Homemade Garden Shed

garden shed-frontgarden shed-backI have been waiting for a garden shed for a long time and it is now a reality. If you have read Grow a Sustainable Diet, you know that we intended to start on it as soon as that book was off to the publisher. Well, life got in the way, including writing another book (Seed Libraries), but it is done now—or mostly done. The door is yet to be built. The shed is 8’ x 8’ with the side walls 7’ high and about 12’ to the peak. My wonderful husband, Walt, was the builder, designing it to my wishes. Our daughter and son-in-law, Betsy and Chris, supplied the lumber, harvested from their property and cut to our specifications on their Wood-Mizer. The framing is oak and the siding is pine.

I wanted a solid floor with a foundation so we dug trenches for the footings, which promptly filled with water and stayed that way over the winter while the water table was high. Once the foundations walls were in, the floor was dug out and leveled. A layer of gravel went in, followed by sand and tamping. Everything was carefully measured to ensure the floor would be level with the door opening in the foundation wall once the pavers went in. The pavers had been diverted to our place a few years ago, rather than being hauled to the landfill at the end of a construction job. Even though they each had a piece taken off, I was sure I could put them to good use.

Cindy-Walt garden shed floorWalt did most of the work on the shed, while I was the extra set of hands when needed. But, since the floor was my idea, I was the one on my knees fitting everything into place. We rented a wet saw from Home Depot for this job. I decided how things would go together and Walt operated the saw, trimming each paver to fit. It was a lot of work, but made for a great floor! We swept fine sand into the cracks between the pavers. Once the roof went on and things were very dry, we used a polymer product that son Jarod (who knows about those things) gave us to sweep into the cracks as a finish. It was important that we do it when everything was dry.

bare bones garden shedLast winter Walt finished the framing and put on the metal roof. The framing is patterned after the old chicken house that is on our property. This garden shed is going to be here for a long time. Since it was for storage, I didn’t want to waste wall space with a window. All the light I need comes in through the door and the openings at the peak on both ends. Those peak openings are covered with expanded metal to keep birds out, while allowing ventilation. As anticipated, small spaces opened up between the siding boards as they dried. Rather than cover them with battens, we left them as is. I like the bit of added ventilation.

garden shed back wall and loftThe pine siding is about 8” wide and runs the entire height needed for each piece, which is a perk of having lumber cut to order. That width was convenient to cut from the trees available. I moved in this spring before the siding was complete. As I used tools, gathered from their previous homes on our property, I put them in the garden shed. The rafters are 2’ apart. I put nails in them to hang things, such as garlic, onions, bags of cowpeas, etc, but reserved a space for a loft in the back two feet of the shed. Anxious to use the loft, I found two old 2 x 2’s salvaged from an old chicken tractor years ago. They just fit the space from one end to the other. I had some old wooden flats that I no longer use, since I start most things in the cold frames, so I put them up there as the loft floor to see how it would look. So far, that’s my loft. Nothing is nailed down, but it works for what I’m using it for. I can store harvest baskets and other containers and shade cloth there. My solar oven spends the summer in the garden and will now spend winters in the garden shed loft.

garden shed inside leftWhen I step into the shed, immediately to my left I have hung the tools I use often—my fork, cultivator, and spade. I’ve found that hanging them up, rather than leaning them in the corner, as I did when they were stored in the garage, encourages me to keep them clean. As a result, I now keep a wire brush handy to scrape mud off the ends of these tools, as well as off my trowel, Cobrahead, and soil knife.

garden shed inside rightJust to the right, as I step into the shed, are other important tools at my disposal—my Cobrahead, sickle, scale, and measuring tape. When the door is finished I plan to hang the Cobrahead and sickle on it so that when the door is open, they will be even more accessible as I pass by. You can see that I have added corner shelves here. That was a design that evolved with the shed. My original plan called for a counter/workbench along that whole wall. However, I realized that I could use scraps from the siding to make corner shelves and I like that better. The shelf boards rest on the framing pieces already there.

