Gardening in Modern Times

As I mark the borders for the garden I will be planting in the spring I take a few things into consideration. At the moment, my garden is directly in the ground with top soil and years of compost added over the years. A lack of ambition last year created a thick layer of weeds I will have to clean out as I clean out the compost piles as well. There will be a week or two of work before I can plant anything, the payoff afterwards will hopefully be a low maintenance garden that I can maintain.

On the side of my house I have three raised boxes for square foot gardening. The end goal for those boxes is to do herb gardening only a few feet outside of the kitchen. 8×4 ft per box gives me a lot of room for herbs I use and can store over the winter once they are dried out.

The back yard has two large plots that are being converted into square foot gardening beds. In previous years, I used intensive gardening technics, this involves turning the soil once, never stepping on the soil and adding compost at the beginning and end of each planting year. The upside is that the plots being converted are already fertile with dark soil that drains well while retaining water. With the square foot gardening, I will be able to use more of the available space for higher crop yield and preventing weeds throughout the season. The down side is that for any vines I grow I need a trellis to have them grow up. In square foot gardening plants grow up, not out. This can be a major benefit but it adds to the cost of the project.

Planning the garden is fairly basic. The higher plants per box need to be planted in the northern rows to prevent shading the smaller plants. If you plant corn they are in the northern squares. Plants like radishes, carrots, or beets would be in the southern squares. In the middle squares, you can plant medium sized plants like peppers and tomatoes. All of these plants can share the sun and soil if you let them. In the past I learned that using organic gardening technics can have far better results than those that use artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Every year I have a group of praying mantis that return to my yard and eat everything I don’t want to have there. Pest have never been a problem with my personal army of alien looking killers.

I don’t know what the spring will bring, or how hot the summer will become. What I do know is that with the rain barrel and compost system my crops in the past have never been effected by drought or intense heat. Some crops like heat including tomatoes and peppers. Beans and broccoli on the other hand you can forget it. grow those in the spring and enjoy them while you can. I tried to grow these in autumn and it never works out. By the time the temperature drops for them to thrive it is almost winter and I never get to harvest before the first frost.

My tomato seedlings are an inch tall now. Peppers haven’t sprouted yet and I don’t know if they will. The house is at a steady 62 degrees and I’m guessing they need more heat than that. I hope they start to show themselves, we will have to wait and see.

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Unleash the Books

My reading list has grown over the years. When I finally think I’m putting a dent into find that the list has grown beyond where it was. Last year, according to Goodreads, I read 176 books. My reading list grew from about 250 to 500 books. That is a rough estimate considering my buying habits at the local second hand store in the basement of the public library. (insert shameless add for Friends of the Kalamazoo Public Library here)

The last two books I read were directly influenced by the recent election. Drift by Rachael Maddow and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

Drift was published in 2012 when the world was supposed to end according to a dead culture and at the start of the second term for the Obama administration. Maddow discusses how the authority for starting war was transformed from Congress needing to declare it and the president doing whatever he wanted, thanks Reagan. Four years later I came across a first edition and picked it up curious about what she had to say about our military situation. It ended up being a warning that was never heard and now we have to face the repercussions of a system that was never fixed and a madman in office.

It Can’t Happen Here, was written in 1936 when people saw what was happening in Germany but nobody thought it would get to the point of ovens and world war. Lewis maps out how a fascist was able to win the hearts of the American public during the great depression with the promise of making life better by punishing the banks and politicians. Things start out that way until camps are started and people are forced to work more than they did before. Executions are common and often throughout the book much like the Nazi policies in Germany. Things don’t turn out well, once a dictator is in power its difficult to get them out of power.

A few weeks ago I read This Side of Paradise, F Scott Fitzgerald’s first book that made him famous had an interesting scene towards the end where two men are talking about the current political climate and the friction between the rich and poor. While listening to the conversation one can easily forget that what they are talking about is the early 1920s. a hundred years later it is easy to see that nothing has changed.

Some of my pepper seeds have started to sprout and I dug into my boxes of books to find all of my organic gardening material. I thinned out this section a few years ago by giving away books to close friends, I hope they still have them now.

I watch the protest and here the beats of war drums in the distance. The current climate has me wondering what life will be like in the spring. Will I still have a home? Will this still be a country? Will we still be here? With the increasing speed of technology and communication could the end of this country be sped up, what once took years could be crammed into a few months, or possibly weeks. I plant seeds with the hope of harvesting the food in the future and preserving it for next winter. Other people in this country have other plans. The current book list I am working through are things I read before. Gardening guides, how to grow herbs, composting, permaculture, square foot gardening, and much, much, more. The upside is that once the garden is going, the plants grow and do the majority of the work. That frees up time for other things. I’m not sure where this experiment is going. Adaptation is important for surviving in constantly changing circumstances. I have plans, but it feels like every day that goes buy something else is said or done by a certain person in power that might make that reality a fantasy.

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Planting Seeds

This week I took the first step in securing food for the rest of the year. My girlfriend and I went through the seed bank I collected over the years and picked out the food that we wanted to harvest in the spring and summer months. In the past, my garden produced enough food during June and July that I didn’t have to buy groceries until after August. This was during a year that Kalamazoo was in a drought and most of my co-workers had gardens that died before summer had arrived. I had canned enough tomatoes that I ran out of jars and took the extras to work for people to take home. I had a lot of success in the past and then I stopped. Priorities changed over time and with a little financial success I traded the ability to grow food for the ability to buy and store it.

My seed bank, a large plastic tote I keep in the basement, is filled with a few hundred varieties and ranging from tomatoes to squash. We filled a coffee can with the seeds we are planning to grow. Even with the coffee can filled the overall seed bank hadn’t been touched. For a few years, I would go to places like Menards, Meijer, and Lowe’s when the spring season was over and buy several packets for $.25 apiece. The plants that grew well in the yard I would harvest seeds and restock those breeds into the seed bank.

Yesterday I hauled an old aquarium out of the basement and put it in the bathroom. I cleaned out the water pump and all of the little decorations that come with having fish. I left the rocks in the bottom and plugged in the halogen light. My hope is that the aquarium will be a great environment for peppers to grow. Purple, chocolate, red sweet, and green bell peppers wait to sprout if I did things correctly. On a stand next to the aquarium, I have tomatoes sitting under a full spectrum light. The rest of the seeds we had picked out are direct into the ground varieties that I simply have to wait to plant.

The yard is a mess. Even under the snow I can tell that several hours will be needed to work the soil back to gardening conditions. Weeds took over two years ago and although I tried to grow tomatoes last year I never harvested the few that did produce. The compost piles on the side of the yard have broken down to the point of only being two feet tall. The humus that I pull out in the spring will help replenish the soil before planting. By the time I’m finished cleaning out the yard and garden the compost pile will be filled all over again and for the better. The year of the drought my plants fared well without being watered. Humus, the product of composting, holds more water in the soil than normal top soil does. Add a little mulch from mowing the yard and you have a well-balanced foundation for a drought resistant garden. I don’t know what the next year will bring. It could be another hottest year on record or we could have a cold spell from everything being out of whack. Either way learning to grow my own food for myself and others is one of my priorities this year. I have an overall lack of trust with the world these days and whatever I can do to be self-sufficient is another step closer to feeling secure in this odd chaotic world we suddenly have.

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