Squash and Pesticides

Rebecca and I avoid pesticide/insecticide use whenever we can. Pesticides cost money, are costly to apply, and tend to ruin our health. They also kill pollinators, which are already in short supply. In fact, we’re able to use other solutions for every pest in the garden other than the squash bug. There is a host of bugs that will attack your squash, but the squash bugs seem to be the worst in this area.

Most other bugs are easily picked off (such as the tent caterpillars we squash by hand in the spring), drown in standard dish washing soap, killed using an environmentally safe method, or otherwise controlled. Mulching (see my Mulching Your Garden post) can help control bugs, as will keeping your garden weeded. One of the few good reasons to mow your lawn is to keep pests under control by reducing the places they can hide. (I’m a strong advocate of mowing the lawn less often to reduce mower emissions and to make the grass a length usable for purposes other than filling the landfill.)

The squash bug will infest a squash or cucumber patch quickly in spring and will continue infesting it until every plant is completely destroyed. Adult squash bugs are incredibly difficult to kill. The pictures I’ve seen online don’t quite depict the monsters that we have in our area:

SquashBug01

I happen to catch this picture of one of our squash bugs. A single counting on one plant turned up 42 of themall breeding. As you can see, the picture here shows a bug considerably bigger than the bugs you’ll find on most sites online. I’m not sure why ours grow so large, but they are quite vigorous.

The eggs also aren’t limited to the underside of the leaf. The bugs seem quite happy to put them on both sides of the leaf and in large clusters. Here is just one cluster:

SquashBug02

As you can see, this cluster is on the top of the leaf and it isn’t in the V pattern discussed in online sources. The point is to examine the plant thoroughly for squash bugs because they’re determined to destroy your plants.

To keep pesticide use at a minimum, check the leaves regularly for these clusters. Trying to pick the eggs off won’t workyou’ll end up damaging the leaf and it’ll die. The eggs hatch in one to two weeks and get darker as they get nearer to hatching. These eggs are just about ready to hatch, so yesterday I applied Seven (Carbaryl) to the affected plants. I’ve been looking into some of the more environmentally friendly solutions, but so far Seven is the solution that works best. If you have a bug infestation, try some of these other solutions first, before you use Seven.

You can’t apply Seven three days before harvest (more if you want to be careful). In fact, once the plants start blossoming robustly, you don’t really want to use any sort of pesticide (it’s essential to look after pollinator health). The best idea is to look for the squash bugs early in the season and attack them vigorously so that you start with a strong vine. If you see eggs after the blooms start, try drowning them using a limited application of neem oil. Insecticidal soap is completely ineffective on hard bodied squash bugs. Smash adult bugs using your fingers if there aren’t too many of them.

There is a point each season where we lose the bug battle. The squash bugs simply overwhelm every defense we can mount. However, by that time our squash have grown quite large and produced well for us. The vines die too early, but not before they produce usable output for us. To ensure we get enough squash, we simply plant more plants knowing that they will die too early from the invading plague. Yes, we could keep them completely under control using Seven, but only at the cost of our own health and the health of our pollinators, so this approach represents a good compromise that ensures an adequate harvest. Let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Mulching Your Garden

Mulching is an extremely important part of maintaining your garden. Even if you don’t have time to mulch everything or have items that don’t mulch well (such as carrots and beets), anything you can mulch should be mulched. Using mulch has the following benefits:

  • Reduces the need to water
  • Keeps weed at bay
  • Reduces the pathogens that can splash up from the ground onto vegetables
  • Adds nutrients to the soil
  • Helps worms stay nearer to the surface where they benefit the garden
  • Lessens the chance of extreme temperatures damaging vegetables

There are many theories on the proper technique for mulching. This post doesn’t compare them because the bottom line is that any sort of mulching is better than none at all. If you find a technique that works for you, by all means, use it. My technique works well for me because I can get the materials at a very low cost.

Our mulching begins by laying down two sheets of non-advertisement newspaper. There are some things you should consider about the newspaper you use. First, make sure the newsprint is printed with soy or a similar non-toxic ink. Second, never use the glossy advertisements. Even if they aren’t printed with toxic chemicals (they often are), the glossy paper tends to repel water and takes a very long time to break down. Third, make sure the paper is large enough to overlap.