garden shed work station and back cornerTaking the place of the built-in counter/workbench is this workstation I built from scraps on hand, including an old broken door. It is great to have a space to put my clipboard on, make notes, and sort seeds.The panels on the workstation are painted with blackboard paint. Soil amendments and odds and ends are on the shelves in that back corner.

garden shed garlic and wire sculptureHere you can see some of my garlic and the vent opening in the eave above the shed doorway. Garlic and onions have been hanging there since they were harvested, but will now go under the house where I have nails in the joists in the crawl space for winter storage. If you look closely on that siding you will see a wire sculpture I’ve put up there just above the door. It was an old art project by son Travis that has outlived its usefulness in the house. I’m sure I’ll find some more fun stuff to put up there. As always, click on any picture and it will open in a new window for a better view.

garden shed floor

Originally I had thought I’d make the shed 6’ x 6’ and am glad I let Walt talk me into going with 8’ x 8’. There is plenty of room for storage, plus room for me to be comfortable using the workstation. After everything you’ve seen, I’ve got this much floor space left. I have since put the smaller of my two solar food dryers there for the winter and I still have space to move around. The small stepstool is just right for reaching the loft. Currently I use an old 2 x 2 with a screw sticking out of it (found it in the barn) to hang things on the nails in the rafters. Son Luke is carving a cedar pole for me, specially made for that job.

I love this shed! If you are planning a shed of your own, write a plan for what you want it to do for you. Although it wasn’t the case for me, it might be that there is a shed that fits your needs sitting in the parking lot of a big box store, waiting to be delivered to your yard. I had been thinking of everything I wanted in a shed for a long time and it was worth the wait. There is still more to come. A door of course, and we’ll be adding gutters and a water barrel or two, and maybe attaching things to the outside. I’ll probably paint it next summer. It has been wonderful using it this summer. I hope I’ve given you some good ideas to put to use in your garden shedhomeplace earth.

corn sheller box

Corn Sheller Box

Corn is a wonderful crop and I encourage people to grow varieties for cornmeal. In order to do that, you need to grow it out until it has dried on the stalk. The stalk will have dried, also. If you have grown only a small amount you can use your thumbs to push the kernels off the cobs. It doesn’t take much to make you start thinking of easier ways to do that job. I have a corn sheller that I found at an antique mall years ago. Corn shellers need to be attached to something to use them properly. I have mine on a box that I made from scrap wood. Painting it makes it not look so scrappy.

ejecting the cob

The sheller is mounted close to one side so the cob will be ejected away from the box.

My corn sheller box measures 18” wide, 21½” long, and 12” high. I would use different dimensions if I were making a new one and I’ll be telling you about that. You can see that I framed the outside of the short sides in wood, in addition to the plywood for the box. That provides extra support and the top piece is a nice edge to hold onto when I’m carrying it. I carry it with the corn sheller against my body and my hands grasping that top strip on each side. It is more manageable than holding the box by its bottom. There is a 1” x 1” nailing strip on the inside bottom edge of the long sides. This is a sturdy box. The sheller is mounted close to the end on one side so that the cobs are ejected to outside the box. I suppose you could hang a basket on the side to catch them.

corn sheller

When I travel I enjoy stopping at antique malls. It used to be I could find corn shellers for $25 – $30 dollars. I would take them apart and add the necessary bolts and wingnuts, give the moving parts some grease, and resell them to my students at the community college for $30-$35 dollars. One hole for the bolts to attach the sheller to a box is usually accessible, but the other is not. The wheel needs to be removed to be able to put a bolt there.

corn sheller on box

Bolts and wingnuts attach the sheller to the box.

One year I turned over five corn shellers to my students, putting them into the hands of people who would bring them back to life. The price may have gone up some by now, but there are still some good ones out there. Two things to look out for are the tabs that allow you to bolt the sheller to the box and the handle. Sometimes those tabs are broken off and you would have to find an alternate way to attach the sheller to a box—maybe with a clamp. It is nice to have a good wooden handle. Some of the corn shellers I have seen have lost the wood on their handles, leaving only the metal rod. The handle could be replaced with a handle that you can buy to put on a file. You can find old corn shellers on ebay. You will have to pay shipping, but if you aren’t in the mood to shop around at antique malls, maybe you don’t mind that.

