It is that time of year again here in the northern temperate climate of Minnesota when we start to see the abundance that pours forth from a well loved and tended garden. Ripe tomatoes off of the vine, apples that will soon be picked, bags full of potatoes, and another successful harvest of garlic curing downstairs.
It seems like every spring I have reservations about the year to come – things like too much rain or not enough, how bad are the Japanese beetles going to be this year, or is a gigantic wind storm going to take out my fruit trees; and each year I am surprised by what happens and what thrives or what completely fails. But regardless of the overall outcome, we have always had something good to eat this time of year. That is one of the benefits of planting a diverse garden, packed with the many varieties of plants we have available to us.
When we diversify our gardens, regardless of the weather or pests, we can almost always insure some kind of harvest. Right now, if I were so inclined too, I could walk out into the gardens and prepare any number of dishes using beets, cabbage, carrots, collards, kale, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, onions, swiss chard, green beans, a wide range of cooking herbs, eggs from our chickens, and if I felt like stealing a bit of honey from the bees, that as well.
This is not me trying to brag, but more to show what is possible when we decide to grow food, and not lawns! Yes, it takes some work. Yes you may get strange looks from your neighbors (but also gain some allies as well). And yes, you will eat better and feel the benefits of joining the ranks of us crazy Urban Homesteaders!
As far as our gardens are concerned, self sufficiency has never been the goal. For me the thought of trying to be self sufficient in food, whether that be in a city or a rural setting is a mute point. The only way to be truly self sufficient is by building and living in a community that is based on mutual aid and respect. When we can respect our neighbors and lend a hand when one is needed, than we can talk about being self sufficient, or more appropriately, self reliant. Growing food is one of the ways we can start to build these kinds of communities, and start the process of reclaiming our culinary traditions.
For the rest of the essay I am going to highlight a few things already mentioned, the food that we receive from our generous gardens this time of year.
Garlic – Here at the Dead End Alley Farm we have been growing garlic for about 8 years. The first couple of years were pretty rocky with very meager results. But with a bit of homework, and some perseverance, we have now grown great garlic for the last five or six years. Right now we grow 7 varieties – Chesnok Red, Georgian Crystal and Fire, Killarney Red, Marten’s Unknown (rescued from my neighbors garden), Mitachi, and Siberian. All of these are hardneck varieties that are well suited to our northern climate.
Garlic deserves its own essay here at Autonomy Acres, and someday I will get to that one, but for now I will leave you with this. Garlic is a heavy feeder. I devote a large percentage of my homemade compost to my garlic planting every fall. So if nothing else, I know that wherever it is that I plant my garlic, that space also gets a huge addition of organic matter and nutrients once a year. Two books that have been influential concerning my love affair with garlic have been Stanley Crawfords A Garlic Testament and Chester Aarrons Garlic Is Life. Both are more memoirs rather than growing manuals, but they are great reads and may get you addicted to growing garlic, just like they did for me!
Tomatoes – These do not need any introduction. The whole world loves them, and for great reasons. They lend themselves well to many different types of cooking. They can be blanched and frozen as whole fruits, chopped and prepared as fresh or canned salsa, or cooked down into the classic sauce that fills the shelves of so many of ours root cellars.
For the last few years we have grown on average about 15 tomato plants, some years more, some a little less, but that usually yields us about 15 quarts of canned sauce along with quite a few pints of canned salsa. That does not include what we eat fresh, or what we provide in our CSA shares throughout the late summer.
Tomatoes should be a part of any homestead garden, if only for the taste and beauty that they add to fresh summer meals. Stick to heirlooms, but don’t turn down a good hybrid or two for early fruits. Be diligent on lite pruning and trellising, and you will be rewarded in bountiful harvests!
Potatoes – Potatoes, also known as Earth Apples, are a staple crop here at our city farm, along with the garden we have been establishing at my in-laws an hour west of St. Paul. I my opinion, they are the best bang for your buck crop. Seed potato is cheap, and if given the right environment, will thrive and more than triple its mass in return.
This year at our “country” garden, we planted three rows each with five pounds of whole “seed” potatoes planted offset in rows about 15 feet long. We ended up harvesting close to 80 pounds from those three rows! Talk about a real investment! Once again, potatoes are heavy feeders, so any compost, manure, and mulch that can be set aside just for them is well advised.
We also have a number of potatoes planted here in the cities this year as well. They take up two of our raised beds and were planted with pre cut potato “eyes”. As of right now the jury is still out on how well they have performed, the plants are still green and robust so we will allow them to be for now and keep growing into the early autumn. Otherwise, potatoes are a great staple crop that can be grown in smaller spaces and provide a lot of calories that we can not get from other garden variety crops.
So to sum things up in this installment of Autonomy Acres, plant, plant, plant! Grow whatever, and wherever you can, and realize the abundance that can be had with a little time and effort. I am going to finish this short essay with one of my favorite youtube videos, a short piece from a South African farmer by the name of Jo Dyantyi. I can only hope to have his outlook on life someday! Happy harvesting Amigos y Amigas … Peace & Cheers