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Like any lifestyle choice you can make, there are pros and cons to choosing the homesteading lifestyle. For a while, my husband and I felt that there were more cons than pros because of the mistakes we were making – and sometimes, didn’t even realize it!

Now, I’m all for making mistakes. You can’t succeed without failure, and you can’t grow (as a person, I mean, not food 😉 ) unless you make some mistakes that you can learn from. But when it comes to how to homestead, there are a few biggies that are best avoided.

And you can avoid them, because we made them and I’m going to tell you what they are and how not to make them.

You’re welcome. 😉

Mistake #1: Be in a hurry.

I was determined that we were going to be growing most of our own fruits and vegetables as soon as possible. Therefore, we spent hundreds of dollars on fruit trees, vines and bushes just before and just after moving to our property…only to eventually dig up (or let die) at least half of them.

I had to have a huge garden the first year, which resulted in shoddy planning for which I’m going to pay for the rest of my life (some things are just too big of a pain to change). For example, I had my husband build structures that I ended up not using, and the space between beds isn’t big enough in certain areas.

If I could go back and do it again, I would have built one raised bed at a time the lasagna gardening way, and waited until our second spring there to actually start growing anything. I would have made sure I had plenty of space for cucumbers to crawl and tomatoes to sprawl…without them growing into each other.

I would have talked to an extension agent and found out the risk of disease for the fruit I wanted to grow. Because we have such high humidity, black rot affects many fruits. Knowing that, I would have either committed to spraying with a fungicide from the get-go, or chosen not to purchase certain things because of finding out that they would probably get disease every year.

If you’re just starting out on your homesteading journey, you might be like me, chomping at the bit to have everything up and running yesterday. Take my advice: take it easy, and take it slow. The beginning of your homesteading life will be a lot less stressful.

And you have the rest of your life to get everything going the way you envision.

Mistake #2: Constructing before you’re sure.

When we moved here, we weren’t vegan. We were going have bees and chickens, maybe even a couple of goats down the line.

So my husband spent hours – and a lot of sweat – building top-bar beehives. When he finished, we found out that there was no place around to buy bees!

It worked out, as we were able to sell the unused hives for a good price on craigslist, and we went vegan around the same time.

But what if we had built a chicken coop? A shelter for goats? Sure, those things are relatively small, but you can make this mistake on a much larger scale, having a house built too big or too small or not of the most sustainable materials or whatever, all because you didn’t do enough research and/or give yourself time to settle in and get a feel for what you really needed as a homesteader.

If I could go back and do it again, I would have called around about getting bees in our area ahead of time. Better, I would have purposely searched for online articles that talk about the problems that accompany beekeeping.

I also would have done more digging as to whether eggs truly are a healthy food.

Mistake #3: Fight against nature.

Though less practical and more philosophical in nature than the other two mistakes, this mistake has been the most heart-wrenching one.

Black rot on grapes (and blackberries and blueberries and…). Black beetles eating up my tomatoes every August. Cucumber beetles on everything by September.

Not enough rain. Too much rain.

If you want to learn how to homestead with as little stress as possible, don’t let nature anger or frustrate you. Every year, some crop or other won’t do as well as usual. Every year, a storm will rip part of your garden to shreds (or try its best to do so!).

The weather will never be perfect. A few pests will sometimes turn into army invasions.

Accept these unexpected turns of nature. You can’t control them. Accept them, embrace them, and plan for them.

Grow more than you need. Be grateful for the grocery store, instead of angry that you have to go inside one.

If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t have wasted so much energy complaining about the weather and getting angry at beetles.

I wouldn’t have fought against nature.

**********

The homesteading lifestyle, like life in general, has its ups and downs. Avoid these three mistakes when you start out on your journey in learning how to homestead, and you’ll be a lot happier for it.

Happy homesteading.

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“Where Do Vegans Get Their Calcium?”

Vegans don’t eat cheese. Or consume any dairy. So, where do vegans get their calcium??

“Where do vegans get their calcium?” is a question that ranks right up there with, “Where do vegans get their protein?” Except, the one about calcium makes more sense. All foods contain protein, and the only foods that aren’t rich in it are the fruits.

I was actually asked the calcium question years ago by a neighbor. Being around seventy years old, she was, of course, convinced that you couldn’t get enough calcium in your diet unless you consumed dairy products. The fact is, the calcium in dairy products – with possibly the exception of unpasteurized milk – is much more difficult for the body to absorb than the calcium in plant foods.

You wouldn’t know that by hearing about the studies that concluded that vegans are more prone to hip fractures, and more broken bones in general, compared to non-vegans. Supposedly, this is due to a calcium deficiency because vegans don’t consume dairy products.

On the other hand, other studies show that dairy-product consuming countries have many more incidences of frail bones and osteoporosis than those countries where most people eat little meat and little to no dairy.

What gives? First of all, if you know anything about statistics, you know that they can be interpreted quite liberally. In other words, however the bias of the researcher leads them to be interpreted.

Second, bone health is more complicated than getting “enough calcium.” Exercise, vitamins D and K, and magnesium – along with twelve other nutrients –  also all play a part in it.

Still, even though the calcium in dairy is more difficult to absorb, many non-vegans get enough calcium without having to think about it because they drink milk and/or eat cheese every day. Most vegans, however, have been told that if they just eat a variety of whole foods, they’ll get all the calcium they need.

Well, that depends which whole foods we’re talking about, as well how much a vegan pays attention to the other healthy bone factors I just mentioned.

The good news is, adults probably don’t need the 1,000 milligrams of calcium that the experts recommend. This recommendation came out of studies of individuals who were extremely deficient in the mineral. Still, you probably need at least half that, and it takes some planning to make sure you’re eating the right foods every day to get the calcium you need.

Where do vegans get their calcium? The best option.

The first thing you need to do is develop a taste for dark leafy green vegetables. Spinach is the best, followed by Swiss chard.

Wait, hold on. I know, you read somewhere that the compound known as oxalates that are found in spinach and Swiss chard impede the absorption of the calcium in those vegetables so you can’t count on them as calcium sources.

I’ve heard that too. But I’ve also read this, in my go-to nutrition handbook, “The World’s Healthiest Foods”:

…in every peer-reviewed research study I’ve seen, the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption definitely exists, but is relatively small, and definitely does not outweigh the ability of oxalate-containing foods to contribute calcium….So while it’s true that Spinach is a relatively high oxalate food, and equally true that oxalates can bind with calcium and lower its absorption, the research does not seem to support the position that spinach is a poor choice for increasing calcium…

Besides that, I recently read in another source that the presence of vitamin C helps to break the bind between oxalic acid and calcium. And guess what other nutrient spinach is very high in? Yep, vitamin C!

