Growing food in tough economic times

A friend of mine sent this to a local (San Francisco Bay area) mailing list recently, and has given permission for it to be reposted here. Her suggestions on prioritizing what to grow given limited space especially caught my eye (and I am now mumbling about growing strawberries in hanging pots, to elfin’s bafflement — Ambar)

Nadja, The Yakima Kid, writes:

I’ve been raising as much of our own food as I can since I quit working some years ago; vertigo and monitors don’t play well with each other. I have been seeing a lot on the various websites about people starting vegetable gardens to save money during the recession, so I figured I’d post here about our experiences. Also, if anyone wants to start a garden, I’m willing and able to assist you in finding choices that will help whether you have a house with a yard or an apartment deck.

Raised bed gardening is generally the most efficient – but it is important when gardening to use water wisely. A vegetable garden will consume far less water than a lawn. Other things to consider are dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees, berries of all sorts, and especially primocane raspberries and blackberries. Primocane berries produce on first year canes and will also give a second crop on the lower portion of the cane the following year instead of one having to wait for the second year for a crop; what I do to reduce disease and insect carryovers is I simply harvest the first year crop and cut all the canes to the ground in the fall after bearing. The soil in much of this area is a bit too sweet (alkaline), so some crops, like blueberries, don’t grow well without heavy amendments or specialized raised beds.

Using intensive techniques and summer pruning, we have two semi-dwarf apples, six dwarf citrus, a semi-dwarf nectarine and a semi-dwarf peach, a dwarf nectarine and a dwarf peach, a row of columnar apples, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and a number of raised vegetable beds. We raise strawberries in hanging planters because otherwise the slugs destroy them; I prefer large Bloommasters and have them hooked up to drip irrigation which gives them about five minutes a day in mid summer which is very efficient, given that the large Bloommaster holds nearly two dozen plants; it is advertised to hold close to three dozen, but that intensity actually lowers production per planter. I raise potatoes in bags or buckets. Bloommasters are expensive, but with strawberries will pay for themselves within three years. They double as decorative hanging planters and can replace porch ornamental hanging planters with productive food.

It’s also a good idea to plant a few landscape plants to attract hummingbirds and other birds; hummingbirds not only sip nectar; but they are insect Hoovers. We grow the wild Pacific filberts primarily for the birds and animals but a little bit for ourselves. There are landscape plants that are low water use that also provide people food; one example is Oregon grape which provides fruits for pies, jellies, and jams. Be careful which plants you select; California Bay is a major host to Sudden Oak Death, and currants are involved in the life cycle of a blister rust.

Tomatoes can be grown in those cheap five gallon nursery containers which keeps them out of slug range. You can get some of the parthenogenic greenhouse varieties, put them in a room with daylight fluorescent lighting, and have year round production; we keep ours in the family room which gets southwest light and is often occupied so the lights are on most evenings. We replaced our ornamental houseplants with tomatoes and so we now get food for the inputs that used to go simply to looking pretty.

When choosing plants for the garden, grow the more expensive products as your first priority. We raise fruit instead of shell beans because split peas, and pinto beans are comparatively inexpensive while raspberries and strawberries are extremely expensive and cantaloupe isn’t cheap. Check seeds and plants for climate adaptations; some varieties that do poorly in this area are sold anyway because they are popular products; for example, Red Delicious apple really doesn’t like it down by the Bay but some places sell it because of customer demand.

Indian Runner ducks can reproduce without a pond and are also reasonable egg layers. They seem to enjoy eating slugs; but from time to time take an interest in berries and fruits, so you have to watch them. Chickens are very good and hens will lay whether or not there is a rooster in the area. Leghorns will kick out an average of an egg per day. Rabbits can be grazed in the yard and fed kitchen scraps as well; they’ll need protection from raccoons and cats at night just like poultry.

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