Touring che 1970s, inflación and unemployment were high. In such lean L) years, many people grow substancial backyard vegg.e gardens. I was a young man who did that.
Good times returned in the 1980s and conrinued into the first half of the first decade of the new millennium - & years. I was there. In easy times people go to restaurants and take summer vacations; not me, I continued gardening
Now I am 63 years old, still flexible enough to touch my toes (on a good day), still able to put in a hard mornings work, still growing the majority of what we eat in our household, still doing it 12 months a year. These days I tee I fortunate to have retired to one of the worlds most remote places, Tasmania, a temperate South Pacific island with a climate that is a lot like Oregon., From here I can enjoy a slight sense of detachment as I watch how the planer is going. But Tasmania is nor self-sufficient, so I am not nearly as detached as 1 wish I could be about the hard rimes I foresee coming. I have the feeling that I should share some gardening knowledge I've accumulated with those who are probably soon going to need it, which is why I wrote this book.
During the fat years, an unfortunate change happened in veggie gardening. Books and magazine articles promoting traditional homestead and backyard methods — growing well-separated plants in rows far enough apart that you could walk between them - disappeared. Row gardening was universally denounced as a waste of space, inefficient with water, and low-producing. Densely packed, deeply dug, super-fertile, massively irrigated.
raised-bed systems became fashionable. As I write this book in 2005, intensive gardening still reigns.
When I started suburban backyard food gardening, Joh n Jeavons was just starting to write about intensive gardening, and that was the method I
used. Five years later I became a back-to-the-lander and continued to garden intensively even though I had a five-acre (two-hectare) homestead and could have spread my plots out as widely as I wished. In 1979 I created Territorial
Seed Company, a homestead-based mail-order vegetable-garden seed business, and by 1984 I had written three gardening books recommending intensive methods.
During the 1980s, when intensive had become standard practice, several things came together to teach me it was not the best way. Because I was running a seed company, 1 had to do variety trials. What are variety trials, you ask? Well . an honest seed business does not sell just any old variety of seed that has been recommended by Someone Else. You decide for yourself what to sell after testing numerous varieties. Trials require that you grow plants far enough apart that each can develop to its full potential. One thing I noticed trom doing this was that my trial plots didn't need nearly as much irrigation as my intensive veggie garden. Another was that these well-separated plants got much larger; they tasted better than crowded vegetables did when they weren't harvested promptly; and many vegetable species grown that way yielded more in relation to the space occupied, not less as I had read in books by intensivist gurus.
of ' S°ld the seed c°mpany in 1986. With lots of free time and several acres sard 'C knd t0 P'^ with' 1 ^searched the nearly lost art of vegetable extrcm? * Which is mainl>' done ^ ^"n b°«k II 7ParC' HaVi"g mastcrcd this, I wrote Waterwisc Vegetables, a smal of OrJUt j gardcningln Cascadia (a bioregion encompassing those parrs countryV Washington west of the Cascade Mountains, the redwood Wc,. T " Callfor"'a, and the islands and Lower Mainland o vj^)'k is out of print now. sivc
Method tha, n° '0nger raise mY vegetables using the extreme ,ntt|n|' '^mo«' I"1' adv°cated by Everybody Else. And I irrigate much ^ ^evc] vt lf 1 not have irrigation, I could srill grow my g-irt ' " methods that best suit the coming hard rimes-
The coming hard times
Several flows are inevitably joining and reinforcing each other, becoming a globaJ river of change.
We are soon going to base our civilization on something other than oil... or else we aren't going to have much of a civilization left. Soon, everything made with oil is going to cost a lot more: gasoline, food, clothing, transportation, heating of houses, etc. And after that, if oil is still the basis for almost everything we do, then everything is going to cost even more.
At the same time as oil is getting scarcer, average people in the countries with older industrial systems are going to have less real purchasing power. This is the inevitable consequence of a global economic system. Attempts to protect English-speaking labor from competition with Chinese or Indian labor will prove futile and self-destructive. Working people will have less to spend, while much of what they have gotten used to buying in these recent far years is going to cost more.
Many will respond by producing some or much of their own food. Bur those practicing raised-bed intensive methods will discover rhar intensive use of land requires large quantities of water, manure/compost, and fertilizer. If they could make a comparison, they would find that highly intensive beds require more of their time and effort than the slightly increased yield justifies.
Water has become scarce in many places. Flow from rural wells is drop ping as many new households pump from the same water table. At the same time, watersheds are becoming ever more degraded, lessening the recharge of groundwater. Electricity will go up in price as oil does, so pumping warer will also cost more. Folks on municipal water systems will pay more because both purification and pumping are energy dependent. In short, town water may soon cost so much that even if it is available, and even if watering of gardens allowed, irrigated gardening as it has been done will induce economic pain.