Swiss chard, by the way, has close to twice the vitamin C that spinach does. One cup cooked spinach provides almost 300 mg of calcium, and one cup cooked Swiss chard provides about 100 mg.

What about greens that are low in oxalic acid? If you can stand the strong flavor, one cup cooked collard greens provide over 220 mg of calcium. The same amount of bok choy provides 160 mg, and broccoli and kale provide between 70 and 93 mg of calcium, respectively, per cooked cup.

Bok choy is a good vegan source of calcium.

Do you have lambsquarters growing in your backyard? Let it spread…and then eat it! One cup cooked of this so-called weed provides as much calcium as collard greens, with a much milder flavor. Dandelion greens contain about half the calcium as lambsquarters. Yes, they taste bitter, but they are free if you avoid spraying your yard with herbicides.

Where do vegans get their calcium? Another option.

If you aren’t afraid of fat – which you shouldn’t be  – one-fourth cup of sesame seeds, or two tablespoons tahini, provides 35% of the daily value of calcium, and one-fourth cup of almonds provides almost 10%. If you consume plant-based milks and/or tofu, choose the brands that are fortified with calcium. It won’t be the most bioavailable, but it’s better than getting deficient.

Where do vegans get their calcium? An example

Let me break this all down for you and offer a couple of ways you could get 600 mg of calcium every day. First, eat the equivalent of one cup cooked spinach every day, which provides about 300 mg of calcium. Add two tablespoons of soaked sesame seeds in your morning smoothie, which provides another 150 mg. Only 150 more mg to go! Have a couple tablespoons of soaked almonds for a snack, and if you’re eating a strictly whole-foods diet, the final fifty-something milligrams of calcium will come from the rest of your diet. It all adds up.

Broccoli is another good vegan source of calcium.

Another sample “vegans and calcium” menu plan

Here’s another way to get plenty of calcium. Include a glass of calcium-fortified almond milk with your breakfast. Have a meal that includes two cups of broccoli and calcium-fortified tofu. Include a snack that consists of two tablespoons of tahini. All those foods will bring you close to your daily calcium requirements, and if the rest of what you eat that day consists of whole foods, you should get enough calcium from them to meet the requirements.

What about calcium supplements for vegans?

If you’re like me, you may have someone in your household who despises both dark, leafy green vegetables and sesame seeds. Or, you may want to hedge your bets and make sure you’re getting enough calcium – especially if you tend to fall off the “whole foods” bandwagon a bit more often than you know is nutritionally sound.

In such cases, you might want to be interested to know the best calcium supplement. Let me tell you the worst type of calcium supplement first: the dry ones. The ones that come in a tablet or capsule form. Why?

The kind of calcium in those supplements can cause more harm than good.

The best kind of calcium supplement? One that is liquid. Angstrom calcium is one alternative, an herbal extract high in calcium (such as this one by Mountain Meadow Herbs) is another.

How do vegans get enough calcium? An important caution!

One critical warning before we wrap up: there are some things that can inhibit the absorption of calcium, depending on how much of them you put into your body. They are:

  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • acid-blocking medications
  • certain other prescription medications
  • animal proteins (I know, I know, this article is directed toward vegans, but every little reason you have not to eat animal products is good to know!)
  • smoking

You can do it!

Where do vegans get their calcium? Now you know…and you know that it’s not rocket science. You can do it! For an even more encouraging and in-depth information on the topic, click to this other website’s great article.

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Welcome To My Jungle!

Ah, the summer garden. Neat rows of staked tomatoes, tidy beds with cucumber vines keeping itself in the bounds you set for them, everything evenly spaced and easy to find…

…NOT!

At least, not in my garden. Not this time of year! Scroll down to each photograph, and I’ll give you a tour of my kitchen garden.

This first photo is of two twenty-foot beds that are mostly empty right now. I planted peas early this spring in the one to the left – they are, for all practical purposes, done with for the year – and in the one on the right, I planted the extra tomato starts.

The SmartPots that you see I plan to use for sweet potatoes next year.

Two long, empty in-ground garden beds

I’m filling the Smart Pots with organic matter to create soil inside them per the lasagna gardening method.

In the next picture, one of the extra tomato plants growing next to the trellis in the bed on the right-hand side.

The following photo is a view to the blackberry trellis and main asparagus patch, from the two beds shown in the first picture.

I have beetle netting over the blackberries to keep the cardinals from stealing the fruit. Look carefully in the next photo and you’ll be able to see almost ripe fruit through the netting.

How to keep birds off your blackberries? Cover them with beetle netting!

In the next photo, my back is toward the asparagus patch and we’re looking down toward the grape vine. Near the grapes are the two new lasagna garden beds I’m creating.

Next, a close-up of those beds.

In the next picture, my back is toward the grapes, giving you the view from there down toward the asparagus patch.

Next, standing by the grapes, I’m showing you the view of the high raised bed portion of the garden. Four blueberry bushes are in front, then there are four beds oriented east to west. The first three are mainly lasagna beds topped with an organic potting mix. The fourth bed is filled with a decidedly non-organic potting mix that I hate to admit buying. That’s a story for another post.

Here’s the first high raised lasagna garden bed. It has a tomato on either end and mung bean plants in the middle.

A close-up of some unripe yellow pear tomatoes on the same plant as in the above photo.

I think I started the cucumber vine, which is in the bed next to the one with the pear tomatoes, in the following picture at the beginning of April, and planted it out the first week of May. It’s a hybrid variety, and man, let me tell you: if you want a prolific plant, choose a hybrid over an heirloom!

The dried material in front are two or three spent cilantro plants, I hope happily reseeding into this bed!

I had to actually pick and THROW OUT 13 cucumbers of this size…and there were 15 super-mature ones like it left!

A view of the cucumber bed and the other two beyond it, looking toward the south side of the garden.

Now things get really messy. I have two sub-irrigated planter-beds (SIP beds), which are basically giant Earthboxes – which are self-watering planters. They run the opposite direction of the four high-raised lasagna garden beds.

In this first one, way to the right is a cage protecting a few broccoli plants. Right in front you see a lot of red malabar spinach plants surrounding a zucchini, plus one dill.

No, I’m not going to let all those malabar spinach plants keep growing! But I’m going to keep them there, cut short, to help confuse any squash bug that might come along and try to destroy the zucchini.

