Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten some great gardening field reports from folks that have been experimenting with their growing and composting.
Today I’m reposting some of the best comments that have popped up so we can all learn from the successes and experiments of others. I’ll put my notes beneath.
Read and learn.
Got over 200 pounds of potatoes this year, in what was more or less a lark. Last year I had lots of green ones and ones that sprouted in the basement. They all got planted last spring, and grew like crazy. Never planned on that many potatoes. As long as they don’t pick up some disease, I’ll keep rolling them over.
Tomatoes are mostly volunteer these days, I don’t bother buying plants or seeds much anymore, as there are plenty of sprouts every year.
Beans I still plant, because the volunteers are not reliable enough. I did get a few volunteers, but I planted a lot more. Learned something new this year, you should plant vine beans among your sunflowers, they grow great together, a lot better than beans with corn. A lot easier to pick the beans too.
Started composting paper, finally. Basically am just throwing it into a deep trench together with the garbage and leaves and what-all. I figure in a year or two, it’ll be all rotted. No hurry.
DTG: I love the sunflowers idea. They do have a nice, open growth habit and set seed better than corn. I like the corn and beans approach but have personally had only middling success with that method thus far.
Derek The Grower writes:
With the encouragement of many including David here I’m starting to actually reap harvests! Instead of the few peppers I was getting off potted plants I just yesterday dug up my first sweet potatoes bed. An estimated 15+ lbs of taters from a 3’×3′ bed! Probably still wasn’t even a great yield but I’m totally excited about it! Shows the potential there is in real sight. Thanks David I only tried sweet potatoes because of you! There are even two more beds more than twice that large to dig! I’m all excited to get in there and see what beholds. Also harvested a half bucket of unshelled pigeon pea pods yesterday with more than twice as many still growing! Its a great thing to feel seeing your work at its end.
DTG: Yes, nothing like homegrown and growing what WORKS in your climate, rather than fighting to make due with crops better suited to elsewhere. Sweet potatoes are almost always a winner in the south. You’ll probably hit a hundred pounds this year if your luck holds out – great job.
Having grown a garden as a child, having to plant and weed several acres of garden, i really hated a garden. But I missed the great tasting food we had as a child. We put a pot on a burned outside full of water, and went to pick sweet corn from the garden, when we got back the water was boiling. We ducked the corn and put it into the pot, you can’t get any fresher than that! Florida is a much larger challenge, but with patients and a lot of perseverance, you can overcome. A little help from David the Good, and his books is a big help too!! Growing and experimenting is exactly the way to go, I am currently growing things David has encouraged me to grow, and I get more successful every day. Growing things from south Florida in north central Florida can with some work be done, and you can reap the rewards. I grow in aeroponic garden towers with some success, raised beds with some success, and I have a small food forest I have planted with great success. Thanks again David.
DTG: I’ve seen Curtiss’ experiments first-hand. The guy is amazing… lots and lots going on and he always is trying something new. I never would have met him if not for this site and I’m very grateful I did. Inspiring.
The more I get into farming the more I love it. When I started there were very few earth worms hanging around. Now, after feeding my soil with compost, leaves, kitchen waste and rabbit poop, those little critters are having a party. Thanks for preaching the gospel of small time farming. I’m with ya.
DTG: Feed the soil, it will feed you. It really does get easier year to year. Many people give up before their soil has hit a good level of fertility. Linwood didn’t and he’s reaping the results.
I am feeling a bit of pride (hopefully not hubris!) because I will be eating homegrown broccoli for the first time in the next week. Florida sand has had a steep learning curve for me, after Tennessee clay and Indiana loam.
DTG: Yes, me too. I’ve grown in almost beach sand, rocky clay and now sandy loam. All have their perculiarites. Because of the high level of sand at my place, I had to adjust after the mineral-rich clay I used to grow in up north. The results now speak from themselves. Broccoli hubris: love it.