Fortunately, in most temperate climates, vegetables can be grown with lit or no irrigation. Our ancestors knew how to do this in the days be/orr water came out of pipes under pressure. In this book I will show you how to do it as well.
( hemical fertilizers, and many organic ones roo. are made with petroleum °r natural gas. so rhey are going to become more expensive. If you can only °btain small amounts of ordinary manure or homebrewed compost in their gardening when it counts hcc an extensive gardening system will enormously outproduce highly demanding intensive beds. In this book I will show you how to make effective compost simply and without undue effort, and how to wisely choose and use the best manures, avoiding overuse, which is a common gardening mistake. Building up soil excessively not only wastes money and effort, but also lowers the nutritional content of your vegetables.
Its true that there are a few kinds of vegetables, like celery and cauliflower, that require extremely high levels of soil fertility. Rather than try to make super-fertile soil for demanding crops by using manure or compost, 1 will show you how to concoct an inexpensive organic fertilizer blend made entirely ot agricultural waste products and crushed rocks. If this complete organic fertilizer is used to supplement modest amounts of manure and/or compost, the food your garden produces will contain far more (human) nutrition than veggies grown by any other method.
I his book is for people who must have a good result. But veggie gardens started with garden-center seedlings and picture-packet seeds often don't have a great result. Seedling raisers and mass-market picture-packet seed businesses are not always ethical. The successful home gardener must start with strong * and trul>' hca% transplants of varieties that are dependable and pro-wh^'1 ^ 3 SCCilsman-1 know thc trade. I will tell you who to deal with and ^" ^ 3 smart ^yer and end up with a successful garden. You'll also
idc, that tj nUgaZinCS' gardcn «"tors, and seed catalogs all promote the k. Actually 7, vPP€almg merchandise is useful ^d essential — that you need properly successfully you only need a few hand tools, used donc" ^t almtr810 edUCatC y°U ab°Ut this ** y°ur grandfather should have C<lkl«.who grtwy01*6 °f U$ Had 3 8randfather who knew how to grow wg" tht «ath. If you'lUi0113 farm' Wh° sharpcned shovels and hoes and worked nevcr had. 3 °W IC'1 am going to be the gardening grandfather you island
"Product a l0
IT,Cr°Ui ¿cl^, y°U havc to us<= » fair bit of land. Not acres, not even
1 fllr ^t Cryou aim for comPlctc fami1/food ^'f-sufficicnC>
c r u'> a few postage-stamp beds in a tiny backyard-
People in the United Kingdom experienced hard rimes from about 1930 co the early 1950s. During World War II, with survival as a nation at stake, they had to do everything possible to produce as much food as couid be raised. Every bit of farmland that could be cropped grew essentials like cereals and potatoes; consequently most kinds of vegetables were scarce. So during wartime the country expanded the "allotment;' a British term meaning a community garden plot, into a national institution. Every council (local government) was required to make an allotment available to any resident who requested one. By law, each plot, provided for a token rental, had to be at least 300 square yards or 2,700 square feet (about 250 square meters). Some people would take two plots; one for vegetables and the orher for small fruit. People would spend time on their allotment after work. Sunday afternoons became gratifying social events at the gardens. Many of the plots sprouted tiny lockable shacks made of recycled materials in which gardeners kept a few tools and an old chair, too, which they could pull our into the sun and rest in as they charted with the neighbors and sipped a bottle of warm English beer.
Only a few allotments still exist in the United Kingdom because the economy has been good there since the early 80s. But during hard rimes, having 2,700 square feet of veggie garden made all the difference between health and sickness, between having enough to eat and low-grade hunger.
Another example comes to mind. The Cubans had especially hard rimes after the fall of the Soviet Union. Before 1991 they had barely been getting by through raising sugar, exporting it to the communist bloc nations, and importing food and gas. The Cubans responded to the collapse of the Soviet Union by breaking up their huge co-op sugar forms and converting them ro individual holdings. City people were freely granted garden blocks at the edges of towns and cities; each block was a third of an acre. Today, half of the pro-ducc consumed in Havana is grown in urban gardens. And urban gardens produce 60 percent of the vegetables consumed in all of Cuba. Today in Cub.i only animal-based foods arc scarce. Neighborhood gardens and community horticultural groups not only producc food for their members, but they .iiso donate producc to schools, clinics, and senior centers and still have enough excess producc to sell a bit in neighborhood markets at low price*. By the beginning of the year 2000, there were over 500 community- vegetable stands functioning in Cuba, with prices at 30 to 50 percent of the prices at fanners markets. No one is hungry; the people are well nourished despite ongoing economic sanctions from the US government. What is most interesting to me is that all this produce is organically grown. The Cubans are now on the planets leading edge in developing holistic non-petroleunvbased horticulture.