A close-up of the zucchini plant. Can you see the yellow blossom behind, at its base?

In the next photo: welcome to the jungle! Now I know why they’re called Kentucky Wonder pole beans – because you wonder how a plant could grow so prolifically, so fast, and take over everything! It’s all over the upside-down tomato cages that I’m using to stake the peppers. I think I’m going to have to prune some of the pole bean vines so that they don’t completely shade out the peppers!

Kentucky Wonder pole beans take precedence in this photo.

See? The beans even want to grow into the kiwi vine!

Next, a sad pepper, lost amidst pole bean vines and much-taller basil.

Here’s a closer view into that bed. In this half of the bed, the peppers are growing in the middle, with the basil next to them. The pole beans, though planted next to PVC pipe attached to the outside of the cage, are growing wherever they feel like it!

A lush summer vegetable garden.

At least the beans are finally producing. In the next two photos, a bean flower, than a bean baby. As opposed to a beanie baby, lol.

A side view of that SIP bed, looking at it from between two of the high-raised lasagna beds.

Next, a south-north view of this bed. In front is one of two Beit Alpha cucumber plants I have growing (the other is elsewhere, and yes, this is an heirloom variety),

The really tall plant by the cucumber is a huge lambsquarters. This is an edible weed, related to spinach.

After that, the jungle!

The following photo shows the path between the SIP beds and the high-raised lasagna garden beds, just so you can see that there is some tidiness in my garden. 😉

There ya go! Thanks for accompanying me on this tour of my kitchen garden. 🙂

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Does a wilting cucumber need more water? This question is as ubiquitous with newbie gardeners as, “Is bitter lettuce safe to eat?”

As to the answer to the cucumber question, I used to think it was a definitive “yes”. I’d go out into the garden in the middle of an 85(F)+ degree, sunny day, see most of the leaves on the cucumber vines drooping, and go into panic mode.

“I just watered that this morning!”

“But we had two-tenths of an inch of rain yesterday!”

“Oh, no! Now the fruit is all going to turn bitter!”

The fact is, a cucumber vine that isn’t getting enough water is going to produce bitter fruit. I learned that by sad experience our first year here.

However, while a wilting plant can indicate a plant that’s begging for water, this isn’t always – or even mostly – the case. For example, I took the following photo around two in the afternoon on a sunny, mid-ninety (F) degree day…after we’d had three inches of rain over a two-day period only a couple of days before.

Photo of wilting cucumber vine in my garden.

Wilting cucumber vine.

So, what do you think? Does a wilting cucumber vine need more water?

Even if we hadn’t had a recent deluge of rain, this vine should be getting plenty of moisture without me having to lift a watering can or turn on a hose. Why? It’s planted in a new Hugelkultur-lasagna garden bed. The very bottom of the bed is filled with rotting wood – medium-sized trunks, mostly (the Hugelkultur part). On top of the wood are at least nine inches of organic matter in various stages of decomposition. The potting mix at the top is actually only a few inches deep.

All of this translates into a perpetually moist growing medium, because as organic matter breaks down, it produces moisture. I also have several inches of cedar mulch surrounding the base of the plant, which not only keeps the rain drops from evaporating once the sun comes out, but also is slowly adding moisture to the soil because it, too, is slowly decomposing.

Why is my cucumber wilting, if it doesn’t need water?

Simply put, water is evaporating off of the leaves faster than the plant’s roots can replenish it. Sometimes this indicates – or can result in – a problem. But in my experience, even though a cucumber plant (or tomato or whatever) will perk up with some extra water, it more often than not just means that it’s not having fun in the summer sun.

Assuming, of course, that the plant has recently been watered. Which brings us to an important question…

How often should I water a cucumber plant?

During a drought, even if you have six or more inches of wood chips around your cucumber vine, you’ll need to water it if it’s growing in plain-old soil or potting mix. How much and how often? It depends. But as I stated earlier, cucumbers need a lot of water to produce non-bitter fruit, so your best strategy is to not let the soil get dry more than an inch deep. And when you check the soil and find that it is dry that deep, water deeply, at least a gallon per plant.

And I’ll tell you from personal experience: if the cucumber is growing in mostly sandy soil, it will probably need to be watered daily in hot weather.

In summary

Does a wilting cucumber need to be watered? If a measurable amount of rain has fallen within the last couple of days, or you’ve watered it deeply in the same amount of time, the answer is no. Otherwise, check the soil for dryness.

Now, if a pepper plant starts to wilt, that’s a different story altogether!

Happy gardening. 🙂

P.S. – For all the basics you need to know to get your own organic vegetable garden started, grab your (very inexpensive) copy of my book, How To Grow Vegetables Without Losing Your Mind.

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When your space for growing your own food is limited, any home vegetable garden ideas that will make your garden more productive are worth looking into. I know, because we used to live in a suburb and had the proverbial postage stamp-sized backyard.

In this article, I want to give you six ideas that most people with limited growing space – whether you have a tiny backyard or an apartment balcony – can put into practice starting today.

Idea #1: Trellis everything that can be trellised

You may already know that peas require a trellis to grow up, and that cucumbers like to climb up trellises.

But did you know that you can trellis many types of melon and winter squash varieties, as well? The trick with doing that is to trellis only the smaller varieties – say, those that are cantaloupe-size at maturity – and then when the fruit grows to be about the size of an orange, to wrap it up and attach it to the trellis so the weight of the fruit doesn’t make it fall off the vine before it’s mature.

You can use netted bags such as what lemons and onions typically come in at the store, or you can use old pantyhose. Basically, you need a material that will stretch as the fruit grows, and that is strong enough so that it won’t break.

Idea #2: Mount shallow containers to a fence.

YouTube is replete with ideas on how to grow things in gutters attached to fences or the outside of apartment walls. Below is one.

I will say, if you either live in a hot-summer climate or don’t want to be constantly irrigating the soil, you might want to use plastic window boxes instead. They are deeper than gutters, and so hold more soil and thus won’t require watering as frequently as gutter gardens do.

Idea #3: Grow greens in pots on a metal shelf.

This home vegetable garden idea is a great way to take advantage of vertical space, especially if you don’t have a fence or wall that you dare attach gutters to. The metal shelves that are available at Big Box stores are coated so that they won’t rust, so you can leave them outside season after season.

Level a spot in your backyard garden that gets at least six hours of sun, buy one of the shelving units, and assemble it on the level spot. Then, cram each shelf full of pots of lettuce, herbs, kale, whatever.

Because the spot will get sun for most of the day, all of the plants – even those on the lower shelves that are more shaded – should get enough sun for greens to grow.