When Dave (Marilyn’s husband – not me -DTG) and I started our 40 acre homestead in the foothills of NC in 1975, people thought we were nuts.
Why bother to grow food?
The land had been destroyed by modern farming methods of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as tractor use. We had fields of broom grass and old corn stalks that could not rot due to dead soil. Little by little we improved the soil by use of manures and spot planting to improve the soil in small spaces to grow small crops for eating. Perennial food plants were very important. Small animals such as goats, chickens, turkeys, provided our only meat. Growing veg in the winter was a problem. A small greenhouse heated with barrels of water helped that problem (This works great, see here -DTG). We also found quite a few veg that will grow heavily mulched through the winter. Enough to get by. I took a lot of thought and experience to grow food year round, but it is not impossible if you put your mind to doing it. 23 years later, we moved to the tropics and started the process again. Now the hard part is growing in the heat. 40 years of growing my own food and still learning. Most regular people who visit my 1 acre homestead don’t recognize that they are standing in our food supply. To them it is just a somewhat unruly garden.
DTG: Nature is unruly. Work with her and she will feed you.
One Florida city tried to pass a law to make it illegal to park your car facing the road in your driveway like EMT/Firefighters do. Even worse are home owners associations. I think I would like to live just outside a HOA in a castle law state so I can shoot people trying to measure my grass.
DTG: Not really an experiment, but I had to include the comment because it was hilarious. I’ve covered oppressive laws before. See my interview with Jason and Jennifer Helvenston here, and my talk with Sean Law here.
Additional note: I get the best commenters. I laughed at this one.
M Braivo, Regarding my Review of Muscle Up):
I had a very similar experience in my 30s upon discovering the paleo diet. Dropped 30 pounds and haven’t looked back.
I took up weightlifting about a year ago and that is when people started to really notice my body changing.
What has always been a struggle for me is having a resource to give people when they ask how I did it. I want to help them, but I am often lacking the one thing that they can take with them and get started on their own journey.
P.D. Mangan’s book is that resource. Most folks don’t understand the reason why strength training is so important, this book covers that.
DTG: Agreed. Once you start discovering truth and inspiration in one area, you often end up seeing it in different areas. I’ve learned from Geoff Lawton, Ron Paul, P. D. Mangan, Mark Sisson, Joel Salatin, Ruth Stout, Marcus Aurelius… the truth is out there.
Monty on Extreme Composting Inspired by Compost Everything
I planted the first pig this weekend, as I got rid of a 300lb pest. I had to dig a 2′ x 6 trench about 4 feet deep just to seat the pig. I may have to find a better way to deal with the pigs as digging that trench was pretty rough going in the clay we have here.
I tossed in some limbs from a tree clearing and also dumped in some ash from a bonfire we had on site to increase the carbon content.
Going down to the nursery tomorrow to pick out a tree to plant over it.
The wife thinks I have gone insane but I see compost everywhere now.
I have been saving up meats and other “undesirable” scraps, in a separate container. Even the dogs and the cat hav been pressed into service for my mad quest for compost.
On the weekend we dug a matrix of “post” holes about 30″ deep. The “undesirables” plus some leaves go in the hole with about 12″ of dirt over the top.
DTG: This is some serious composting – he took my book totally seriously and went for it. Monty had preciously commented on his feral pig problem and how the meat on the larger ones is pretty foul… so why not turn a pest into a profit?
Compost everything and keep experimenting!
So – what great experiments are YOU doing to make 2016’s gardens better than ever before?
Let me know in the comments.
*Image at top courtesy of Soil Science at NC State. Without the word bubble, of course.
I’ve mentioned before that I am first and foremost a “critter person,” so 2016 will be a year of critters here. I got my first rabbit (bunny!) the other week, and while I am likely making him into a pet I do plan to add more rabbits. Their manure can go directly on the garden, unlike chicken litter.
