Having a vegetable garden of some sort is becoming a constant reality for more and more people. Gardening has been a way of life from the earliest days of the pioneers and it seems that in these uncertain times, a lot of people are starting a backyard garden just to deal with the increasing cost of food.
We live in times where nothing is certain and our quality of life is constantly changing. A vegetable garden is becoming a must for many families in America and although for some it is just a method of keeping the old times alive, for many people, gardening provides a self-sustained living.
If you decide to start a backyard garden you have basically two options. Your first option is to look back at the old ways, the ways it has always been done. How our forefathers learned to garden with what they had available because if it worked for them, it will surely work for you. When starting a backyard garden one should keep in mind that a garden needs three things: soil, sun and water.
Your second option is to go with the herd, to believe and join all of the hype from garden magazines that tell you to buy the latest and the greatest products. They will try to convince you that you need a certain variety of seeds, top brand fertilizer and pesticide because if you don’t follow their advice, your garden will not produce as you would expect.
Although the old ways work best and there is no need to fix what is not broken, I have to admit that modern technology has its place in today’s gardening times. There are all sorts of solutions that will make your life easier and if you can afford them, you will have a third option: combining the old with the new.
Our country has a long history of successful gardening and even though this is not being taught in our schools, we must recognize the impact the Native people had on this land. Although many were structured in social groups which are considered semi-nomad, there were also those who built permanent villages. Most of the Native people had gardens, some were quite large and it is estimated that around 50% of the food grown in the world originated in the Americas. Here is just a short list of plants that can trace their heritage back to Americas: potatoes, squash, pumpkins, beans, peppers and maize. The native people were the first who taught the early pioneers how to grow these native plants and their lessons were passed down to us.
How to start your backyard garden
Choosing the right spot for the garden is one of the problems that many have to deal with when starting a garden because before you decide what to plant, you need to figure out where to plant it. Not everyone is lucky enough to have acres of farming land and we must work with what is available for us. It doesn’t matter if you live in the countryside and you have a large tract of land or if you live in the city and have a small lot, if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Before buying the seeds and tools you might require for your backyard garden, you need to locate the ideal place for your garden. Spend a day in your garden and discover which spot gets the most sun because there is where your garden will start. Once you’ve identified the prefect spot for your backyard garden, you will need to decide on the size of it. Many will go big from the first try, but they will later discover that the larger the garden the more work it requires to maintain it. If you don’t have enough time to put into it, you should start with a small garden at first. Of course that the size of your yard will influence the size of your garden so you need to make sure you live some space for other activities. The Native people used to share large areas of land and each family had individual plots. Based on the history records, the family plots would measure somewhere between 10×10 foot to 20×20 foot in size.
Once you pick the spot for the garden and decide the size suited for you, it’s time to get dirty. The first step is turn the soil and all you need is some basic hand tools such as steel hoes, rakes and shovels. Don’t go to the garden store to buy a gas powered tiller because those tools will do the job just as fine and are much cheaper. This task will get easier or harder, depending on the soil available in your area. If you have a rocky soil you will need to turn it a few times and raking it to get out as many rocks as you can. Once you are done with the turning and raking you need to mark the planting rows as shown in the picture bellow. To make sure you do it right, use a piece of string and tie it at one end where the row starts and the other end should be tied where the row ends. This will guide you to keep a straight row.
What to grow in your backyard garden
Although this is a matter of personal taste and needs, I can tell you that you should stick with what grows well in your area, what stores well and what your family eats. Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment and grow everything you want in your backyard garden. Don not go on and start with “tricky” experiments first because if they fail, your morale will be low and you may end up giving up on all this gardening business. Some plants won’t do well in your area and they might not produce as you thought. Instead of giving up, use this as a learning experience.
If you know what you want to plant it’s time to get dirty. You have two choices to grow your plants: you start growing from seeds or you buy already started plants. If your growing season is too short, you will need to start the seeds in your house and transplant them in your garden. If you plant the seeds directly into the garden, the plants won’t have time to mature. You can reuse plastic water bottles, plastic water cups or anything that you would throw away to start your seeds. You will recycle and it will cost you nothing. Native people used to reuse everything they had and just like them, you should learn how to reuse the materials you have. Nothing should go to waste and even discarded fencing can be turned into a beautiful growing platform for cucumbers.
You can customize your backyard garden and try various types of plants. To have a successful garden you will need to learn a thing or two about garden seeds and what role they play in your garden. Many of the modern pioneers will use heirloom seeds since they will produce plants that have the heritage of what their ancestor would have used. These seeds are more resistant to drought and insects and they will require less care in the long run.
Suggested reading: Understanding garden seeds for self-sufficiency
When you customize your garden, the idea would be to get the most out of it, even if space is limited. The Native people used to combine crops and in many of their villages, beans, corn and squash were all planted together in one garden. This was a good method to obtain the most production from a limited gardening space and it was helping them get through winter. The first pioneers learned about the gardening methods of the Native people and they’ve adapted them to their crops. Old records show that in one grouping they would plant anywhere from five to seven corn seeds, along with three bean seeds. This was done in order for the pole beans to use the corn stalks as trellis and would greatly reduce their work efforts. You should learn about the lost ways and think like the pioneers when planning your garden, reuse and re-purpose everything you’ve got. Another important lesson we learned from our ancestors is that pesticides weren’t available back then and they had to find all sorts of ingenious ways to get rid of pests. Although companion planting was researched in more recent times, they had their ways to deal with pests.
Related article: How to get rid of garden pests, the organic way!
Reaping the reward of your backyard garden
If you are using good seeds and if you implement the techniques of the early pioneers, you will be able to produce enough vegetables to eat throughout the summer. Even more, sometimes Mother Nature will be on your side and you will end up with enough produce to store for the winter. The Native people used to conserve everything that wasn’t consumed and when they were able to produce enough, they would share some of their harvest with their neighbors. Learn to can and dehydrate your harvest and use the surplus to barter with your neighbors. There is a big “bio trend” going on in our modern times and you will be able to even sell some of your harvest to those seeking for quality produce.
The early pioneers didn’t have access to power equipment like we do today. They also didn’t have access to fertilizers and all sorts of soil enhancers. And yet, the managed to make it work and their backyard garden would provide them with all they needed. The lost ways worked for them and they should work for you as well.
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