From Yard To Garden

New garden area with cow manure added, and part of the peat moss added. Note the barren soil in the foreground – even weeds have a hard time growing here.

As much as I expanded my garden over the past several months, I still ran out of room. The solution? Turn an unused part of the backyard into garden. The problem is that this unused part of the yard is so infertile that even weeds have a hard time growing there. That makes this more of an experiment than just a routine garden project. Here’s what I’ve done:

  1. Used the BCS Two-wheel Tractor with tiller attachment to rototill the area. I went over it twice in both directions. I raked and picked up the assorted roots and weeds (and a beautiful piece of heavy green glass from some long-ago bottle).
  2. Watered it very heavily. In addition to adding much-needed moisture, this greatly improves the ability to work the soil.
  3. The next day, I added cow manure and peat moss. It was mixed in using a Mantis tiller with the tines reversed so that it just mixes things up without digging deeply.
  4. More watering, with the ducks “helping”.
  5. Marked out the rows and planted Seminole Pumpkin seeds.

 

Ducks just can’t pass up the opportunity to play in the water.

I had planted some Seminole Pumpkin seeds in the main garden area, but decided I’d rather put more okra in. Seminole Pumpkin can take up a huge amount of space as it spreads out. It won’t hurt if it spreads out in this new garden area, but it would have shaded out other plants in the main garden area.

As I said, this is really an experiment to see what it takes to turn a small (11′ x 19′) patch of barren ground into a fertile garden. We’ll take another look at it later in the year. In the mean time, the main garden is starting to have green where there was once only dirt.

A lesson to be learned here is that if I can turn this piece of barren sand into a productive garden, then anyone can find a place to start one.

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Storm Cleanup – It’s Who We Are

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The winds from Hurricane Matthew had not yet faded away when debris had been collected into neat piles waiting to be hauled away or burned. I was struck by the contrast between Agrarian and Urban in how this sort of thing is handled. It also provides a good illustration of two very different cultures in America. As Southern Agrarians, it is good to remind ourselves of that difference.

The Leftists like to say, “That’s not who we are” when criticizing ideas that don’t agree with their globalist fantasies. Well, it’s time to ask who the “we” is that they are talking about.

We’ll use the terms “Agrarian” and “Urban” here, but “Nationalist” and “Globalist” would also work, as would “Alt-Right” and “Leftist” or “Reactionary” and “Egalitarian”.

Across the dirt road from my house is a wooded area. I, and others living on this side of the road, keep the county right-of-way on the other side of the road clean and mowed. We do not own that land, and we have no formal obligation to maintain that land, but we do. Just as land must be constantly maintained, so too must a civilization. If the brush and debris is not quickly cleared, then it cannot be mowed. If it cannot be mowed, then weeds and brush and scrub trees will begin to take root and grow. Before long, it can no longer be easily mowed, but requires serious work to reclaim the land. So it is with a civilization. The Western European culture that built our civilization has become fat, lazy, and tolerant. We have not maintained the cultural land, and the debris that has accumulated provides shelter for the weeds and scrub that would take over and destroy us. The time for routine maintenance has passed. To reclaim our civilization, we are now left with the hard work of uprooting and chopping and clearing to restore the land – all because we didn’t keep the land clean enough through routine maintenance.

Urban culture destroys – Agrarian culture builds and maintains. Witness the Black Lives Matter crowd – their standard reaction to any perceived slight is to destroy their own neighborhoods and stores. The Agrarian reaction is very different. Those piles of debris from the storm were cut up, picked up, raked, and stacked by people who understand the necessity of taking initiative and responsibility. No one told them to clean up not only their own property, but also the road and the empty lots and fields beside them. I saw this on dirt roads beside cow pastures; I saw this in suburban developments; I saw this in a mobile home park with old but clean single-wide trailers.

It’s who we are, and we are very different from what the Left means by “we”.

 


 

(Edited to add)
It occurred to me that some folks would look at that little pile of trash and think, “That’s not much of a hurricane.” I assure you that is just there as an illustration. Much of what is awaiting disposal is far bigger than that and requires a lot more than a rake and pitchfork to move. These two photos were taken in front of our little post office (you can see it in the background of the second photo). I was driving home and stopped while our county Sheriff, dressed in a sweat-soaked T-shirt and blue jeans, used a John Deere tractor with a front-end loader to push those big logs into a pile. No photo-op for this elected official, just getting the job done (his house is across the street from the post office).

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Our Precarious Agriculture System

A lush crop of corn being grown for silage.

A lush crop of corn being grown for silage.


