Join me as I relate my successes-- and often epic failures-- in my quest for self-sustainability on two acres in Upstate New York-- while juggling a full-time job and young family. Stay tuned as I share the easiest, simplest, most efficient and economical ways to farm your own backyard!
In recently comparing our respective garden progress, my
friend Lisa told me she has four large gardens: three for their family and one
for the deer.
do you do?” she asked me. “Do you have a fence?”
no.” I waved the question away. “I
haven’t really had problems with deer. I think it’s because I live in the midst
of corn and alfalfa fields—they have much tastier things to munch on.”
my nonchalant and foolish statement was the kiss of death. The next morning, my
brassicas—my cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli—showed definite signs of
nibbling. Three entire plants were gone—ripped right out of the soil, roots and
not comfortable repeating in print my words following that revelation.
to spring into action. In a blast of brilliance, I found a spare two-by-two
board in the garage and used the circular saw to cut the end into a point. I
went upstairs into our family dress-up closet and got out a pair of my father’s
old veterinary coveralls. I stuffed the suit with rags and straw, and
remembered that I had kept the control top area of a pair of nylons, the legs
of which I had used to bag elderberries for winemaking. I knotted the legs, stuffed
it with straw, knotted the waist, and tied an old floppy gardening hat on the
top with craft twine. I pounded the stake into the ground right in the middle
of the brassicas, tied the dummy to it with spare clothesline, and tied the
nylon and hat head onto the stake and onto the dummy. Additionally, I found the
parts of a large wind chime that had been ruined in a storm, took of some of
the larger chime parts, and attached them to a stake in the far corner of the
garden. They don’t chime all the time, but make the occasional loud and
disconcerting clang that I hope will scare whatever fauna is considering
plundering my garden. As the light diminished and it became too dark to garden,
I wiped my hands on my filthy jeans and took a final survey of my
kingdom—hopefully, this would work.
haven’t seen any new nibbling in a week, though the scarecrow startles me
sometimes when I am alone working in the garden and catch him out of the corner
of my eye. I have named him Murray.
have, however, discovered a new problem: something (an insect) is eating my kohlrabi
seedlings as fast as they can sprout. I know that the conventional go-to
response is to spray the seedlings with an anti-pest chemical; however I really
feel like the whole purpose of personal farming is that one can feed one’s
family confidently and healthfully, without worrying about contamination from
industrial chemicals. I know that when I feed my baby son, I have fostered his
food from seed to harvest, and he is getting the very best.
being said, something must be done if that kohlrabi is to make it onto his
plate at all.
is one of the many instances in which I turn to my older, wiser, master
gardeners. My mother, for example, swears by spraying the plants with a
solution of Ivory Liquid dish soap and water. My step-grandmother, an avid
lifelong gardener, says that a crushed garlic and water solution has always
worked for her. Both seem to make sense, and I have tried both. Last year, I
sprayed the garlic solution on my beetle-bitten roses, and it seemed to work
somewhat (I still noticed some arthropod snacking, but not as much). My
application of the Ivory Liquid solution scorched one plant, but I also applied
it in the late morning on a hot day (not smart). This time, I tried something
Kohlrabi in trouble
my son became (a) mobile enough to follow me everywhere, (b) super-“helpful”
and interested in helping Mommy clean and (c) overly willing to put everything
in his mouth, I have switched from industrial cleaners to a simple white
vinegar, water, and lemon juice mix for daily surface cleaning. I simply took
this mixture in its spray bottle down to the garden and sprayed the seedlings.
Will this be effective? Stay tuned.
Another danger: Giant slugs. A quarter in the middle for scale.
do sometimes feel like the protagonist in that Stephenson short story “Leningen
Versus the Ants.” For those unfamiliar, the upshot is that an overly confident
white land baron buys a Brazilian plantation and pooh-poohs the natives’
warnings about the ants. When the ants come in killing swarms, he is sure he
can triumph easily. He tries all sorts of schemes, only to be bested by Mother
Nature, and ultimately barely escapes with his life. The takeaway: in our human
effort to control our natural environment, only so much is wise and possible.