Any family who is striving to be living a more self-sufficient life eventually starts thinking about the family food pantry. When I was growing up, our family always had a large garden. We would put up enough vegetables to last our family through the winter and into the next year. Some years, one vegetable or another would give us a bumper crop. I will always remember the year when the first picking of the green beans yielded 113 quart jars of beans. We still had more pickings after that from those beans, but that first picking was huge! We never had another year with that many at one time to be canned, a fact that I am sure my Mom appreciated greatly.
In the old days, the family garden was a survival issue. They didn't garden just a little salad garden to give them a season of fresh salad fixings. They literally grew every vegetable that the family ate on a regular basis. The crop was critical to the family having enough food for the pantry to last until the next year's garden harvest began. The families used the fresh vegetables in their meals throughout the season, but we careful to harvest and preserve as much food as possible.
With rising food costs and the issues of food safety with the produce being shipped in from other countries or the GMO foods now being produced, many families are starting to revisit the idea of growing their own foods again. At first, this can seem to be an overwhelming prospect. It really isn't however. Let me tell you how we are doing it.
The first step was to do my research. I checked online and in books to find a chart that showed me how much seed I would need per person. I found one such chart in a book called, "Getting More From Your Garden". I don't remember the author at this moment but will find out and post the information later. In the book, the chart even gives the plant spacing and now many 50 ft. Rows the seed amount would plant. Our garden's raised rows are about 14 inches wide, so I am able to do several rows of carrots, beets, or other root crops in each row. Things like green beans and peas, I plant as my Dad taught me in double rows about 3 inches apart. This gives you very full plant rows that support each other very well.
The next step was making a list of the vegetables that we eat most often. Let's face it. While many vegetables in a color seed catalog look scrumptious and tempting, in reality most families eat a few basic vegetables on a regular basis. Don't let yourself be caught in the trap of planting everything that looks good. You will end up growing so much variety in your limited garden space that you will run out of the basics long before winter is through. Choose the vegetables that you buy or use most often to start with.
In my planning, I added and extra person to my calculations. This will help in adjusting the amount of harvest if something doesn't produce as much as hoped. For example: we have 4 people in our household. Though the kids are still very young, I don't make any alterations for them since they are both very hearty eaters. The chart said to plant 5 tomato plants per person. I planted 24 tomato plants which is the 20 plants that a family of 4 requires + 4 extra plants which is nearly enough for 1 additional person. I would have planted 25 (5 people x 5 plants each) but the tomato plants came 6 plants per pack and the 4 packs gave me the 24 plants total. I chose a couple of tomato varieties that are known in our area to give heavy yields of harvest. I have 12 Roma and 12 marglobe tomato plants. Both are excellent varieties for canning. That is another issue that I try to pay attention to. If I am going to all the work of planting, tending, harvesting, and canning the vegetables I want to be sure that I am using varieties that work well for canning.
Next, I am taking a look at herbs and spices. There are many that I use on a regular basis in my cooking. We also are a family who loves to drink herb teas. I am now compiling a list of the herbs I use most often and seeking out the information of which ones will grow well in our area. I want to grow as many as possible. We have a front yard that we are going to turn into our "pretty" yard where all the flowering plants will be planted. I am setting aside the area nearest my kitchen to plant the herb garden. We have a large bush that blocks the kitchen window on the north side of the house that we are going to cut down. I am wanting to put my herb garden in that area. It gets a lot of partial shade through the day and should do well for the herbs. I also like that it is near the kitchen's back door. This will make the location convenient when I need to gather fresh herbs for a recipe.
Our vegetable garden is going to be approximately 88 ft. x 108 ft. in size. There will be a total of 17 wide rows and a 4-row patch for growing the sweet corn. Some of the row spacing is much further apart than others to allow the squash and pumpkin vines to have room to travel. The squash and pumpkins, along with cucumbers will be planted in rows of "hills" with about 5 seeds per hill.
I decided to plant the sweet potatoes in a bin. I am planting the sweet potato slips in there so that I can plant them deep by adding soil or mulch as the plants gain height. The higher the soil is piled on, the more root & tubers will be produced. This will prevent the problem of the tubers growing in hard soil also.
Overall, this will be a large project but we are going about it smart. The ground between the raised rows is being covered in a thick layer of mulch that we were given by a tree cutting service. They needed a place to dump the chopped up tree limbs, so we asked them to dump it at our homestead. We now have more than enough mulch for our garden. The mulch will be on the raised rows to prevent any weed growth. Once the vegetable plants are up and we have removed any weeds, the mulch will be added around all plants to hold in the water during the hot summer and to prevent weeds. This will make the garden maintenance much easier to manage. At season's end, the mulch will remain until the garden in tilled the next spring.
I know that a large garden can be overwhelming and very labor intensive. With a well thought out plan and good weed prevention techniques, you can have the large garden without spending your entire summer weeding it. The few weeds that may appear can be quickly dealt with.
I hope that this helps to explain how we are doing our garden. Feel free to email me or ask questions. I will try to answer as best as I am able.
May the Lord's blessings be with thee,