Last month, our family held its sixty-first annual family reunion. It’s a chance to talk with a number of my cousins who have been farmers in that area all their lives. When I remarked about how lush and beautiful the corn looked, I learned a lot about just how precarious our food supply is. It is almost entirely dependent on vast quantities of fertilizer and diesel fuel to work the land and to irrigate it.

The situation varies, of course, depending on the type of soil found in different parts of the country. The ideal combination of local climate and fertile, well-drained soil is really quite rare. The reason that the world’s farmers are able to feed a huge and rapidly growing population is the enormous input per acre of fuel, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. Much of today’s farmland is not a whole lot more than a growing medium to which water and nutrients are added – similar to hydroponics.

I will also point out here that we haven’t even touched on the complex system of transporting and delivering that food from the farm to your table. That is even more fragile than the agriculture system, with its near-total dependency on a functioning financial system, available credit, just-in-time ordering system, trucking system, and a coordinating system totally dependent upon the Internet.

There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but the fact remains that without the continuous flow of cheap diesel fuel, irrigation water, fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides, the food available to the consumer would be a tiny fraction of what is needed. Proponents of organic farming point to that as the solution; however, there simply isn’t enough organic matter available nor is there a high enough yield for organic farming to even approach the quantity of food needed. (I’m a big fan of organic gardening, but the issue here is one of scale rather than method.)

If you’re looking for a solution to the overall problem, I’m afraid that there is none. Mankind has grown completely dependent on highly mechanized, high-input farming to feed the population. There is simply no getting around that – as a wide scale issue, anyway. On an individual scale, it is a different story. Growing and producing a portion of our own food for our own family is something that we can all do. Very few will be able to produce more than a token amount of their food to begin with, but it is a learning process. When the day comes that our complex food system no longer functions, make sure that you have the skills and the tools to feed your family.

Irrigation, powered by diesel fuel, keeping that corn growing.

Irrigation, powered by diesel fuel, keeping that corn growing.

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Food Security and Social Unrest

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In a report published yesterday (06/26/2016), a FEMA contractor reported on a simulation called “Food Chain Reaction”. The scenario was to simulate a food crisis brought about by “food price and supply swings amidst burgeoning population growth, rapid urbanization, severe weather events, and social unrest.” You may want to read the full article yourself, but that’s not really our concern here.

As Southern Agrarians, our goal is to isolate and insulate ourselves from the chaos and anarchy of a world in collapse. Growing a portion of our own food – even if it is only a small portion – gives us a base from which to ramp up our food production to the point of being relatively self sufficient. Right now, I have a rather small part of our one acre being used to produce food. Every year brings new lessons in how to be more productive: what grows well and what doesn’t, learning the best time to plant, the best plant spacing for the soil in my garden, and a hundred other things to learn.

That small garden can be easily expanded by turning lawn into garden in order to multiply the amount of food being produced. Having the tools to do that is a key part of it. I recently purchased a two-wheeled walk-behind tractor made by BCS. It is an Italian company that owns Ferrari (Ferrari used to make tractors before they focused on high-end sports cars). With the roto-tiller attachment, I can quickly turn new ground into ready-to-plant garden area. I also have several high quality hoes that allow me to efficiently maintain the garden.

There is so much more involved in becoming more self-sufficient. How do you provide water for your family, your garden, and your livestock? How do you preserve what you grow for the rest of the year when the garden is not producing? How do you feed your chickens or ducks or other livestock? Those are the kinds of questions that we try to answer here in addition to the cultural and social aspects of Southern Agrarianism.

Being self-sufficient is a very comfortable feeling in these unstable times. Make sure that you can provide for your family, no matter what the future holds.

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What’s In The Garden Now? June 1, 2016

Eggplant in the foreground and tomatoes in the background.

Eggplant in the foreground and tomatoes in the background.


I’m always interested in hearing what others are growing in their gardens, so this post is about what is in my garden now. But first, a note about what my priorities are and how I choose what to grow:

  • Sustainability – Everything that I plant in my garden is open pollinated. Savings seeds is just as important to me as the vegetables that go on the table. Hybrids are not even considered when picking varieties.
  • Resilience – Rather than start with “What do I like?” and then try to make it grow here, my strategy is to ask “What will dependably grow here?” and then find ways to prepare it so that I enjoy it. (See the section on Squash below for any example).
  • Organic – I avoid the use of any chemical pesticides or herbicides. I’m not fanatical about it, but it’s been many years since I used any chemical pesticides on the garden. When needed, I use BT and Neem Oil, which are both organic pesticides that are safe to apply immediately before picking and eating.