The box for my corn sheller is easily stored in the barn with other seed processing equipment in it. Since I shell my corn all at one time in the fall it is only used seasonally. After shelling, the corn is stored in half gallon jars in the pantry. If you have grown corn to feed to livestock and have your year’s supply stored in the corn crib, you might be shelling it out through the year as you need it. At our state fair one year, I saw a corn sheller mounted on a box that had legs tall enough to get a bucket under it. The floor of the box was slanted toward one end. The side at that end had a hole that was covered by a piece of wood that could be slid up to allow the corn to flow into the bucket. That is a handy design, especially if your sheller is used regularly and needs to be a stand-alone piece of equipment.

pan inside corn sheller boxYou do have to think about how to get the corn out of the box. You could tip it on end and pour it out, which is awkward to do. You could reach in with a large kitchen spoon and scoop it out. Flat pancake turners also work to get the corn out of the corners. I used those things until I realized I could put a large pan in there to catch the corn. In the photo you see the pan I use to roast a turkey in at Thanksgiving. It has many other uses, but I bought it for the turkey long ago. It is larger than a large cake pan. If I was to build a new box I would decide what pan I would use to catch the corn and size the box accordingly. A plastic bin would work, also. (Maybe I should look for a pan that fits the box I already have.) In the photo you can see my Bloody Butcher corn in the pan and some kernels that escaped it. After I took the pan out I had to round up those wayward kernels with the pancake turner. The photo shows just how the corn dropped. If the box more closely fit the pan, those stray kernels would have landed in the pan.

Corn shellers are still made, so there are new ones available; but if you can find an old one at a reasonable price, don’t hesitate to get it. Don’t let a little rust on one deter you from buying it. Keep your eyes open and you will find a good one that you can use. Happy shelling!homeplace earth

Fall Fiber Festival WinnerI entered my homegrown handspun cotton vest in the Fall Fiber Festival that was to be held at Montpelier Station, VA on October 3-4, but because of impending weather conditions, it was cancelled. However, the judging for the Skein and Garment Competition had already taken place the week before. In order to show off the wonderful entries, Clothos, the handspinning group sponsoring the competition, decided to display them at their already scheduled meeting on October 10. It was an opportunity for everyone to come and see the exhibit and for the exhibitors to pick up their entries. As you can see from the photo, my vest was a big winner!

My vest won its class of Handspun Handmade-wearable, Best in Division, and Best in Show. It also won the Gladys Strong Memorial Award for Handweaving. I was thrilled! There were so many wonderful entries. As you know from previous posts, this vest has been a long time coming. I began learning to spin in 2011 and joined Clothos in November that year. I was definitely a newbie at this. It seemed to be slow going for quite awhile, especially since I became sidetracked writing two books. But I kept at it.

This vest was a personal challenge. I wanted to see what I could do with my own homegrown cotton. The festival was not even on my mind when I completed it in June. It was at the urging of Clothos members that I entered it in the competition. On Saturday several of them expressed their pleasure at how well my vest had done—to the extent that they felt that they had won also, and rightly so. They remembered me coming that first time with my spindle and cotton in hand. Month after month, they would be working on all sorts of projects and there I was, still with my spindle and homegrown cotton. I had so much to learn and the Clothos members were very giving with their knowledge and skills. Each month I gained just by watching and listening. The chairs are set up in a circle in the large room at the fire station where we meet and I make a point of going around the circle to find out what each one is doing. Many use spinning wheels, which I’m learning about now. There is always someone ready to answer any questions I have.

