Sunday, December 21, 2014

How to Build a Backyard Garden, grow your own fresh foods to eat and store.


Home Garden
Let’s assume that you have a relatively large backyard, with anywhere from as little as 200 square feet to as much as 2000 square feet that you want to use for your garden.

There are a few things I can tell you that will help you build a garden that produces abundant crops of your favorite foods and herbs, efficiently and with minimal problems.

And yes, I said crops.
Once you get to this size of garden space available, you will be able to grow enough of your favorite foods to not only feed yourself and your family but also be able to can, freeze and store some for later use.



Pick Your Site

Your garden site should be located where it will get a good portion of the day’s direct sunlight. Adequate sunlight is necessary for any garden vegetable to grow and flourish.

Along with adequate sunlight, your garden will need to get plenty of fresh air. Good air flow will not only allow for good pollination but it will also help avoid problems with molds and certain bacteria.

Sloped land makes a Better Garden

Try to plant your garden on land that has at least a little slope to it. A flat garden will not drain adequately and excess water in the soil can not only harm your crop but also provide a breeding ground for numerous harmful bacteria.

And, if your garden spot is sloped, plant your crops in rows that go across the slope, rather than up and down.

Doing this will contain the rains waters and allow the water time to seep into the ground rather than run away too quickly.

Preparing the Soil

Your garden soil will need to be prepared properly. I recommend that if you can grab a handful of your soil easily and crush it into a ball that then breaks up easily, your soil will at least absorb water easily.

If it also smells slightly musty and you can actually find worms and bugs living in it, then it is probably a healthy soil.

But, if you want to have a good garden, I recommend that you take a sample to your County Farm Agent and ask them to test the soil for you. They can give you a detailed analysis of your soil including which nutrients that it might need added for you to grow good crops.
These agencies often do this testing for free or at least at a low cost. Another option might be for you to purchase your own soil testing kit at your local garden shop.

Soil pH Levels: 

One key thing to know about your soil is its pH level. The pH level is essentially a measure of the amount of lime in your soil.

A pH level of less than 7.0 means your soil is acidic which is typical of wet climates, while one higher than 7.0 is considered Alkaline and is typical of Dry climates.

The pH level of your soil is important because different vegetables prefer different pH levels to grow well and produce larger crop yields.

Selecting the Best Crops

As I have already mentioned, your garden is yours and you should plant and grow what suits you and your tastes.

At the same time, there are certain foods that are recommended for Survivalists because they are; hearty plants, easily grown and produce highly nutritious crops in relatively large quantities.
See the chapter called; Recommended Crop Foods for a list of these recommended foods.

Using Planting Dates and Maturity periods

Plants have different; planting dates, soil temperature requirements for gestation and periods of time it takes for them to mature. Knowing these can give you an advantage when you select and eventually plant your crops.

Managing Weeds

Weeds will show up in every garden. It’s just a fact of life. So many weeds have small seeds that blow around with the winds and can land in anyone’s garden.
Weeds love all of the things that you have provided for your garden foods; good soil, plenty of water and great fertilizers.

So it should be no surprise that once they take root, they thrive. A good gardener though should have no problem managing weeds. It just takes a strong back, a good hoe and a little time to control weeds.

The process is simple, find a weed, chop down and below its roots, a twist of the wrist to turn the roots up and you are done.

Then flip the weed plant to an open area between the garden rows, and fill the spot where the weed was with some loose soil using the same hoe.

With the weeds roots sticking up in the air, and no longer in the soil the weed plant will wither up, almost before your eyes. Later, rake the weeds up and pile them in your compost pile to salvage their nutrients.

Mulch 

Many people will use mulch to control weeds in their garden. Usually mulch is made from such things as rotting wood chips, wood bark and other such materials.

Landscape Cloth 

Commercial growers will often shape their planting rows, and cover them with sheets of garden landscape paper to block weeds and simple cut a small hole in the paper where they plant a pre-grown seedling.

Old Newspapers 

I have friends who take this yet another step for their small garden and once the plants come up, they will spread old newspapers around the plant control weeds.

One advantage of newspapers is that they will eventually rot so they can be plowed up with the garden at the end of the growing season.

Harvesting your Crops 

Determining when a fruit or plant is ready for harvesting is a learned thing. With some foods, the determining factor is going to be a combination of the color, smell or firmness of the fruit. You just have to use your senses and over time you will get good at this.

