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Our first ever plums!  On the left is a Mount Royal, and the other is Superior, both off of Plumsy, our !FrankenPlum!

Our first ever plums! On the left is a Mount Royal, and the other is Superior, both off of Plumsy, our !FrankenPlum! Tree…

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.

This is a shot of the Superior plum. It was the best plum I have ever had, and I can not wait to have a whole tree filled with these little orbs of bliss sometime in the future!

This is a shot of the Superior plum. It was the best plum I have ever had, and I can not wait to have a whole tree filled with these little orbs of bliss sometime in the future!

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 is a shot of some of the garlic we grew this year. We ended up with close to 250 heads, and almost all of them were as beautiful as these!

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.

These were harvested as I wrote this essay.  There is a mix of Big Ivory, Black From Tula, Hungarian Oxheart, and two Russian heirlooms that I have lost the name on.  All of them are great eating!

These were harvested as I wrote this essay. There is a mix of Big Ivory, Black From Tula, Hungarian Oxheart, and two Russian heirlooms that I have lost the name on. All of them are great eating!

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!

baggedpotatoes

These 3 bags of potatoes hold close to 80 pounds of spuds! Not bad for a $10 investment!

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

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Dear Readers –  Due to the time of year, I am once again too busy with gardens and other projects to get any real writing finished.  Although I have many thoughts on my mind, and stories to share, I leave you with more photos of what has been going on around the homestead.  Once things settle down, I hope to get back into the swing of things, and start putting all my thoughts back  into words, but until then … Enjoy … Peace and Cheers!!

Here is the addition we just added to the chicken run. Our original run was too small for 6 chickens... They are much happier now, and not nearly as loud!!

Freya with a giant morel mushroom!!

Here is another perspective of what we found!!

On the left is brewer's yeast sourced from a local brewery, in the center is honey, and on the right is bee pollen. These are the makings for pollen patties that will help feed our bees. They should be arriving in the next week or so... updates to follow!

Here are about 60 grafted apple, cherry, and plum trees! Some of these are going to be a part of the new cider orchard at my in - laws, some will be planted here at the Autonomy Acres homestead, and some still need homes .... Contact me if you are in the Twin Cities and are looking for a custom grafted fruit tree!!

Here is the new blueberry garden. Northland, Elliott, Blue Crop, and Jeresy are the varieties that have been planted. The challenge will be giving them the acidic soil that they need to thrive ... I will touch on this in a future post.

Five rows of spuds!! In a few months we will hopefully be pulling out pounds of Yukon Golds, Dark Red Norlands, and Russetts!!

Owen exploring the river flats!!

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As the thermometer gradually heads downward into the depths of meteorological winter, my thoughts go back onto this last season’s gardens, summer and fall vacations and projects, current world events, and what the future has in store for us.  Needless to say, there is plenty to think about and ponder.  There is big news as far as the Peak Oil movement is concerned.  The IEA, in their 2010 summary, has said that Peak Oil started in 2006.  Doing a Google search on this topic will provide more information and opinions than you will be able to deal with, but here is one with some nice graphs and information.  This revelation is not surprising to me, I have been following the Peak Oil movement now for about five years and I think it is long overdue for this topic to get some real attention.  We have a lot of work to do if we want to keep some semblance of order and cohesion through these up coming days of hardship.  The recession we supposedly just finished was an appetizer compared to the three coarse meal of environmental, economic, and social collapse we are about to be served.  As stated here and on many other sites and books, oil is in everything from our food to our shoes, and when oil gets expensive, so does everything else, welcome to the new norm!  But all ye who enter, do not turn down your head in despair; there may not be a brighter future on the way, but there are things that we can all do to help land this crashing plane as gently as we can.  This blog and all the other ones that I have listed as links all have something to offer and teach.  Very few of us actually grew up with the skills that will be in high demand as we start the descent into a post-oil way of life, so all the knowledge and practice we can gather before it really matters will be very helpful.  Once again the blog One Straw has a great post about the challenges ahead and the transition of suburbia as not just a place to live, but also as a food-producing and semi-self sufficient landscape.   As always the Arch Druid, John Michael Greer has another great post concerning Peak Oil, the current economic collapse, and where we need to go from here.  John Michael Greer has been busy these last few months with a new project he has dubbed Green Wizardry.  It is his call to action concerning Peak Oil and the de-indusrtializing world.  Influenced by the Appropriate Technology movement of the 1970’s, Green Wizardry doesn’t offer one solution for the Peak Oil predicament, but rather a tool box filled with all sorts of tools for all different projects in all different locations.  With Green Wizardry there is no one right way, and personally that really suits my way of thinking.  One last bit on Peak Oil, self sufficiency and transitioning to a simpler life, Sustainable Country is a nice forum I just found packed with lots of great information and excuses to stay up too late on the computer during these cold winter nights.

Four heads of perfect Georgian Fire garlic!

On a more personal level, our gardens in 2010 came in with some mixed results.  We had probably the best year we have ever had with garlic and cooking herbs.  We harvested close to three hundred heads of seven different varieties of garlic and the majority of those were near perfect specimens for each variety.  Our rosemary and basil grew like they never have, along with lemon balm, hops, green onions, and mints.  We always devote a sizeable chunk of our gardens to the Three Sisters: corn, bean, and squash, and this year we tried some new varieties with overall success.  In the back garden we grew Oaxacan Green dent,  flour corn, Hidatsa Sheild Figure dry bean, and Guatemalan Blue Winter squash.  The dent corn did wonderful ripening to greens, yellows,

The first of our winter squash harvest: 2 Queensland Blue, 1 Guatamalan Blue, and volunteer Sweet Dumplings and Acorns!

and purples.  We have had better production with the Hidatsa dry beans and we only got  one Guatemalan Blue winter squash.  Our front garden was a different story!  Up there we had Chocolate Cherry popcorn, Cranberry dry bean, and Queensland Blue winter squash.  I have never seen winter squash grow like this.  In the end we ended getting about seven or eight of these 20 pound winter squash, and are they tasty.  Some of the downers of this years gardens were the tomatoes, peppers, onions, and potatoes.  We had about 15 tomato plants and ended up canning a fraction of the amount of sauce we normally would have, the tomatoes just did not show up in abundance like they usually do.  We always have a hard time with peppers so that one is not a surprise, and I will never do potato towers again –  They do not work!  Overall the gardens provided a lot of food for us and we will be eating pickles, relishes, jams and preserves throughout the winter.  As we get deeper into this snowy winter I do have some high hopes for the blog!  I would like to do some posts on my take of home brewing;  including fabricating custom equipment for all grain brewing, roasting your own grains and a basic tutorial of the brewing process.  I also want to update the site with current info, pictures, and links.  I have been getting a lot more traffic on the site recently so if you are new and like what you see and read, drop me a line, I love hearing from my readers! Cheers!

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