Eggplant – This is a hot-weather favorite that keeps on producing through all but the very hottest summer days. In the past, I have always gone with Black Beauty, but this year I am growing the Florida High Bush variety. My hope is that, based on the description I read, the plants will be stronger and less likely to be blown over in a wind, yet still have the good taste and texture of the Black Beauty. This variety was developed in the 1940’s for commercial fields, and the objective was to keep the fruit up off the ground. So far, so good.

Tomato – What’s a garden without tomatoes? Several years ago, I did some fairly extensive testing for taste, quantity, and general quality. I grew several varieties and kept careful records. I counted the yield from each individual plant, and I wrote a number on the individual fruits and gave them to friends and relatives and asked them to rate them by various criteria. The overall winner was Homestead 24. That has become my standard tomato variety and I see no reason to change. There will be some other varieties that may taste slightly better or have other desirable qualities, but – all things considered – the Homestead 24 beats them all.

Bell Peppers – I’m trying a new variety this year: Chinese Giant. As the name implies, these are a very large fruited pepper. I have read that if thinned (something I haven’t tried yet), they can reach 5″ – 6″ in length and width. My previous variety was California Wonder; they were good, but I wanted to try something new.

Okra – Another great hot-weather producer. This year is a test of a strain of Clemson Spineless called “Heavy Hitter”. In the past, I always went with regular Clemson Spineless, but when I read about Heavy Hitter, I had to give it a try. Heavy Hitter has a different branching pattern which results in more branches – and thus more fruit – from each plant. It was developed by Mr. Ron Cook in Oklahoma. If it works as I think it will, I’ll be doing whatever I can to help promote this strain of okra. This was planted quite late since I wanted to put it in some new ground that had been lawn up until a few months ago.

Squash – I suppose this one doesn’t really belong here since I turned the entire crop under two days ago. In previous years, I decided “No more squash” because they were always ruined by worms boring holes and ruining the fruit. Stubbornly, I wanted to give it one more try. The first few were great, but then the worms came (I avoid the use of pesticides wherever possible). Not wanting to feed the worms, I used my BCS tractor with the roto-tiller attachment to turn that part of the garden into dirt. Next year, I’ll go back to planting Seminole Pumpkin and use it as a squash.

Cotton – I like planting cotton every once in a while just to have it. This year, I planted Red Foliated White Cotton that I got from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. The stem parts of the plants are red – an interesting color in the garden – and it produces a short staple white cotton. What do I do with it? Not much. It is just interesting to grow, and there are plenty of folks who have never seen cotton growing.

So – what do you have in your garden now?

Cotton blossom, Red Foliated White Cotton.

Cotton blossom, Red Foliated White Cotton.

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Getting To Know The Scuffle Hoe

Three Scuffle Hoes

Three Scuffle Hoes. The one on the right is made by Rogue Hoe and is built to last a lifetime.

My cousin introduced me to the Scuffle Hoe, and I’m grateful that he did. The Scuffle Hoe is a rather specialized tool. It does an excellent job of getting rid of small, just-emerging weeds in loose soil. The sandy soil that we have here in this part of The South is ideal for using this tool – especially when it is dry.

The Scuffle Hoe is used by sliding the blade just a bit below the surface to cut the weeds off below the ground level. If the soil is dry, that makes it easier to use, and the weeds dry out very quickly so they can’t take root again. It is much easier to control than a regular field hoe when working close to garden plants. Think of it as a maintenance tool intended to keep your garden clean. Use a regular field hoe for the big stuff.

There are two basic types of Scuffle Hoe, and they both work the same way. One uses a blade (shown on the left in the above photo, also known as a stirrup hoe) and the other is a triangular blade. So far, both have held up well, but I suspect that the triangular design is the tougher, more durable of the two.

If you haven’t used one before, make it a point to get one and try it out. If you have very hard packed soil or heavy clay, wait until you’ve improved the soil before trying to use one. If you start out with a clean garden, a Scuffle Hoe will make it easy to keep it clean.

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Peaches in Florida

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Until quite recently, the idea of successfully growing peaches here in north central Florida was little more than a dream. New varieties have made that a reality. The photo of the peach shown above was taken today (May 10, 2016). If I’ve ever had a sweeter peach, I sure don’t remember when. It was like taking a bite into peach-flavored sugar – and I mean that in the best way possible. I planted these trees in December, 2014 (17 months ago).