If you have wanted to learn something, be it spinning and weaving, playing a musical instrument, fixing your car, gardening, or some other skill, it is not too late. Find people who know about that and jump right in. Take classes or join a group. You will meet new people and make new friends along the way. It is nice to know that my interest in homegrown cotton is valued by others and is not just a quirk that I have. I will never top my winnings of this year in the competition. Nevertheless, I am excited to try new things and keep pushing the limits of what I can do. Maybe one year there will be a division or a class in the competition requiring the fiber used, whether animal or plant, to be grown by the artist. That would be fun.

It you want to see my vest, I’ll be wearing it at the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka, Kansas on October 24-25. Come and see me there!homeplace earth

cotton in field

Brown cotton ready to harvest after the frost,

Fall is the best time to plan your garden for the coming year. If you manage cover crops with hand tools, like I do, when you plant them you need to carefully consider what goes in next. With this type of management, tilling them in anytime you choose is not an option. Some cover crops will be in the ground longer than others. That’s why, if you are going to grow cotton and flax in your garden, you need to plan for that now. Having a harvest of cotton and flax will open up a whole new world for you of growing your own textiles.

I wrote about cotton when I told you about my homegrown handspun cotton vest. Cotton needs long hot days to mature. Plant it after the last expected spring frost when you put in tomatoes. It will be in the ground until the first fall frost, and maybe a bit beyond, so plan for that, also. The varieties I grow are listed as 120-130 days to maturity, but it seems to take longer than that for the bolls to open.

red foliated cotton

Red Foliated cotton. Fiber is white.

I can transplant cotton into a mulch of rye and Austrian winter peas that has been cut when the rye is shedding pollen, which here in zone 7 is the first week in May. Cotton transplants would go in two weeks later, after the rye roots have had a chance to decay somewhat. If I wanted to plant closer to the last frost date, which is about April 25 here, the preceding cover crop would be Austrian winter peas, crimson clover, or hairy vetch. These legumes can easily be pulled out at that time and added to the compost pile. The soil will be ready for the transplants without waiting the two weeks. The pea, clover, and vetch plants could be cut and left in place as mulch; however, it would be a fast-disappearing mulch—much different than the rye mulch. The cotton plant in this photo has a mulch of grass clippings.

Flax, on the other hand, needs to be planted early in the season. Using Linen: From Flax Seed to Woven Cloth by Linda Heinrich as my reference, the time to plant flax seed is mid-March to early April when the soil is about 43-46°F (6-8°C). Planting in soil that is too cold will set you back. It will mature in about 90-100 days, so be prepared to harvest sometime in June or July, depending on your planting date.

As with any early spring crop, to be ready for flax, you would need to have a cover crop there that has winterkilled, such as oats or radish (oilseed or fodder). It is getting late to plant those crops now and have the best benefit. Late August into early September is the optimal time for that. You could plant Austrian winter peas now. Although it won’t have put on too much growth by the time the flax needs to go in, it would have put on some, and the plants could be pulled out for the compost. The easiest cover when anticipating early spring crops is to mulch the bed with leaves. That provides a good habitat for the earthworms over the winter, leaving you with friable soil in the spring. Pull the leaves off the bed about two weeks before the flax will go in to allow the sun to warm up the soil.

You will want to plant a variety of flax suitable for fiber production, which is different than varieties best for culinary uses. Flax for fiber is planted at close spacing so the plants grow straight without branching. The plants are pulled (not cut) for harvest before the seeds are mature, so if you want to have a seed harvest for fiber flax, plan for that in another spot. For mature seed the plants would be spaced farther apart to allow branching and the harvest would be about two weeks later than when the fiber harvest occurs.

I usually write about food production, but obviously my garden interests have broadened to include fiber. I believe that, just as people are concerned about where their food comes from now, sometime in the not so distant future, they will also be concerned about where their textiles come from. There are some pretty bad things going on within the globalized networks that bring us cheap clothes—way too many cheap clothes. If we want to be free of that, we would need to look for textiles closer to home, grown in a way that everyone and everything benefits—from the soil and the lowest paid worker to the consumer.

Red Foliated cotton blossom

Red Foliated White cotton blossom.