The community garden has not yet caught on in North America. The ones 1 supported in Eugene, Oregon, during the 80s and early 90s provided plots that were too small for a serious gardener like me to want to bother working And I was shocked at that rime to see how many unclaimed plots there were. A serious gardener could have rented three or four or ten of them and had a half-decent garden, but no one did that. I guess that's how people think in fat years.
I wish I could tell you how much food could be produced from a particular amount of land, but there are too many factors at play. How fertile is the land: How deep and what type is the soil? How skilled is the gardener? How much water is available, either from rainfall or from irrigation? How will the weather be that season? What sorts of vegetables will be attempted? Will the crops be ideally suited to the climate and soil? What quality of seeds will be used W hat ,s the latitude (which determines the duration and strength of
' °r the gr°W,nS seas°n)? How many frost-free days are there? How severe is the winter? 7
the United Km ^ the 2'70°-square-foot wartime allotment plot in most vegetables8 ^ C°°' fre^ntly cloudy summers mean that or southern oJjTiT" ^^ ^ ^ usua% d° in *he United States dencrs in manure T ^ ^ m'ld English winters aJloW
British were not ex"' ^ frosc"hardy crops year-round. The wartime feet of vegetables'Th" C° makc a comP'«e family diet out of 2,700 square M much meat, chccsle,r $!f °f Ufe was brcad from the local baker. They ate from the dairy. Probabl d "* ^ C°M 8ct"Thc children still drank milk dld not make up nio"c J thc war ^ars vegetables, including potatoes,
T«n«nia, where "l 1 ^ a ^ °f thc famiIy'S totd calori<: intakc' lound in the U.K Th VC n°W' Cnj°yS a &VlZbdY miIder winccr cliniate than '5
bro«ol, cabbagc, * P"miCS mc to actively grow root crops, coles (U» when 1 can.t "°W:r)- and «lad greens during all the chilly, M W Mns> tomatoes, and corn. Over half my gard«"
area produces two crops cach year. I use about 2,000 square feer (200 square meters) of actual growing area (not counting paths and surrounds) to supply my kitchcn, which feeds a family of two adults (no kids). My garden vegetables make up about half the daily calories we cat year-round. Add in the .ire.i used by paths and surrounds and I'm up to nearly the 2,700 square feet o) the British allotment.
Presently I can afford (and do conveniently find offered for salei all the high-quality concentrated organic plant nutrients (fertilizers) my garden can use. If I had to scavenge fertilizer and make compost from all available wastes (possibly including our own humanure), the production of my garden would drop. Drop how much? Maybe by a third if I made good compost; drop In-half or more if I made poor compost. (I'll explain making effective compost in Chapter 7.) I could make up for that drop in productivity by using more land — if I had it.
If the earth freezes solid in winter (meaning no winter garden unless its under plastic or glass), increasing the growing area by half and preserving or (even better) storing produce in a root cellar for winter would do the trick. It irrigation is in short supply or nonexistent in a climate that usually has decent summer rainfall, then increase by half again, to 4.500 square feet (420 square meters), the area needed to produce half the years calories for wo adults. Is it any wonder that the typical small-town building block has, until recently, been a half acre (which is about 21,000 square feet/1,950 square meters)? A lot that size has room for a significant garden in the backyard.
One more thing. If your goal is to produce not half, but nearly all the calories and nutrition needed yelr-round. and if your family can depend on rhc ordinary potato as their healthful staff of life, then you can add more land in order to produce sacks and sacks of nutritious spuds or sweet potatoes. It your efforts are helped by irrigation, add at least 500 more square feet (45 square meters) of growing area for each adult in the family. If there is no irrigation and you live in the rainier parrs of North America east of the 98th meridian (a norrh-south line running through Dallas. Texas), add about 750 square tcet (70 square meters) per adult. The good rhing about potatoes is rhar uwrking Plots of this scale can be done entirely with hand tools. To produce the «me •miount of nutrition by growing cereal grains would require five to ten nines as much land per person. The healthful potato is really the thing for prang through hard times. (If you don't believe that the potato is a health-producing! food, please skip forward to Chapter 9 and read what else I have to say about the common spud.)
The "Irish* potato actually is a native (South) Amencan crop from what is now Peru and Bolivia. However, to arrive in North America it fi-st had to be carried to Spain in the 1500s. For two cen-tunes the Europeans considered it only an amusing oddity until, in about 1700. a plant grown in a botanical garden in Sicily began forming tubers early enough in the season to be useful in temperate latitudes. Then the potato's amazing productivity caused a massive increase of population throughout northern Europe. These people became the migrants who so rapidly filled North Amencan farms and factories.
