Simpler Living

June 13, 2010

Gardening / Wide-Row Planting - My New Favorite Gardening Technique


Last year I had really bad output from my garden, as well as the year before that, with the small exception of some tomatoes that grew well.  This year, the garden is much more successful.  I attribute that to three factors:

  1. I started gardening much earlier this year.  I started growing things from seed in my garage in February, and planted mid-March.
  2. I used raised beds for several of my plots.  This keeps the weeds out, and keeps the plants from drowning in our sometimes torrential rains.
  3. I used wide-row planting.

What is wide-row planting?  Another, slightly more descriptive name for it could be "massively overplanted garden beds".  This year, I threw out most recommendations for plant and row spacing, and just flooded the garden beds with seeds.

The results have been phenomenal:

  1. Grow more in less space
  2. Don't have to stake pea plants
  3. Less bother with weeding

Less maintenance - more food!

Here's my wide-row planted pea plants:


You might be saying, "but you do have stakes in there!"  That's true, only because I got scared at the last moment and said, "what if they all fall over!?!?  However, let me assure you, that the peas prefer to hang onto each other than the stakes - almost no pea plant is attached!  My pole beans are another story - they like the stakes, though I am curious how well they would do without them. 

In any case, these peas required no staking whatsoever - they just attach to each other and hold themselves up.  And they are producing tons of peas.  I actually think that I under-seeded it, as there are several spots where I didn't get a pea plant, and feel that the space is under-used.

Here is my massively overseeded lettuce:


I didn't overseed my collards, but I think I should have.

Here are my overseeded beans.  On the left I have pole beans and on the right I have bush beans:


Next year I'm just doing bush beans, and leaving the stakes in the garage.  The pole beans haven't produced anything, while the bush beans were wildly productive.

And then, here are two more beds:


The bed on the right has peppers.  It is overseed but not massively so.  I'll have to correct that next year :)  The bed on the left is fairly well overseeded.  It is a 3'x3' bed, and has 6 tomato plants and 3 cucumber plants.  All of which are doing very well (I already got to make pickles from these guys, and the tomatoes are just about ripe).

I also overplanted my radishes, but I've already discussed those.

To get an idea about just how many seeds I planted, for the peas I used a single Burpee 4oz Value Pack for both beds (each 3'x3'), and for the beans I used one value pack for each bed.  I'll probably do two packs for the peas next year, or at least spread them out better.  From looking online, a 4oz packet of seeds will probably have about 300-400 seeds.

Anyway, why waste garden space?  Sprinkle your seeds liberally.  Using 3' rows with a decent walkway between rows will allow you to reach in anywhere you need, and give your plants plenty of companions while they grow.  Consider wide-row planting (i.e. massive overseeding) for your garden next year!

June 11, 2010

Gardening / Being Nice to the Bunnies


Everyone I know who has the garden fences it off to keep the animals out.  That seems a little unneighborly to me.  Certainly, if some critters are decimating your garden, you should take some action.  But, so what if you have to make do without 10% of your garden?  Is it really worth the extra trouble?  And, perhaps, is nature doing something that you don't realize?

I've never spent too much time worrying about pests.  The neighborhood bunnies, last year, had their way with our tomatoes, so much so that I had to pick them while they were still green in order to get anything to eat.

However, a wonderful thing happened.  Because the bunnies had eaten so many tomatoes, they had also spread around hundreds of tomato seeds!  So, this year, all over my yard, tomato plants are springing up!  Now, a lot of these are weeds - they are growing in a spot being used for some other purpose.  But I'm going to let a lot of them go, and be thankful for the bunnies who ate last years tomatoes, but whose appetite actually multiplied my abundance of tomato plants this year.

This year, I've expanded my garden quite a bit, and added collards.  Well, so far, the bunnies have left everything else alone - even the lettuce - and focused on the collards.  I let them have them - if they take one crop and leave the others, why not live in peace?  And, I found in the last few days that the collards are now growing  strong.  The bunnies knew how to eat the collards so that they kept growing well!

So, the bunnies, rather than being a pest, are actually helping my gardening efforts.  Perhaps we would be wiser if, instead of trying to find ways to cage our plants away from the bunnies, we thought of ways to channel the bunny-power into spreading our seeds where we want them to.  Maybe we should teach ourselves to live with nature, not against it.

June 08, 2010

Gardening / The Amazing Radish


This year, I decided to try growing radishes.  Why, you ask?  Because, as a computer programmer, I like things to happen instantly.  Unfortunately, gardens don't grow instantly.  However, radishes grow in 30 days, which, in gardening terms, is a blink of an eye.

So I decided to grow a garden bed of radishes.  Therefore, I decided to do some radish research, and found out several amazing things about radishes.  The first thing I learned was that you can eat every part of every radish in every stage of life!  You can eat the root, you can eat the seedlings, you can eat the leaves, you can eat the flowers, and you can eat the seed pods.  Not only that, you can use the remains of the plant as food for other plants.

Flowering Radishes
(Flowering Radishes)

So, here's what I did, and so far it's worked out really well:

  1. I overplanted my bed - way overplanted
  2. I thinned out the extra seedlings into a plastic dish (leaving plants about 2 inches apart), and used the seedlings as sandwich sprouts
  3. I then harvested 3/4 of my radishes at harvest time, and kept both the leaves and the roots
  4. I used the radish roots in salads and stir-frying, and I used the leaves in soups.  I'll post my recipe later, but it's really easy.  You could probably also use the leaves in a stir-fry, but wouldn't want to eat them raw.
  5. I let the rest of my radishes go to seed.  However, I found out that radish plants get really, really tall - about 4 feet tall.  I added some supports, but even then most of them fell over.
  6. I plucked the bean-looking pods from the radish plant, and - wow! - they had the texture of a green bean and the taste of a radish.  You can use them just about anywhere, and the radishes were absolutely loaded with these things.  I would guess that each plant had about 30 seed pods on them.  And, while it doesn't have quite as much taste, the root is still edible.
  7. I planted the radishes about March 16, and it's now June 8th, so it was about 84 days. 