Make sure the newspaper does overlap by about an inch or so as you lay it down. Otherwise, the weeds will immediately spring up through any gaps. In the past, we’ve doused the newspaper in water before laying it down, but it works just as well dry as long as it isn’t windy.

Lay hay or dried grass on top of the newspaper. Make sure the grass is absolutely dry–brown is best. If you want to use this second technique, let your grass get a little long, let the newly mown grass dry a day or two, use a rake to move it about, and then let it dry for several more days before you rake it up to use it as mulch. We allow a full 2-inches of grass or hay on top of the newspaper. Here’s what our small garden looks like with mulch in place.

Mulch01

My uncle supplied us with some square bails of hay. They work quite nicely for mulch. The hay had been rained on, which ruined it for animal fodder. You may be able to find a farmer in your area who has some ruined or third cutting hay that you can buy for a pittance. Notice how the hay covers very square inch of the garden.

There is one addition trick you must employ. The mulch absolutely can’t touch the plants. For example, look at this tomato plant:

Mulch02

The newspaper and hay end in a small circle around the base of the plant. If the mulch touches the plant, it will cause the stem to rot and you’ll lose the plant. Rebecca and I didn’t know about this little problem during our first few years and we lost quite a few plants to mildew or rot.

The small spacing we allowed still provides all of the benefits of mulching. Tomatoes are especially prone to black spots. When it rains, the rain hits the soil, picks up pathogens, and splashes these pathogens onto the tomatoes. The mulch keeps the rain from splashing. The tomatoes can still get spotted from other sources, but it’s less likely.

As I mentioned previously, some vegetables don’t lend themselves to mulching very easily. For example, both carrots and beets are planted so closely as to make it impossible to mulch between the plants. You can mulch around the area in which the carrots and beets are growing though. Potatoes are planted further apart, so they mulch just fine. In fact, unless you plan to take time to hill your potatoes, mulching them is essential to prevent the potatoes from turning green (we don’t hill our potatoesit’s much easier to lift the mulch and the end of the season and almost pick them up off the surface).

Some mulching depends on the season. For example, bush green beans mulch fine during a hot and dry summer. They’re prone to mildew during a cool, wet summer. You need to allow a little more distance between the mulch and the bush green beans (or any other bush-style bean for that matter) to allow air flow. Pole green beans and peas don’t require this spacing because the majority of the plant is on a pole or a fence.

There are a lot of interesting ways to mulch a garden. For example, some people use cardboard for the task, while others use bark. The chocolate smell of cocoa hulls is quite enticing (assuming you can afford the high cost). Some materials provide properties that our hay mulching technique doesn’t provide. However, you have to be careful in choosing a material because some materials, such as bark, will actually leach important nutrients out of the soil (using bark can leach all of the nitrogen and also make the soil acidic). We actually do use bark for our blueberries and grapes because they require an acid soil, but we never use bark in the garden. Let me know your thoughts on mulching at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Growing Herbs (Part 1)

We have a number of gardens on our property and some of them are quite specialized. For example, Rebecca grows a wide variety of mint. She has the usual spearmint, of course, but she grows a huge number of other mints. My personal favorite is lime mint. It actually a lime flavor underlying the mint taste. I find it refreshing during the winter months. Lime mint shares most of the same characteristics of other mints. It looks like this:

LimeMint

Some of the mints she grows don’t even have mint in the name. Of course, there’s catnip, a form of mint enjoyed mainly by cats. However, there is also lemon balm, another favorite of mine because it has a perky flavor that’s good during the daylight hours (lime mint is more for the evening to relax). You can see by this picture that the two mints look similarthe best way to tell mints apart is to look at the leaf size and shape, and then rub a bit on your fingers and sniff.

LemonBalm

In addition to these mints, we also have orange mint, chocolate mint, and others. Rebecca will wait until these plants grow a bit taller and then take some (but not all) of the stalks inside for drying. She picks the individual leaves off and dries them in a food dehydrator. Another post will discuss this technique. We’re both strong advocates of dehydrating as a way of saving on storing costs and producing fat-free treats.

