concerned about upcoming food shortages in a time of crisis. The most empowering endeavor during a time like this is simply to take some control of your food supply which can offer piece of mind that stockpiling bags of rice cannot. I am sympathetic to the fact that not all have the space to do this although it’s surprisingly easy to find area to grow as long as there is some yard you have access to as many vegetables can be grown in pots. Ideally a garden bed plot or raised beds will grow much more.
This first post will be an introduction to beginning a garden with a handful or two of vegetable varieties that are very versatile. From here I will post new recipes and re-post some older recipes that feature these few vegetables in simple yet (hopefully) interesting ways to keep your family healthy and confident in your food supply. Fresh produce combined with your stockpile of dried rice and beans can keep you healthy long term. Most of us have a little (or lot) of spare time, especially those with kids, so this is pretty much the perfect project for the timeline we are in. Let’s get started with the gardening. I am going to make a small list of staple crops that are hardy, easy to grow, and have big yields. Considering the time of year, I am recommending starts for most of these vegetables. Growing from seed is great and I recommend it but for this project let’s get your garden up and running asap and grow from starts. If you want to just buy a bunch of starts and plop them in the ground you will have some degree of success, however below is a pretty concise growing list for those that would like to dial the garden in a little more. `
Fertilizer: Purchasing one box of organic garden fertilizer and one box of lime from a garden store should cover the small garden for a season. If you have berries, add in a box of acidic plant fertilizer as well. All garden areas, except potatoes, should be blended with lime. Mix lime into all beds first, except potatoes. The arithmetic for the amount per sq. footage will be on the box. Fertilizer is variety dependent, info per crop to follow. Figuring out fertilizer amounts is a little art and science, the box formula helps but you also will inevitably learn to guesstimate as well.
Soil amendments: It’s very likely that you could use a little extra soil substrate to lighten up your dirt before planting, or potting/planting soil if you have beds just to fill the box or pot. Garden beds swallow soil so if you have new ones, it will take a lot to fill them and hopefully you have some dirt from somewhere else in the yard you can harvest to put into the new beds. Either way though, you will probably benefit from buying a few bags of prepared garden soil. Often times, potting soil will have fertilizer mixed into it. I prefer to find ones that do not, however if they do keep this in mind as you will need less added fertilizer when planting`.
Any vegetable grown and harvested under the soil needs minimal to medium additional fertilizer. Root crops are biennial. During the first growing season the root stores up and saves energy to utilize the following season… but we are gonna snatch them up and use that energy for ourselves. The soil for growing roots must not be dense, clay or have rocks or anything else that might interfere with the vegetables growth which of course is underground. Root vegetables can be grown in the ground or raised beds.
Carrots: The common wisdom for carrots has been to only grow from seed and never from starts. I have found however though that purchased starts actually grow pretty well and cut way down on the notoriously long growing time of carrots. Carrot starts come in little trays and need to be spaced out at least 6” from each start. The dirt under carrots more than any other root must not be hard, which might interfere with the carrot root growth. Pick the best soil in your yard to plant your carrots. Of all the roots, carrots are the most ideal to grow in raised beds. Work potting or planting soil into your dirt to lighten up the planting area if needed.
Beets: Are very, very easy to grow as they develop right at the soil surface so they do pretty well in a variety of soil conditions. Beets do like a soil to be more nutritionally fertile than other roots though so give them some fertilizer. Beets grow fairly quick from seed so they are worth planting directly but starts are fine too if you can find them. The seeds are also large which makes it easy to space properly. Just use a finger to dig out a row in a bed or a small shovel or spade in a garden plot. Drop a seed every few inches and cover with dirt and mound a little extra atop the trough.
Potatoes: Are unique in this list of vegetables as they like an acidic soil whereas the rest prefer the pH a little higher. It’s a lot to get into but where I live (the Pacific Northwest) or anywhere else where it rains a lot, acidic soil is pretty much a guarantee. As mentioned at the beginning, we will add lime to all other gardening areas to raise the soil pH and add vital calcium and magnesium but leaving the potato area alone. Another factor that makes potatoes unique is they grow from potatoes, no seed or starts necessary. So, those old potatoes you did not eat in time are now potato starts. Potatoes can be grown in beds or ground, however the soil, like carrots must be loose and not compacted. You can dramatically increase the yield of a small potato plot if you do it right. More on that later. Many gardeners plant their potato starts on St Patty’s Day however this is a little early and risky as the starts are susceptible to frost damage. It’s usually better to wait 2-3 weeks later until early to mid-April which should give you a little more confidence in your crop taking off and thriving.
