Friday, December 5, 2014

Understanding Companion Planting

From bacteria in yogurt making to the Amazon anywhere something grows there is an ecosystem. As homesteaders our goal is to cultivate the perfect ecosystem for plants and repelling the pests that would destroy it. Companion planting is more than not planting cabbage where you planted tomatoes. It is giving your garden a healthy environment from soil acidity to 
succession planting. 

Ecosystems and Monocultures
An ecosystem is a biological community of different organisms and their physical environment. Like the human body any ecosystem needs to maintain a careful balance. Too much of anything could harm it irreparably. In traditional agriculture monocultures are developed that skew the balance and cause pest and disease to take over. The pesticides kill the good with the bad and as the diseases become more virulent they use stronger pesticides.  Studies have shown the effects of different waves of environmental damage from monocultures. This is an extreme example of how important maintaining balance is. 

What is Companion Planting? 
There are complicated charts and whole books about  what should be planted where. Each plant has its own preferences and needs which are provided by others. Taking the time to plan garden styles and placement all comedown to the details of plant placement. Taller plants can shelter shorter ones, space can be used more efficiently, pests can be repelled, and pollinators can be attracted. 

Know the Main Plant Families
The Allium family is made up of onions, leeks, garlic, leeks, shallots, chives, and scallions. Brassicas include cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, and cauliflower. Some of the more well known Legumes are lentils, pole and green beans, and peanuts. Nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Each of these families are very large and include many more fruits and vegetables. The Gourd family includes cucumber, melons, squash, and your handy dandy luffa sponge. There are always exceptions, but here is the general rule.

Alliums like Brassica and Solanum, but dislike Legumes
Brassicas like Alliums, but dislike Nightshades
Nightshades like Alliums, but dislike Brassicas and Legumes
Legumes like Nightshades and Brassicas, but dislike Alliums 
Gourds like Legumes and Alliums, but dislike Nightshades

Some of these are so repellent you can’t plant them in the same ground like Brassicas and Nightshades. Others, like Legumes, are more selective for example bush beans like Brassicas less than they like Nightshades. 

2. Carrots and Beets
Carrots and beets are from different families, but both families are difficult to just plant by family. Carrots are from the Apiaceae family which also includes parsley and celery. Alliums like Carrots, but hate Parsley. The similarity is the division. 
Beta vulgaris, the family that contains chard and beets, like bush beans, but dislikes pole beans.   

3. Radishes Drive Off Pests!
Planting radishes near Gourds, Legumes, Brassicas, and Nightshades will drive off many types of beetles. It is best to let some radish go to seed to drive off the pests through the growing season. 
Many plants drive off pests and discourage other infestation. Potatoes drive off the Mexican Bean Beetle and Beans do the same for the Potato Beetle. 

4. Always use Marigolds
Not only do they drive off beetles, nematodes, and flies, but their roots excrete a strong natural pesticide  

This is the end of our Early Garden Planning series, so we will be looking at future series and other posts after Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook!

There are so many wonderful ways to communicate and we want to start giving you more opportunities to connect with us! Connect with us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter! Homestead Revival is more than a blog, it is a community of like minded people and we want to hear from you!

On Facebook...

This is where we announce all of our posts and find out what you are interested in. You can message us, post on our wall, and talk about our posts with other homesteaders. Here it is easy to share your favorite posts with your friends and tell us what you want to read about!

 On Pinterest...
We have almost a thousand posts and it is easy for useful and helpful content to be buried under years of material. Pinterest's simple beautiful format enabled us to link about two hundred posts by category. Every category and label we have used has its own board. Enjoy browsing through our posts on beekeeping, goats, chickens, and home tours!

 On Twitter...

We have had a Twitter account for a while, but I have started my own page to share my apartment homestead. Because tweets are so fast I will be able to talk about everything from blog post prep to my current projects. These will inspire future blog posts and be the most interactive of all of our pages. This is where I want to hear from you and see your plans. 