Lest you think our herb garden is entirely devoted to mint, we grow a wide variety of other plants as well. A favorite for soups is lovage, which has a strong celery taste. It grows as tall stalks with sparse leaves. Near the middle of the season the lovage plant will produce flowers. You can use the seeds as celery seed. Here’s what lovage looks like (we keep it in a tomato cage so it doesn’t blow over).

Lovage

I use a lot of rosemary and thyme in my cooking, so Rebecca grows quite a bit each year. Rosemary has somewhat thick, almost cylindrical leaves and a strong aromatic odor. It does amazing things for chicken, lamb, and pork. Because we eat a lot of chicken, we use a lot of rosemary. Here’s what the young rosemary plant looks like:

Rosemary

By the way, just in case you’re wondering, yes those are nut shells. We don’t waste anything, not even nut shells. They actually make a fine addition to the herb garden soil and keep it loose. Eventually, the nut shells rot down and make nice compost for the herb garden.

Most people don’t realize it, but there are several different kinds of thyme. This year we have lemon, lime, and orange thyme. All three have a thyme taste and small, but with subtle differences. The plants actually look quite different, so it’s somewhat easy to tell them apart. Here’s the lemon thyme:

LemonThyme

Notice that the lemon thyme has bits of yellow on its leaves. The leaves are also a bit rounder than other kinds of thyme. Compare the lemon thyme to the lime thyme shown here:

LimeThyme

The lime thyme leaves are larger, brighter green, and a little elongated when compared to the lemon thyme. These leaves also last the yellow spots on them (making it a less pretty form of thyme in my opinion). Our newest kind of thyme is the orange thyme, which looks sort of like the lime thyme as shown here.

OrangeThyme

However, as you can see, the leaves of the orange thyme are much darker. In addition, the stems have a significant reddish cast to them. All three are thyme, but each has subtle differences that will make a big difference in cooking. We’ll use all three types with meat dishes, just like the rosemary.

I can’t do our herb garden justice in a single post, so expect to see more as the summer progresses. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Planting Asparagus – Part 2

Earlier this spring, the Planting Asparagus – Part 1 post discussed some basics of getting the asparagus in the ground. Unlike many other garden plants, asparagus requires quite a bit of effort to get going. However, once planted, an asparagus bed will flourish for many years without much in the way of maintenance, so the up front effort is worth it.

By this time, your asparagus has sprouted and you’ve probably weeded it more than once. It seems as if asparagus attracts weeds for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s the trencheswho knows for certain? If you’ve only seen asparagus in the store, you might have even pulled a few of the young plants accidentally. Here’s what your baby asparagus will look like:

Asparagus011

That’s right, it looks sort of like a fern on a stem. By now you should have a number of these fern-like growths in the trench. When they get this tall, you need to start adding dirt to the trench. Don’t bury any of the branches coming off the main stem. Add just enough loose dirt (don’t pack it down) to bring the trench up to the next level. Burying part of the stem will encourage the asparagus to grow taller.

Now you’ve got some asparagus to tend, but it’s still not done yet for this summer. We’ll visit this topic again. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Garden Structures

Rebecca and I have managed to get the garden planted for the year. The contents of the garden vary each year to accommodate our personal tastes and also to ensure the larder remains full of good things to eat. This year the small garden (20′ × 20′) contains tomatoes, okra, and egg plants. Our tomato crop is a bit smaller this year at only twelve plants in the main garden (we also have two plants in the salad garden).