Peaches developed for low chill requirements have all the flavor and texture of the best standard peaches, but they tend to be smaller – especially if they are not thinned to one fruit for each six to ten inches of branch. I have planted two different varieties – Florida Prince and Tropic Beauty. Florida Prince is now fully ripened, and the Tropic Beauty fruit is still green, which means the season is spread out more. A big advantage that the early ripening Florida Prince has is that the fruit ripens before insects become a real problem here – something that I was concerned about when I first planted them.

Peach trees are every bit as beautiful as most ornamental trees, so consider adding some peach trees to your orchard. I’ll be writing posts on how to lay out a fruit tree orchard, how to plant the trees, and more on some of the other varieties of fruit trees that we have planted on our one acre homestead.

What kind of fruit trees are you growing? Please reply and let us know.

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One Thing Leads to Another

It’s been quite a while since I have added a new post here. It’s been far too long, so here’s a quick overview of what we have been doing for the past few months. I’ll be posting details of these projects and more.

IMG_1970_phatchTree Clearing – We had over twenty old water oak trees and a few palm trees removed from the property. Water oaks are like weeds – they grow quickly, drop branches, make a mess, then rot and die. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life watching old trees rot and die.

IMG_2016_phatchTree Planting – With the water oaks removed, I now have open sunny areas to plant fruit trees. There are now rows of pears, apples, peaches, persimmons, figs, and pomegranates. I’ve planted plenty of trees in the past, but most of them were planted the wrong way. I learned how to correctly plant a tree to assure that it doesn’t have problems several years later.

IMG_2825_phatchHoney Bees – With the prospect of having fruit trees that will need pollinating, and a vegetable garden that needs pollinating, I’m now a beekeeper with five hives. I’ve joined the local beekeeping group (there were about 40 members present at the last meeting). My wife and I attended the two-day Bee College, put on by the University of Florida.

IMG_2450_phatchDucks and Chickens – After many years of keeping chickens, I have switched over to ducks. I had planned to keep both, but the ducks have worked out so well, it just made more sense to only have the ducks. We’ll have some posts about the pros and cons of ducks and chickens. It’s probably not the best choice for everyone, but it might be for you.

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Garden Experiments

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If you’ve been growing your own food for any length of time, you already know that there is a whole lot more to it than putting seeds in the dirt and waiting for harvest time. Those who buy a can of “Survival Seeds” and set it in a closet “just in case” are going to be severely disappointed – and hungry.

I have a nice collection of books about growing food and raising small livestock. They are the starting point, not the final authority. I routinely discover that what works great for one person (or the author of one book) just doesn’t work when I try it. The answer to that is experimentation. You have to try it yourself. You have to compare different groups with only one or two variables. You have to keep careful notes. None of these things are particularly fun or easy, but the results are always worth the effort.

Do you test your soil? Do you keep notes on what you have added and how the plants react? Sometimes it is almost impossible to keep track of (What went into that last batch of compost you added?), but make notes anyway. The notes might not be used, but wouldn’t you hate to end up with that perfect season and not know what was in the soil, when the seeds went into the ground, what the variety was, and where you got the seeds?

One of the keys to effective experimentation is to reduce the number of variables to as few as possible. That’s one reason why I like to always start my seeds in individual pots. I always plant more than I anticipate using; that way, I can plant only the best seedlings and they are all relatively uniform. The ones that look weaker than the others are culled. Any that are remarkably more vigorous than the rest are tagged in the garden to see if they carry that trait through to maturity. If so, that’s a plant that I’ll save seeds from (and, of course, make a note to that effect).

Don’t just plant a garden – improve your garden. Make it your goal to have each year’s garden better than the last year. Experiment, test, take notes, and adjust.

What have you experimented with? How do you keep your notes organized? Leave a reply about something you’ve tested in your own garden.

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Family Reunions

While some would consider family reunions to be little more than a quaint tradition carried on by the “less sophisticated”, Southern culture takes a very different view. Family reunions are an opportunity for one generation to pass along the family heritage to the next generation. They strengthen man’s oldest form of social structure and the foundation of any civilized society.

This past weekend, our family held our 59th annual family reunion. I seem to recall missing one of those reunions about thirty years ago, but I can’t be sure. Missing a family reunion without a very good reason is something that is just not done in our family. It should be that way in every family.

The reunion is held on the first Saturday in June, so planning and scheduling is never a problem. The location is the family farm of my grandparents in a house built in the early 1920’s – long before there was electricity available in that area. At exactly 12:00 noon, the dinner bell is rung by one of the small children (usually with help from the parents). That is the same bell that was used to call the farm hands in from the fields for their noon meal many years ago.

I hope you enjoy these photos from our reunion. Even more, I hope they will serve to encourage you to hold your own family reunion.

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