We are late this year!

Usually we will have most of our plants in by the middle of March, but sometimes things just don’t work out as planned.

In this small series of articles, I intend on taking you throughout our growing season; from preparation and planting all the way through harvest.

There are probably as many ideas and techniques for raising your own food as there are people that raise it. I will show you how we do it here in SouthWest New Mexico on our small Homestead.

We use our garden to provide us with fresh vegetables throughout the Summer months and put-up produce throughout the Winter.

In reality, it is a major resource investment; we put in time, work and money each year to grow our garden.

In return, we (hopefully) receive an abundant and healthy food supply for our family and neighbors, that we can use throughout the year.

We make this investment because . . .

  1. We like to be prepared; the local grocery store may not always have food on the shelves
  2. We like to know what we are eating; when we grow and prepare our own food, instead of relying on others to do it for us, we know exactly what we are eating
  3. It builds good-will among our neighbors

We actually have 3 gardens and 1 greenhouse. 1 large garden that we use for our major crops and 2 smaller ones that hold smaller crops (and plants that won’t fit in the large garden). The greenhouse is used primarily for lettuce and smaller salad crops that we eat from year-long, supplemented by our sprouting program.

Main Garden-High fences are necessary to keep out the deer (Strawberries in foreground)

Soil Preparation:

Throughout the year, we maintain two compost piles; One of these piles is ‘Live’ and we put animal manure from our chickens and rabbits, leftover food scraps, etc. The second pile is ‘Dead’ and contains the previous years compost. We just pile the compost on the first pile; every few months I turn them and water them slightly, just to keep them working, They are located away from the house where the odor doesn’t bother us (not much odor anyway) and convenient to both the gardens and animals. We also put earthworm casings in both, and sell the worms, use them for fish bait and use them in the garden. Occasionally, if I feel our soil needs something else, depending on the previous years growing season, I may add some sand (helps water percolation), topsoil, straw, fertilizer, etc.

Last years Compost

Around February of every year, I take all of the compost from the ‘Dead’ pile and spread it over the gardens. Both chicken and rabbit manure are considered ‘Hot’ manures and if not allowed to compost fully, will burn your plants. (which is why we let it compost for a full year in the dead pile).

After I have spread it, I let it sit for a month or so and when the weather allows use my Rototiller and turn the whole thing up. To properly till, I have found that the soil has to be half-way dry (pretty easy to do in NM). If I till it when it is too moist, I get too many clods and clumps which will effect the growth and planting. I till them at least two times each. Once to turn the compost under and a second time for depth. If I have the time and feel it necessary, I may even do it a third time right before planting.

A Tool-Man’s machine (Argh-Argh-Argh!!)

Around Mid-March (Late-April this year), I dig all of our holes and rows for our plants. We always rotate the locations of where we plant each crop. Tomato’s never go in the same place. We keep a detailed notebook of planting locations, variety of plants planted, etc. This helps us see what works best in our location, weather conditions and soil. Experience plays a major portion for a successful and abundant harvest.

A few holes dug

Any more, we just about always buy most of our seedlings for the larger plants from a local nursery; we do plant fast-growing plants like radishes, etc from seed and have raised our own hybrid seedlings in the greenhouse, but have found it easier and cheaper just to buy them anymore. The Nursery can provide us with healthy, large plants easier than we can do ourselves. (though we do have hybrid seeds saved in case we have to resort to this method and for experimental purposes-though not this year).

We live in Zone 7 and the last chance of frost is supposed to be around May 10th, though this doesn’t always hold true, so we have to protect the sensitive plants like Tomato’s and Chili from freezing.

There are many ways to protect your plants from freezing. We use what are called ‘Walls-of-Water’. Basically just plastic with small tubes where you put water in. The water heats up during the day and forms a small greenhouse to keep the plants warm at night. Work really well, are very long-lasting and very effective. Each wall cost us around a buck, but we feel they are worth it.

Walls of Water in small garden

In our main garden this year we are planting Tomato’s, Cucumbers, Chili (hot Mexican Peppers), Bell Peppers, Radishes, Carrots and Green Beans. There is already a Strawberry Patch that is in full bloom and we should have plenty of Strawberries if it doesn’t get too cold for them. Tomato’s, Chili and Bell Peppers we bought at the Nursery for $34.67; all the rest will be grown from seed. We like to grow plants that we actually eat a lot of and will save us at the store. Use it or Lose it. We have grown just about everything, but find this is the most productive way for us. A bag of Potato’s can be had so cheaply, it just doesn’t make sense sometimes (even at the risk of TSHF and not having any).

We plant our Tomato’s, Chili and Bell Peppers in holes that I have dug. A small hole is dug for the roots of each plant in the larger hole, they are taken out of their Nursery containers and the roots are placed in each small hole. Tomato’s also receive 1 Tablespoon of Epson Salts to help them out. Tomato’s are planted so they are laying on their sides. Walls of water are then placed over each plant and they are given a good watering (the walls of water also help water the plants).

Middle garden-onions growing

The Cucumber seeds are planted on the sides of holes I have dug. Everything else goes in rows. We use a drip-watering system on a timer for all of the watering, but sometimes it gets so dry here in NM, that we will actually irrigate the rows if needed. Everything is given a good watering and planting is done.

My next chore will be to hook up our drip-watering system, so stay tuned.
Homesteader