Scaling up the garden

Our climate is mild enough that we can grow a lot of vegetables outside over the winter without much in the way of protection. But mere lack of single-digit temps doesn’t mean that we get enough sunshine in winter to actually allow plants to grow and for example put out new leaves; what’s there in mid-October is as much as you get. If your aim is to grow all your own vegetables, you have to make sure to plant what seems like an unreasonable quantity. For the average person (well, at least for me), 6 kale plants seems like an awful lot of kale – and it is, in April. But in December, you can eat them to the ground in a week or two, and then it’s store bought veggies for the rest of the winter. In the abundance of midsummer, it’s very hard to think ahead to the cold dark days where that kale plant will be precious, and make sure there’s a nice, rich spot for them all that won’t get too soggy in the rains.

This problem of scale goes for things like onions and potatoes – many (most) people have no idea how many onions or potatoes or garlic they actually eat in a year, and how much that is; yet if you want to grow your own, you need to think on that scale. And that means some awareness of how much you planted last year, so you can tell if you should plant the same next year, or if you need to plant more. And of course, even then, things change from year to year – our potato crop was low this year, my guess is that after replanting tubers for some years we have built up viruses. So new seed potatoes this spring (from Ronningers – organic heirlooms from a family business).
And we are already getting low in potatoes to eat – we’re having to eat All-Blue potatoes (which did very well) in the chicken noodle soup, and the potato pancakes, making some dishes look a little surreal (they really are blue – very funky with carrots). We’re also low on onions (I saw this coming in June, but the later planted onions did poorly – and interplanting with tomatoes didn’t work, the tomatoes ate the onions for breakfast). Fortunately, we do have what appears to be a vast amount of acorn and sweet dumpling squash (from just two hills!). We also have plenty of garlic. Oh, and the jerusalem artichokes, there’s no end of those . All we need, really, is the right recipes.

I’m not sure if assuring an even stream of vegetables, without the feast-or-famine, is even possible when gardening, or if someday I’ll have that kind of skill. Partly it may be accepting eating the less appealing foods when the good stuff is gone (like those tasteless tomatoes ripening in the pantry, “Longkeeper”, and the jerusalem artichokes). But thinking ahead, learning how much you eat, and planting it in spite of how much it looks, is a set of hurdles to overcome or skills to acquire in the process of taking control of your food supply.

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