Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Answering Your Questions

Last week, in preparation for sharing in an adult Sunday School class at our church, we asked what questions you might have about our lifestyle and/or food choices. Your questions were good ones and we will do our best to answer them here.

How much to grow for a family of four...enough to eat for the season AND enough to preserve?/I'd love to see your rough calculations of how much to plant, succession plantings, etc.

We are currently a family of four, but two of us are small children and don't eat huge amounts. Below you can see our garden plans/number of plants we planted last year. This doesn't include our asparagus bed (25 plants), rhubarb (4 plants), red raspberries (about 50 feet of canes), wild black raspberries, one sour cherry tree, 10-15 laying hens (we did not keep track of egg totals), meat birds and back garden (mentioned below).

Double click on the image to see the full image (this is only about half the image).

For reference, the long edges of the garden (above) are ~60' and we use pretty standard plant spacing (for figuring how many plants per section). Combine this with the yields we got (a.k.a. Harvest Tally 2008) to see about what our food production was per linear foot.

What doesn't show up on here was last years pumpkin/squash/corn/sunflower patch, which measured about 50' x 50'. It was mostly squash & pumpkins which we didn't use too much of, but served the purpose of keeping the weeds down (less to mow, plus additional food stores).

The link to our harvest tally (what we froze, canned, dried, etc.) does not include all the fresh produce we ate all throughout the spring, summer and fall. Our stores have really held up well this year. Even in light of my month or so break from doing much cooking (morning sickness), I think we would have come out with more than enough.

We don't do much in the way of succession planting. We have plenty of garden/planting space, so we can plant what we want when we want to. We do space out separate plantings of lettuce, corn, etc., so we can enjoy these crops longer, we just don't have to wait or plan for the space to plant them.

So, in a nut shell, the garden we planted last year (pictured above) supplied our family of four (two of which are small children) with all the vegetables we needed for the year (with the exception of some bell peppers and a few other traded veggies). Our chickens supplied us with all the eggs and meat we needed (we don't eat a lot of meat and we did have some venison gifted to us). In addition to our own cherries, strawberries, rhubarb, pears and raspberries, we did buy peaches, blueberries and apples locally. All this kept us out of the produce and meat sections of the grocery store (with the exception of a ham for Easter, a couple of bananas for the kids' Christmas stockings [they were on Sam's Christmas list] and some oranges for citrus cravings during pregnancy).

Will you let us know the baby's name after it's born?
Of course we will:-).

Maybe you could address what crops you grow (if any) through the winter, bartering/trading (b/c it's not so realistic or traditional that we all grow ALL our food, and crops do fail).
We have not yet grown any crops through the winter, although we recently came into quite a bit of free plexi-glass that we are hoping to turn into a small greenhouse when we have time.

The only bartering we regularly participate in is food for child-care. Our neighbor watches our kids for us occasionally and we try to compensate her with bread, jam, sweets, etc. Also, I have watched friends' kids in the past and received food as payment (although it wasn't necessary:-)).

If we don't have enough of something we've grown, or if a crop does extremely poorly, we head to the farmer's market or do without. We actually don't go to the farmer's market much otherwise because we try to grow the things we want ourselves. Or, we'll poll gardening friends to see if they have a surplus of what we need and can compensate them with a surplus from our garden.

Last summer, I had just enough green bell peppers for our salsa and tomato sauce. I did not have enough to allow to turn yellow and red for freezing. Between the farmer's market, a generous friend who came into some free peppers and a box of red, yellow and orange bell peppers being sold for 25 cents a piece! at a local store (I bought them all), I had plenty to freeze and get us through the winter.

What is the trade off of living out of town (more potential driving) for more acreage to grow our own food?
There really isn't much of a trade-off for us. We are actually only 3.5 miles from the city limits. It takes us 5-7 minutes to get to the nearest grocery store and 10 minutes to get to church which is very close to the center of town/farmer's market/library, etc. Jamey has ridden his bike and has run into town numerous times in the past (to pick up/drop off our car or van if it's being worked on). Unfortunately, it's a fairly busy road into town with no shoulder for safe riding/running, so those trips are limited.

Even though we are fairly close, we are deliberate about our car trips, combining errands as much as possible. I try my best to avoid stores. Going to stores = spending money and I actually don't enjoy shopping very much. We make lists and when we can't make it another day without something (like toilet paper), we head to the store. We are really happy with the distance between us and town. We are close, but not too close.

One of the questions asked in class was What are some of the challenges?
At certain ages, children do not enjoy being in the garden with us as we need them to be. They'd rather be being pushed on the swing, walk all over baby plants or wander to areas of the property where we can't see them (not allowed). This leads to some tense moments and frustration- not unlike parenting in general:-). Thankfully, our first two have moved out of this stage (for now).

Another challenge is that produce does not wait to ripen until our schedule clears up (or until we are mentally ready to pick or can another bushel of this or that). This means sticking close to home during certain times of the year or spending Saturdays in the garden/canning instead of going for a hike or to the park.

There are many other challenges, but so far none of them have pushed us to the point of wanting to stop- the benefits are too great!

What are the benefits?
The results: avoiding chemicals (we don't spray), spending time with creation, teaching our children about food, respecting food (in light of all the work that goes into growing it), eating fruits and vegetables at their peak ripeness = peak taste and nutrient value, toting a basket and going shopping for dinner in the hen house and garden (or, come winter, shopping in the pantry and freezers) and saving money on groceries (we spend about $250 per month). Pin It


  1. Thank you! You guys did an amazing job answering our questions (I've been waiting impatiently!) This brings another question to mind...how do you control garden pests? Mainly earwigs? They are eating my garden like crazy! And I'm trying not to go the poison route...but what else to do??!

  2. Hmmm...pests. We certainly have them. Some type of borer takes a couple of our summer squash plants each year, so we plant more than we need in hopes we get close to what we want. We pay Sam a penny for each potato beetle he picks off our potatoes. Flea beetles make their appearance every once in a while and we spray them with soapy water which seems to help a little. I'm not sure about earwigs, but I would google "earwig natural control" or something like that and try some natural remedies before spraying with the heavy stuff. Also, this past fall we started encouraging our chickens to forage in the garden- they find all kinds of bug larvae in there (hopefully mostly the bad kinds). We'll see if this helps with our pests at all this year. Hope this helps-happy hunting!

  3. You are SOOOOO much more organized then I am. I envy that in you. We are so fly by the seat of your pants. My husband is organized. Has diagrams and plans. I could really care less. Mostly because when I've got a plan something happens and it gets all mucked up. I love reading your blog! I've got part of my garden planted & waiting for next weekend to plant the rest. Hopefully it will dry off enough to get in there. We are even contemplating urban chickens! They won't be very free ranging, but there will be a little that they can do. My other thing to do this summer is a composter. Throwing away all that GOOD scrap food is KILLING me! Thanks for sharing!

  4. What software or program did you use for the garden map above? Are you pleased with it? Thanks!

  5. Anonymous, Jamey just uses power point- nothing fancy:-).

  6. Inspiring. It may not seem evident by my blog, but I'm thoroughly interested in this level of sustainable living. Our friends used to say 'you have to go on that show..Frontier House.' I think we should do it without the show! I am storing up wisdom from folks like you for future days, Lord willing.
    always, thanks for your posts!


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

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