Food Storage & Other Adventures in Motherhood

Book Review: Back to Basics-Tips for Gardening

by heather

Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills, Third EditionAfter the love of my life discovered that I would remotely even consider a “self-sufficient” lifestyle, he picked up Back to Basics: A Complete Guide to Traditional Skills. This book is not ‘light reading’, but it is a great reference. It has articles on every skill I can imagine that would be useful if you were to live off land or ‘go off the grid’. Some of the topics it covers include: making your house energy efficient, gardening, planning and building your own home, preserving food, quilting, fishing and camping. I will readily admit that I did not read this entire book, but I did read the large section on raising your own produce. Here are some things that I learned from my reading.

  • Companion Planting: Some plants grow better in the company of others and do poorly with others. For example pumpkins grow well with corn, but not potatoes.
  • Tall vegetables (corn, tomatoes) should be planted at the north end of the garden or the side near a house, wall or other light barrier.
  • When selecting what to plant, avoid market or cropper varieties. These will provide your entire harvest all at once.
  • The most important soil-improvement task is to add organic matter to the soil.  Compost and other organic matter should be mixed into the top 12 inches of soil. Ideal soil is loose, soft and crumbly.
  • Most plants grow best in soil with a pH of 6.1-6.8.
  • A greenhouse should face south to maximize winter sunlight.
  • Almost any waterproof container can be used to start seedlings. Used, clean milk jugs and yogurt cups work well.
  • Seed sprouts are easy to grow and rich in vitamins and proteins, however tomato and potato sprouts are poisonous.
  • To supply enough produce for 2 adults and 2 school age children for a year, you need approximately 2,500 square feet of gardening space.
  • To avoid diseases and pests you should not plant members of the same plant family in the same spot two years in a row.
  • Hardy (easy to grow) vegetables include: carrots, beets, collards, kale, mustard, onions, radishes, rhubarb, horseradish
  • Difficult to grow vegetables include: cauliflower, celery, asparagus, artichokes, celeriac
  • Cucumber vines grow only from the tip.
  • Peas taste best if cooked within a few hours of harvesting them from the plant.
  • Potatoes sold in food stores are not recommended for seed pieces. They often are treated with chemicals to keep them from sprouting and contaminated with disease.
  • Sweet potatoes are actually part of the morning glory family.
  • Tomatoes are closely related to potatoes, eggplant, peppers and tobacco.
  • Tomatoes yield more fruit if you pinch off the shoots that grow in the joints where the leaf stems meet the main stems.
  • Organic mulch can smother weeds, conserve moisture and add organic matter. Cheap options include sawdust, leaves, newspaper, compost, pine needles and lawn clippings.
  • It is better to water heavily once a week than lightly every day.
  • The best time to water is in the late afternoon.

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