Chickening will get more intense, as I am starting to hatch my own here, and still working on proficiency in caponizing cull cockerels. Both cull cockerels/capons and cockerels I am growing out for breeding potential will be roaming the back to clean up after the goats I am getting in the spring – a dairy doe in milk and her kids. I snapped up some “forage feast” seed from the hunting section of TSC on clearance, figuring if the plants are good browse for deer, the goats will enjoy browsing on them as well.
My big challenge will be growing more of my garden veggies from seed, as I can’t really rely on the big box stores having the exact varieties of starts each year.
Can you plant a tree directly on top of a recently dead animal carcass?
Yes, though I’d make sure the dirt was packed in firmly. A woman I know planted a plum over the body of her beloved horse.
Also, I have read of pit toilet systems that were used for a year, filled in, then planted over the top with a tree.
Speaking about experimentation; one year in NC we dug a long trench about a foot deep. Placed seed potatoes and a spoon of cotton seed meal for each potatoes, then covered it all over with old saw dust. It grew wonderful clean potatoes that we did not have to dig up. Just pull up the plant and the beautiful clean potatoes with it. The following year, we used the same trench for peanuts. Same thing, just pull up the plants with the clean peanuts attached. We alternated crops in these trenches for a lot of years.
What a great idea. Cottonseed meal is like magic. I’ve used it to grow some incredible cabbages.
Doesn’t sawdust cause the skin of the potatoes to scale and crack? Or does that depend on the variety of sawdust?
I can’t follow the Facebook link – would you e-mail it to me? I’d love to see that. It’s possible you created a cross. Stranger things have happened. Did you save the seeds?
Okay. I emailed it to you, so you can delete that Facebook link since it doesn’t work.
Got it – thank you.
Hi David! Been reading your blog for a couple months, but this is the first time I’ve commented.
I live here in Florida, so if I had a yard, I’d be putting all your great advice to use! Alas, my husband and I live in a small apartment with a completely shaded porch. (Seriously- like an hour of morning sunlight. Begonias are the only thing that seem to want to grow out there.)
We do, however, have a large, sunny double window in the bedroom. So, now we’re experimenting with root vegetables (turnips, short carrots, small sweet potatoes), salad greens, and herbs in a bunch of those deep plastic sweater boxes with holes drilled in the bottom. (The lids are great as drip trays.) I’ll be sure to tell you how it goes. In the mean time, do you have any novel advice for extreme indoor container gardening?
I’m actually working on a video on that very topic – glad you stopped by. I’ll include your question in it. Stay tuned.
The vine beans I mentioned that grew over the sunflowers were some of the volunteers. You know, sunflowers are also a new world crop, and when people talk about the three sister crops, I wonder if it shouldn’t have been 4.
For the corn-with-beans, try putting one corn seed every foot or so, and one bean right in the middle between them. I tried it this year and worked well. If you are going to intercrop beans and corn, plan to space the corn rows farther apart than just corn, as there is only so much sunlight to go around for the different plants. Also, wider rows makes it a lot easier to get in between to pick the beans. I used about a yard between rows, and maybe should have gone a little farther. It was like acrobatics getting between the vines that crossed from one row to the next.
This past year I sprouted moringas (PK-1 variety from India), planted the three strongest in the horrid clay ground, and put the last 2 in 5-gal buckets. Last night was the last pre-freezing night of the year- I chopped down the tops of the outdoor ones (the tallest was more than 16 feet!), tomato cages are going over them today, and will be stuffed with dry straw. I’m not sure whether to cover them over with a large garbage bag or not – what would you suggest? I don’t want the “stumps” to roast in warmer weather when the temperatures climb… The ones in buckets in the garage are only about 4 feet tall, and I don’t think I’ll chop them this year at all. Hopefully, one way or another, I’ll have tons of moringa in 2016!
It depends on if you have rainy winters or not. If they’re just surrounded by straw, I’ve left them uncovered and had the straw get soaked and cause the trunk inside to rot. Perhaps just a board or loose tarp over the top to keep the straw dry would work. Good luck!