So, let’s say your crop is ready to harvest. Each food, fruit or plant can be pulled or cut from the plant differently.

For instance an Apple or an Orange will easily release from the limb if it is ripe. So, just a light tug should be all that is needed.

A tomato, on the other hand, will ripen and still not release from the plant easily. They will require a firm tug to pull the fruit free. Of course, a tomato’s color tells you that the fruit is ripe and ready.

Always wear gloves when harvesting your crop because even the safest fertilizers and pesticides can be harsh to your skin.

Washing the food

Right after harvesting your crop you should always give the individual fruits or vegetables a good washing to remove as much as possible of any residual chemicals that might be on the crops surface.

Take extra care to clean certain areas of the crop. The flowering end and the stem area will collect more of any sprayed chemicals.

Leaf vegetables will have higher concentrations not only on the leaves, but also at the junction of the leaves, near the root area. Also, the root area of such foods as Celery, Beets, Potatoes and Carrots should get the same special attention.

Storing your Crops

When crops come in, you are probably going to be stunned by how much food you have to contend with, and a lot of it at one time.

So, you can either be the guy handing out free homegrown food to their friends, or you can be the guy who prepared ahead of time. Here are some things you can do so that you get the most from your garden.

Canning Foods 

If you have the materials and storage space you should Can your excess fresh grown foods. Properly canned foods can last for several years stored on a shelf in a cool dry place in your homes pantry, or basement.

Green Beans, Lima Beans, Squash, Tomatoes, Cucumbers and other such foods are great foods that can be canned or even pickled. In fact Corn, once you remove the kernels from the husk, also cans well.

Crop Shelf Storage

Some foods such as potatoes and tomatoes can be stored fresh for weeks. Pick a cool dry place and place newspapers onto the shelves then lay the potatoes or tomatoes loosely onto the paper.

The tomatoes, especially the green ones will keep for weeks and the Potatoes can keep for months. So, always watch for the last days before the coming first winter’s frost, and pull those green tomatoes and store them on paper lined shelves so that you will get to eat them for several more weeks.

Hot Peppers also keep well stored on shelves but do even better if you string them together and hang them to dry for later use.

Dried Foods

Many plants, and especially herbs and spices lend themselves well to drying.

Drying plants and seeds is a relatively simple process.

The cleaned plants must be laid out in a sunny area with a low humidity.
On a small scale there are kits/tools that you can use to dry some foods. On a larger scale, the concept is the same but the tools needed may be a little more complicated.

Managing the Garden Debris

One thing that you are going to realize as you use your garden is that there is going to be a lot of debris to get rid of at certain times during the year. Some of this debris will be made of plastics and other materials that are not biodegradable.

Non-Biodegradable Debris 

These items need to be handled and disposed of properly. Here are a few tips to reduce your work and allow you to manage them efficiently.

For a small garden just place a large garbage can near the garden and as you use bagged or packaged products just place all of the plastic bags and such into the trashcan.
Do your part for the environment by taking the larger quantities of plastic and metal debris to a Recycle Center so that it can be used again after it is processed.

Biodegradable Debris 

Then there are the biodegradable items. With these items, you can also use trashcans or you can start a dry pile near your garden,

A dry pile is just a place that you pile your trimmed portions of plants or bushes and wait for them to dry out. Once dry, this debris is much lighter and easier to handle.

Or, you can take this opportunity to build and construct a good old-fashioned Compost Pit and get wonderful reusable fodder to fertilize you next year’s garden. See the chapter on Building a Compost Pit.

Allow the Soil to Rest

Farmers know that using a plot of land whether it is a small truck garden or one that takes up several acres, over and over for the same crops will eventually rob the soil of valuable nutrients.

This goes for your home garden also.  Ideally, you should rotate the crops grown on a piece of land regularly.

Some farmers will plant their soil with a re-invigorating crop, such as Soy or Peas, every 3-4 years and when the crop is grown, they just turn the mature plants back into the soil and allow the soil to rest for a season and absorb the nutrient rich plants.

But there are other alternatives available for the small gardener.
  • You can add bags of soil to your garden and till this fresh soil into your garden. 
  • You can take soil samples to your county agent and have your soil tested to find out what fertilizers and nutrients need replenishing.
  • And, depending on the size of your desired garden, and the amount of open land you have, just move your garden to another spot for a few years.