That said, if you use small enough containers to have three rows of them on each shelf, forego that idea. To make sure all of the plants get enough sun, only have two outside rows, and leave the middle of each shelf empty.

Here’s an irrigation hack for such a set-up: Buy a shallow plastic storage container at least thirty inches long for each shelf. Cover it with either three layers of lime-green landscape fabric or panda film to keep the plastic from getting sun damage.

Plant your plants in small grow bags – a one-gallon bag for each lettuce, a three-gallon bag for each kale – and set the bags inside the shallow boxes.

To irrigate, simply keep about two inches of water inside each plastic box. Shake up fifty drops of orange oil per gallon of water to instantly kill any mosquito eggs that get laid inside the boxes.

Idea #4: Utilize interplanting wherever possible.

This is one of the easiest, yet least-used, of the home vegetable gardening ideas for small spaces. Interplanting is when you either plant narrow-growing plants with wider-growing ones, such as carrots in between heads of lettuce, or early harvest crops with later harvest ones, such as radishes in between tomatoes.

A related trick, if you live somewhere where the summer temperatures average well above eighty-five degrees (F), is to plant smallish, cool-weather plants to the north of large, warm-weather plants.

For example, if you have four tomatoes growing in a row, plant a lettuce or two on the north side of each tomato, and the tomato will protect it from much of the hot summer sun rays.

Idea #5: Use a stackable planter.

The brand really does matter if you decide to invest in one of these, because the cheaper ones don’t allow for even irrigation all the way to the bottom of the structure.

However, if you want to significantly increase the number of plants you grow in a very small area, investing in a quality stackable planter, such as the kind you can buy from greenstalkgarden, might end up being the perfect solution for your backyard garden.

Idea #6: Grow in nooks and crannys.

When we lived in the suburbs, I grew things under bushes in the corners of the yard and along the fence. I also let cilantro and red malabar spinach, both being plants which freely reseed and come back year after year, grow wherever they popped up as long as they were close to the back patio or other area that we didn’t need to keep mowed.

Red malabar spinach vine growing around back deck post in suburban backyard.

You can grow lettuce in the partial shade of bushes. You can grow a tomato in a five-gallon bucket next to a porch or balcony post that you can easily tie it to as it grows. Does the place where your hose connect to the outside faucet drip when the water is turned on? Even if it only drips once every few seconds, a water-loving mint plant might flourish there.

Your imagination and ingenuity are the limit!

When it comes to home vegetable garden ideas for tiny spaces, there are probably at least as many as there are small backyard gardens. Try a couple of the above ideas, and see where your own ingenuity takes you!

Happy (small space) gardening!

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When To Give Up On A Fruit Tree

Are fruit trees hard to grow? Wanting so badly to produce as much of our own food as possible, I didn’t delve into this question nearly as deeply as I should have before going out and buying over $600 worth of fruit canes, vines, bushes, and trees. I believed it was just a matter of making sure they had enough sun, water, fertilizer, and pruning to get all the fruit we would ever need.

Five years later, and I’ve realized that the question shouldn’t be, “Are fruit trees hard to grow?”, but, “How hard is it to get fruit trees to produce?”

The answer is twofold: not as easy as the nursery catalogs make it sound; and, it depends on where you live.

Peach tree loaded with fruit – something I’ve never seen, and a dream I’m giving up on.

Maybe you’re like me and were overly enthusiastic about growing your own fruit, and now find yourself with several trees, bushes, or vines that are not producing nearly as much as you thought they would. Or they get a disease or pest every year before the fruit has a chance to mature.

We want to hang onto our food crops, and give them second, third, and fourth chances to provide for us. After all, we paid good money for those plants! But at some point, you’re going to have to admit that you wasted your money purchasing something that just doesn’t do well in your area.

How do you know when it’s time to admit defeat? I’ll give you some guidelines, while telling you the story of the Great Mini-Dwarf Peach-Nectarine Tree Failure.

The beginning

A couple of years before moving onto our five acres, I bought a bunch of fruit plants and put them all in containers to await the Big Move. Four were mini-dwarf peach-nectarine combo trees. Grow them in a twenty-gallon container, the nursery said, or space them four feet apart because they’ll never get taller than five feet and the roots will stay small.

Two unpruned peach trees on the left, two on the right pruned down to about six feet high. So you see how huge they were getting.

The year before we moved, the roots of two of the trees were growing out of the bottom of the twenty-gallon fabric pots. Hmm. Are they supposed to do that? Maybe I needed a thirty or forty gallon container?

The middle

We moved, and eventually planted the peach trees in the ground. In the meantime, the roots of all of the trees had torn out the bottom of the pots. And the trunks seemed to be getting suspiciously large for mini-dwarf trees.

So we planted them about six feet apart. Just in case.

The next summer, the new growth well surpassed the five foot maximum height. I called the nursery and asked their on-staff horticulturalist about it.

“It sounds like they lost their mini-dwarf root graft,” she answered in surprise.

Long pause. “Uh…they can lose their root graft?”

Sure enough, they can. And did.

As did half of my mini-dwarf apple trees.

Our peach trees, planted ten feet away from the house and only six feet away from each other, were starting to grow into regular-sized trees.

Pro tip: do NOT buy mini-dwarf trees!!

About an hour ago, this naked peach tree…

…was about the size of, and had as much foliage as, the tree next to it.

The result of this loss is that every summer, I’ve had to spend time cutting the trees back to the height I want them. In the miserable summer humidity.

Which brings me to reason number one to give up on a fruit tree:

It’s causing you a lot more work than you bargained for. (And you can afford to buy fruit from the store, so it’s really not worth the headache.)

But I was okay with doing this annual severe pruning, if it would only produce fruit. Long story short, in five years I haven’t gotten more than a dozen ripe fruit off of four trees – and most of them have come off a single tree. It wasn’t because I didn’t thin them, or didn’t fertilize them. One of the major culprits is the fungus it gets every year due to the high humidity where we live.

That leads us to the second reason to give up on a fruit tree:

It’s prone to destructive disease or pests in your area.

Second pro tip: just because a nursery catalog says something will grow in your growing zone, doesn’t mean it will be healthy in the particular climate you live in.

This year, despite all the flowers that appeared on all four trees, most flowers fell off, fruitless, and of the fruit that began to grow, most of it shriveled up before getting two inches in diameter.

This was because with all the rain we’ve been getting – especially in February and March, which is when peach trees are in bloom here – the bees didn’t come out to pollinate.

