I was thrilled to spend a sunny day in the garden yesterday, and I took a few moments to share some of my main tips for growing strong plants, and especially looking at your green leafy veggies for signs of stress (like bolting). In this video, I chat candidly about some of the bigger growing challenges you might find in your garden and some simple steps you can consider taking to address them. I use an organic fertilizer that I love (I am not sponsored by Dr. Earth, it’s just a fertilizer I love using), and I water the earth deeply when my seeds are taking. I am also looking more this year at companion planting and sun zones when deciding where to plant my greens, because we have a sunny zone where things can bolt quickly if they are stressed at all (overcrowded, dealing with depleted soil, not getting enough water, or getting more sun exposure than they can handle).
I grow a lot of greens that I then freeze. This year, I plan to shelter a big crop of them in a hoop house or high tunnel to help us harvest fresh greens throughout the winter. But we have a lot of spaces to consider–the kitchen garden in our front yard (which I am working on all weekend to build), the hugelkultur beds where I am growing our “bumper” crops and all our tomatoes, and then the new spaces we’re building out for bigger crops, including deciding where to put a high tunnel.
New big crops this year: Corn, lentils, soybeans, and more beans
We are working hard this weekend to build out some new garden spaces, including our “enchanted berry garden,” kitchen garden, cornfield, and adding lentil and soybean crops. These will all be new for us, so it’ll be a challenge for sure. I’ve grown soybeans before and they have been a great crop, but I haven’t grown them on the scale I am attempting this year, so that’s a bit stressful. I also have never grown lentils before, but I’m excited to try them. Lastly, I have grown plenty of beautiful beans here for sure, but I have generally depended on bulk beans from the store for the high volume of beans we eat here. This year, I am going to try to grow enough to really can and store more of our own fresh mixed beans.
I’m definitely stressed about the cornfield. It will be a new crop for us (other than an unsuccessful attempt at a few ears a couple years ago). It’s a tough crop to grow in our shorter growing season here, and it’s tricky for us to figure out the perfect placement for such a huge crop that might not even succeed.
As a child, I remember visiting the most amazing small farmstead on our island at the time, an absolute goldmine of food grown by our friend Gail, an extraordinary man who lived on acreage on the north end of our island and farmed every bit of it. I remember the joy of tasting his amazing Native American corn varieties, and I remember him arriving to Thanksgiving one year with a selection of vegetables wrapped in newspaper–perfect gifts grown from his gnarled, wonderful worker hands.
It’s funny those sentient moments that change you, isn’t it? I remember eating corn chips in his tiny house. He liked to keep them warming on his wood stove all day. I thought they were the most amazing things I had ever eaten. And he let me ride on his old mare one day, and she lead me on a jumpy, painful ride through his old orchard before bucking me off and ambling back to her pasture. The whole scene was so beautiful to me. He was a water dowser, too, a true wizard of the earth. He had a classic, old, dugout style storehouse where he kept all his hardy veggies, literally a cold storage system that he built into the ground. His house was humble, a small home that he heated fully with the heat from his wood stove. He always read the newspaper and drank his coffee in the mornings by his kitchen window. He had opinions, he was highly political and socially active, a deep activist, he was super smart, and he did absolutely everything on his own land to live a fully self-sustaining existence.
So, when I think of corn, I think of Gail, and I think of our Native American populations that used to own this land long before any of us arrived. I am doing a lot of research right now into growing corn, and I would like to attempt growing the Holy Trinity of corn, squash, and runner beans. I’ve been planning to plant this beautiful, storied crop for a couple years now, but have always been intimidated by the corn and ended up just planting everything separately.
So, anyway, watch for more from me in the coming days as we lay out the plans for these new efforts. As with all new attempts, there will be a cascade of new projects that come with each effort. We’ll need to add more fencing, till our land for the first time (we use no-dig permaculture beds called hugelkultur beds, for nearly all our gardens), and plan each location as carefully as we can, which will be tricky for us given our lack of experience with these crops. Wish us luck. I’ll keep you posted as we go.