Grow Your Food at Home

How to Grow More VegetablesJust the other day, I paid $5 for a head of cauliflower. Lettuce, tomatoes, grapes and bread also are more expensive than ever.
With food prices skyrocketing, it may be the right time to take another look at growing your own vegetables, fruits and grains.
According to John Jeavons, master gardener, in places such as sunny Southern California, where the growing season is as long as 8 to 12 months, only 100 square feet of ground is needed to grow all the vegetables and berries you or I will consume in a year.
With another 150 square feet of ground, you could grow enough wheat to make a 1-pound loaf of bread every week for a year.
The only commodities you really need to be a farmer in Los Angeles are sun, water and some seeds.
You will need to take full advantage of the sun since you will be able grow a wider variety of crops if you have a good seven to 10 hours of light each day. Less light means you will have to focus more on leaf and root crops — lettuce, cabbage celery, potatoes, carrots and parsnips — as opposed to fruit-producing tomato, pepper, eggplant, squash and strawberry plants.
In the Valley, the front yard is typically sunnier than the backyard, which makes it a better site for growing crops. The 800 to 1,000 square feet that make up the typical Valley front yard, properly managed, could produce all the vegetables and fruits, as well as much of the grains, a family of four requires.
Jeavons’ food gardens require far less water than do lawns. Dense planting means that plants touch and shade the soil, keeping it moist through creation of a “living mulch.”
Seeds are always a bargain. For $20, you could purchase enough of them to fill your salad bowl for most of the year.
By selecting open-pollinated, heirloom varieties, you could also harvest the seeds from your vegetables and germinate them with the assurance that they would yield the same quality crops the next year. Ultimately, the only input your garden will require is water.All fertilizer and soil amendment will come from the compost created from your garden leftovers.
Jeavons is the author of two classic books, “How to Grow More Vegetables” and “The Sustainable Vegetable Garden.” Published by Ten Speed Press, both are available through online booksellers.
The key to a successful food garden enterprise is developing the soil. The soil you create should be “a living sponge cake” (Jeavons’ term) to a depth of 2 feet. Sure, you will have to work at it initially, but over time, your sponge cake soil literally will take on a life of its own and you will only need to feed it compost to keep it healthy.
Creating the soil of your dreams is a low-tech enterprise. All you really need are three tools (spade, fork and bow rake); a digging board (2-by-4-foot piece of plywood); a bucket; and some compost.
The bed you are going to build for vegetable production should be no smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet. These minimal dimensions are required to create the proper plant density and accompanying microclimate above the soil surface, and sufficient area for the proliferation of beneficial microbial life below the soil surface. The bed should not be more than 5 feet wide, allowing you to reach anywhere in the bed without having to step on and compact the prepared soil.
The actual soil preparation involves digging up a series of 1-foot-wide trenches. The process is popularly referred to as double digging since the top 12 inches of soil are removed with a spade (the first dig) and then replaced with soil from an adjacent trench (the second or double dig). In between the two digs, the bottom 12 inches of the first trench are aerated with a garden fork. The soil removed from the first trench can be carried away in your bucket or in a wheelbarrow and mixed into your developing compost pile.
The first trench is backfilled with soil removed from the top 12 inches of a second trench, which is dug alongside the first. Loosen the bottom 12 inches of the second trench and then fill it with soil removed from the third trench. After digging three or four trenches, smooth the surface of the bed, which will be several inches higher than ground level since, in the process of double digging and aerating the soil, the volume of air in the soil has increased.
Incidentally, the digging board should be placed alongside each trench while it is being dug. The board will distribute your weight in a manner that will prevent you from compacting the soil. If your soil is hard and dry, moisten it prior to digging.
Make compost out of dry vegetation (weeds, leaves, straw, sawdust, shredded bark, cornstalks and other remains of vegetable crops); green vegetation (fresh weeds, green grass, fruit and vegetable peels); and soil.
Soil contains the aerobic bacteria that push the decomposition process forward. Soil also will help the pile hold moisture, keep down odors and slow decomposition of the vegetation, making the pile easier to manage.
Tip of the week
According to Jeavons, you should think of building a compost pile as you would a lasagna.
Construct the pile by alternating 2-inch layers of dry and green vegetation, moistening each layer before adding the next. When the pile is 3 feet tall, cover it with a thin layer of soil.
Before starting, loosen soil where the pile will stand to a 1-foot depth. The base of the pile should be 3 to 5 feet square.
Jeavon’s explains his techniques for growing food in “How to Grow More Vegetables.”

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