Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their home-building adventure unfolds.
Tyler and I have kept a garden on a nice plot gifted to us by a farmer that I used to work for, and the plot was about 2 miles from our old house on nice river bottom soil. Now that we’ve moved outside of town and farther from that plot, we’ve decided to give that land back to the farmer and his son, and we’re going to do what we can on our own property. We wrote in the last post about starting our garden by raising American Guinea Hogs
Garlic is best planted in fall — we always try to plant it by Halloween as part of our vampire-protection plan — and overwintered under thick mulch. We’ve saved and planted our softneck, purple-tinged garlic for several years now, and we were loathe to lose this well-adapted landrace variety that had been performing exceptionally well and producing steady, reliable harvests of nice-sized, pungent bulbs. We didn’t want to keep driving to the old garden plot solely to tend the garlic, although we would have if necessary — I wouldn’t know what to do if I had to start buying garlic at the store! A homesteader-gardener’s nightmare!
If we were to plant the garlic where the garden is going to be, we’d have to break up pasture— mostly brome grass — fertilize, and work around the mobile pig pen and run. A good friend recommended planting the garlic where the construction process had already opened up the soil, and where we were hoping to keep herbs and flowers (as opposed to prairie grasses, as with most of the property). Instead of planting a showy pollinator flower garden, we opted to fill in the space in our “front yard” with two beds of garlic and, on a whim, a bed of winter-hardy arugula, kale and spinach. Even if the greens don’t come up in time to enjoy in winter, they’ll be ready to cut super-early in spring. We’ll surround the greens with straw and cover them with salvaged windows to help hold the warmth while still allowing sunshine to reach the plants.
In about two hours, I’d used a broadfork to loosen three small beds’ worth of soil, then tackled breaking up the clumps and mixing in organic compost with a hoe to make a nice, fertile seedbed. I broke the best garlic bulbs from last year into cloves, and planted the fattest cloves about an inch or so deep in two of the beds, and then I covered the bulbs with soil and a thick layer of straw. In the third bed, I created shallow furrows with the edge of the hoe, then “drizzled” arugula, kale and spinach seed into the furrows. I allowed each crop to have about a third of the bed. Because the beds are right in front of the entrance to the house, we opted to spread nice cedar mulch around the beds to keep the area looking tidy and smelling wonderful (so wonderful). Lastly, we set up the garden guards: our metal donkey and our smiling gnome. (See the plot right after we planted in the photo above.)
We are still organizing and unpacking, and just generally settling and creating our “home” in our new house, but taking time to feed the pigs each day, plant garlic and care for baby greens is just as important for this space to be all that we want it to be. These small steps make all the less fun work worthwhile, and make us smile even when we’re working on the less exciting, nitty-gritty details of setting up a new house. We know readers of MOTHER EARTH NEWS will understand.
For more details on when to plant garlic and the best propagation methods, you’ll find all the allium advice you’ll need by reading How to Grow Great Garlic and All About Growing Garlic. For more advice on winter-hardy greens, read Barbara Damrosch’s variety recommendations in Winter Gardening Tips: Best Winter Crops and Cold-Hardy Varieties.
Photo of fall front yard garden-to-be by Tyler Gill.
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Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer by leaving a comment below.