Food in Uncertain Times: How to Grow and Store the 5 Crops You Need to Survive
Continued from previous page
About one acre is tilled. It's divided into six sections. One section we're turning into permanent garden beds to grow a big variety of garden crops, everything from amaranth greens and garlic to lettuce and strawberries. The rest is field crops that get rotated around each year. The field crops are all in rows spaced at 3'. (Or 7' for the big squash.) The basic 3' spacing is what is needed to get our rototiller between the rows, that is, when the rototiller works. Which it doesn't always. The acre of crops is as much as we want to tend by hand when the rototiller is uncooperative. In addition, it's as much as we want to water. This kind of spacing means we need to water the most water needy crops only once per week in August, the most water-short month, and less the rest of the time. And with this spacing, the potatoes don't have to be watered at all. And everything could at least survive a good while if it didn't get watered at all, even in August.
The permanent beds are 4' across, the biggest we can reach across comfortably, with aisles between them that are alternating 3' and 1'. That space is a compromise. Nate, being 32, can tend and harvest a garden by bending over or squatting. So if the garden was just his, he would space the beds with aisles 1' wide. That way, he would have the most possible planting area for the total area that needs to be watered. And there would be as little aisle space that needs to be weeded as possible. I'm 64. My back and knees rebel against squatting or bending over for very long. I can hoe comfortably using the right kinds of tools that permit me to work standing upright with my back straight. I can also tend and harvest comfortably on my hands and knees, but that takes aisles 3' across. If we split the difference, I wouldn't be able to harvest from any of the rows. With alternating aisle widths, and Nate tending and harvesting preferentially from the narrow aisles, we can both tend and harvest. And we have lots more bed space than if we used 3' aisles for everything.
We don't put sides on our beds, incidentally. If we did that, we would have to tend all the space near the sides by hand, squatting or on hands and knees. With no sides on beds, the beds can mostly be tended by hoeing from a comfortable standing position, with a straight back. In The Resilient Gardener, I talk a good bit about the labor implications of various gardening styles and practices as well as what tools and methods to use if you have back problems. Most people garden in a way that strains or trashes their backs or knees. That is totally unnecessary if you match gardening styles and tools to your physical needs. When gardening bigger areas, this matching is especially important.
In our field, one major section is potatoes, about 23 varieties. Yellows, blues, reds, whites, bakers, boilers, early varieties, late varieties. The number of varieties gives us some resilience with respect to diseases as well as potatoes that are great for every possible cooking method, and that have many different flavors. We choose varieties based primarily upon spectacular flavor, but also upon storage ability and yield and disease resistance when grown under our conditions.
We grow our spuds organically, with no irrigation, and with only the modest levels of fertility of the sort that can be obtained simply by turning under a legume cover crop. Our spud patch should give us at least a thousand pounds of spuds, which will be prime eating quality through February, through April for certain varieties. Part of that long storage is appropriate choice of varieties. The rest of it is our method of storage, which is "sophisticated low tech." We store the potatoes in our attached garage. That's low tech. What is sophisticated is that we have figured out exactly what containers to use for optimum storage, and a maximum-minimum thermometer-hygrometer sits in the storage area. We occasionally open the garage door or the door to the house as needed in winter to control temperature or humidity.