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Oh, well. So we pollinate by hand from now on.”

The end

Except.

I kept looking out the window, and watching how the peach tree branches were growing wider and taller than ever. The trees were already middle-aged, and hadn’t produced jack-nothin’. I gave them second and third chances. I wanted to be able to focus my time and energy on the plants that were producing, not keep hoping for fruit from seven-year-old trees that had barely ever given me anything.

Third reason to give up on a fruit tree:

It’s not producing, no matter how well you follow the rules of caring for it.

Right now, we’re in the process of taking out our peach trees. They’re not the first fruit plants we’ve given up on, and I don’t think they’ll be the last.

More than half of the branches I pruned off.

Close-up of the above pile.

Yet another pile from the same peach tree.

We’ve spent a lot of money learning the answer to, “Are fruit trees hard to grow?” Any plant that bears a sweet fruit comes with challenges, some more than others.

If your fruit tree in question:

  1. is causing you a lot more work than you thought it would (and you can’t/don’t want to do that work);
  2. is overcome by pests or disease every single year to the extent that it destroys the harvest before you can get anything out of it; and/or
  3. it’s well past the age of beginning to produce, but it just doesn’t, no matter what you do right,

it may be time to say good-bye and turn the tree into firewood. Or compost. Or just a brush pile.

If you learn nothing else from this post, learn this:

Never, EVER, buy a mini-dwarf fruit tree!

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Is the McDougall Program Really Healthy?

The Starch Solution.

The Healthiest Diet On The Planet.

The McDougall Program.

All of these books have been authored by John McDougall during the past thirty years, all insisting that the healthiest diet is a low-fat, low-protein diet consisting of 80-90% cooked starches. A medical doctor, he became convinced early in his career that this diet – which many would call a healthy vegan diet – could cure a number of diseases, especially cardiovascular disease. And his experience with many of his patients have born that theory out, despite the efforts of his contemporaries to discredit it.

Dr. John McDougall, author of “The Starch Solution.”

Is Dr. McDougall’s diet healthy?

Is a high-carb, plant-based diet the best? John McDougall and other medical doctors – along with a growing group of other health practitioners such as naturopaths, chiropractors, and doctors of osteopathy – have a lot of cumulative evidence that show the answers to these questions to be a resounding yes.

As a vegan and natural health and nutrition buff who is thrilled by the existence of medical doctors who base their practices on preventing disease through proper diet, I won’t argue with the fact that eliminating flour-based and sugar-filled foods along with animal products will go a long way to improve anyone’s health.

Umm…except…John McDougall’s “starch solution” allows for flour-based foods. I’ll get to that in a moment, but for now, let me throw out on the table that among the M.D.s, N.D.s, and other health care practitioners who advocate a plant-based, high-carb diet, McDougall is in the minority in believing there is anything healthy about flour-based products.

Because, there’s not.

So for now, let’s take the baked goods out of the equation. Let’s say that this so-called “healthiest diet” only includes whole, non-flour starchy foods. In that case, I would agree that his diet plan is healthy for a lot of people.

But, is it the healthiest for everyone?

My first area of disagreement with Dr. McDougall

I have three problems with Dr. McDougall’s diet. The first problem is that whole grains are not healthy for a whole lot of people. If you ask the Paleo crowd, they’ll tell you that whole grains aren’t healthy for any human being.

Why not? Whole grains retain the outer “shell” of the grain, and that shell contains proteins that make it very hard to digest. The reason is that grains are the seeds of grasses, and the animals that consume grasses will also consume the grain once they appear. Being seeds, they don’t want to be digested, they want to be planted in the ground. God created this hard outer shell on grains so that they would go right through the digestive systems of ruminant animals and be planted into the ground.

See all that brown stuff covering these wheat berries? Though nutritious, it is NASTY for your digestive system!

While soaking and cooking whole grains neutralize the hard-to-digest proteins to some extent, it doesn’t neutralize them completely – or all of them. Gluten, for example, is only diminished by a small fraction when wheat berries or wheat flour is soaked for twenty-four hours. And gluten is in refined grains as well as whole.

What are the potential consequences of putting something into the digestive tract that is hard to digest? Uncomfortable gas and bloating, leaky gut (minuscule tears in the small intestines that allow substances to enter the blood which have no business being in the blood), and digestive diseases such as diverticulitis.

I believe whole grains are to be eaten in small quantities, if at all, because while they do provide a nice range of nutrients, they are basically not healthy for the human body. And if we take whole grains and flour out of the starchy diet equation, we’re left with white rice, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams, corn, and green bananas.

Most people don’t even consider green bananas a food because it doesn’t take much to make you sick to your stomach, so let’s toss that out altogether. (And to be fair, I don’t think green bananas are a part of Dr. McDougall’s starch diet.)

Not everyone tolerates beans well, even if they are pre-soaked and cooked for a long time. Sprouted mung beans and lentils, consumed raw, are much easier on the digestive system than any other bean (and most others, if not all others, need to be cooked).

A lot of people are allergic to corn, and research strongly suggests that a diet high in corn leads to vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency. Some people are so sensitive to the toxins in potatoes, that even the less-toxic varieties such as fingerlings and red potatoes are a no-no for them.

That leaves us with white rice and sweet potatoes, as well as sprouted mung beans and lentils if you tolerate them well. If you can live with getting 1500+ calories per day from those foods, good on ya, mate! I would be bored to tears if I had to restrict my diet like that.

Let’s say you’re one of the minority of people whose digestive tract can handle whole grains, and you don’t have any problems with any of the other starchy foods. Fantastic! I hope you realize how blessed you are.

But there would still remain the second and third problems with McDougall’s diet.

The second problem with the McDougall program

When I got pregnant, I was underweight. I needed to gain weight. How did I do that?

I added more – a lot more – starchy foods to my diet.

Hmm. Interesting, because the healthy diet plan in question is supposed to help people to lose weight.

Look at the one- and two-star reviews for any of the good doctor’s books on Amazon, and you’ll see people complaining that they gained weight, rather than losing weight, on McDougall’s diet.

As well, you will find reviews from diabetics stating that his program made their blood sugar numbers worse, not better. From the vast reading I’ve done on the topic of diet and nutrition, this probably is the result of flour food consumption, rather than quinoa and lentil consumption.

So the second problem with this starch-based diet is that it doesn’t help everyone to have better health. Especially when flour is allowed in this supposedly healthy vegan diet.

My third area of disagreement with McDougall’s diet plan

John McDougall claims that the human diet has always consisted primarily of starchy foods.

