Monday, May 13, 2013

Survival gardening for the complete n00b

A few days ago, on this post, mrlespaulman stated his discouragement with his garden thus far:

"While having a farm in my backyard that sustains my family is my main goal, I'm starting to learn that its quite a lot harder than I thought it would be. Between the bugs and my lack of planning, I don't know how in the world I could end up getting enough of a harvest to put up a decent amount--not to mention having enough left over to eat right then. It always seems I end up with more hot peppers than I know what to do with, leafy greens full of holes, split radishes, tiny onions, rotting squash, and only about 15 green beans at a Any pointers on the planning aspect of survival gardening for a complete and total n00b? Thanks!"

There are few things more discouraging than jumping into an exciting new venture... and then being beaten back. The problem is usually not the bugs... the soil... or even making mistakes; it's usually a problem of scale.

I don't know if this is the case for mrlespaulman, but I do know that in times past I had grand and glorious garden plans that I put into execution... only to be run over by cutworms, poor growth, lousy  yields, drought, etc. etc. etc.

Creating solid and productive gardens usually doesn't happen right away. Practice makes perfect. Starting on a grand scale and hoping to put away piles of produce at the end of the year WILL make you discouraged.

I usually tell folks to start by growing their own salads, herbs or both. If you can keep a few pots of salad greens going... and a bit of basil for the tomato sauce - you're officially gardening.

From that point, I'd move on to a 4' x 4' bed... or a 4' x 8'. If you try to build a ton at once, you get burned out. You scrimp on soil amendments. You're stretching compost and you're not managing anything well. If you can manage a 4' x 4' patch really well, you'll probably get more out of that than you would with a badly managed 4' x 40' patch.

A garden this size is easy to build, easy to manage, and encouraging as heck.

Put serious, loving care into a small space, watching it daily, fertilizing with good stuff like kelp meal and compost, and you'll start to build confidence and the skills you need to manage a much larger space.

Now - as for having more hot peppers than you know what to do with...rotting squash... tiny onions, etc. - that's Florida!

Some things are MADE to grow here. Peppers, for instance. They love the heat, they love the sand and they produce like crazy - sometimes for years.

Most squash don't like the humidity. Rot city. Onions don't like the heat and the weird rain cycles. Radishes are the same. Grow them really early in the spring or plant in the late fall. Otherwise: kaput!

Green beans usually do all right here, depending on variety. Northern pole beans often aren't happy - and some of the bush beans tend to become bug feed pretty fast. Snake beans are almost unkillable. Other varieties usually produce less. If you've got soil that hasn't grown beans or legumes previously, they may be suffering from the lack of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, in which case I'd feed them with diluted urine or compost tea to give them a boost.

BUT - there are crops that are really, really good for Florida. Look around your neighborhood. Who is growing what? Ask them how they're growing it. Look at local farms - ask them what they grow and how they grow it. Go to the local extension office and ask them what grows best in your area. Is your area warm enough for highly productive tropical plants? Is it mostly field crops? Are their orchards? Do lots of edibles grow in the wild? Ask around and read up.

Then... take that data with a grain of salt, and start experimenting. I guarantee you: there are plants that will produce bushels of food for you. Your goal is to identify what those species are. Head knowledge is fine: but actually experimentation is where you'll find glory.

In my area, I've learned (through observation of my plots and those of others) that these species generally do well:

Sweet Potatoes
Snake Beans
Seminole pumpkin
Cayenne peppers
Florida Cranberry
Winged yam

These crops generally do poorly or simply so-so (at least for me):

Large watermelons
Sweet peppers
Brussels Sprouts

Jerusalem artichoke

Don't get discouraged. Keep reading, keep experimenting, learn to grow really good gardens in a small area - and learn to eat the weeds. You'll accumulate knowledge and skills rapidly if you don't give up... and in a few years, you'll be laughing at your past harvests.

Go forth and garden!

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At May 13, 2013 at 11:39 AM , Blogger mrlespaulman said...

Thanks a lot, David!

At May 13, 2013 at 12:57 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

No problem.

One more thought: if you get a chance to visit a gardener that is doing well in your area, ask them if you can help do anything or offer to weed a few rows... getting connected with more successful farmers is always a plus.

At May 13, 2013 at 9:21 PM , Blogger Arisia said...

This is appropriate for today. Yesterday my son and I put some good dirt plus some old mulch and some coffee grounds into a couple of long planter/pots, then planted a few seeds out of two packets I got at Baker Creek Heirloom seed company a month ago. Red romaine lettuce and Rat's Tail Radishes. We soaked them with water and put them where they would get sun and still be out of the way of the construction and the duck's nest. Today they are all dug up. I assume it was NOT the construction guys that did the digging.

I bought some chicken wire to build some kind of tent or something over them to keep the rabbits and deer from eating them, but I thought I would have a few days to do that before they sprouted. Guess I was wrong. I'm just glad I didn't plant all the seeds. I just tried a few.

At May 13, 2013 at 10:17 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Yikes. My sympathies. I always hold back some seeds as well.

Along the same lines: I had a coon dig up a bunch of my newly planted corn the other day. Fortunately, that night I caught, shot and buried the little bastard.

At May 15, 2013 at 5:30 PM , Blogger Ten at Eat Your Sands said...

you mean you didn't cook and eat the coon? that's not very survival of ya :)

i would add cowpea (black eye pea) and peanut to the list.
and for so-so i would add almost all grain crops.

At May 18, 2013 at 8:32 AM , Blogger Gardens-In-The-Sand said...

Good advice on starting small... and not scrimping on the compost...
Wonder if you couldn't emphasize the importance of organic materials a little more...
In the florida sand... or my sand for that matter... there's no nutrients, the water disappears as quickly as it gets applied... can totally be disillusioning to attempt to grow anything...
not to mention the voles...


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