The experiment has been interesting. I started knowing nothing; had never had a garden. I read a lot. Talked to people. Went to a workshop led by Steve Diver and diligently read the daily posts on the Soil and Heath Discussion Group on Yahoo.
We’ve added to the size of our vegetable garden. Added berries, fruit and nut trees, grapes and kiwis. The fruit, nuts, grapes and kiwis will add to our larder in the future and make the 50% goal easier to obtain.
Along the way I’ve studied and sometimes experimented with organic gardening, no til, biodynamics, permaculture, Fukuoka and nutrient dense. I’ve learned that there is an argument going on at the cutting edge of unconventional gardening, one that argues that just adding lots of organic material to the soil doesn’t necessarily mean nutritious food. Organic may only mean food that isn’t poisoned. And, it will result in a garden with too much potassium.
Interestingly, Steve Solomon perhaps the guru of Pacific Northwest Gardening is beginning to question his own wisdom and advice laid out in his very useful books Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades and Gardening When it Counts. He has joined forces with Michael Astera and they are writing a book together on the importance of mineral balancing the soil to be able to grow the most nutritious food.
Astera has written a book called The Ideal Soil which brings up to date soil science that goes back to the 30’s and 40’s and was squelched by the big chemical companies who make their money selling NKP fertilizer.
It is possible to have your garden soil tested and analyzed. A soil test costs $20. The analysis $45. If a gardener buys Michael Astera’s book and if you have a basic knowledge of math you can learn to analyze the test yourself. When Michael or Steve Diver analyze your soil test they write a prescription. Back in August I posted the prescription I will use on our garden this fall.
If one is a backyard gardener growing some food for the fun of it then a soil test and analysis are not going to be a high priority. But if one is trying to grow 50% of one’s food then it will be important for that food to be as nutritious as possible. Theoretically, the more nutritious your food, that is—higher in necessary minerals—the less food you will need to eat.
Handling a big garden entails a certain amount of work. Harvesting and putting food by is even more work. After a day of canning it’s easy to see why Americans bought into the ease and convenience of supermarket food. I recently spent nine hours with the result of 14 quarts of pickled beets, 9 pints of pickles and a gallon bag of frozen beet greens. If I were going to sell any that stuff I’d have a hard time figuring out a price. It doesn’t seem like much of a result for nine hours of continuous labor.
However, it’s part of the experiment. If food supplies dwindle or dry up, if prices continue to rise, if transportation becomes a problem, it’s important to know how to extend the growing season and extend the eating season by canning, freezing, pickling, dehydrating, etc.
It’s possible that what I now describe as 50% of our diet could become 100% if there is economic catastrophe.
One important thing I’ve learned is that if you plan to survive on your garden you need to grow some calories: potatoes, dry beans, corn meal, squash.
Still much to learn.