We can't wait to see how our community grows!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Square Foot Gardening vs. French Intensive

While there are many alternative methods we will discuss in future posts like straw bale gardening, today we are focusing on the main ones, Square Foot Gardening and the French Intensive Method. Each system is a tool that gives something to your garden like time management, companion planting options, and food production. They also leave something wanting whether it is water use or space.

In my first garden we used raised beds to grow tomatoes and sunflowers at the bottom of a revine behind our house. The hill was steep and I remember long hikes up and down the hill to bring water and haul produce.  Even then we had our garden far away from our house. Raised beds are a staple in a high dry mountain town like ours. The dirt is hard and rocky for the most part and it takes years to rebuild topsoil eroded away. The only thing that does love the dirt are the gophers whose holes turn the ankles of unobservant adventurers.

Raised beds at their simplest are a sturdy wood box with gopher wire on the bottom filled with clean dirt. The soil is in good condition, it drains well, and is easy to work with.  Season extending is made easier in both spring and winter by warmer soil and easily contained areas. Dormant weeds aren't a problem and the loose dirt makes new weeds easy to handle. The only draw back is the investment and periodic replacement. 

Square Foot Gardening
I have used wood scraps to build a small raised bed in my front yard for my cold weather crops with Square Foot Gardening. The Square Foot Method is a way of using the raised bed space as efficiently as possible. We have a 4'x4' square box with twine dividing each square foot off. The best way to divide the box up is to use a simple wooden grid as seen in Amy's garden below. 

Each square can be divided even further for plants with closer spacing like radishes and carrots. Bigger plants like squash or cabbage take a full square while smaller produce is planted close together to create a mulch like covering for the soil preventing weed growth. Mel Bartholomew, the author of The All-New Square Foot Gardening Book, also uses a soil mix of one third peat moss, compost, and vermiculite. He says you should switch it out every year in order to reduce weeds and ensure enough nutrient for the next crop. 

There are drawbacks to Square Foot Gardening. Like raised beds there are start up and maintenance costs. Not only the materials for the raised beds, but also the soil, a.k.a. Mel's Mix,  which runs eight dollars per cubic foot.

The biggest issue with square foot gardening is that it does not give back to the land around  and it drains the nutrients from the raised bed with no long term return. While cover crops are suggested, the emphasis is to continue bringing in the best, use it, and ditch it. This does make gardening prep easy, but it is not very responsible. 

The French Intensive Method
The French Intensive Method is incredibly detail oriented. I like this one because it uses the land and feeds it with loads of compost and aeration. It is very water conscious and also very productive. It is not related to the raised bed methods and requires more patience as well. Like the Square Foot Method the plants are spaced so that the mature leaves barely touch leaving a vegetable mulch on top of the compost soil. Double digging came from this method where they turned over 24 inches of dirt for deep aeration. 

A clever combination of raised beds and the French Intensive Method was developed by Alan Chadwick called the Biodynamic French Intensive System. He includes beds planted north to south for maximum sunlight, careful cultivation of a luxurious green house layer, management of water so the plants receive just enough. Like the Square Foot Method beds are planted to be comfortable to reach into and everything planted closely together. Slim walkways only inches wide allow the beds to keep the right temperature and foster a warm environment. Of all of the methods this one is the most labor intensive involving double dug beds slightly raised for good drainage and, most difficult of all, the ability to straddle and squat over your beds while planting. 

Each system we have looked at has a unique purpose and goal. Square foot gardening is made to be easy on the gardener while French Intensive gives back to the land a lot more. I agree with Alan Chadwick that there is something worthwhile in both of these methods. At my house we double dig and then mix all of our dirt with peat moss, worm castings, and compost. The compost is from horse, goat and chicken manure and kitchen scraps. There are Square Foot Gardening years and French Intensive years. The most important thing is to keep growing. 

In our next post in the series we'll be talking about companion planting!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Plan To Eat... Black Friday SALE!

Now is the time to renew your Plan To Eat subscription or take advantage of their annual half price sale and kick the tires so-to-speak. If you tried it before and haven't seen the new lights and bells that make it even better, be sure to check it out. By going to their site you can view their tour and find out more.

