Gardening advice from a new homesteader

Planning a garden is still a task filled with a little bit of trepidation for me. I’m the kind of person who takes 15 minutes to decide what to eat at a restaurant. Imagine my anxiety at facing a seed catalog filled with approximately 5000 different kinds of plants, all of which I really, really want to try this year.

Our garden is about 128 square feet – not huge by homesteading standards. With space (not to mention time and attention) at a premium, Dulci and I have had to prioritize. If you are just getting started gardening, or if your space and time is limited like ours, here’s our advice after wrestling with seed catalogs.

Join a CSA

This may seem counter-intuitive, but stick with me. If, like us, you know you don’t have the space, time, or energy to grow all of your own produce, then you must get vegetables elsewhere. Why not count on a CSA (like Spiral Path Farm, our favorite) to grow the bulk of your day-to-day veg. That frees you to think a little bit differently about what you do grow…

Grow what you love

Asian Eggplant

Do you love tomatoes? Are you wild about eggplant? Do you find yourself looking wistfully at the last head of broccoli? Then plant those. With the exception of swiss chard or kale, a CSA will rarely provide you with enough of your favorite vegetable. Instead of fighting the other members for the box with the most tomatoes (or whatever your favorite is), grow your own. This allows you to experiment with varieties and ensures an adequate supply of your summertime favorite.

Grow for preserving

Pickles

While it’s possible to find great farmer’s market deals in vegetables you want to preserve, you are at the mercy of the market and the growing and harvesting habits of someone else. Rather than trying to make do with a bushel of old, ratty beefsteak tomatoes, grow your own Roma tomatoes to can whole or turn into sauces.

Dulci and I are planning to grow our own French-style pickling cucumbers. This ensures that we get a variety that pickles well and that the cucumbers are harvested at the right time for pickling. And if our own plantings don’t work out, we can always look for a deal at the farmer’s market anyway.

Grow for fun

Romanesco

Most of us who garden have some motive in addition to any enjoyment we get out of growing food. For Dulci and me, it’s a combination of a desire for great-tasting food, a respect and interest in a more hands-on approach to living, and a desire to eat real food rather than factory products.

However, it is all too easy to lose the fun in gardening in the midst of the work. This is when I think that growing for fun is important. Grow a pretty (or ugly) tomato. Grow a legume or a brassica that you’ve never eaten before. Grow a really hot pepper, or a really wild-looking pumpkin, or just something that makes you smile to look at. If you select at least a few things that are just down-right fun, you have a much better chance of making it through the times when your enthusiasm for gardening is at a low point.

Grow for flavor

Heirloom Tomatoes

Let’s face it, a lot of what passes for produce in the grocery store tastes awful. The varieties your grocery store carries have been bred and selected for machine harvesting, long storage, uniformity of color, and other traits that have nothing to do with what your tongue prefers. And while farmer’s markets are better, they still have to appeal to a broad range of tastes.

Your garden is your opportunity to fill your refrigerator with the tastes you prefer. If you like strong wild greens, grow them! If you like hot peppers, there are none tastier than what you grow yourself. Think of planting your garden as the first step towards the perfect pasta primavera, gazpacho, tomato sandwich, or salsa.

You did get started already, didn’t you…?

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2 thoughts on “Gardening advice from a new homesteader

  1. Even though we garden a largish plot, we always get a CSA. We call it our “insurance” that we have plenty of produce to put up and eat! It also supports local “real” farms. Great post!

    1. We’re fans of local “real” farms, too. In addition to a veggie CSA, we’re also members of a meat CSA this year. We’re trying to support local real farms while we work on our own skills. Thanks for the comment!

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