Before the English brought potatoes to North Amenca, the native North Americans practiced an agricultural system based on corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers, crops that had probably moved »nto North Amenca from Mexico about 1.000 years before the anival of the English. This gardening system required nearly an acre to support an extended family. The English-speaking Americans adopted the Native American crops; combined them with food crops brought from England, which included the potato from South brought the sweet potato (probably from the Caribbean); and created a hybrid agricultural system combining the benefits of three continents H
Is that enough space?
This still may not be enough space. There's one more thing I haven't yet told you. It the soil where you live does not freeze solid in winter to a depth ot at least 18 inches for at least a few continuous months, it is probably not possible to grow a vegetable garden on the same land for more than three to five years before serious troubles arise with diseases and/or soil-dwelling insects. Many people living in mild climates have grown the family garden in the same place tor more than a generation and think everything is fine. But these folks have forgotten, or were never told by their predecessors, that some kinds of vegetables that once were easy to produce on that plot now seem impossible c0 grow. They have also forgotten. & never knew, that the output per .*rt*1 used is considerably lower now than was during the first few years ot dening rhere.
Winters freezing halts the biological process. When comes, the soil ecology sCjrtSfj1l> again, but from near zero. l ro,n ^ cold start, useful soil microorga*1^ and small soil animals have as chance to dominate as do the unwanted ones. The good guys can be helped out with crop rotation and a bit of compost.
I stated a few paragraphs ago that presently my own garden for two is 2,000 square feet (200 square meters) of irrigated, well-fertilized growing beds. Now I will confess in full: I have nearly two such vegetable gardens. A large section of my land is always resting — not being fertilized, nor being watered, growing rough grass and clover like a pasture. The grass areas are roughly mowed a few times each summer, and all the cuttings arc allowed to lie in place to decompose. The British name for this practice is a ley. Lasting three to Five years, a ley rebuilds the soils content of organic marter and restores the biological process to a stable, healthy balance. Even* four or nve years, most of my vegetable beds are put to rest in grass, and the grass beds are turned over and begin to grow vegetables. For the first two years after breaking the sod, veggies on the new ground grow noticeably better than the ones on the old beds were doing. By about the fourth year, the appearance of disease and slower overall growth tells me it is time to rotate again.
Thus the size of my garden has doubled. In my case, from 2000 square feet of growing beds to over 4,000 square feet (370 square meters I Add parhs, a couple of currant bushes, four small fruit trees, some asparagus and perenni.ii herbs around the fringes, and I am using 733 square yards (about 6.500 square feet or 600 square meters) inside a wildlifc-proof frnce. Why 6.5Q& Because where I live the fencing comes in rolls of 100 meters (109 yards! and when you wrap 100 meters of fencing around the outside of a square, that is the area yen end up enclosing.
You have to be a vegetarian or a vegan. Irs an absolute thing. There's no hai^ av about it. Either you eat meat or you don t. Either you eat dairy and eggs or you don't.
Vegetableatarianism is not like that, first of all. the word itself will not h. found in any dictionary because I made ,t up. When Id lectur, someone would always ask me if 1 was a vegetarian. "No." I'd qu.p.Tm a «getabkarar wn. That's a person who mostly ears mostly vegetables
Since vcgctablearananism is my own word, it is a lot like an. >™ fcct. I have known for a lot of years how I should eat. 1 asF.re to cot that
the manner to which I aspire. 1 will feel better, bo healthier, degenerate
> > : IV 11 i omi i» ■■ i— -, strong intention then one that hasn't changed since. My aim was to have food I produced myself nuke up the largest possible part of my diet, although
1 Marred down this road .is a typical meat and -potatoes eater. On our first suburban homestead I had rabbits in cages and chickens in a fenced yard under the fruit trees I even fattened a friendly voting steer named Moocow and put his manure into the compost until Moocow's body, perfectly cut and apped. went into the freetet 1 didn't stop eating rabbit because killing them was distasteful. It was not regret over murdering poor old Moocow that put me off beef. When I first «««J gardening, Id sit down at the table and eat the meat and potatoes t-rst then hll m any gaps with a bit of broccoli or salad. A few years later I woul fill nn he y with broccoli and salads and sliced tomatoes .. and then ceetab. r C' W'th thC mcat- 1 had ~ntionally become a
An I was 36 years ol I
J" >ded to drop out ofthc nt 1kHS of «me. plenty of money. We bought l.vc m , ;u; and homestead, sold almost everyrhmg. a»''
id-1Usted 'o a new liWlc _ "f" Cjoast valley. For the first year ^«hed , gardonme ^ «« savings. The next year I wrote and
Was this article helpful?