First, acquire the starts: As previously mentioned, your old potatoes that have grown a sprout, are now a start and will grow in your garden assuming the parent potato was grown locally as well. Starts can also be purchased at garden stores and they are usually cheap. I like to use smaller varieties (not russets) like fingerling, baby yellow and purple potatoes. They grow faster, easier and are incredible.
Prepping an area: Garden beds work, its easier to control the soil, especially adding looser substrates to keep the soil from becoming impacted. Ideally however, is to have a row or two directly in the ground. Potatoes can grow nearly infinitely and growing in a row makes it much easier. The above ground part of the potato will continue to grow up and as it does, raking more dirt up the plant will actually increase the yield as more and more potatoes will grow under the new dirt and plant that is now underground. The technique is simple as the plant grows, just keep raking dirt around the plant and then patting it down a little. It will look like a volcano with a plant coming out the top.
Planting: In a garden bed you want to just dig holes about 8-10” deep and plant one potato, orient each with the sprout (eye) facing up in each hole, in a 4×4 bed, go with about 5 starts, one near each corner and one in the middle. Cover with dirt and begin mounding atop each, you will have 5 lumps in your garden bed. If planting directly in the ground, dig a trough and plant the starts about a foot apart. Cover and add just enough extra dirt to make a mound, like the bed.
Leafy greens of all kinds like the fertilizer. These are some of the easiest starts to grow, just pop them in and water them. Except for cabbage, the list of greens can be grown in pots sitting on a deck or patio as well as beds and the ground and in a variety of soils which makes them very versatile.
Collard greens, Kale: The easiest to grow of the brassica family which includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts etc, all of which likely originated from a single plant long ago. Brassicas like mild weather and grow best in spring and fall. They also like a nutritious soil. That nutritious soil is going to turn your greens into one of the garden’s most highly nutritious offerings. Prepare the soil as the others, adding in the full amount of garden fertilizer recommended. Plant in rows 8-10” apart. Once the greens approximately double in size, side dress the rows with lime and more fertilizer. A family could survive indefinitely with only this crop in addition to cooking fat, dried beans and rice.
Cabbage: Takes a little more time to grow than its brassica family members but it produces large yields and has a crucial place on this list simply because it is the easiest to store long term once harvested. Think fermented cabbage, kimchi, sauerkraut etc. Planting cabbage is just as easy as other leafy vegetables, only space them at least 18” apart.
Spinach & Salad greens: Spinach is another spring and fall crop that tends to have a rough time in midsummer but the starts you plant in spring will have been eaten long before summer anyway. Spinach and salad greens are also especially quick growing vegetables, especially when grown from starts. Fertilize these as you would kale/collards but plant them about 6-8” apart.
The onion family frequently gets left out of garden planning but they are a great one to include. Alliums are crucial to cooking and you can grow a lot of them in a small space, probably more so than any other vegetable. Onions and leeks will come from the nursery as starts in bunches (look like green onions) and you will probably get more than you need in one bunch so give the rest to your neighbor. Give plants in the onion family plenty of fertilizer when planting and they need at least the topsoil to be loose and not compacted clay. For all onion starts: it’s necessary to separate the starts but the roots tend to get stuck together. To remedy this, soak the roots in water and separate them by gently pulling them apart. Also, sometimes the roots can grow really long before planting. Use a pair of scissors and cut them back to about 3” before planting.
Leeks: are relatively slow growing but get going much faster when started with seedling starts. Leeks can grow fine in clay soil as long as the very top few inches are fertile. Mix some potting mix or Peat moss into the top layer of dirt as needed to lighten up the soil texture. With your hand or small shovel, make a small trench about 6” deep, add fertilizer liberally when working the area initially and side dress two to three times as the leaks continue to grow. Leeks like fertilizer. Bulb starts can be planted just 3-4” apart in the trench. Lay them on their sides and then secure the soil around each as you hold it upright and gently pack down the soil. The starts will only need to be buried about 2-3” deep.
Onions: are like leeks although they do not need as much fertilizer after they get started. To plant simply use a finger to poke holes 4-6” apart in a row. This a good time to use the scissors if necessary. If the roots are too unruly to fit into the hole, just trim them back. Next, mound soil around each start and gently pack down.
That’s it! Your garden is dialed. You do know you need to water it though?
These fresh garden vegetables combined with dried goods, salt, seasonings and cooking fats is really all you need.
So, there it is, any easy way to get a garden booming at a rapid pace. These vegetables also appear frequently at farmers markets and of course, grocery stores. I am sure many may want to grow tomatoes, peas and corn, etc and don’t let me stop you, this is just a good spring list of quick growing bumper crop vegetables that you can count on. Recipe posts to follow.
Any questions will be answered so please ask away.