We're embarking upon, what I hope, will be a big step to becoming responsible for our own food supply. We've been learning all we can about different food preservation methods. With the hopes to be able to store much, if not all, of our yearly supply without the use of freezing or refrigeration, and with minimal canning. Fermentation, drying/dehydrating, and curing are methods that were used long before the convenience of HVAC technology. And at least in the case of fermentation, they preserve and even enhance the nutritional quality.
We've also spent much time studying exactly how we're going to grow enough food to feed a family of four for a year. Looking to others for wisdom through books such as Gaia's Garden, Restoration Agriculture, Edible Forest Gardens, etc.., and watching homesteader upon homesteader on YouTube, we want to try it all! After taking the information into consideration, and putting in much thought, we've decided to incorporate various ideas from multiple sources.
The broad plan for the land is to:
-Till paths, and only paths, about two feet wide along contour, and as deep as the tiller blades will penetrate. Creating six-foot wide beds with lengths that the contour and area will determine, but the paths will be consistently six feet apart. This provides an area of reach into the middle of the bed from either side. Therefore, maximizing usable garden space and decreasing the amount of soil being compacted by our footprints.
-The soil that is tilled from the paths will be shoveled to the contour bed at the level above. The soil in most of this area is very high in organic matter. We want to cause the least disturbance as possible, and only build upon fertility.
-The trenches that are left where the paths will be laid, will be filled with woodchips. (Thanks to our new to us, but old, but re-gadgetted woodchipper!) The purpose of the trenched and mulched path is to act as swales with mulch that will retain water, and hopefully release it slowly into the soil of the surrounding garden beds. We don't expect the method to eliminate the need for watering, but to at least minimize and make more productive the times we will have to water.
-The beds will be covered with a layer of cardboard, (for weed suppression, and moisture retention) then finished compost, and finally a layer of straw, hay, leaves, or a mixture of whatever non-woody organic material we have on hand. We wouldn't use wood chips on top of the beds. This would encourage more fungal activity that perennial plants like, but not the mostly annual plants we'll be growing this time. They prefer a more bacteria inoculated soil.
-The exceptions to the rule of non-woody mulch, will be the areas that will occupy small seedling trees. As for now, many annuals can be grown around and in between their spacing. We plan to get young fruit, nut, and leguminous species. Fruits and nuts, of course, for us, and the legumes for nitrogen fixation and, if not for us, livestock fodder.
-Seeds and seedlings will be planted according to; seasonality, light/water/soil biology requirements, and space preservation based upon root type. That means we can alternate between root space requirements in order to conserve space. For example, beets and radishes have a shallow, large tuber that will take up around 1-3 inches in the top layer of soil. You can plant something in the cabbage family, which has fibrous roots, at their recommended distance apart, but fill the space in between with a bulbous or tuberous type plant.
-In the larger scheme of things, we hope to one day have a pond at a higher elevation than the garden. This would provide a source of feeding the swales on a more consistent basis. Ideally, the pond would come first, but it's a case of production vs. resources. We want to start food production any way we can, but lack the resources and preparation for a pond.
-If it is possible, and we can get chickens before tilling, we will be grazing them throughout the field to help eradicate weeds, break up the soil, and add fertility via their poop.
We've decided to start with an area that is (roughly) 1/3 of an acre. It was a field covered in grasses and bramble (blackberry) remnants from their years of migration. Before we endeavored the mowing of plants, I went through and dug up some Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) to be transplanted. It was the only species growing that wasn't plentiful elsewhere on the property, and it has medicinal, pest control, and aesthetic significance. We left an elderberry to be incorporated into what will eventually be considered a forest garden.
The area had been neglected for years, and things that had been left in a once-mowed field, were now buried within the overgrowth. Amongst the debris we found; tires, metal fence posts, rotted wood, nearly a whole role of rusty barbed wire fencing... fun times! There was a very large pile of too-rotted-to-use-wood for heating, but also too treated to use for putting to use for the garden, so we chose to burn it. You can see the smouldering ashes in the photo above. This does pose some concerns for me. Mainly, toxins in the soil and decreased soil fertility due to the high heat from the fire. But, it's on the downhill side, so nothing should leach into the above garden soil. I'm thinking that we have enough space to grow our food and let that portion rehabilitate for awhile.
After clearing, we were left with a lot of (fairly) chopped mulch of grass clippings and woody debris. I raked some of it around the young elderberry, and the rest I began collecting for either compost or mulch. I'm not sure how to put it to use as of yet, but I know it's useful!
It may not look like it, but this really is progress. There's no turning back once it has begun. So now, we just have to get the tiller working, see if we can get chickens before or near spring, figure out what to plant, buy seeds and seedlings, and take care of all of the other things that will miscellaneously come up! But this is where we are, and to me it is beautiful.