As you may have gathered from my blog post on tire gardening, I’m incredibly excited by the potential for finally growing some decent vegetables this summer. At long last, it seems we may be able to overcome the poor gardening conditions in our little neck of the woods and grow something good.
But this project got me thinking. A garden – make that a successful garden – is clearly a critical component on the road to self-sufficiency. Since I didn’t grow up gardening (or canning or milking cows or making cheese or anything else like that), over the years I’ve faced a steep learning curve on nearly every aspect of homesteading. We’ve learned through trial-and-error what works in our area and under our circumstances and within our budget, and what doesn’t.
This underscores the importance of starting NOW if you want to strive for a self-sufficient lifestyle. If your goal is to move to a homestead and begin the journey toward food independence, don’t waste any more time – just do it.
The reason I say this is because too many people think homesteading is a snap. Eh, how hard can it be? You plant seeds, they grow. In a few months you harvest a bountiful crop and can/freeze/dehydrate it. You get a cow, you milk it. Criminey, what’s the big deal? How hard can it be?
This is dangerous thinking. Dangerous and foolish. The pioneers in this country, heading into unknown territory to face unknown setbacks in their quest for independence and self-sufficiency, faced a terrifying amount of uncertainty and unfamiliar obstacles; but at least they were armed with the knowledge how to plant, grow, harvest, milk, preserve, and otherwise survive under primitive conditions. Most people back then did. They had to.
If the bleep were to hit the fan, we can’t all mosey down to Home Depot and buy pre-grown hybrid tomato plants. We’d darn well better have a supply of heirloom seeds (preserved from the season before), a place to plant them, the knowledge of how to cultivate them, the understanding of how to harvest and preserve them, and above all the ability to save seeds for the next year.
And unless you’re blessed with perfect soil and a temperate and forgiving climate, a garden can’t grow forever in a vacuum. Soil must be amended. Where will you get those amendments? Our endless supply of composted manure is something we take for granted since our livestock creates so much of it; but it’s valuable stuff to those who don’t have critters.
The fact is, farming is a complicated and interconnected process. Personally I find it an endlessly fascinating one, but hey, that’s just me. For those who are less enchanted with manure in all its forms, it’s going to be harder to handle homesteading.
It’s either comical or depressing (not sure which) whenever I see perky advertisements for urban people to “grow your own food!!” and then try to sell these little hydroponic garden kits ("Guaranteed to grow!") that take four months to produce a meal’s worth of herbs. I have nothing against such kits – they’re fun projects for kids – but I have concerns that those unfamiliar with the intricacies of gardening (and the quantities necessary to keep a family in food for an entire year) will come to the erroneous conclusion that planting a windowsill herb box will solve all your food security woes for a year. Or worse, because your windowsill herb box is blooming luxuriantly, you come to the conclusion that you’re a natural and superb gardener. After all, how hard can it be?
Folks, it’s just not that easy. In the real world of homesteading, stuff happens. Deer hop fences, wind storms knock down fruit trees, growing seasons can be short, and even grasshoppers can cause untold damage. In short, nothing is "guaranteed to grow." Nothing.
We’ve been dabbling with increasing devotion to food self-sufficiency for nearly twenty years now, and we’ve been learning the whole time. Had the circumstances been truly dire, we probably could have compressed those twenty years into three or four (by devoting our every waking hour to the subject), but the fact remains that homesteading ain’t a cakewalk.
What concerns me are those who people think they’ll wait until AFTER the bleep hits the fan to move rural and learn self-sufficiency... because, after all, how hard can it be?
It IS hard. And frustrating. And wearisome. And fascinating. And invigorating. And satisfying. And yes, even thrilling...IF you’re of a disposition to find such things interesting.
Tire gardening is as adaptable to urban backyards as it is to north Idaho homesteads. Get some tires, fill them with dirt, and plant something. Lots of things. Line the perimeter of your yard with tires (or raised beds or whatever). Just do it. When those tomatoes or those corn plants or those beans or peppers or peas or spinach or carrots or onions or garlic or broccoli is ready to harvest, learn to preserve them.
The conclusion of this rant is this: If you want to live rural, move heaven and earth to make that goal come true, as quickly as you can. Start now. Learn everything you can.
But if you’re not all that interested in moving rural (but just sorta kinda think you should for possible “bleep” reasons), then stay put... but don’t waste that backyard space. Start growing some food. Learn what it takes.
And never assume homesteading is easy unless you can prove otherwise.
Okay, rant over.