Like many people, we use cages to hold our tomatoes. However, the somewhat strong winds in our area have a habit of knocking the tomato cages over and damaging the vines long before they’re through for the season. To prevent this from happening, I came up with a technique for enhancing the survivability of the cage setup using electric fence posts. Electric fence posts come in a number of formswe prefer the 48″ metal variety that comes with a triangle of metal at the bottom. You push them into the ground with your foot and they hold relatively well for smaller loads. Each tomato cage requires one fence post as shown here:

TomatoStakes01

Place the posts so that they’ll oppose movement by the wind, so that little triangle at the bottom has the best chance of holding when the wind is high. The next step is to get the tomato cages in place. Put the upper ring (or third ring on a four-ring tomato cage) on the outside of the post and the second ring on the inside of the post so that the post is threaded through the tomato cage. Use cable ties to secure both rings to the post as shown here:

TomatoStakes02

You can clip off the excess cable tie using a side cutter pliers. The combination of tomato cage and electric fence post normally keeps everything in place, even in high winds. The completed setup looks like this:

TomatoStakes03

The main garden (60′ × 80′) contains a wealth of vegetables and fruit this year. Of course, you saw some of the permanent bed items in the Early Spring – The Garden and Orchard post. In addition to those items, the main garden now contains potatoes, summer squash, winter squash, snap peas, standard peas, lima beans, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, carrots, sweet peppers, sweetcorn, asparagus, and comphrey. Later in the season we’ll probably plant beets and perhaps a few other short growth time items.

We get bush varieties of vegetables when we can because they require significantly less setup than the vine varieties. However, peas are one of the vegetables for which there aren’t any suitable bush varieties, so we need to erect a fence for them to grow on. The one mistake I made in getting fencing material is that our fence is only 30″ highthe peas really need something taller (upwards of 5′). However, we just let the vines grow over the top and things work out acceptably.

The fence has to be movable from year-to-year to allow for rotation. In addition, we don’t grow peas every year, so sometimes the little fence is used for something else (such as cucumbers) and sometimes not at all. In order to grow the quantities we need, the fence is 50′ long.

The weight of the produce demands that we use something a little more sturdy that electric fence posts to hold the fence up at the ends, so this project requires T-posts, which are considerably heavier than electric fence posts (and more expensive too). In addition, you need a T-post driver/puller to work with this type of post. If you have good chest strength, you can get by with a much less expensive T-post driver and pull the posts out by wiggling and then pulling them out at the end of the year.

We used chicken wire as fencing material. It’s inexpensive, lasts an incredibly long time if you take it down each year (ours is 12 years old now and no sign of rust at all), and the small openings are perfect for peas and cucumbers to grow on. You begin by driving a T-post into the ground and then attaching one end of the fence to it using cable ties as shown here.

PeaPost01

Make sure you use enough cable ties and that the cable ties are of the heavier variety available in garden stores. Use the fencing to help define the location of the second T-post. Drive the T-post into the ground, pull the fencing as taut as possible (using one or two helpers), and temporarily attach it to the T-post.

At this point, you can add electric fence posts every four or five feet. Begin at one end and work toward the other end. Always pull the fence taut, using a helper to make it possible to attach the fence using cable ties. Use four cable ties minimum and make sure you use a double cable tie at the top (one cable tie slightly lower than the other) to keep the fence from sagging too much as the peas or cucumbers grow as shown here:

PeaPost02

Eventually, you’ll get to the other end of the row. At this point, you can reattach the fencing the T-post, if needed, to remove any slack. Your fencing won’t be completely straight, but it’ll look nice and provide good structure for the peas. Here’s my completed fence:

PeaPost03

Of course, the garden is far from complete. We’re weeding between the rows now and will then add mulch. More on these tasks in another blog post. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Planting Asparagus – Part 1

The asparagus is up in our garden now. You have to look carefully because it’s easy to miss the little spears when they first appear on the scene. Our bed seems to be a bit behind the others in the neighborhoodat least one of our neighbors reported seeing the asparagus poke up a week before we saw ours. Even so, this is usually the time of year that you begin to see the asparagus. Here is what the young asparagus typically looks like.

Asparagus01

You can see the asparagus spear about in the center of the picture. Over the last several years we’ve decided that we really need to plant more asparagus. Having just one row in the permanent bed isn’t sufficient to meet our needs. Yes, we have more than sufficient for meals in the spring, but there is nothing left to freeze for later useeven if the later use is sometime during the summer months.  So this spring we decided to plant some more asparagus.

You can plant asparagus seed, but we’ve never had very good luck with it. What we’ll get instead are two year old roots when we can or year old roots when we can’t. The roots come in a bundle of about twelve. The roots are attached to a crown. Make sure you pick a sunny spot for your asparagusit loves the sunlight. Here are three asparagus roots attached to a crown.

