Radishes, carrots, potatoes. Easy – scratch some dirt, plant some seeds, watch the soil that it doesn’t dry out, watch the drainage so water doesn’t stand when it rains. Pull the weeds.
Pulling weeds is simpler if the ground is kept looser – hoeing cuts off some weed roots (you don’t hoe where your crop roots grow). And pulling weeds is more effective if you pull when the weeds are small – once a week might do, more often is better. Weeds are much more problem on soil that has not been a garden long.
Keep the weeds; compost them. You need to keep trimmings, even kitchen scraps for compost, too. Because when you harvest in your garden, the veggies and fruit you take, take from the soil. Working the ground takes minerals, takes fiber – compost helps keep the soil healthy, ready to grow more of what you want. Which is why it is better to get the weeds early – they rob your plants of less moisture from the soil, less nutrients from the soil, shade out the sunlight that makes your plants grow less- if they are enriching your compost pile sooner in the weed’s life.
Tomatoes. Learn to grow tomatoes, and many years you get a nice return. The more attention you pay to growing tomatoes, the better, most years, the harvest.
Beans. Beans are a great source of protein, many types dry well, and are easy (and cheap) to store for long periods of time. Great fiber, beans can be the center of meatless meals, if meat becomes difficult to come by (i.e., no refrigeration if the electricity is off, and you don’t have an Amish or RV ammonia-cycle freezer/refrigerator).
Peas. Peas are easy, shelling peas for fresh use is a time-honored family affair, easy and pleasant to share with a parent or child. Peas cook well, can be canned for storage, or dried.
Squash, gourds, melons, pickles, cucumbers,pumpkins. These gentle vines can be a bit irritating on the skin to handle. Give them lots of room – plant a few seeds in hills several feet apart. The good thing is that most cover the ground well – keep the weeds down as they start growing, and when they cover the ground they shade the soil so densely that weeds won’t be a problem. But separate species – these vines will inter-pollinate, and you lose the distinctive characteristics. Separate as widely as you can, species from species. Pumpkins here, squash there, watermelons over there, and the ButterNut squash out in the corn field.
Lettuce, cabbage – for garnish, cabbage fresh or kimchi or cooked or pickled provides vitamin C.
Bok Choi, rutabaga, yams, beets, celery, bell and other peppers, horseradish, rhubarb, these all grow in gardens, in various regions.
What about tobacco? Tobacco is grown in fields in South Carolina. Most people know that. It grows in Turkey, too, I guess. But what about your garden? The price of $4-15 a carton today makes me wonder why people aren’t growing the stuff in their garden.
Especially since tobacco has a long history of uses in healing – antiseptic, drawing infection, and other uses. Prepare and store tobacco for smoking in a pipe, for rolling in cigars – or if you have the papers even rolling in a cigarette recall the old-time ‘plug’ of solid-rolled tobacco? Manage the moisture when storing to keep the virtues of the tobacco intact. If nothing else, growing tobacco will leave you something to trade to those looking for an version of it.
Celery grows. In gardens. I found if you stick the heart of a stalk of celery in a glass, it will throw roots – and mature in a window box. Maybe a living room scented with growing celery isn’t the first thought that comes to mind, but like an aquarium or bird cage, adds an air of life, of shared space. And celery is very good, for dipping or spreading with peanut butter, cheese, refried beans – or honey butter.
Isn’t it Marigolds that you can plant around your garden? – and keep out many insect pests?
The old song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ that Melanie recorded some years ago, the lady that gave us, “I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates/You’ve got a brand new key”. The song includes a line about ‘Farmer, farmer, put away the DDT. Leave the spots on the apples, but leave me the birds and the bees.” DDT was a nasty pesticide, and many in use today have to be handled correctly – all of them kill or maim *something*, including hopefully the targeted pest. But the issue was only partly about spots on apples – yes, an unblemished apple sells quicker, usually, outside a Farmer’s Market. But what about an apple with a worm? Or a bell pepper or cucumber or tomato? The cost to plant and till the soil is the same – so what about the 1/4 to 3/4 of the crop that withers or is consumed by weeds or insects – when the cost in labor and materials to raise a crop falls short of the return in food or sales, it gets stupid to plant the crop. Thus, for many crops, pesticides will be with us. Learn about this class of poisons, how and when to use them, what they mean about cleaning or using treated plants or animals. Choose wisely.
Right now, ‘fertilizer’ is something in a bag that Wal-Mart and Ace Hardware and the local garden center sells. Steer manure? Expect the local farmer to have some, but not in bags, not dried, and sterilized, and prepared. It still works well. Even sheep, and goat, and horse, and other livestock droppings. Maybe you can work out a deal – rake a pasture regularly, keep part of the droppings that would otherwise sour and kill the grass underneath it, gather a part and scatter the rest. Help keep down parasites and benefit the pasture, while gather some useful .. fertilizer. Throw the result on your compost pile, and biologic away!
Soil amendments include adjusting the pH of the soil – whether it is acid or alkaline (excess acid or deficit acid ions, compare to an even-steven balance of 7.0) – and mineral content. Potash, lime, and other materials occasionally come available.
And some plants change the soil around them. Legumes, such as beans and soybeans, alfalfa, enrich the nitrogen content of the soil they grow in. A walnut tree can amend base soil – note this is *not* a quick solution! Your county extension office or garden center can help you plan soil enrichment and amendment. You may want different soil balances for different crops. Some things prefer partial sun – plant in the shade of leafier, taller plants. Some like more acidity, others less.
Some garden products are perennials – trees, for instance. Strawberries. Rhubarb. Asparagus – be prepared to sow a bit of salt with the cuttings for asparagus.
Plan your garden. Lay out on paper, the amount of space for each packet or handful of seeds. Calculate the row spacing – some things need to be close, others can be, still others – cucumbers, tomatoes – need lots of space for one or three plants. When you plan, allow for when things mature. Today, we can read on the packet this one comes in in 45 days, that in 65. Try to plant time-wise, to stagger the crop – perhaps a row of lettuce is planted a bit each week, so that fresh lettuce matures over several weeks or months. Tomatoes will be good fresh – but you will want to them to be mostly ready to can all at the same time. Peas are nice fresh, and you can stagger the planting to extend when they will be ready to eat.
Sweet corn comes to mind with ‘fresh from the garden’. Corn, sweet or field corn (also called ‘dent’ corn) takes a lot of resource for the yield. If you have the space, then by all means, corn is a very good crop. Especially if you want a few rows of corn to space out some melon or pickle patches, or something you need to shade. Dent corn can provide livestock feed, corn meal, and wild bird seed.
And wild birds can be part of your post-Peak Oil program to manage insect pests, both garden pests and general people-type pests.
Did you know, with planning, that parts of your garden can be weeded by geese? Once the plants begin maturing, the geese look for newly-germinated plants – weeds. Quite efficient. And geese can be easy to keep, and pretty good for watch animals – it is *tough* to sneak up on a couple of geese.
You will want to consider fencing for your garden – to manage neighbor kids, and to control the theft of food by rabbits, squirrels, and other four-foot raiders and destroyers.
And maybe most important of all you can grow in a garden – is personal satisfaction, and a wholesome place to raise children, re-train adults, etc. “He who plants a seed and waits, believes in God.” My mother tacked that up in the kitchen, back home.