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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Growing Our Own Food for the Long Haul

Last year I became completely obsessed with the commencement of growing some fruits and vegetables on our 1/2 acre property.  I know that from a serious prepping standpoint that our property would not adequately feed our four member family if it truly became the only source of food for us to rely on.  Having said that, there was a lot we could do and still can do to support our food needs with the land we have.  Also, from a practical standpoint, having a solid source of fruits and vegetables would help on our growing grocery bill.

A little background.  My parents are Italian immigrants and my Dad was raised as a farmer.  Growing up, we always had a 1/3 acre garden.  Which, for private usage is actually pretty big.  (I wish I had that now.)  I was a farm hand of sorts, but never really was interested it in.  Growing up it was just another chore.  I didn't get it.  I appreciated that my parents canned an average of 300 cans of tomato sauce and always had tons of other vegetables to choose from, but I never fully appreciated, nor was I really interested in the process of getting there.  

Let's move forward 30 years.  After seeing what I did last year to our property and what I am continuing to do my Dad was pretty surprised.  He said, in his very deep Italian accent how he never thought any of his kids would get interested in any of "this stuff".  I would just smile and nod my head thinking how ticked off at myself for letting it take me this long.  No matter.  What counts is that I am finally beginning to get it and am now providing some level of fresh food preparation for my family.

I would still consider my level of knowledge to be in the "I'm making most stuff up as I go along" stage.  But that's ok.  I learn and read everything I can and like most of us I'm sure, we don't learn anything until we actually try it.  I absolutely welcome any advice you want to share.  There's only so much I can learn from books and other online sources.  You provide a much bigger pool of knowledge so please feel free to help guide me and many others that are in different levels of their own journeys growing their own food.

What do we have so far?

I must say that we were lucky that our property came with a mature blueberry bush.  Blueberry bushes have a lifespan (at least from shat I've read) of around 10-15 years.  I have no idea how old ours is, but it's quite large and I don't think we can count on it yielding too much for us in the years to come.  Having said that, it must be in it's prime.  In 2011 we got about ten pounds of fruit from it.  Last year we got about 25% more than that.  We thought it wouldn't yield nearly as much last year considering how well it did the year before.  Also, we had a big-time drought last summer which put a lot of stress on all our plants and trees. That bush must have great access to ground water.  The only maintenance I give it is a little trimming at the end of the season and I dump some ashes from our stove near its base.   I am not going to make any predictions this year concerning yield.  I welcome whatever it gives us.

The first thing to learn is what zone you are in.  This guided me to learn what kind of fruit trees, grape vines and nut tree/bushes we can grow in our colder climate.  Next, most experts advise to have your soil tested.  I admit I didn't.  I know, as one of my favorite childhood cartoons used to say, "Knowing is half the battle".  I was happy to move forward and give it  try.  We always planted flowers and they seem to do great, so I thought it was a safe move.


Next, buy a good shovel.  Digging a 3 foot deep whole for some of the fruit trees is much easier when you can count on your tools.

Thus far we have planted 3 apple trees.  Most apple tree species need another different type of apple tree to cross pollinate to ensure proper growth.  Some like Cortland apples are self pollinating.  Much of what I have read says that you should still have a different species around.  One of my trees, (macintosh) should be fruit bearing this year.
Wooden Handle Shovel
We planted 3 raspberry plants.  One of which should bear fruit this year.

We were able to plant some rhubarb thanks to friends who allowed me to transplant some of their already thriving rhubarb.  We were able to take advantage of that last year.  Growing up I would pick some rhubarb right out of our garden and eat it like a carrot.  Just thinking about it is making my mouth water from the memory of the extreme sour taste.  

We also planted two Hazel Nut bushes.  I guess they get quite large and you can trim/mold them into whatever shape and size you want.  It didn't yield any hazelnuts last year due to a late frost.  Plus I had some beetle issues which, just puts me on notice for this year.

Next we planted two sour cherry trees.  They are of the Montmorency varieties.  They do well in cold climates and are good for baking and eating.  They should be good to yield some fruit this year.  I can't wait to see them flower for us in a few weeks.  However, considering it's supposed to be 21 degrees tonight I have no clue.

Being the son of Italian immigrants (yes, i know I've already said that)  I was happy to plant a few grape vines.  I had to choose vines that could sustain negative zero degree temperature during the winter.  This doesn't give us any good wine making grape options, however, it gives us some great varieties to eat.  This is a very long and patient process.  Three out of four of the vines didn't do anything last year.  My dad said that this doesn't really mean anything and that they could start growing this year.  However, he didn't sound too confident saying it. We planted two vines of the Edelweiss (white) variety and two vines of the Valiant (red) variety.  One of the Valiant vines had some nice growth last year.

We rely on raised garden beds for growing vegetables.  We currently have 5 now and we will put at least one more in the coming weeks.  I considered last year kind of an experiment.  I should have paid more attention growing up.  I was really pleased with how things worked out but I should have spaced out the plants a lot better.  Especially for the broccoli which, takes up a ton of space and thrived in our cooler climate.  The cucumbers did well.  The tomatoes exceeded my expectations.  My family in Connecticut has been complaining about a tomato blight that has been an issue for the last few  years.  Because of that I didn't have high expectations.  However, we had an incredible yield.  I ate more tomatoes last summer than I probably have in my entire life.  I am not a fan of eating raw tomatoes but making vegetable dishes, pizzas, sauces, etc, with freshly picked tomatoes was great.

We created a compost pile and fertilize the garden with that.  We also use some organic fertilizer to supplement the compost.

What's Next?

As I write this I am mostly losing patience at how cold it's been. I just want to get outside and start working.  My plans for planting this year are to plant a couple pear trees and probably another grape vine.  Beyond that we will put another garden bed in and plan our planting a lot better to ensure that each vegetable plant has enough room.

Thanks for reading!

Timmy NoOne