Letter From a Reader: What 24 Years of Gardening Has Taught Me

by Erich

Editor’s Note: In order to provide some inspiration and help others in their prepping journey, I like to include some personal experiences from my readers showing off some of their experiences and lessons-learned. Here’s the latest from Laurey in Vermont (one of my favorite states). If you have any experiences you’d like to share, feel free to send me an email via the contact form.

Hi everyone! My name is Laurey from simplyfarminvermont.com.

I have been gardening for over 24 years (that makes me feel old to say!!) However, with age comes experience, and experience brings wisdom!! Before I lived in the valleys of Addison County and started gardening, I lived in the mountains. On a logging road actually. And on the mountain is where I started learning about foraging. Slowly at first, and with just one or two edibles.

Blackberries were in abundance on logging trails, and as a child I loved going out and picking berries to add to my breakfast cereal and make pies with. That led to an interest in finding out what else was around me that I could eat.

Between gardening in the valley and the foraging in the mountains, I have had several years to learn about what is growing around me. I still love to garden, but I am a lot smarter about it now. And I have added chickens to my list of available foods as well.

Right now, I am living on a farm in the valley. I have four raised beds intensively planted with foods that do not grow wild around me. I considered the wild edibles when I decided what to plant in my garden, and determined what I could harvest from foraging instead of spending money, time, and space on planting a relative plant in the garden and caring for it.

I do not plant in rows, but rather blocks. This utilizes a lot of space that would otherwise be wasted. It is based somewhat on the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

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The basic principal is to divide your beds into square feet, then from the packets of seeds determine what the final seed spacing is for each plant.

Instead of wasting seeds planting a bunch and then weeding them out later, you measure off the final spacing for each square foot and plant the seeds.

Example: there is 144 inches in each square foot. Radishes have a final spacing of one inch. So you can plant 144 seeds in one square foot. Lettuce has a final spacing of 12”-18”. I usually go with the 12” because I have good air circulation where my gardens are. So there would be one head of lettuce per square foot.

Since I do so much preserving, and need substantial amounts of fresh to eat and through the year, I usually plant one type of vegetable per 4′ bed. I didn’t have that option this year, but what I would have liked to do was one 4′ bed for garlic, one 4′ bed for onions, one 4′ bed for tomatoes, one 4′ bed for green beans, and so on.

So far in the garden I have butternut squash, cantaloupe, and buttercup squashes that are in full bloom and starting to set fruit. The currants that have been on the farm for years have been picked and jellied or dried, as has the rhubarb. My potatoes are growing like crazy in the lower field, and my tomatoes are in flower and setting fruit. The green beans have all but gone by, thanks to the help of a very cute chipmunk that took them off at the knee, so to speak. My kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, onions, and brussel sprouts are growing great.

I usually grow spinach in the garden, but had noticed lambs quarters grow wild. For those who don’t know, lambs quarters are a member of the spinach family. I saw no reason to spend money on seeds, and spend my time planting and caring for them, when I had free volunteers growing all around me. Three and a half ounces (weight) of lambs quarters have 43 calories, 7 from fat, no saturated fat or trans fat, no cholesterol, 43mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrates, 4g dietary fiber, and 4 g protein, 232 percent of vitamin A, 8 percent vitamin C, 31 percent calcium, and 7 percent iron. This is compared to Spinach’s 23 calories, 3 from fat, 0 saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, 79mg sodium, 4g carbohydrate, 2g dietary fiber, 0 sugar, 3g protein, 188 percent vitamin A, 3 percent vitamin C, 10 percent calcium, and 15 percent iron. For no expense, not time commitment, and no maintenance cost, I chose the lambs quarters.

Also growing around me is wild spearmint, catnip, chamomile, ramps (wild onions), stinging nettles, burdock, carrots, parsnips, blackberries, blueberries, asparagus, dandelions, fiddlehead ferns, horseradish, red sumac, St. John’s Wort, plantain, oats, and clover.

I have dehydrated an abundance of all the above and more, and made some great dandelion wine for trading and bartering! I am currently working on strawberry rhubarb wine.

I have also added 42 chicks to my assortment of fresh foods.

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The ones I bought are all layers, but there are several I chose specifically because they are of a size to make good dinners if they don’t make good layers.

I bought them as day old chicks in May, and they are now “teenagers”. I have turned them all out to forage for themselves, and they are growing fantastic.

I also had a surprise addition: one of my layers set on a nest and hatched out a baby 🙂 too cute! Love watching them. The down side of where I live is the local fox, who got my last remaining rooster the day momma hatched out mini. I am glad to see I have at least one budding rooster in the new flock, and I’m hoping there are two more, but it is too soon to tell.

I would like to have my chickens do their replacement work themselves; I don’t have to buy replacements, and I don’t have to buy medicated food for babies. The mothers take care of everything. If I get too many extras, there is always the canning jars and dehydrator to solve the problem.

Either that or barter them off.

Although I have not raised them for food yet, rabbits are another fantastic back yard meat crop. Yes, I know, they are super cute! But they are also a very lean and prolific source of meat.

I had a friend who used to raise Rex’s for food, and it was fantastic. That and Rex rabbits give you great pelts! Bartering supply!

Like most people reading this, I am big into providing my own food. I garden, forage, grow, dehydrate, can, and occasionally freeze everything for year round use. I will say I am a little down on freezing, since my freezer broke down the end of the season last year and it took me three solid days to can up everything in the freezer.

I am much happier with my own homemade ready-to-eat soups, jams, pickles, and everything else sitting on a shelf at this point. And they are very easy to make. I usually just pull together seven canning jars, take what ever meat I have on hand, some fresh or dried vegetables, rice, beans, or whatever else I have on hand, and spices ( or a bullion cube) and put them in each jar. Add boiling water to half inch from the top, and put it through the pressure canner.

In sixty to ninety minutes I have seven pints or quarts of home made soup, ready for lunch, power outages, SHTF situations, or for giving to a sick neighbor. With three pressure canners, I can make 21 pints or quarts at a time.

I also use wild plants when possible to make my own salves, oils, and vinegars, and intend in the next few months to make soap. They are great for raising extra money for purchasing homesteading supplies, or for saving money by giving as gifts. I currently have a healing salve I am working on, one I have used for years for everything from diaper rash to sun burn, bug bites to cold sores. My daughter swears by the stuff! I’ll include the recipe with pictures in my posts on my web site, along with a download link for a document with pictures, nutritional information, where to find, how to harvest and how to cook other wild edibles. I will have it available in the next week or two.

Well, I guess that’s it for now!! I hope this gives everyone a place to start, or at least something to think about. Stay well!

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