Always.

That’s a pretty heavy claim to make, seeing as how the good doctor wasn’t born until 1947. Like the rest of us, he wasn’t around when the human race first began. So how does he know what we’ve always eaten?

Answer: he doesn’t.

But anthropologists have a pretty good idea of what the original human diet looked like. So do people who believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in evolution or creation. True experts on either side will tell you that the original human diet consisted of raw fruits and vegetables with a smattering of seeds and nuts. If they ate any animal foods early on, it was likely eggs from birds and reptiles. Tubers, such as potatoes, were probably on the menu fairly often, but not 80% of the diet. And they would have been consumed raw.

A raw food advocate Dr. McDougall is not.

The earliest humans were not growing tubers, beans, and grains. They found some in the wild sometimes, particularly the tubers, but any anthropologist worth their salt will tell you that agriculture was a long time coming in human history. And not until agriculture came along did people begin consuming starchy foods in large quantities.

A side issue here is the gluten factor. Let’s pretend that pre-agricultural humans did consume wheat. This wheat would have been a grain that is much lower in gluten than modern-day wheat that has been purposely hybrid to make flour that will make stickier bread dough.

More and more nutrition experts – including medical doctors – are condemning the consumption of hybrid wheat products. Watch the video below to hear one allergist’s opinion about gluten. (My BIL is an allergist, too, and shares the same opinion).

McDougall encourages people to eat flour-based foods such as pancakes and pasta.

Gluten is not good for you, PERIOD. The fact that McDougall ignores this fact should make you look twice at his so-called healthy eating diet.

All plant-based things in moderation

Is the starch solution diet good for you? Is the McDougall program healthy? Should we call it a “healthy vegan diet”, or “healthy vegan weight loss diet?” It depends on which starches, and your individual digestive abilities.

But is it the most natural diet for human beings? Even taking out the unnatural flour factor, my opinion is no. Moderation in all nutrient-dense, plant-based food. Lots of fresh (or fresh-frozen) fruits and vegetables, a handful or two of nuts and seeds, and some starchy foods mixed in.

If you have diabetes and want to be healthy, and/or feel the tug to become Vegan, better to try a no-flour, lowish-carb plant-based diet, such as what Dr. Joel Fuhrman recommends.

Happy plant-based eating. 🙂

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What Is Homesteading? A Deeper Perspective

The first post on this blog addresses the question, “What is homesteading?” In that article, I give the expected answer. I give the practical answer. Maybe better to say, the tangible answer.

I give an answer that people can easily sink their teeth into, can visualize.

But the other day, as I was walking to my homestead garden, I was thinking about the trials that the homesteading lifestyle can bring in general, and the struggles I’ve had this spring specifically. Namely, about how all the rain during the past nine months has ramped up our already-high average annual humidity of 74%, bringing fungus to most of my fruit-bearing plants (canes, vines, trees, and bushes) and destroying much of my potential fruit crops.

I was wondering whether it was worth adding more fruit plants to the mix next year. Did I really want to commit to spraying so many items with a fungicide every two weeks, starting in March and going through July? Because if I’m to have grapes at all, and more of everything else (except goumis), that’s what I’ll need to do.

In the meantime, the words from a long-time gardener that I heard on a podcast a couple of weeks ago reverberated through my head: You need to fall in love with Mother Nature. Her meaning was, there will be pests and diseases and calamitous storms. But if you realize that it’s all par for the course for someone growing their own food, and accept that you can’t control it and that there are reasons for those things that gardeners and homesteaders usually consider inconveniences, you will be at peace despite what might look like dire circumstances in your backyard garden.

You’ll be able to love the hungry cucumber beetle or cabbage worm, rather than despise it.

As a person of faith, I put a slightly different spin on the woman’s words. I believe that God is ultimately in control, and part of my faith-walk as a homesteader is to pray about my struggles and trust Him to work everything out according to what He knows is best.

With all that circling around in my mind, I revisited the question, what is homesteading? A lot of people will couch it in terms of “getting back to the land.” But in our modern, citified world of convenience, we take that phrase and interpret it as making the land do what we want, when we want it to.

As if our five acres of land were a giant smart phone that should be able to produce a quart of strawberries per week from May through June, or make the incessant rain stop, at the swipe of a finger.

But the land is anything but. Whether your homestead is an eighth of an acre in a suburb, or 100 acres somewhere in Idaho, that piece of property isn’t ours to command. It’s ours to steward.

And stewardship involves care. And care involves proper planning. And planning takes time. As does the care.

Parents are to steward their children well, nurturing them and guiding them as necessary so that they’re able to successfully navigate the world when they grow up. But we all know (or, I hope we know) that even parents who do everything right end up with sick children, children who make bad decisions, children in juvenile court. Why?

Because ultimately, we can’t control other people or much of what happens around us.

So it is with homesteading.

I went into this journey thinking that if we just set up all the right systems, follow all the rules, everything would fall into place. We would “take dominion” over our property, and it would behave the way we wanted it to. I also believed we could have everything up and running in just a couple of years.

Why did I think that? Because I’m a spoiled Westerner who has lived in a city for most of her adult life.

Can you say, “Unrealistic expectations?”

This spring, going into summer, I’ve been forced to take a long, hard look at the question, “What is homesteading?” Yes, it’s getting back to the land. It’s endeavoring to produce as much of our own food as possible. It’s living more simply and more self-sufficiently.

But above everything else, homesteading is living in tune with the rhythms and melodies of creation. It’s understanding that the army of black beetles that marches onto my tomatoes without fail every August – and spends the entire month happily munching away at every single plant – need to eat, too. It’s accepting that the various fungi attacking my various fruit plants have a purpose in the cycle of nature, even if I have no clue what that purpose is.

What is homesteading? It’s a joyful dance to the music of the symphony of nature. Sometimes the notes seem to clash, or the rhythm to be jarring. I finally realized, the other day, that the times when the instruments of creation seem to be at war with me, it is only because I have lost the rhythm, have given up the dance.

It’s because I’m trying to control, rather than flow.

What is homesteading? It’s a delicate dance between my desire to live less dependently on the corporate world, and the ebb and flow of natural patterns and forces beyond my control.

It is staying in step with all that surrounds me so that I can keep dancing, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but always with grace and faith and trust.

And yes, I do believe the dance is leading me to buy more fruit-producing trees. 😉

Happy homesteading. Or shall I say, dancing?

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The importance of gardening isn’t a topic that is emphasized in books and blogs that teach you either backyard vegetable gardening or about growing flowers. You’ll hear things like, “Gardening saves you money”, and “gardening helps you get exercise.”