I don’t expect that all of you are going to start clothing yourselves from your gardens, but it could be fun to learn about the production of textiles from seed to garment. Just growing a little of it and learning how to process it can start the conversation with others about our present textile industry. From an historical point of view, growing cotton and flax in school gardens would definitely add to the curriculum. Besides that, it looks so good in the garden. Even if you can’t grow cotton in your area, you can probably grow flax. If you don’t grow it, you could buy the fiber and learn to spin it. Of course, that leads to learning to knit or weave it. The opportunity to learn new skills is boundless.

Maybe you are not ready for this, but you find it interesting. If you don’t have sewing skills yet, you could start your fiber journey there. Learn to sew and you will increase the production of your household. Besides learning to use the fabrics you buy (start inquiring about where they come from), you can bring new life to textiles that are finishing their first life, such as clothes, sheets, and towels, by turning them into something else.

unretted flax

Unretted flax from the Heirloom Seed Project at Landis Valley Farm and Museum.

Cotton is something I’ve already been growing, but 2016 will be the first year for flax in the garden. I’m not waiting to grow my own to start learning about it, though. I’ve bought flax fiber to spin into linen thread using a spindle and a spinning wheel. The results will be used for weaving. While we were in Pennsylvania recently we visited the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. They grow flax there and have a textile barn dedicated to showing you how it was processed in the past. Unretted flax straw is available through their Heirloom Seed Project. I bought some and am learning about that, too. Right now it is laid out in the grass being dew retted. I’ll be writing about that one day.

So many fun things to do! If you want to join me on this fiber journey, plan now to plant cotton and/or flax in your garden for next year.homeplace earth

Plant Garlic This Fall

garlicFall is the time to plant garlic in your garden. Here in Zone 7 I plant garlic sometime during the last two weeks of October. I like to have my cover crops and garlic in by November 1. According to Pam Dawling in Sustainable Market Farming, a guideline for planting garlic is when the soil temperature is 50° F (10° C) at four inches deep at 9am. She plants it in early November and, if anything, where she lives is a slight bit cooler than where I am.

So, there is no real rush to get it in the ground but, in areas with cold winters, according to Dawling, you would want to have it in the ground no later than 2-3 weeks after the first fall frost and before the ground freezes for the winter. Here in Virginia the ground fluctuates between freezing and thawing throughout the winter. Garlic sprouts in my garden in the fall and the tops will grow whenever the temperature is above 40°F (4.5°C). In colder areas the tops might not emerge until late winter, but the roots will be established from the fall planting. Mulch with leaves when you plant and you will have little tending to do until harvest. The garlic will grow right up through the mulch. If you don’t mulch, you will need to keep the bed weeded.

Garlic ready to harvest.

Garlic ready to harvest.

What you will be planting are the individual cloves. When you buy garlic you are buying it as bulbs. Softneck garlic, the kind you see in the grocery store, has about 10-12 cloves per bulb. The cloves in the middle of the bulb are smaller than the outside ones. Hardneck garlic has fewer (6-7), but larger cloves. Compared to the hardneck varieties, softneck garlic keeps in storage longer and is easier to braid. Each clove that you plant will grow into a bulb.

If you are excited about your garlic in the spring and pull some up in early April to see how it is doing, it is important to know that the plants don’t divide into cloves to form the bulb until about 30 days before harvest. In early April you will only find one large clove. Garlic harvest here is in early June.

garlic planting

Garlic cloves set out on 6″ centers ready for planting.

According to the Master Charts in How to Grow More Vegetables, garlic cloves should be planted 4” apart in an hexagonal pattern in the bed. I think that is a little close and prefer 6” spacing using that pattern. Years ago I planted a whole bed at 4” centers and made careful notes. I found that the garlic on the outside edge of the bed was larger than the harvest from the middle; with that on the south side larger than the bulbs on the north side. The garlic harvested from the inside of the bed was smaller planted at 4” centers. That might be so to some extent with the 6” centers, also, but not as much as when planted at 4”. Plant about 2” deep—a little deeper in the  north.

