No Green Thumb?

Planting a backyard survival garden is an activity fully in keeping with the preparedness spirit. It is a step toward self-sufficiency and independence. It’s economical and healthy, and can be a fun family activity. 

If you’re considering starting a survival garden, don’t decide beforehand that the work will be too difficult. Or claim you don’t have a “green thumb.” Growing food is a process that can be learned by anyone. And it can be adapted to fit individuals and available land.

By starting small and learning from experience – instead of letting goals define your success – you can become a fine gardener over the course of only a few growing seasons.

This may be the perfect time to do it. Spring is less than two weeks away. And many of us have more free time than ever due to the pandemic. 

Never lose sight of the fact that this garden may save the lives of you and your family someday. It could be your lifeline when everything around you is falling apart.

Let’s break the process down into manageable chunks.

The site

Pick a sunny location. Most vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. The more sunlight, the better the harvest and flavor. Protect your crops from wind damage by placing the garden in the shelter of a nearby building or fence.

Make sure there is a convenient water supply. But rain must neither pool nor run off too quickly to soak into the soil.

A good-size beginner vegetable garden is about 16 by 10 feet. It should yield enough vegetables to keep a family of four from buying produce for a summer. In a good year, there will be extra for canning, freezing and sharing with neighbors.  

Raised garden beds are a great option for starting small, with fresh soil and mulch. Large plant pots are a fine way to start herbs outdoors and bring them into an indoor window garden for winter.

The seeds

Buy good seeds. A few extra dollars spent in spring will be more than recovered when seeds germinate well and yield a greater harvest. Avoid genetically-modified seeds. Growing food is what the earth naturally does. High-tech interference isn’t needed.

The soil

Plant roots need soft soil. The earth must be broken up and tilled weeks before planting. Mix in untreated lawn clippings and leaves for compost. Mix the soil again before planting to blend in the biodegradables. This softens the earth and adds nutrients.

Rent a rototiller for the best results. Although a little muscle and a garden spade and steel rake can also do the job. 

Soil that is ready is easily shoveled and crumbles nicely in your hand. If there is too much clay, it may be necessary to create a new top layer of soil, mulch and compost to the depth of the mature plant’s roots. 

Consider testing the pH level of the soil. Home kits are available at building centers. Or you can send a sample to your local cooperative extension service. They are also a great free resource for identifying crops that will grow well at your soil’s pH level.

The professionals at your local garden center are another great resource for finding plants that will do well in your area.  

The crop selection 

Research the crops you are considering to make sure they are suited to your climate and growing season. The Farmer’s Almanac, gardening books and plant guides will help. They can be found at your local library.  

There are many popular plants that perform well for new gardeners. They include tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, green beans, carrots, radishes, beets and cucumbers. But make sure they are ones you and your family will want to eat.

When planning your garden layout, think about the size of the plants when fully grown.

Place the tallest plants at the back of the garden. They should be descending in size to the front to keep taller plants from blocking the sun on smaller plants. 

Don’t overcrowd. Plant so that your crop grows into the available space. If planting in rows, allow enough space to keep plants away from your footpath.

The maintenance

Consistent maintenance is just as important to a garden’s success as the planning and planting. Water often, with a good soaking at least once a week. You’re watering the roots, not just wetting leaves.

Water more during hot spells. Particularly early in the day before the sun heats things up. Watering in the evening can promote fungus. Keep weeds in check and use mulch to keep soil moist.  

Keep an eye out for infestations so they can be handled before they become destructive. When harvest season arrives, pick ripened product frequently to keep plants producing. Preserve your crop by freezing, canning and dehydrating. 

The patience

Gardening is not about instant gratification. Don’t over-fuss in the garden to rush results. Harvest comes in its own time. There are off years and there are great years. It’s worth investing the time to experience both.

The tools

Here is a list of the tools and accessories you may wish to have handy to help with the process:

Gloves -- Gardening might mean thorns, splinters, scratches and blisters from digging. Get a durable pair of gloves that fits well and allows mobility and dexterity. If your brush them off and dry them properly before storing, they’ll last the whole season.

 Hand trowel -- The “go-to” tool for planting, shaping holes and eliminating weeds. Stainless steel is best if your budget permits.

Spade -- These short-handled, square shovels are great for digging holes and moving mounds of dirt. Look for a strong steel head and a thick fiberglass handle. A good one will last forever. 

Rakes -- A steel rake is great for breaking lumps of soil and sifting out rocks and bits of stick. A fan rake whisks away leaves and plucked weeds to keep your garden tidy and attractive.

Hoe -- Great for breaking up soil, turning it and creating rows ready for planting.

Hose and adjustable nozzle -- Your hose must be able to reach every part of the garden. An adjustable nozzle or rain wand lets you control the reach and pressure of the water stream to avoid battering plants. 

Loppers -- These are the perfect tool for pruning bushes and tree branches up to two inches in diameter. Great for shaping these plants and keeping them from shading the garden.

Wheelbarrow -- Simply the best tool for moving hundreds of pounds of material such as soil, mulch and stone without much strain. Handy for transporting trays of new plants and tools. A good wheelbarrow will last a lifetime.

We’ve barely scratched the surface here. There’s so much more to discuss. But hopefully you are now interested in starting your own survival garden. And you understand that with some work, you are perfectly capable of doing it.

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