Asparagus02

In addition to the bunch of roots, you need a good spade. Most experts recommend planting asparagus in a mix of soil and compost. Because our soil is heavy with clay, we used pure compost from our compost heap. The best advice I can provide is to have your soil checked by your local testing facility (making sure to tell them precisely what you intend to plant) and then ask advice on how to proceed with your specific soil.

The procedure for planting roots of any age is the same. You begin by measuring out a trench that will allow two-feet for each root in your bunch. If you have a standard bunch, that means digging a trench 24-feet long. The trench is 16-inches deep and about 6-inches wide (the width of your spade is fine) as shown here.

Asparagus03

The mulch is important. We use hay mulch to help control weeds, keep the ground moist, and reduce the amount of erosion/filling that occurs when it rains. This is actually last year’s mulchwe’ll do some clean up and add new mulch for this year. Fill the bottom two-inches of the trench with loose compost and/or soil. Don’t pack it downkeep things loose. Splay the roots in the trench two-feet apart. Make sure the crown is pointing up as shown here.

Asparagus04

Carefully add eight more inches of compost and/or soil over the top of the roots. Of course, this leaves six-inches of that trench uncovered. What you’ll do is wait for the asparagus to come up. As the new asparagus grows, you’ll fill in the trench a little at a time until the trench is full. This step takes until mid-summer in most cases, but could take more time.

I’ll visit this topic again as the summer progresses. In the meantime, let me know if you have any questions at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Fall Damage Revealed in Spring

Each fall we till the garden up and plant winter rye. It’s amazing stuff because it sprouts in fall and survives the winter months to continue growing in spring! There are a number of reasons for planting winter rye:

  • The ground cover holds the soil in place and reduces erosion.
  • It fixes nitrogen all winter long and acts as “green manure” when we till it in later in the spring.
  • Having something planted in the garden shades out the weeds, so we aren’t fighting the weeds as much.
  • Winter rye drinks up the excess moisture, so we can get into the garden earlier (without sinking up to our knees in mud).

There are probably other reasons for growing winter rye, but these four are the reasons we take time to plant it. Unfortunately, we had an early frost this last fall. So, the winter rye sprouted, but didn’t have time to establish itself before the frost hit. As a result, unknown to us, the winter rye died. So our garden is unprotected this spring and I’m already seeing evidence of erosion as shown here.

Erosion

There isn’t any time to plant more winter rye now. So, we’ll control the erosion in another way, by placing hay bails on the downward side of the garden slope. Using the hay bails will slow the water flow and at least keep the soil in the garden. Of course, the point is that nature doesn’t always cooperate with our plans, so it’s important to have a Plan B (the hay bails in this case).

The hay won’t go to waste. Later this spring, when everything is planted, we’ll use the hay to mulch the garden. Mulching reduces the need to water and keeps weeds under control, but more on that later. So, what do you do to control erosion and keep weeds under control in your garden? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Early Spring – The Garden and Orchard

Spring really begins to take off with the introduction of new growth in the garden. Our permanent bed has a number of items in it; some start early, while others wait a while to make their presence known. About the earliest arrival in the garden is the rhubarb; a favorite of mine. Nothing quite matches the sour taste of rhubarb, especially the first growth of spring. Rhubarb looks like little red balls when it first appears, and then you begin seeing leaves like these shown here:

Rhubarb

Of course, it’ll be a while before I’ll enjoy any fresh rhubarb. I’ll show you how it looks later. One of the ways I like it best is freshly picked with just a tad of sugar. It’s also good in rhubarb rolls and we make wine from it (among other things).