When I harvest garlic I find myself thinking that maybe I will plant garlic only in the perimeter of a bed in the fall, leaving the middle for a spring crop, such as cabbage or potatoes that would be harvested with the garlic in June and see if all my harvest is the largest bulbs. But then I get busy and forget and plant garlic as usual, filling the bed in the fall. Dawling plants in rows with 5” spacing within the rows and 8-10” between the rows.

Now that you know how to plant it, you need to know why. Garlic should be a regular part of your diet because it is so healthy for you. I’ll use information from Dr. James Duke’s The Green Pharmacy as the reference for my health claims here. According to Dr. Duke, garlic:

  • thins the blood, making it good for reducing the risk of blood clots and controlling high blood pressure. (If you are already taking blood thinners, consult your doctor before significantly increasing your garlic intake.)
  • reduces high cholesterol
  • lowers blood pressure
  • has antibiotic properties
  • has antiviral properties—helps fight cold viruses
  • helps control blood sugar levels– beneficial to diabetics

I could go on, but you get the idea. You need to be eating garlic. Years ago when I was selling produce at the Ashland Farmers Market I met Mrs. Virginia Shelton when she was in her 90’s. She was still driving her car and she told me she was on no medication except for the J.C. pill—just ask her pastor she said. Besides her participation in church, she credited her longevity and health to eating garlic every day. Well, no one lives forever and Mrs. Shelton is no exception. She passed last year, one week shy of her 109th birthday. She gave up driving at 99, but still lived independently until eight months before her passing.

I feel fortunate to have met Mrs. Shelton and for her to tell me about her garlic consumption. Once you harvest garlic you can save a portion to plant for the next fall. If you haven’t planted it before, you will need to get it somewhere. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is a good source although, depending on where you live, you might find a source a little closer to home. I suppose if time is running out and you haven’t ordered any, you could always plant what you can get at the grocery store and see what happens. Life is an adventure, you know. Happy planting!homeplace earth

A Visit to Monticello

Cindy and Mr JeffersonI had the good fortune to be invited to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, to speak at the Heritage Harvest Festival on September 11 & 12. There were lectures going on both days, but Saturday was the biggest day with booths on the mountaintop. I had a booth for Homeplace Earth and Thomas Jefferson himself stopped by! Seeds were an important part of Monticello when it was a working plantation but, as you know, there is always something new to learn, so he had bought a copy of Seed Libraries at the visitors center to catch up. Mr. Jefferson was delighted to actually meet me in his backyard. Since he had planned to give a copy of my book as a gift, he bought another copy for me to sign to him. When he suggested I sign it to Mr. Jefferson, I said I might have signed it to T.J., which is how those of us in the region affectionately refer to him. He said go with T.J. We had a nice chat and I thanked him for having us all over to his place.

That same day a woman came by and said she had been gardening for 30 years and wanted to know what I had to say that she didn’t already know. I told her about my work and my book Grow a Sustainable Diet. She bought a copy, along with my cover crop DVD. A gentleman who attended my Grow a Sustainable Diet talk has been an avid organic gardener since he was 23. He is now 70 and he told me that, even after 47 years of experience, he learned a lot from my talk. Yep, there is always more to learn.

I met a woman from Indiana who had been coming to the Heritage Harvest Festival for four years (not consecutively) with two friends. They were there for both days and had talked the whole trip about what they were going to learn. One of the highlights for her was my Seed Libraries talk. She belongs to an organic gardening group which will most likely partner with their local library to start a seed library. I also talked with someone who had come from Tennessee. This is a popular event for people in the region, but each year I meet people who come from afar just to attend. It is their destination for a learning vacation.

MENFairLogoSeptember is a busy month around here. Corn, cowpeas, and other dried beans are being harvested (sweet potatoes will be dug in October) and cover crops will go in soon. However, first I’ll be heading up to Seven Springs in Pennsylvania to the Mother Earth News Fair, which will take place this coming weekend, Friday through Sunday. My talks there are Grow a Sustainable Diet, Seed Libraries, and Managing Cover Crops With Hand Tools. I love sharing what I do with others at these events and through my DVDs and books. It is great having the opportunity to interact with so many people face-to-face to exchange ideas. I always learn something new through these encounters myself.