But such vague phrases do little to motivate people to start their own backyard garden…especially when they talk to honest gardeners like me and find out that trying to save money on food by starting a vegetable garden can be like trying to save water by showering with a fire hydrant!

Regardless, there are compelling reasons to grow a garden, especially a food garden. The importance of gardening has to do with human health – not only physical, but mental and spiritual as well – environmental health, and, yes, financial security (though not in the way you might be thinking).

Let’s start with the benefits of gardening that may seem the most obvious…though, when you start digging deeper into the soil of the concept, you might be surprised with what you end up harvesting.

The physical health benefits of gardening

It’s a no-brainer that if you garden, even if all you do is grow flowers, you will glean some health benefits. At the very least, gardening keeps you from sitting around all day. You need to spend some time standing and moving around at least several days a week in order to maintain your garden. If you’re weeding, pruning, or transplanting, you actually get a decent amount of exercise.

But did you know that researchers have actually conducted studies about how gardening can make you healthier? For example, if you’re over 60 years old and get out in the garden and do some moderate activity on a regular basis, you can cut your risk of stroke and heart disease by up to 30%!

Researchers also know that a vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of a variety of maladies, cancer being foremost. Unless your garden is inside, your gardening hobby gets you out in the sun and thus exposed to the pre-cursors of vitamin D that only the sun’s rays can provide.

Speaking of exposure…digging in the dirt means exposing yourself to many beneficial bacteria which, once inside your body, can help improve your immune function. So much for playing in the dirt being only for kids!

As we age, we tend to lose physical dexterity and strength in general. But if you garden, you encourage dexterity and strength in, if nowhere else on your body, your hands.

Then there’s the absolute truth that produce that you picked out of your garden ten minutes ago is much more nutritious and more flavorful than anything you’ll ever buy in a store. The extra nutrition you get from freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables leads to overall better health.

The mental health benefits of gardening

You’re probably aware that garden oases have been created at places housing former military personnel trying to heal from PTSD. Mental health experts have found that the quiet activities required to grow and maintain a garden do wonders to reduce stress and to heal from traumatic events.

Well, if it works for them, why not for us civilians who are dealing with different kinds, and lower levels, of stress? The fact is, working out in a garden is a great stress-buster for anybody. As you walk through your garden and pull up the occasional weed, prune the occasional branch, and talk to the honeybees, it’s easy to focus your mind on the lush vegetation and fascinations of nature that surround you. This focus is meditative, and being in a meditative state can help you solve problems, spark creativity, and see different issues in a more positive light.

Researchers and medical practitioners have found that people suffering from depression feel better when they’ve been out in the garden for a while, for similar reasons.

And did you ever think of the satisfaction of harvesting food – or even picking flowers – from a plant you nurtured yourself? Gardening lifts self-esteem.

Now, I’m not going to lie – walking out to your garden to discover that an unexpected freeze killed all the peppers you planted out the other day, or that a storm ripped down half your pea plants and a cucumber vine, can be frustrating. But as you gain experience in gardening you learn to make contingency plans for the inevitable surprises of nature, in which case you can just shrug your shoulders at them and move on.

The spiritual health benefits of gardening

Ask anyone who’s ever, by themselves, hiked a nature trail, a walked through the woods, or sat and watched the sun rise or set over a large body of water, and if they believe in a personal Higher Power, they’ll tell you that the activity made them feel closer to that Power.

Being out in a garden – whether you’re working or just enjoying the environment – has the exact same effect. Suddenly, you’re aware that you are not alone, that there is a Presence – and a loving Presence at that.

Avail yourself of this kind of awareness daily, and how much better of a person do you think you will become?

In addition, just as the satisfaction of work well done improves self-esteem, so it does wonders to nurture a sense of purpose inside you.

The importance of gardening to the environment

Commercial agriculture has messed up an alarming proportion of the Earth’s soil. It has not only caused erosion and depleted the soil of minerals, but also has thrown the delicate, microscopic under-earth ecosystem off balance.

It is this ecosystem which encourages healthy plant growth, and enables us to have nutrient-rich plant food in the first place!

Do I have to mention the synthetic pesticides and herbicides used to grow grains, beans, and vegetables?

Commercial agriculture has wreaked, is wreaking, and will continue to wreak havoc on the environment.

When you choose to start a backyard garden, when you make home gardening a priority – and you use methods that encourage healthy soil – you make a difference. You don’t have to buy as much produce from the store, so you are one less person encouraging Big Ag to continue on with their unhealthy practices.

Gardening according to the laws and patterns of nature also encourages a more diverse, and thus healthier, ecosystem above the soil’s surface.

You might think that your growing a few tomatoes can’t possibly make a difference, but what if everybody produced just three percent of the food they ate? Can you imagine the impact that would make?

How gardening enhances financial security

If the stuff hit the fan tomorrow and all grocery stores shut down, my family wouldn’t starve. One potato multiplies into dozens of pounds of potatoes after a couple of generations. One kale plant multiplies into thousands.

While building a fence to keep mammal pests out of your garden, and spraying with organic pesticides to keep the insect pests under control, can make getting a return on your gardening investment take a long time, what price can you put on not needing to buy groceries?

The stuff may never hit the fan. But what if the breadwinner of your household has to stop working, or is fired? Think of how much nicer life if you had a lot of homegrown produce preserved and/or growing, so that you could focus on paying the light and water bills and not so much a food bill.

The importance of gardening, summarized

Getting closer to God.

Improving your overall physical health.

Healing from trauma.

Helping save the planet.

Greater financial security.

These are just a few of the benefits you get from gardening, especially if you endeavor to grow your own food.

I can’t underestimate the importance of gardening. Even if all you can do is grow sprouts in a jar, or some herbs on a windowsill, taking those baby steps will make a positive impact in your life…and maybe even someone else’s, as well.

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If you’re wondering how to start a vegetable garden from scratch, I’m wondering, is there any other way? I don’t think there are any gardeners who have simply wiggled their noses, nodded their heads and blinked, or snapped their fingers and BAM!, a raised bed garden appeared, perfectly spaced and filled with lush vegetation.

Seriously, though, if you’re asking that question, you’re probably wanting to know how to start a vegetable garden without having to go out and buy a bunch of stuff to do so. You want a DIY garden. You want to save money.

The truth is, all gardeners, when they first begin to grow their own food in a vegetable garden, start from scratch. But there’s starting from scratch, and there’s starting from scratch. As in, doing it totally homemade. And in this article, I’m going to teach you how to get a vegetable garden going with as few commercial inputs as possible.

