If you are not gardening now, those long term seeds you are saving is giving you a false sense of hope. We bought two acres on what was years ago farmland, sounds like it should be easy to return to farmland, Right? I discovered later what was raised on our property was the only thing which made sense after experience - Goats.
Gardening in New England presents many challenges and unless you are prepared and have experience dealing with them you are out of luck. Even if you have gardening experience in the past, if you have moved you will discover new challenges. Challenges you might easily face in any part of the country. Challenges such as:
- Rocks, Rocks, Rocks! I have two acres to grow on, all covered in rocks! The rock walls you see everywhere throughout New England are the tip of the iceberg for what you will see in the fields. I have cleared ½ an acre in six years, first year I fixed the existing rock walls and built a new wall. Since then I have built rock wall borders for all sections of my garden and have more for a Root cellar foundation. And each year I find more large rocks in areas which have been dug up for the past six years. I was gardening for 3 years prior to our move on backfilled land, all I needed was a shovel and rake. It was a shock when I went to prepare my garden the first year! I used the shovel to help pry up rocks but my pickaxe was what I used most until getting a 48” steel bull bar. Now I use the pickaxe to find rocks, the bull bar to move them! And it is not just my 2 acres, I have seen many more areas where farmers decided to only grow maple trees for Syrup or sheep/goat fields after building many rock walls.
- Trees - first year I cut down around 20-30 trees to clear the area for my garden leaving the stumps to rot for a year prior to breaking them up. Within a year the surrounding trees started to extend their branches to cover more of my garden. By the second year it was effecting my harvest! I trimmed the trees back but the trees really needed to come down. Fortunately, keeping a positive outlook on events, last year we had an ice storm which aided in the removal of the offending trees. Cut down another 20-30 trees to open everything back up for now. This will be a constant maintenance item every winter until the area is totally cleared.
- Animals - Raccoons, skunks, deer, woodchucks turkeys and smaller birds each have their own favorite food. And each have the potential to destroy a garden harvest overnight. Coyotes can be your friend for protecting your garden! As long as you protect your livestock. In the event of an actual TEOTWAWKI there is an additional meat supply.
- Weather - Each year has different patterns which will benefit one crop or another. One year my berries and pumpkins had a bumper yield, but little corn, apples or squash. Next year the exact opposite. But if your mix of crops is good then you fewer worries. We have more then adequate rainfall every year but some plants prefer drier weather or they begin to rot, others wetter weather to thrive. Early Blizzards and ice storms may destroy trees and bushes and ruin late crops. Early warm weather may cause fruit trees to bloom early just to lose their fruit when it gets seasonally cold again. There is no predicting the weather. But you can mix your crops for any weather you might get.
- Weeds - Some vegetables I struggle with to get to grow, start inside early in the season water, fence off, use clotches, row covers, everything to help. And every year weeds which are sprayed, hoed, and pulled out keep coming back! Certain weeds are very resilient, news reports blame this on Global warming personally I think it is more the limitations on the weed killer people can obtain. Older weed killer worked with one application new ones take multiple applications with a greater time for the weeds to build up a resistance.
- New vegetables - Planting new seeds in the garden I do not know if there are weeds coming up there or are those my peanuts? The next year I know but the first year the plants have to fight with the weeds until I recognize them.
- When to plant? Do you know when plants will be safe from Frost? What plants can tolerate a frost or will not rot in a wet cold garden? When will you be safe from May flies? Some insects can be brutal in the early spring and drive you mad with their biting. If you have protection you are okay but you need to test it out. You can only be prepared if you know it might be a problem.
- What can be your “safe” staple crops? The first year I planted I would have said Corn, in the next 9 years I have never had the same yield. My staple crops are Snap peas, potatoes, some squash/pumpkins and tomatoes. Everything else is hit or miss depending on the weather.