See you at Seven Springs, or the Mother Earth News Fair in Kansas in Octobhomeplace earther!

garden clipboard and veggies

I hope you have been making notes from your garden and your kitchen about what you have been growing and eating this summer. Being able to eat as much of a meal as you can from what you have produced is a feeling of accomplishment. Even if you don’t grow everything you eat, supplementing your meals with items from local growers can give you the same good feeling. It is very satisfying to sit down to a meal and know where everything came from and how it was grown.

If you are striving to produce meals with only (or mostly) homegrown ingredients, what would you have to provide, in addition to what you already grow, to make that happen? For example, you could make sure the ingredients for salsa or spaghetti sauce are in your garden plan. In my Homegrown Friday posts you can read how I only consumed what I’d grown for the Fridays in Lent. If you run out of ingredients in your favorite dishes long before next year’s crop comes in, plan now to plant more if space allows.

I know that garden space is at a premium for many and that careful choices need to be made. In that case, think of local growers as an extension of your garden. Whatever they can supply in abundance is something you can take off the list for your garden if you have limited room. You could devote your garden space to the things you love that there is never enough of at the local markets, whether it is sugar snap peas, potatoes, or a special winter squash. Maybe you want to eat from your garden all winter. Those crops need to be planned for, since they will be planted while the traditional summer crops are still in the ground. You will find a three-bed plan for winter eating in my post Winter Food Crop Rotation.

cover crops in late winter

Cover crops in late winter.

Now is the time to be planning for next year because as the summer crops fade away and space opens up, cover crops need to be planted. Which cover crop to plant in each bed is determined by what crop will follow next year. If you are managing cover crops with hand tools, as I advocate, the cover crops have to be finished before the next crop goes in. By finished I mean winterkilled, cut at the proper time to lie down as mulch or compost material, or harvested at the end of its life cycle. A handout that will help you with cover crop decisions is available as a free download on the resource page on my website. In Grow a Sustainable Diet there are sample garden maps showing how to include cover crops in your rotations, the reasoning behind the cover crop choices, and thoughts on what other choices could be made. Getting cover crops planted this fall is your first step to having a great garden in 2016, as long as they are planned with the next crop in mind.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas ready to harvest for dry beans.

Mississippi Silver cowpeas ready to harvest for dry beans.

Just so you know, the perfect garden plan doesn’t exist. You will always be changing it as new ideas come your way. Also, the weather has a way of encouraging gardeners like us to look at new varieties and new crops to add to our plans. Cowpeas came to be part of my garden after a couple years of serious drought. I put my mind to what grows well in dry times here in the mid-Atlantic region and came up with cowpeas, sometimes known as Southern peas. That first year with the cowpeas was another dry one and they did great. Don’t you know, the following year was the wettest year I have ever experienced. The cowpeas did great then, also, and have been part of my garden ever since. I save seed each year, ensuring I will have adequate seed for next year that is already acclimated to my garden, no matter what the weather brings.

If eating a substantial part of your diet from your garden and local sources is a goal for you, participating in the 10-Day Local Food Challenge can be a gauge to measure how far you have come. The formal challenge is taking place October 1-10, but you could determine any days to be your challenge. The formal challenge suggests you eat food grown within 100 miles for 10 days. Acknowledging that humans have been trading for eons, 10 exotics are allowed to augment your local/homegrown diet. The exotics are things not grown within the 100 mile limit. So, if you really can’t exist without coffee and chocolate you can include them in your exotics while you think about weaning yourself off of them a bit. Maybe you could experiment with herb teas from your garden rather than having another cup of coffee. I don’t have any suggestions for the chocolate other than to experience all the flavors you can from your garden, which will fill your belly and your soul, lessening the need for something like chocolate.homeplace earth


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