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Did I mention they have a fantastic food blog?
Happy eating!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Couple Things I'm Thankful For

This year has been a year of firsts, so I wanted to take the time for the small things I'm thankful for.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

It's Sunday...

"For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
- 1 Corinthians 5: 7-8

Friday, November 21, 2014

Do You Have Extra Space?

For the last ten years my family has lived on 4.6 acres, raising animals and food. Our beautiful home is at the foot of our property and the garden is set back into the mountainside. Nearly a decade later there are a few things that would have worked better and some we got right.

1) Location, Location, Location!!!
No matter how much space you have, keep your garden somewhere you will see it from your living room. There is no greater inspiration than the possibility of the local homesteading group seeing your untrellised tomatoes and eggplant sprawling together in a weed patch.
Our garden is almost out of site of the house. It is set back into the far corner of the fenced area and that is probably our biggest regret. Proximity is important. Out of sight, out of mind. When life got busy, we didn't have wilty plants reminding us to check drippers and fallen onions in full view.
It made it difficult to just go out to the garden for a little bit and in time the work would pile up until it was one big bramble. Basil would bolt and squash would get too big to use.
Ideally, the garden would be right outside the house, making it easy to maintain and use produce in the kitchen.

2) Start Small  
Different seasons in life determine how much you can do. As you plan and develop your garden start small the first year and figure out the basics: compost, water, and sunlight. Once you have these things in place expanding will become more natural and sustainable. Finding what works for you could mean growing an orchard, vineyard, or multiple raised beds.

Take the time to learn about your land. What are the pests? Are you able to use water catchment or is there a natural spring? What natural pollinators are there? Are there any local varieties to try? Meet your neighbors and learn about their gardens. Learn to do a few things really well.

Small spaces force you to get the most out of every inch of your garden. Using space well is a learned skill and another reason to start small. No matter how large your garden is, if it is poorly maintained or difficult to access, you will not get the full yield. Using a space well goes beyond weeding, it is using planting methods,  companion planting, and sustainable systems. (These things will all have their own post, so stay tuned to learn more!)

Each of these things gives back more than it takes. Planting methods bring out superior yield. Companion planting uses different vegetables to drive off pests and increase pollination. Each tool overlaps into the others to create a system. For example, if you plant radishes by a cucumber it will make the soil too hot for the cucumber beetle. In Square Foot gardening you might plant one foot of radishes next to a trellised cucumber. All of this together creates a tiny system that keeps beetles away.

3) Dry Farming
Currently, many gardeners will testify to the value of stressing crops to make them sweeter and now in California a larger market for dry farmed produce is growing. In Europe most of their wine grapes are dry farmed.  Water is a big issue in California and most of the United States. Just a couple years ago, the water table was so low in Georgia the residents had to limit their showers. When it did rain, the pavement filled state flooded and the ground eroded. With plentiful accessible water, more people have filled there land with grass, landscaping, and food. Before this Indians in the Southwest used dry farming methods in areas with low precipitation.

In his book, Gardening When It Counts, Steve Solomon says that before modern water methods developed farmers needed large portions of land to spread out there crops. The orchards and fields were spread out so that the roots could feed off of the ground water. This developed smaller, intensely flavored fruits and vegetables.

This system is directly opposite of most gardening methods. The intensive methods require large amounts of water and high maintenance. Putting large amounts of food in one area drains the soil of nutrients and requires large amounts of amendment and compost.

Will you consider taking this route?

4) Please, Don't Plant A Lawn

40 Million acres are currently covered in turf grass.

17 Million gallons of oil are spilled trying to maintain it per year.

700,000, 000 dollars are spent on pesticides for lawns (This is about ten times the amount of pesticides per acre on farms)

5 billion dollars is spent on fossil fuel derived fertilizers per year. 

30-60 percent of potable water is used on lawns. (It varies by the city)

This is 60 million acre-feet of water per year. That is enough water to cover 60,000,000 acres in one foot of water. 

 40-50 Million Americans have allergies related to grass, but they still spend water and money keeping it alive!

According to the UN Water Cooperation Project, "783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation."

