Date: 	Sun, 14 Mar 1999 12:52:19 -0500 (EST)
From: Sharon Gordon <>
To: the Positive Futures list <>
Subject: [pf] 200 miles & ideas on growing your own complete diet {at: ; also: }
Obtaining food from within 200 miles sounds to some people as though it might be restricting what they can eat. If it feels too restrictive, try setting some intermediate goals. For instance choose a goal such as getting 50 percent of your food from within 200 miles. Then gradually increase the percentage. Most people will want to have a few things which are difficult to grow in most areas. Favorite foods that come to mind are cinnamon, coffee, tea, and chocolate.

Some people will want to grow as much of their food as possible. Others might want to join an established CSA. Others might want to get together with other people to hire a local farmer to grow their family's food.

If you want to grow most or all of your food, how can you do it?

Taking your growing climate into consideration, what crops will give you good nutrition? Which produce lots of food in a small area? Using a nutrition book or computer program, how much would you need of each food per day for complete nutrition? If you like as many things as possible to be fresh, you may want to design different gardens for different seasons to answer this question. In this process there are two ways of thinking for the approach to design. One is to design a plan based on your favorite foods. Another is to design a plan for the smallest amount of space needed to grow a basic healthy diet in your climate. The favorite foods aren't usually the most efficient for a particular area. Most people combine the approaches. However I would suggest that if you want to make a radical change in your diet, try buying it from the grocery store for a month and see if you like it enough to eat it consistently. It's easier to be succesful if you start a garden that is close to your preferred current diet and then change it over the seasons to be more efficient. It takes time to find and try new recipes for the new combinations of food to determine what you like.

The best way to get the most food in a given unit of land is to grow it biointensively. In this method the plants grow in beds with their leaves touching rather than in long rows. This shades out weeds and makes best use of compost-fertilizer and water. The difference in yields is quite amazing. For instance using the regular US row methods, you can get about 10 pounds out of 100 square feet of ground. With biointensive methods a beginner could expect 32 pounds out of the same area, and a more experienced person about 72 pounds. With about 7 years of developing the ground and your own skills, you could get around 108 pounds. As an experienced gardener, I can usually get the medium levels within the first year or two in a new garden. So far I have rarely lived at a place long enough to get the top yields across the board, though usually at least a few things will do that well.

There are two main ways to create a biointensive bed.. One is to double dig it and incorporate compost. Another is to raise it with a good soil mix. Both ways benefit from growing fertilizer crops to add to the soil. Both of these methods only require a shovel, preferably a D-handled shovel. So they are low in tool use needs.

Once you have figured out what you need to grow, calculate how much you need of each crop to meet your nutritional needs. Then plan when you need to start plants and transplant them so that they will be ready at an appropriate time. Also consider how your garden might fit into your overall yard plan. Look at some books on permaculture to consider as many aspects as possible for making your yard a healthy productive climate.

When choosing varieties, consider yield, taste, disease resistance, keeping qualities and whether the crop is ripe all at once or spread out over time. For instance, if you want some cucumbers for pickles and some for salads, you might plant one type that is ready in a short period of time for pickles and some that ripen over a long time period for eating fresh. In some cases, you may want to plant early, midseason, and late varieties of a crop to get this span of harvest. Cabbages work well with this strategy and some seed companies now sell a cabbage mix to help with this. In other cases, such as with radishes you can stagger the initial planting.

Consider also whether you would like to grow your own seeds rather than buying them all new each year. If so choose open pollinated rather than hybrid varieties. (You can, however, grow most hybrids out to a stable form of the hybrid if you would like to experiment for several years.) One advantage to saving your own seeds is that you develop a strain that is suited to your area. There are organizations devoted to saving and exchanging open pollinated heirloom seeds such as Seed Savers Exchange(SSE). SSE has been so successful that there are now more different op varities offered by SSE than by all the rest of the US seed companies combined.

Once you have the basic foods growing well, consider growing other things that you would like, perhaps your own grapes for vinegar or wine, plants for baskets or paper, aromatic wood for grilling, bamboo (contain it!) for trellises or furniture and seeds to press for oil. A small plot of medicinal herbs can meet many usual household needs. There are people working now to get the wheat yields up to 26 pounds for 100 square feet. At this rate a person could have a loaf of bread every week for six months from one growing bed. Freshly ground grain in fresh bread...and maybe some fresh oregano from your herb garden with flecks of sundried tomatoes and fresh garlic perfuming the bread...sounds good doesn't it?

In planning your garden time table, consider how much you want to have fresh and how much preserved in some way. In general the more you can have fresh, the more nutrients you get. Also it's less work and fewer resources are used. By having most food fresh, you also avoid those crunch times caused by needing to preserve a large harvest at once.

Season extenders such as cold frames are the most efficient. Green houses and row covers help too. Solar operated greenhouses or alpine houses use a little more in terms of resources, but can be used off the grid efficiently.

To preserve your harvest, solar drying is very efficient. Canning, freezing, and root cellars work well too. Have a back up plan if your freezer is completely dependant on electricity from the grid though.

In addition to the benefits to your health, your finances, and the environment from growing what you need, it's also great fun to go out into the garden and choose ripe foods and design a meal around them. Traditional favorites of salad, stir-fry, and soup can be made from whatever is available on a day. But try some different things as well. Fresh corn on the cob for breakfast is a delight. I much prefer an ear or two of corn to a bowl of cornflakes. You may make other similar discoveries.


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