AND…how to do it without breaking your back from hours and hours of digging!

The Do’s

Every first-time gardener will have a lot more success in the beginning if they’ll follow some key principles…especially if they want to start a vegetable garden from scratch.

Here they are, the “do’s” of starting a vegetable garden.

Do #1: Site right.

Site your garden in a location where your plants will get the appropriate amount of daily sun. Fruiting plants, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and squash, generally need six to eight hours of sunlight a day. Bell peppers, however, can produce with a little bit less light.

If you live in the South, even the sun-hungry plants would appreciate a little shade for a couple of hours in the afternoon, especially tomatoes. While they love the sun, they don’t love the Southern summer temperatures nearly as much.

Greens (lettuce, broccoli, etc.) and root crops (carrots, beets, etc.) only need three to four hours of sun per day.

Do #2: Make it level.

If the best location for your garden is on a slope, you’ll need to level each individual bed. Otherwise, unless you decide to use drip irrigation to water your plants, the water will just all flow downhill and miss its mark.

In extreme cases, you may have to build terraces.

My garden is built on a downhill slope. However, my husband leveled the ground underneath each high raised bed before building the beds.

Do #3: Plan big.

Given the size of your backyard or property, what would be the ideal size of your garden? Remember to factor in such things as recreational space for the family. When learning how to build a vegetable garden from scratch, you need to figure your ideal garden size in the beginning so that you will plan the spacing of your future beds well. You don’t want to end up with, say, only a few inches between your asparagus patch and the beginning of your blackberry trellis.

Not that I know about that from experience or anything (The Homesteading Vegan rolls her eyes upward with an innocent expression).

When I decided to site the asparagus patch (left) here, I didn’t realize the blackberry canes were going to sneak over to the other side and infringe on that space.

Do #4: Start small.

Yes, start small. Despite your big plan.

Listen to me more carefully than a pig trying to stay upright on a tightrope: If you try to grow as much of your own food as your big plan allows during the first two years of your vegetable gardening journey, you’re going to get burned out and frustrated, and end up feeling like a failure.

Year one, begin with a garden plot no larger than thirty-two square feet. Many gardening gurus would command you to start with only a single four-by-four (feet) or four-by-three bed.

The second year of gardening, add another one or two beds. After that year, you will have a good feel for how much you can tackle moving forward.

Do #5: Be patient.

First, be patient with yourself and the learning process. You will make several big mistakes during your first three years of gardening, and lots of little one besides. That’s how you gain gardening experience and wisdom. Embrace the mistakes, learn from them, and move on.

Second, be patient with the time it’s going to take to actually be able to get your fingers in the dirt. You’ll see why shortly, as we get into the nitty-gritty details of

How to start a vegetable garden from scratch.

If you want to save money on gardening by doing everything as homemade as possible, the first order of business is to decide whether or not you want or need frames around the raised beds you’re going to build. You don’t need frames, but having some sort of raised bed border will make it easier to contain the organic material you’re going to pile up within it.

At the very least, mark out the edges of your bed with a “fence” of string wrapped around sticks that you have stuck in the corners of the bed area.

If you can find scrap two-by-six pressure-treated or cedar lumber at building sites, great! If you can ferret out six-inch high rocks to create walls around the bed area, fantastic!

Cinder blocks are a relatively inexpensive way to frame garden beds, and you can always buy pressure-treated or cedar lumber if you really want borders but don’t live in an area where you can easily scrounge up free materials.

See my post on building a permaculture raised bed for instructions on how to build a simple six-inch high raised bed frame.

BUT REMEMBER: before you build the frame, you need to cut down the grass and weeds that are currently growing in the bed area as close to the ground as you can.

The next step in building a vegetable garden from scratch is to create new soil inside the raised bed area. To do this, you’re going to use the lasagna gardening method. Again, I outline this in detail in my post on permaculture raised beds, but the gist of it is that you’re going to forage as much organic material as you can – dried leaves, pesticide-free grass clippings, weeds, food scraps – and pile them up inside the bed. Start with a layer of cardboard on the bottom, then ideally you’ll alternate three-inch layers of nitrogen-rich materials with six-inch layers of carbon-rich materials (again, I detail that in the post I just linked to).

You’ll have to repeat this process a couple of times as the organic material decomposes, but within six months to a year, your vegetable garden bed will be filled with mostly finished compost, and ready for planting.

Yes, I said six months to a year. That’s where the patience comes in. If you don’t want to wait that long, then you go out and spend a bunch of money on potting mix ingredients. But if you did, you wouldn’t be starting strictly from scratch. 😉

Planting your garden

Strictly speaking, starting a vegetable garden from scratch means that you will start everything from seed, much of it indoors. I will address the details of how to start various plants from seed in another article.

For now, understand that you’ll need small pots, an organic potting mix (you could also use coconut fiber – called coir or “cocopeat” – mixed with a dry vegan fertilizer), and possibly a metal shelf with light fixtures.

You can start things from seeds outdoors, as well, as long as you either keep frost-tender crops such as tomatoes and peppers well-covered, or bring them in when the temperature slides below 40 degrees (F).

The following video illustrates a simple way to keep frost-tender crops safe outside during cold weather.

Regardless of whether you use lights indoors or protect the plants outside, here’s how to begin.

Fill the pots with soil, then set them in trays. Fill the tray with about a half inch of water.

When the water has seeped up into the soil so that the soil is moist all the way through, plant the seeds no more than 1/4 inch deep into the soil, two seeds per pot with about an inch between the seeds.

Don’t let the soil in the pots begin to dry out until the seeds have germinated. After that, let the soil dry out very slightly before adding more water to the tray. But do let the soil dry out a little bit, because keeping the soil saturated once the seeds germinate will kill some of the seedlings’ roots.

Start plants inside two months before the last average spring frost date. The frost-tender plants will stay inside until that date, plus a week, has passed. The frost-hardy plants (lettuce, spinach, and the cabbage family) can be planted out a month, even longer, before that date because they can take a freeze. Kale and spinach can take a freeze as low 15 degrees (F).

Sow the seeds of root crops straight into the ground about a month before the last average spring frost date.

Maintaining your garden

I go into even more detail about how to start a vegetable garden from scratch, as well as how to maintain your garden once the plants start growing, in my book, How To Grow Vegetables Without Losing Your Mind. I keep the price low on all of my homesteading books to make them no-brainer investments. 😉

Happy gardening.

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