We can use our resources better. Our land is dry and people around us need food and water. Let's take the time to be thankful for what we have and ask for the wisdom to do what is best with it. If you would like to donate to help a few great water projects, check out water.org or WaterisLife.

Our next post in this series will be publish the Monday after Thanksgiving. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Books To Read With Your Girls

Books were my very first love. As a young girl, my mom gave me Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, Caddie Woodlawn, and Elsie Dinsmore which led me to love literature and the ideas the authors took the time to embed in their works. I still read compulsively, but the ideas my mom taught me through the books she gave me laid the groundwork for the worldview I embraced. 

In the Age of Technology many things have been lost like reading together as a family. This is something I want to keep alive. Even now I read with my husband and hope to share Narnia and Middle Earth with my children. There were so many books we read together as a family, and here are three of them  I hope will inspire conversations in your home.  They are filled with the stories of real women who had wisdom, godliness, and strength and a biblical understanding of femininity. 

1) Beautiful Girlhood
  In 1922 Mabel Hale wrote thirty three lessons ranging from word choices and honesty to cultivating a pure heart and consecrated life. This woman has compiled a guideline for living that is both charming and filled with truth. The book starts at the beginning of a girl’s awakening comparing her to a rosebud blossoming and  encourage girls not to blossom too quickly. As the book progresses character development is encouraged at all stages of blooming. Adolescence, romance, Christianity, life work, purpose, and their progress through womanhood and motherhood are explained and the struggles at each stage are discussed.

     My mom read this book to me when I was younger, my best friend and I read it together when we wanted to hold each other accountable, and now my sisters are listening and talking about it. Mrs Hale helps to give each reader a sense of true beauty in proper care, virtue, and purpose. She encourages care for others and the proper nurturing of every relationship. She carefully differentiates between character and attributes that have come to pass as character like cutting remarks passing as frankness and sincerity. 

2) Daughters of Destiny
     I’ve had so many adventures with this book. When I was eleven I remember crawling up in a tree to read about my favorite women, those I wanted to be like, and those who I knew would be my best friends.  

   This book has the biographies of seventy five other women who lived well, whose lives honored God and who we should try to emulate. While Lady Jane is the woman I would most like to know and befriend, there are wives, mothers, princesses, queens, peasants, writers, and first ladies who go above and beyond what anyone would expect of them. My other favorites are Catherine Von Bora, Edith of Scotland, Queen Victoria, Mrs Merrill, and Mrs Parker. The last two were Pioneer women who fought Indians for their families and forged through the wilderness to keep them alive. This book does not finish a story, but encourages the reader to live lives that are honoring to God, faithful in all things, and true to the purpose God has for them. Every story encouraged me to look deeper into the lives of the women who lived them and sparked part of my love of history and biography.  

     It reminds us that our lives are stories as well and will be told someday before God.

3) Created For Work
Bob Schultz, the author, understands the purpose of God’s creation. He taught faithfulness through carpentry, excellence through winterizing, endurance through logging, and watchfulness through his sheepdog. While it is written for young men, it applies to every one. The application is in the heart and this man turns our hearts towards God and his goodness. 

I still remember my dad reading the last chapter around the same time of the last Presidential election. The final thought was that we are responsible for the work that is given to us and God will take care of the rest. It is difficult to trust Him, but part of the work we are given is to be faithful to the task at hand and not be anxious about those things God has other people handling. 

These three books communicate simply what it is to be a woman through timeless principles. In the words of Mrs Hale, “We are all provided with means by which we may become acquainted with those who have moved earth’s masses most, whose lives have influenced most people for good, knowing the very motives and desires of their hearts, and learning exactly what their opinions were or are.  The medium for all this wonderful knowledge is the printed page.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Small Space Gardening!

Earlier this year I moved into a second story two bedroom apartment. It is perfect for my husband and I with plenty of room for books, a good kitchen, and lots of beautiful views. The only drawback is the garden space - a small deck space for potted plants and start thistle everywhere else. It was clear that we would have to get creative if we wanted anything besides African Violets in the window sill. I had to start thinking about gardening differently and it has made all of the difference.

