Getting Started in Gardening
By John Rourke
There are many reasons to have your own garden. Growing and eating vegetables that you grew from scratch by preparing soil, planting seeds, weeding, watering and picking all yourself is incredibly rewarding. Money can be saved as seeds are much less expensive than the corresponding produce. Fresh produce harvested straight from the garden taste better and is more nutritionally sound. Another benefit of having your own garden is you control what chemicals (or lack thereof) are used during the growing process.
For those preparing for a long-term survival situation gardening is a necessity. Regardless of how much food is stored away it will only last for so long and will eventually run out. Gardening is one of several ways to supplement a food storage program and provide vital sustenance.
Regardless of how much research is performed on all aspects of gardening nothing replaces hands on experience. So, if gardening is part of your long term plans get started now.
– – – Getting Started – – –
When planning a garden there are several important steps that must be taken to increase the chances of having a successful and bountiful season. Gardening is not easy and requires a lot of hard work. Whether trying to develop a hobby backyard garden or serious food gathering source – it cannot be emphasized enough to start now and learn as much as possible. What follows are several of the basic steps to starting a garden.
Produce to be Grown:
Deciding on what to grow depends on weather conditions, time of the year and personal preferences. Choose those vegetables that your family likes to eat. Some of my family’s favorites are cucumbers, yellow squash, tomatoes, and zucchini’s. These four crops can produce a tremendous amount of food on an almost daily basis once the garden is underway.
It is also beneficial to consider vegetables that can be canned or dried for long term storage. Cucumbers can be canned into pickles. Peppers can be dried. Tomatoes can be canned into spaghetti sauce. This allows for the benefit of the garden to be extended well past the growing season.
Gardening Tip: In a long term survival situation calories are king. Although vegetables are not high in calories some are better than others. Potatoes, cucumber and tomatoes are denser in calories and nutrients than lettuce. Consider this during crop selection.
Size/Location of the Garden:
Most vegetables require at least 8 hours of full sunlight each day. This must be taken into consideration when deciding on a location for the garden. The size of the garden is really dependant upon available space, requirements of your plants, and what you would prefer. A 20’ x 20’ is a great size to start with. If that amount of space is not available a 10’ x 10’ garden can produce a good amount of produce.
Another aspect of choosing a garden location is to make certain that water is accessible to the area. Due to the need to attend to the garden almost daily it is best to locate it close to your living quarters.
Gardening Tip: Locating a garden in an area which enjoys afternoon shade is a good idea in extremely hot climates.
Amending/Preparing the Soil:
Having soil that is rich, loose and fertile will produce larger quantities and higher quality produce than having soil that is compacted and lacking vital nutrients. Soil testing kits are available at most local gardening centers. These test kits can tell what your soil is lacking and allow you to take corrective steps.
Garden soil needs to be loose to allow roots to burrow and spread to provide a secure footing for the plant. These roots also gather nutrients and water from the soil.
To make the soil as nutritive and usable as possible – compost can be purchased and mixed into the top 6 to 12 inches. Whether using a mechanical tiller or a shovel and spade the compost should be thoroughly mixed with the native soil.
Once the soil has been properly prepared the planting and growing can begin.
Gardening Tip: Do not walk on planting areas after tilling as that will compact the soil.
Garden space freshly tilled.
It is best in my experience keeping soil evenly moist is best. Drenching the garden every few days is not preferred. Providing a light sprinkling daily or even more than once per day depending on climate should provide plants sufficient water. Plant monitoring and education on symptoms or too little and too much water is needed.
Using a layer of mulch around plants can help retain moisture. One drawback of mulch is watering time and volume may increase as the water which is directed to the plants must make it through the mulch first.
Gardening Tip: Rain water beats all! It has been my experience after a good downpour gardens will literally grow before your eyes. Although we have no control on whether it rains or not having a rain barrel is a great way to collect water for the garden.
Weeds are both frustrating to deal with and are a detriment to any garden. Weeds use the same water and nutrients as your growing vegetables thus they can impede garden progress. For a common backyard garden this may not be a big deal. For a garden during a survival situation which is being depended upon to provide food for your family weeds are the enemy.
