I live in the country and have a very large area fenced off from my curious and always hungry for anything green, goats. I grow way more than I really need but I have reasons for that and I will reveal those reasons as we go. Generally we get the garden disc'd as soon as the ground is dry enough and workable after the frost season. We have a rainy season usually in late spring that makes the ground unworkable till sometimes late May or even June.
I have goats and llamas so I use their droppings fondly known as "goat berries and llama beans" as fertilizer. The llama beans are easy as llamas tend to make a pile of their droppings making it quite simple to shovel the dry beans into a wheel barrow or bucket. Llama beans also are a natural timed release product and will break down slowly allowing for a constant release of nutrients into the soil.
Goat berries are a little tougher as goats tend to take in food at one end and release it similtaneously at the other as they walk along in their grazing or search for food. But since we pen ours up at night to protect them from preditors it's pretty easy once things dry out to rake up the straw mulch (that has been broken down quite small by sharp hooves) and goat berries for use as a very nice mulch/manuer combination.
Our once poor growing medium of red, rocky dirt has changed to a rich and fertile garden area. I would suggest if you have an area in which you can use year after year that you seek some manuer from a llama farm or goat farm which many will give you free of charge if you come and shovel it yourself. I do not suggest using non sterile steer manuer bought in bags from your local big box store. Often, if not sterile you will find all kinds of plants and weeds popping up in your garden from the non digested material the steers ate. I once had a friend that bought it for his lawn and a few weeks later had literally hundreds of tomato plants popping up. The steers had been eating the refuse from a local cannery brought in by the truckload as a livestock food. It was tomato peels, stems, and seeds.
If you don't have space for a garden consider either pots or containers or your exsisting flower beds or even a raised bed for square foot gardening. My cousin has summer squash growing between her begonias and tomatoes growing along her fence for example. I grow some grape tomatoes in a pot on the front porch for the grandkids to pick. Any food you can grow is that much that you don't have to buy!
Ok so we disc'd our garden area, now what to plant? What do you eat? What do you buy fresh from the store or produce market? What zone do you live in? Long growing season or short? We live in a long growing season so we can grow most of what we eat however if you live in Alaska where you have a short growing season you probably aren't going to try and grow pineapple or late season corn. But I would bet that you could grow bumper crops of beans of all kinds, greens, maybe some early tomatoes if you start the seed early inside the house. In some areas you may have to create a crop cover from pvc hoops and plastic sheeting to protect the tender plants from frost or too much rain. Plant only what you eat unless you have room for an experimental area like us. What good does it do to plant 25 squash plants if you are the only one in the house that likes it? I take my leftover seeds and vacume pack them and store them in an old coffee can with a tight lid. I can use them next year or replant later in the season.
I plant about 80% of my garden in things we eat most of the time and the other 20% of the garden in experimental crops for fun or just to see if it will grow and if it does, do we like it? This year in my experimental area I am growing 4 Asian greens, 4 types of greenbeans that are different from my usual greenbeans, two new types of winter squash, 5 new melon types and a bitter melon. I also planted two types of potatoes this year. If they grow and we like them they will become a part of my regular garden next year, if they don't grow or we don't like them they are marked off the list.
We eat a lot of greens in fact the first thing I am craving at winter's end is usually chard or spinach. Which is good because they grow first and usually in the cooler weather. We also eat a lot of squash (summer and winter) tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, okra, corn and salads. Therefore I plant those things and plant a lot. I have learned how to keep my chard growing all summer without reseeding by only cutting off the outer leaves as they mature. I like to have a lot of extra to can, dehydrate and freeze. If possible I like to share my garden with friends too so extra is always appreciated by friends with large families on low incomes or our elderly that can't get out there and do it anymore.
I always plant some cut flowers and ornamental sunflowers in my garden to keep the bees coming back to pollinate my vegetables. Plus I love to have flowers on my table or to give away, it just makes gardening nicer to enjoy the color and beauty of a few flowers in the garden.
I like to do several preparations with each vegetable such as okra, I slice it and dry it, I dry it and grind it into powder to add to soups and stews, I pickle it spicy, I vacume pack it and freeze it, and last I can it with tomatoes. I try to get as much variety as possible out of it so we don't get tired of it. Also when its dehydrated and vacume packed or put in a sealable bucket with a few oxygen absorbers did you know it will last for literally 20 years! Maybe you don't need it to last that long but having some put away like that is sure to be there when you need it even 5 years from now.
Ok so where do I put all that stored food? I store a lot in 2-3 gallon buckets that will stack up. I reuse large jars for powdered items or minced dried items like bell peppers, hot peppers, mushrooms etc. I rotate my stores so I eat from my stores, I don't keep them and not touch them, I just add as I use. Some people are really good at storing in a way you never know they have it. I have seen buckets stacked and a plywood circle placed on top with a round table cloth and its being used as a side table or night stand. Some people are really good at under the bed storage. Others have large basement or attic storage and some have storage in small sheds. Anyplace will work as long as the temperature changes are not severe as they will effect home canned goods.
This year I watched the National weather and news with a lot of interest. I realized early on that there was going to be a drought and planned for it. As I expected the corn, tomato and soy crops in most of the US has or is failing! Because of that I am growing 4 kinds of corn but I will also buy twice as much as I usually do in the form of fresh corn ears at our local produce market. I will freeze and dehydrate as much as I can so it will last us till next years harvest season. I will save money because next winter and spring the prices of corn and corn by-products will probably double. Think about how many products are made with corn or corn syrup etc. We are talking anything from pancake syrup to candy bars to chicken! ( I am going to address this more in an upcoming blog.)
I believe it's important to stock up for a lot of reasons other than just drought or failed crops. My job is to take care of my family and that means making sure we are prepared for all possible issues. The loss of a job or an adult child (sometimes with a family of their own) has to move back home, paychecks get lost in the mail, a family member needs help due to marital issues or health. Having a full pantry with extras stored for a rainy day can save you from a lot of anguish over where your next meal is coming from. (or how your adult kids will eat and feed your grandchildren)
Recently a friend of ours lost power for almost 2 weeks due to fires in the area. No power meant no water as they are on a well. They lost the food in the freezer as well as had to go stay with family during the power outage. Victims of hurricane Katrina told horror stories about being without food or water and stranded in their homes due to flooding. These things reinforce that we all need to be prepared and we are going to talk about how to do it in upcoming blogs.
One thing you can do now is (it's not too late) put in garden and if you don't have a place to do it you certainly can visit your farmers markets or produce stands and buy what is currently being harvested and is a good buy! Get a Ball canning book and learn to make jams, jellies, learn to can and freeze and even dehydrate. Every bit of money you save by doing it yourself is money to be used for other things your family needs. It is being a good steward for your family.
My garden area