Another early arrival are Egyptian walking onions. They’re called walking onions because they literally walk from place to place in your garden. The top of the onion sprouts a seed head. When the seed head become too heavy for the stalk, it ends up on the ground and replants itself; no extra work on your part! Here’s what the walking onions look like in the garden:

WalkingOnion1

When these onions get large enough, I’ll dig up just a few and enjoy them very much as I would green onions. The Egyptian walking onion tends to be a little stronger and a little larger than the green onions you buy in the store, but you can use them precisely the same way. Here is a patch of ground that shows the seed heads as they appear in spring:

WalkingOnion2

Each one of those tiny little heads will become another onion. We should have quite a wealth of them this year. The Egyptian walking onion is our second taste treat from the garden. The first taste treat is horse radish. The horseradish isn’t quite up yet; at least, it isn’t far enough up to tell what it is. Normally, you’d dig it up this time of year though, grind it up, add some vinegar, and enjoy.

Another spring delight is asparagus. I’ll be sure to upload some pictures of it when it comes up. Asparagus is planted very deep and doesn’t make an appearance yet for at least another two weeks (probably longer).

Part of the springtime ritual is pruning the trees. We have 32 trees in our orchard. This last Saturday we pruned the apples. Each tree has a unique pruning strategy and you’ll find that pruning strategies differ between gardeners. Here’s a typical apple tree after pruning.

Apple

See how the apple looks sort of like an umbrella or perhaps a gnarled old man? The approach we use works well for hand picking. It’s an older technique that many modern orchards have replaced with a technique better designed for picking apples from a truck.

We prune our apples every other year; the off year. Apples produce well one year and then take a bit of a vacation the next year. Yes, we’ll get some apples from our trees, but not as many as on a good year. Of course, prudent canning techniques ensures everything evens out. What sorts of spring delights do you experience? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Calculating an Hourly Wage

Yes, I know that most people work in the garden for the sheer joy of doing so. In fact, many gardens do really end up as places to putter around; there are a few of this and a few of that, but not a lot of anything. However, when you begin looking at your garden as a means to feed your family all year round, it takes on added importance. The garden is suddenly larger and consumes a great deal more time. It’s entirely possible to get sucked into a black hole of activity and to begin wondering what you’re really getting from your efforts.

It won’t help that many people won’t understand the obsession to produce the majority of your own food. Some people will make snide remarks about how much it must cost to garden in the first place and how you could better spend your time working a second job. A lot more people won’t make any comment except a halfhearted, “Wow” and think something completely different. So just how do you handle the naysayers?

Well, there is always the argument that food from the garden is significantly fresher than the food purchased in the store and therefore more nutritious. It’s almost certain that someone will rebut your argument with the latest article saying there is no significant nutritional difference between the food you grow and the food in the store. Of course, you can break out your equally compelling article, but fail to convince the other party of anything except that you must be a fanatic. The truth likely is that there are instances where your garden grown food is indeed superior, but that the effort in growing it will eclipse any benefit for most people. In short, they really don’t want to hear that your food tastes better or is better for you.

You could also make the argument that the food grown in your garden is pesticide free. Whether such an argument holds any weight with the person you’re talking with depends on their knowledge of the adverse effects of pesticides. Many people are of the opinion that the media has done a good job of denigrating pesticides and that they can’t possibly be as harmful as many people seem to think; some people simply don’t care.

The only argument that appears to hold weight with many people is how much you make when working in the garden. So, just how do you figure it out? The best approach is to start by weighing the food you bring in from the garden. For example, one year we brought in about 50 pounds of green beans from our garden. At the time, green beans sold for $1.50 a pound in the store (they’re over $3.00 a pound now, but that’s not an appropriate comparison; I don’t have any fresh green beans now either). So, it would have cost me $75.00 to purchase the green beans in the store.

Of course, I have costs when raising the green beans. The seed packet was $2.00. I also had to water the green beans. Computing the value of the water is a little harder when you have a well; you need to approximate the amount of time the water is used to water the green beans, multiply by the flow rate of your hose, and multiply by the electrical rate for your area. I estimated that I spent another $5.00 on water (mulching significantly reduces the cost of the water). I didn’t have any cost for fertilizer; my rabbits supply all I need free of charge. (Well, not precisely, but where else would I use it?) We also don’t use any pesticides on the green beans, so there is no cost there. The profit from our green beans then is $68.00.