Weeds can be dealt with several ways with the simplest being pulling them out by hand when the ground is moist. A hoe can also be used to scrape small weeds up out of the soil.
Gardening Tip: In addition to helping retain moisture organic mulch can also help control weeds.
After repeated gardens soil will loose its nutrients. Fertilizers can be stored long term to help reenergize soil in subsequent seasons. Make certain you know exactly how much to use of any particular fertilizer prior to use or plants can be “burnt”. Pellet or powder type fertilizers are often dispensed between plants and allowed to penetrate the soil to reach plant roots.
Gardening Tip: Common liquid fertilizers which can be applied by attaching a reservoir to the end of a watering hose are safe and effective.
Garden in mid-season shape.
For the prepper a backyard garden is practice. It is practice for when the garden becomes truly valuable and life sustaining. There are numerous aspects to gardening that will not be covered here but are nonetheless important to research and understand.
A few of these are:
- Protection from pests such as squirrels, rabbits, and birds.
- Dealing with insects.
- Starting seeds indoors.
- Plant disease.
- Guerilla gardening.
- Container gardening.
- Saving seeds.
- Cover crops.
- Fall/Winter gardens.
- Irrigation methods such as drip irrigation.
- Herb gardening.
- Gardening tools.
Gardening Option: Raised Beds
If gardening space is severally restricted or soil is very poor creating a raised bed garden may be the answer.
Raised bed gardens are simply a raised area of soil contained within some type of structured frame. This frame may be made of wood, concrete, rocks, or some other solid objects.
Raised beds provide several advantages over regular in ground gardens:
- Raised beds generally offer better water drainage.
- There is total control over soil composition and make up.
- Root growth is usually exceptional due to the lack of coil compaction.
- Raised beds can be built in areas where regular garden just cannot.
- There are ergonomic benefits to raised beds as they require less bending to harvest produce.
My preferred raised bed size is 4’ x 8’ though they can be built in any shape or size desired. Raised bed gardens are generally not built wider than 4 feet as it makes it more difficult to pick vegetables from the middle. Bed depth can vary greatly though my preference is 8” to 12” inches. The deeper the bed the more room for roots to grow.
The raised bed should be filled with a combination of soil which provides nutrients and density which will be beneficial to the plant growing inside. A successful combination of soil that I have used consists of equal parts quality top soil, gardening soil, potting soil along with native soil. These components must be mixed thoroughly. There are alternate soil mixes that reportedly work fantastic in small raised vegetable beds. For more information just search the Internet for “square foot gardening soil mix”. A soil test is recommended to determine adjustments that may be needed to attain the correct balance.
I have grown wide crawling plants such as cucumbers in small raised beds with success by using tomato cages and trellis’s. Since the plants have no room to grow outward then they must grow upward. Many vegetables have hybrid varieties which have been created to grow in tight spaces. Although hybrid seeds are generally frowned upon by preppers and gardeners the reality is in a survival situation food is needed. If hybrid varieties will provide that nourishment so be it. One of the drawbacks to hybrid seeds is their offspring has diminishing germination rates for future seasons.
Once a raised bed has been erected and filled with soil – seeds and transplants are planted. In my 4’ x 8’ beds I crisscross the bed with string to create a grid of 1 square foot squares totaling 32 squares. Within each square I plant whatever I wish to grow.
Watering a raised bed is different than a standard in ground garden. Due to the elevated stance of the raised bed water drains much easier thus requiring more frequent watering. If consistent monitoring and required watering is not performed there is a definite risk of loosing all crops.
All the reading in the world will never take the place of hands-on practical experience. Make some decisions on what you want to plant, how large a garden and where it will be placed. Talk to neighbors and other folks who have experience in your area and learn from them. Find out what varieties of different crops grow best and when seeds should be put in the ground. Visit your nearest farmers exchange and talk to the folks there. Tell them what you are doing and heed their advice.
Gardening can be extremely rewarding in normal life today. Gardening may very well be a lifesaver in a survival situation tomorrow.