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Getting the Most Calories Out of Your Homestead Garden

When starting a vegetable garden you want to get the most out of every square foot that you can! Here are some ways to have a more calorie intensive garden.

homestead garden, sustainable gardening, eat local, homesteading

Whether you are planning on starting your first urban garden as a pastime or simply growing food to support a small family on a spacious garden, then it goes without saying that calorie intensive farming ought to be at the top of your list. But how exactly can you make sure that you’re getting the most calories per foot out of your backyard’s garden? Well, here is a quick primer to that.

1. Establish Permanent Garden Beds

Setting up an array of permanent garden beds as opposed to the plants-by-row approach allows you the opportunity to narrow down your efforts specifically on only where your plants grow. And as a direct result, this reduces wastage of irrigation water, compost or fertilizer on unplanted parts of the garden significantly.

In addition to this, it also ensures that soil compaction is a non-issue as you will be walking on permanent pathways whenever you transverse the garden and never on the planted areas. As a side note: This idea of having permanent garden beds in the place of conventional rows is borrowed from some of the agriculturally productive parts of the world where intensive farming is taken up on a large scale.

Homestead garden, vegetable garden, gardening, eat local, grow your own

2. Make Good use of Compost

Compost or organic manure has a unique advantage over commercially produced fertilizers in that its nutrients are released slowly and gradually over a long span of time. This slow-release of nutrients allows a balanced injection of macronutrients in the soil which promotes a luxurious and healthy growth of your crops.

Aside from that, the content of organic matter in the compost also boosts the soil’s water retention capacity, improves the texture, and generally supports a high yield.

Additional Resource: Having the Courage to Homestead

3. Practice High-density and Intensive Mixed Farming

As much intensive farming makes the best of the available garden space at your disposal, complimenting it with mixed farming is one of the best ways of ensuring high yield (and consequently, a high calorific output per foot unit) in your homestead garden.

Novice gardeners, for instance, can kick-start this farming strategy of boosting their overall yield by first adopting Bartholomew’s method that involves subdividing the plot into smaller 1-foot square areas. This can be helpful in visualizing (from a close point of view) how densely or sparsely you can plant your produce.

Homestead garden, vegetable garden, gardening, eat local, grow your own

4. Succession Planting

One of the best ways of getting the most calories out of your homestead garden is by practicing crop rotation in the form of succession planting. This is an excellent approach to making sure that at no given time – all year round – your garden lies idle. Again, replanting quickly (with a different crop ) as soon as you harvest is a guaranteed way of ensuring a continuous crop cover all-year-round.

Additional Resource: Back to Eden Gardening Method

The Bottom Line

Besides boosting the number of calories per square foot obtained in a given patch of land, interspersing different crops at different times of the year is one of the major principles of intensive farming that promotes sustainability.

Furthermore, it is also evident that mixing plants of different heights, root depths and growth rates is a convenient way of packing more crops in a given small space without bordering on over-exploitation.

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Gardening With Kids, Why It’s Important

Gardening with kids has so many benefits. Everything from teaching them to eat better to helping them be more independent. 

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What’s the big deal about growing your own food?  Our food supply in the United States is increasingly becoming unhealthier.  Fast food and convenience foods are so processed and loaded with synthetic chemicals that groceries are more like a science experiment than a meal.  We can shop for whole foods like meat, dairy, and produce for a healthier diet, right?  With the increasing use of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides even our fresh foods are becoming more polluted than ever before.

My name is Christina and I run Little Sprouts Learning Garden, a home daycare in Oklahoma.  The more I learn about our food supply, the more careful I want to be about what I feed my daycare kids and my family.  In small-town Oklahoma, organic food is hard to find, although it is more available than ever before.  How can I KNOW what I’m feeding my kids is as synthetic chemical free as possible?  By growing it myself.

Kids are 80% more likely to try foods that they helped grow, harvest, and prepare.  The best way to encourage them to try a variety of healthy produce is by helping them grow it and teaching them to prepare it themselves.  For the first 16 years of daycare, I tried to grow food with my kids.  We had smothering weeds, inadequate light, poor soil, bug attacks, bad seeds, and innumerable big mistakes.  But three years ago I got a call from my friend Claudia.  She had gotten a flyer in the mail about a class about gardening with our daycare kids.  She asked me if I wanted to go with her and I emphatically said YES!  She signed us up and we learned the basics of gardening with kids.

gardening with kids

Doug Walton was the teacher of the “gardening 101” portion of our class.  The information he shared was life-changing.  He went over every part of basic gardening.  One thing I learned in the class is plants do not grow well in clay soil.  The clay holds too much water and suffocates the roots of the plants.  The soil in my yard has so much clay you can dig a shovel full of it and begin to sculpt.  So the answer for us it was raised beds.  The class provided one 3×10 raised bed for each daycare facility.  When we got ours, we got to grow and finally found some successes.

One of my daycare parents built us a second raised bed and taught us how he built the simple frame.  The second year, we built four more and added some other containers.  The third year we talked to the owner of the field next to our house and he said we could grow whatever we wanted in it.

We were no longer bound by limited space, so we set out to expand.  We wanted to keep the expansion small enough that we could still manage it.  We did some research and drew up some plans and ended up with a 20 x 80 area that we planned to use.  We needed a fence, beds, soil, seeds, plants, and some type of weed barrier.

We went door to door in our town to local businesses and people asking them to help us build this dream for the kids.  People donated used chain link fencing, old privacy fence, landscape timbers and other used wood, seeds, money, advice, and labor.  We built the outer fence and then began building raised beds from the privacy fence pieces.  Next, we bought cedar planks to build the remaining beds.  Then we got a load of garden soil and filled all the beds.  The daycare families were instrumental in getting all of the materials in place.

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Once we had most of the beds filled (several still remain empty as we ran out of funding, time, and energy), we let the kids plant a variety of seeds and plants that we had grown inside earlier in the season.

What have my Little Sprouts learned from this experience?

They are trying and enjoying a much wider variety of fresh produce than they were even at the beginning of this summer.  When introducing a new food, I let them decide when they want to try it and if I like it, I let them know.  I never pressure them to try anything.  I just let nature take its course.  Lots of healthy fresh foods are being eaten here that just a few years ago I would never have imagined kids even trying much less begging for.

They have also learned to prepare dishes they can recreate or ask for at home, which is teaching their families to like healthier foods.  I even have some older kids creating recipes of their own with our homegrown produce.

I have children as young as 1 that can plant a seed or seedling properly all on their own with just a few words of guidance from me.  I use their knuckles to tell them how many knuckles deep the seeds need to be.  I show the youngest ones, and after that, they can do it.  With this knowledge, we have the chance to save the beautiful art of gardening from dying with an older generation.  There are fewer and fewer people that have the knowledge to produce food.  Our future needs that knowledge.

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They are learning about life cycles, metamorphosis, germination, botany, entomology, pollinators, caring for the earth, and so many things they could never be listed.  This is knowledge this world needs!

The garden brings knowledge, closeness to nature, health, exercise, fresh air, and many other things.  It’s a place where the world is at peace and makes sense.  Some of my children have remarked that working in the garden is more fun than video games, and it keeps them out of trouble, is cool, yummy, fun, and smells good.  These are just a small example of the benefits we receive from this magical place we call the garden.

My hope is sharing our garden with others will plant a seed in them.  If you have the knowledge to grow your food, do it and teach it.  If you don’t, seek it out and learn it.  Gardening can change the world.  It begins with a little sprout and it grows and grows….  Grow something today!

For more on Little Sprouts Learning Garden please visit our website or Facebook page.