In my last article, I described three steps anyone can take to drastically reduce their dependence on industrial sources for their food supply without growing any food yourself. By taking those crucial three steps you can be free from food tyranny and secure from possible supply line disruptions due to either natural or man-made causes.
You may have wondered; what about growing my own food? This article will answer that question for vegetables. It will address the various of types of produce you can grow and the options available for raising them. Since it is difficult to grow all our own food, it is profitable to remember one piece of advice from the previous article – buy as much food as you can from independent small family sources. By purchasing from independent sources, you can be free from industrial and government controls immediately, and then gradually replace some of those foods with ones you grow yourself. With this hybrid approach, you have secured your entire food supply without any gaps, and you also maximize your flexibility. If your own crop fails, you can still fall back on your small community or mail order sources.
The first thought that comes to everyone’s mind when growing your own food is to start a garden. This is fun, easy to do, and doesn’t require a large capital investment. The reward is even more excellent – food from the labor of your own hands, and the taste and quality far superior to anything that can be purchased. Even if you live in an apartment, you can grow some of your own vegetables.
As previously stated, you don’t need a farm or even a large yard to grow some tasty veggies. With our many options available today, you can grow food even in a tiny apartment. To see what options we have available, let’s examine them in increasing order of space requirements.
Hydroponics & Container Growing
I have grouped hydroponics and container growing together because they are so similar, despite seeming so radically different. There are many types of hydroponics as types of container growing. When examined as a whole, they are really the ends of a range of possibilities, so don’t be scared off by hydroponics. You can start with something as simple as a container with potting soil, and go from there to higher performance techniques. Hydroponics is really just container growing, but geared to higher plant performance. It is a way to maximize what you can grow in a small space.
Hydroponics is simply growing without soil. It doesn’t have to be hi-tech. The best in-home technique is called “ebb & flow”. There are many simple ways to implement ebb and flow systems using ordinary aquarium water and air pumps. You can alternatively use “raft culture”, where you float your plants in a bed of water and use an air stone for aeration and circulation.
Container growing uses a special potting mix along with supplemental fertilization. You can just fill your pot, add slow-release fertilizer and water daily. Using drip irrigation, you can eliminate the daily watering chore. Another popular technique goes commercially by the name “Earth Box”. It uses a special container (which you can build yourself) that holds fertilizer in a band so the plants can self-feed, and a water reservoir at the bottom. You can also vary this idea by simply using a water reservoir with a nutrient solution.
Square Foot GardeningPioneered by Mel Bartholomew, the next step up in gardening requires only a small yard, or even a patio. You don’t even need soil. You can do it right on concrete or asphalt. With this growing system, you use lumber, landscape timbers, bricks, blocks or even tires to build a large container about 6 inches deep. In this container, you plant in one square foot increments. Instead of thinking rows, think square foot. Each square foot is its only container so to speak and you can plant whatever you want in it. Of course, some plants take more than a square foot and some less, so you just use combinations of squares as needed.
It is a lot like container growing, but more failsafe and versatile. You aren’t as constrained by container size, and having more soil volume, it is more forgiving of watering mistakes.
It is also more labor-saving when you are growing a lot of food. It is even more efficient than row crops is most cases. A family can grow most of their vegetables in nothing more than a small side yard.
Growing vegetables in rows is the type of gardening most people are familiar with. Except in cases where you need to grow a large amount of a particular crop, this method is obsolete. If do need to grow large amounts – you have a large family, you want a lot of sweet corn or potatoes, then wide row planting is a valid option. In this option, you still plant in rows, but the rows (where the plants are) are wide, not narrow. This technique maximizes your productivity over narrow rows.
Growing grains has become a huge, expensive affair, requiring $100,000 combines plus enormous tractors. However, you can still raise some of your own grains, provided you have a small amount of land, using traditional methods. You don’t need a lot of land, even a part of a backyard can be enough to grow some grain for your family. We’ll look at some of these methods in the next section.
Which Vegetables to Grow
When people think of growing vegetables, most immediately think of sweet corn and tomatoes. These crops can take a lot of space if grow traditionally using rows. Since most of us don’t have large yards or farms anymore, we need to think on a smaller scale. Ask yourself: “what can I grow in my given space that will have the biggest impact for food independence?” Let’s examine the possibilities starting with the small and moving to the large.
Herbs & Salad GreensYou can grow herbs for cooking, lettuces and other salad greens in almost no space at all. These types of plants are forgiving of mistakes and soil fertility. You can grow them in containers and square foot beds. When you think of lettuce, banish the idea of heading lettuce like Iceberg. Those lettuces are grown for ease of transportation and storage, but not for nutrition, taste or ease of growing. Lettuce comes in many varieties, and they are further grouped into families: loose leaf, Bibb, Romaine, and others. They also come in colors and textures. By growing a little of many varieties, you can be assured of a successful yield and a lovely and delicious salad.
In addition to lettuce, you can grow spinach in the cooler months, and Malabar spinach in the summer months. To spinach, you could add swiss chard, Lutz Green Leaf beet greens, and a few Asian greens for their spicy taste. If you cover these plants with plastic in the winter, and shade with ample water in the summer, you can grow them year-round. That is a sure way to food independence.
Low Space Veggies
Compact tomatoes (determinant types), green peppers, green beans, broccoli, edible pod peas, cabbage, carrots, kohlrabi, onions, beets, cucumbers and okra are all vegetables that can be grow in small spaces – either containers or square foot beds. There are no doubt many more favorites you can add to your list. You can see from this list the cornucopia of food you can grow on your patio or small yard. If you don’t have a patio, you can grow even a few of these things in containers indoors.
Large Space Veggies
Vegetables that take more room that still easily grow in a small space include: melons, sweet corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, summer squash, and watermelon. You can grow most of these in square foot beds, but you may need a lot of them. By building strong trellises you can grow the large vining plants vertically, even small watermelons. For the others, consider using wide rows.
GrainsFor small grain crops, you really only need to plow and till up a plot and then scatter the seed by hand. Next you trample the seed down with an animal’s hooves or dragging a log over the plot. You then let rain and sunshine do the rest. At harvest time, you can reap using a traditional scythe. European scythes are really easy to swing, don’t require you to bend over, and are available for a reasonable cost. I have mowed a quarter of an acre with one in just a few hours.
Even better than growing small grains is growing corn. There really is no other grain its equal for ease, variety, and versatility. The American Indians had an excellent method for growing entire fields of it using only primitive tools. The key is to plant in hills rather than rows. With this method, you can easily tend your crop with only hand tools. For harvest, you need nothing more than your hands and shucking gloves. You can even thresh it with inexpensive corn shellers that you can still buy today.
In this brief article, we have surveyed some of the myriad of techniques that can be used to grow vegetables and grains. There are a variety of methods that can be used in any situation, even apartment living. If you need more land than what you possess, look into the option of using land nearby, such as community gardens, renting a small lot, or even using your apartment rooftop – use your imagination.
We also examined what types of crops you can grow and the methods you can use for them. With the abundance of methods and tools available to us today, there is no reason why all of us cannot grow at least some of our own food. In the future, I will be providing more detailed information on many of the techniques mentioned. In the meantime, the books shown alongside this article are fabulous texts for many of these ideas, written by the pioneers themselves. I personally own each one, and I highly recommend each of them.
Please share your favorite techniques in the comments below.