- How much compost can you generate? From our composed food we get about 50 pounds, no where near enough. Add leaves and garden waste and you will get closer. Nothing beats livestock for producing enough composted fertilizer. I get mine from a farm down the street, typically two tons a year for fertilizer and to fill gaps from removing rocks. Again I find many rocks in cultivated areas, more as I expand my garden.
What has worked out very well in aiding my Garden:
- Rain barrels - I am up to three now, two of which can be hooked up to a hose and will gravity feed to water my lower garden.
- Two separate gardens for different corn varieties, squash vs pumpkins and other plants I do not want to cross pollinate.
- Fencing helps keep animals to a minimum but is something I need to work on after clearing more trees. I do not want to crush the fence I just put up or spend more time taking it down every year.
- Square tomato cages, these stay standing much better then to round style and they fold for storage.
- Getting more varieties for cross pollination and as back up harvest. Again one year one fruit tree will do better than another. This year the apples will be fewer but I will have many more pears!
- Ooze tube watering system - I fill these 25 gallon tubes from my rain barrels and they slowly drip irrigate my blueberries while keeping down the weeds.
- Bull bar 48” steel bar for prying up rocks. Using this bar I can get a 200 pound boulder out by gradually lifting the boulder 1-2” and slipping smaller rocks underneath. One the boulder is at ground level this bar is often used to roll the boulder to the rock wall.
- Pick axe to remove smaller rocks or break up boulders too big for the bull bar.
- Two of everything, except for the bull bar. Everything else will break with constant use.
- Books - Self sufficient living by John Seymour was the biggest help. Many useful tips and instructions from someone who lives what he teaches.
- Certain types of weed killer acceptable for garden preparation, this cuts down on weeding and with several applications will kill poison ivy.
- Gloves 5-6 pairs, get vibration dampening style if at all possible. Swinging a pickaxe into a boulder will hurt much less, trust me on this! Gloves protect your hands from drying out, insects, thorns and poison ivy/sumac. Gloves wear out even faster then tools and will need to be washed often. Better to damage the gloves then your hands, I buy the mechanics brand gloves at $6-8 a pair at a local store when they are on sale. I never used to use gloves but listening to experienced mechanics and farmers plus my own scarred hands convinced me otherwise.
- Safety glasses, both tinted and untinted. These are a good idea in general, never know when something will kick up into your face and required if swinging a pickaxe. Move enough brush, cut enough trees and you will quickly realize that these are required.
- Every fall dig up a new location and fill with leaves then toss the dug up dirt on top this will provide brown gold in two years.
- Wild berries - my lawn is covered in wild strawberries, the forest has many wild blueberries and the edges are filled with blackberries!
- Large timber wood saws, maul and axe, easier to use for quick one or two tree clearing, good exercise and quiet!
- A Come-along, wedges and Hi-Lift jacks with tow straps to encourage trees to fall in the direction you prefer.
- Food mill and apple peeler/corer saves a huge amount of time processing apples for storage. Experience with canning and how many lids and tools you need helps as well. The first year I cut all the apples by hand and used a food strainer. that took two weekends vs one day with the correct tools and I had better yields.
Unless you are gardening the area you will be raising food in in case of a crisis you will likely be setting yourself up for failure and at the worst possible time. Once you understand the basics of gardening you get the best yields possible and you know what to expect. I know at best I can get 2-3 months of food for my family with my current set-up. Under less than ideal closer to one month maybe two but it is still fresh food and will be a desired add on to any stored food. I only know that from experience, not what a spreadsheet or book will tell me. Books and other information has helped quite a bit but the actual doing is dependent on you. If it takes year to clear a lot and grow food it takes a year, even more time if you are out of shape, you are lacking the correct tools for the job or are under fed.
Have the long term seeds and know how and when to use them! Again any less will cost you when you can least afford it! Better yet have the long term seeds plus what heirloom seeds you have saved from last years harvest. Practical Knowledge is good, book knowledge is good but both combined is ideal.