A small space doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden. Many people who have hundred of acres are unable to use what they have well. The best part of having a small space is learning to make the most of every nook. The old addage of "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do with out" rings true here! We have used wall and ceiling space, culled out the extra bits, and enjoyed living a simpler, clutter free life. When it came to gardening, I was ready to rewrite my opinions on what had to be a certain way. 

When you plant anything and care for it you have a garden. 

You don't have to have rows, grow the right plants, or even have it all outside!  When looking for a good gardening apartment, keep an eye out for lots of windows and southern exposure. That will help out in the winter when most growing grinds to a halt. Small apartments are perfect for live-in green houses. With lots of light and a little extra warmth you can keep harvest all through the cold dark winter months. Nothing like green growing things to push the winter blues away.  

We started with shallow rooted greens in our windowsills and after some trial and error figured out a few simple changes to the traditional garden methods. We are using as many alternative methods as we can - containers, pallets, raised beds, and straw bales. As Anne Shirley would say we have been given a lot of scope for the imagination. Each of these methods has pros and cons. 

We mix the plants we want to the method that fits.

Pallets can hold trailing plants like strawberries and squash as well as containers of shallow rooted veggies. Straw bales are good in case you have to move and raised beds can double as cold frames. 

1. Container Gardening
     Terra cotta pots are beautiful and porous which makes them good for both sunken clay watering vessels and lettuce greens. Recently my husband repurposed a wood pallet into a pot rack to hold my next flat of seedlings. The best part is that as the pots drain they will 'rain' on each other keeping the greens moist and lovely.  Different sized pots can hold anything from lettuce and brussel sprouts to beets and onions.
Also, I grow herbs in containers in my kitchen.  I am going to try leeks this year by planting them at the bottom of a big pot and hill them every few weeks, until the pot is full. You can use them indoors or outdoors and with a dish underneath save water by using creating a small reservoir.  Container gardening gives you so much freedom - to create, to move, and to give your porch some curb appeal! 

2. Grow Vertical
     My kitchen doesn't have a lot of drawer space, so we hung up all of our utensils and dishes on pegboard or a ceiling rack. There are so many ways to hang herbs on the wall or  strawberries from the ceiling. I use a cute herb rack from Home Goods for instant fresh flavors.

This doesn't just apply to the full grown plants. I grow my seedlings in a bookshelf with grow lights hanging from the shelf above. So far I have everything from kale and chard to St. John's Wort popping up. Don't negect the higher spots in your apartment. Hot air rises and if you have enough clearance, the top of bookshelves, extra dresser space and hanging baskets are perfect for those warm weather veggies. 

3. Communicate 
     Just recently I got permission to put a raised bed in below our apartment! We also have a compost pile and a worm hive. I am hoping to turn our raised bed into a cold frame for winter crops, but all of this would have been impossible if I hadn't picked up the phone and asked. 
      Gardens give a property more value and purpose. They look good and that is an asset to your land lord. We keep everything cleaned up and make sure nothing smells funny. By fostering our relationship with our realtors (and giving them seasonal goods) we are opening more oportunities to expand on the property and maybe get chickens!
       This summer we are going to use straw bales and five gallon buckets to grow corn, tomatoes, eggplant, and more of summer's bounty!

4. Compost
     We have talked about composting on Homestead Revival before. Right now I compost in two different places. We buried a rubermaid container about six months ago and inside we started a worm hive.

 By having two at the same time, I can mix vermiculite and compressed compost with a little peat moss to make a good seedling mix. In our raised bed we have horse manure and seasoned goat and chicken manure. Our  goal is to rebuild the soil where ever we live, so double digging and mixing in the good stuff is worth the extra effort. We won't live here for long, but we will leave it better than when we came.  This next year I want to cover our raised bed area with newspaper, straw, and wood chips, so it composts into beautiful dirt and defeat the star thistle. 

Small spaces have so much potential! Enjoy the space you have and fill it with as much beauty as you can. On Friday we will talk about using larger spaces well. 

What do you like about your space? 


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