My wife and I worked about ten hours total on the green beans. So, you take your profit and divide it by ten to come up with an hourly rate of $6.80. That’s below minimum wage, but you’re definitely not working free of charge. Now, you need to consider the supplementary benefits of gardening. For example, the cheapest gym membership in our area is approximately $43.00 a month. Because we were in the garden, there was no need for a gym membership and we can add that cost to our hourly rate. By working in the garden, I’ve also reduced my weight, which has reduced my blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Instead of four pills each day for my diabetes, I now take one; another cost savings I can add to my hourly rate. There are also fewer runs to town, which means a cost savings in gas. By the time I added everything up, I figured that I had earned about $8.00 an hour gardening.

Just how is it that I can say that I earned $8.00 an hour growing green beans though? After all, there isn’t any additional money in my pocket. The gain comes from not spending money. By making the money you have now go farther, you don’t have to spend as much time worrying about where to get more. In short, the benefit is real. By saving the money I did, I was able to use the money I earned for other things that I can’t produce myself.

There are some pitfalls when your self-sufficient and you need to consider them as well. For example, when you only grow food for the summer, you don’t need to worry about storage. If you’re like me and grow food to last all year, you need to consider the storage costs as part of the cost of the food. Many people turn to the freezer for storage. Some foods do require freezing if you want to keep them (some foods don’t store well at all). However, you need to consider other means of storage. The lowest cost long term storage method is canning. When you can your food, all you need to consider is the cost of the electricity or gas used to can the food, the partial cost of jars (they last nearly forever), and the cost of lids (around $2.50 for ten of them). However, don’t overlook techniques such as drying. My wife dries a number of vegetables in the form of chips. For example, nothing tastes better than a bag of zucchini or egg plant chips in winter; it’s a taste of summer from vegetables that don’t store particularly well in any other way.

I’ll discuss storage techniques in a future article. In the meantime, think about how much you make each hour growing your own food. You might be surprised at how much profit there is in having fun!

 

Health Benefits of Self-Sufficiency

I remember the discussion well; my wife and I were on a short vacation in the mountains of California one day (Julian for those of you who know the little town in Southern California) and we were talking about gardening. It sounds like a topic that is a long way from self-sufficiency or health, but there is a connection; even we didn’t know it at the time though. That discussion happened over 15 years ago. Today, we’re living a different sort of reality, much of it stemming from that innocuous discussion.

At the time, I weighed in at a gargantuan 365 pounds (perhaps a little more) and had a 54 inch waist. It was hard to find time to exercise and even harder to find money for a gym membership. Exercise consisted of walks, when time allowed. Today, I’m much lighter, having lost 127 pounds (so far) and my 42 inch waist is much smaller. My blood pressure has gone way down, my heart rate as well. In addition, I take far less medication today than I did at one time and my diabetes is under control. The technique I’ve used has also naturally decreased my LDL cholesterol and increased my HDL cholesterol.  The entire process has required a little over 12 years to complete; a long time granted, but the process has been slow and continuous.

You might wonder how much it cost to lose that much weight. That’s the interesting part. My wife and I now grow about 95% of our own food. We eat higher quality and fresher food and spend a whole lot less money in the store. In short, instead of paying for a gym membership, we exercise and earn money (in the form of store and medication savings) while doing it. You won’t find that sort of deal anywhere on TV.

The interesting thing about the approach I’ve taken is that my weight loss has been slow and continuous. The exercise I get by producing the things I need has actually increased my stamina and strength, while reducing my weight. I never get bored exercising this way because each day brings something new. One day I’m stretching while picking weeds in the garden, another day I’m lifting bushel baskets full of produce. Each day brings something new and the tasks I perform change by season. There is no falling off the cart because the change I’ve made is a part of my lifestyle now; I wouldn’t consider living any other way.

This entry has been short, but I wanted to introduce you to the idea behind self-sufficiency. It’s a method of producing what you need, gaining some substantial health benefits, and making money while you’re doing it. No, you won’t get a pile of cash from your garden, but wouldn’t you like to spend less at the store? What would you do with the money you save by reducing the groceries you buy in half? That’s what self-sufficiency is about; it’s about doing for yourself.

Keep your eyes peeled for additional posts in this category as I have time to write them. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts about self-sufficiency. Write me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.