Achieving Food Independence
Table of Contents
1: Industrial Food and the Homestead Alternatives2: Soil Fertility3: Organic Matter4: Minimizing Tillage5: Garden Year--Spring6: Garden Year--Summer7: Garden Year--Fall8: Garden Year--Winter9: Orchard and Woodlot10: Forest Garden11: The Lawn12: Livestock13: Poultry14: Ruminants15: Closing Thoughts on Livestock16: Local Foods17: Bringing It All Together
5. The Garden Year: Spring
I’ve spent so much time on soil care because it is far more important than anything that follows about specific strategies for producing more of our own food. But let’s now consider some of those strategies.
Think of gardening as a year-round cycle, and learn to dance to the unique rhythms of each season. Indeed, one of the beauties of homestead food production is that it returns us to the natural year, from which most of us have became sadly estranged. Don’t think of “the gardening season” as something you pick up in spring and put back down in the fall. In each season, anticipate and prepare for the needs of the next. For instance, it’s difficult to think of cold-weather plants while sweltering under the July sun—but it is in July that you need to start your collards and Brussels sprouts, or your plants will not be robust and productive when the cold weather does come in.
Spring is the gardener’s liberation, when, like Persephone, we escape our winter exile and step out into a greening world. It is the lush time, the quintessential time for planting.
Starting with transplants
I prefer to plant all crops I possibly can as transplants. Some crops, of course—carrots are a good example—must be direct-seeded. But many crop species, in my experience, get off to a better start if nurtured as seedlings and set out as sturdy, fast-growing transplants. I make my own seedling mix, starting with coir (the granular residue from the extraction of the longer fibers of coconut husks) and either compost or vermicompost (or both), plus a few supplements such as kelp meal, rock powders, etc. I germinate the seedlings under cover, then grow them on under lights in the basement. It is critical that the seedlings not get pot-bound—i.e., that their roots not get overcrowded in their containers—or they will make poor plants. After three weeks or so under the grow lights, it is usually time either to plant the seedlings in the garden or greenhouse, or to pot them on to bigger containers, depending on the nature of the plant and the point in the season. Once potted on, the transplants require more space than is available under grow lights, so I generally move them to the greenhouse. Transplants can be started from the beginning in the greenhouse, though they will be much slower developing there, in the decreased light and colder temperatures of late winter. I sometimes set crops that take transplanting well—onions are a good example—into “nursery” plots in the greenhouse, grow them on awhile, and then transplant a second time into the garden at the appropriate time in their season.
Spring cover crops
Spring is also the best time for starting cover crops, because of the greater abundance of soil moisture. Cover crops such as clovers and alfalfa, for example, can be started in the summer, but only if you water generously during the germination period. In the spring, they germinate much more easily.