Radish Seed Pods
(Radish Seed Pods)

I think next year what I will do is, rather that just keeping the back row to go to seed, I'll just thin the radishes at the root stage from being a few inches apart to being a few feet apart. 

But, that's not all.  It turns out that radishes have one more trick up their sleeves.  Because they have such a long root, they can actually pull nutrients from way down underground to the surface.  So, you can use radishes as a "green manure".  Plant them about 2-3 weeks before the first frost, and let the winter freeze kill them.  They will bring nutrition from the sun and from below the soil to the top of the soil, then the winter freeze will kill them off, and they will nourish your soil over winter.  

They actually have specialized radishes for this (fodder radishes), but really, for the small home gardener, any kind can be used.  I imagine that the deep radish root will also be useful in breaking up clay soils.


June 08, 2010

Recipes / Simplifying Sandwiches and Salads


What can be simpler than a sandwich or salad?  Isn't a salad itself the essence of simple living?

Kind of.  The lettuce you can cut right from your garden.  The onions you can pull out of your garden (though mine didn't grow this year).  But there's one thing that doesn't grow in your garden - salad dressing.

I have to admit, I'm a sauce kind of guy.  Sandwiches and hamburgers are usually dripping with mustard and ketchup (and sometimes mayo) and salads are usually drenched with dressing.

But then a fascinating thing happened - a few friends of mine started eating salads without dressing.  For me, this was a shocking idea.  Salad without dressing?  Absurd!  But then I started thinking about it.  What parts of a salad are simple and what parts are not.  Well, the dressing isn't.  It's also the worst part for you, and the part that is the greatest distance from the garden.

But here's the deal - I can't do dry lettuce.  I just can't.  So I had to find a simpler way.

And then it dawned on me (you all are probably smart enough to figure it out - I'm a city boy, and these things take some thinking for me).


Strawberries are one of the closest things that nature has to a sauce.  They are juicy and sweet, and most importantly, liquidy.  So, I tried to make a dry salad with only lettuce, onion, and sliced strawberries.  And you know what?  It worked!  I had to use several strawberries, but, as long as I got a slice or two with each bite, the salad tasted pretty good!

If you were too desperate for a sauce, you could probably go a little further and actually crush the strawberries into a sauce, but I found that just having them there, sliced, was sufficient.

So there you have it - lettuce, onions, and strawberries - a royal, and simple, meal.  Little or no preparation, just pulling things out of the garden and into a bowl.

This same concept also works for sandwiches.  For sandwiches, I also like using avocados the same way I use strawberries.  They are themselves a sauce.  In fact, just a little rough handling of avocados is basically all it takes to make guacamole.  

And who doesn't like a guacamole sandwich?

Tasty... and simple.

June 08, 2010

Recipes / Super-simple pickle recipe


I don't like cucumbers, but they are very easy to grow.  However, I do like pickles, but a lot of people made pickling sound hard.  However, it's super-easy and super-quick with the right recipe.  This is a modification of this recipe.

I got two small cucumbers from the garden.  They were probably half-sized.  I only picked them because I was impatient to wait for the rest of them.  I then sliced them thinly.  I also sliced a half of a small onion.  I put these things in a small jar.

I then took 1/2 cup of vinegar and mixed it with 1/2 cup of sugar, and added just a little bit of salt, mustard seed, ground turmeric, ground cloves, and dill.  I then boiled it until the sugar disappeared.

Once the sugar was dissolved, I just poured my stuff over my cucumbers, closed the lid to the jar, and stuck it in the refrigerator.

24 hours later...pickles!

I wonder, however, if all of the spices are needed.  I think next time I'm going to go super-simple and see what it tastes like with just vinegar, sugar, and salt.

June 07, 2010

General / Welcome to the Blog


This blog is the log of an ongoing personal experiment - to see about living a simpler life in the suburbs.  By simple I don't necessarily mean easy, at least according to the modern definition.  By simple, I mean some combination of the following:

  • A shorter distance between needs and production
  • Less B.S. in my day 
  • Living *with* God's creation rather than against it
  • Living in deep community with others
  • Appreciating the process as much as the results
  • Being able to live without modern advances
  • Being able to unplug from the constant daily electronic whirring machine without it or you falling apart
In short, living sacramentally.  Being thankful to God and to others for everything we have, we eat, and we do, and doing everything in a meaningful way that also enhances community.  It doesn't mean eschewing all things modern - I still make my money as a computer programmer - but it does mean ordering your life so that you could make it without them.

The first and most obvious thing to do is to start a garden - both to eat from and to learn with.  So most of my first posts will be about gardening and making stuff with my garden.

And, a lot of this is just fun - I like to experiment and make stuff.  It comes from programming computers where I never have really *made* anything at the end of the day, so this gives me the chance to be a part of the real world of making stuff, and experimenting with making stuff.

I also like to be minimalistic.  I like to experiment with recipes and see if I can shave off ingredients and still get a decent result.  Can I get something tasty with just two or three ingredients?  Or with easier-to-find ingredients?  Or something that just grows straight out of the ground?

In the long run, I expect that this style of living will decrease my annual costs.  However, depending on what you do, it may require some capital expenses.

In any case, I hope you enjoy my blog, and enjoying with me my experiments and learning in this.

Also, I'll probably use this space as my personal blog, too, since that's part of community as well.