If you have precisely two hands and one spine to assist in your gardening endeavors, life can get interesting. If the body attached to said hands and spine is not particularly large or buff, then it’s really time to recruit the good ol’ brain for the horticultural efforts.
This farticle (fart·i·cle: /färdək(ə)l/ noun A piece of writing included with others on a blog of precisely zero consequence.) addresses the problem of breaking up the sod in a new garden patch when you are:
a) living alone
b) small or in less than ideal physical condition
c) too piss poor to afford a rototiller
d) lacking any friends or neighbors who might lend you a hand (or a rototiller)
e) lousy at planning ahead
f) all of the above.
Lone Ranger had Tonto, but the newly-married pioneer farmer’s wife, like you and I, had nobody to help her. (If anything, she had a toddler or two winding about her feet. Yeah, there was a husband, but he was off building a house or plowing a field for wheat, or what have you. I’m not sexist, but history was. Whatcha gonna do?) So I take a page from her book, when it comes to planting the year’s subsistence garden.
Warning: This is not the most efficient way to do things. One person does not equal efficiency in the world of homesteading, so I suggest you either make peace with that here and now, or get yourself a wife/husband/partner/child/friend/grandfather/volunteer/horse.
The relevant sequence is as follows:
- Now, assume it’s spring (or whenever your local planting season is), and your garden bed is just not large enough for your liking. You need more space, but you didn’t have a chance to prepare a new bed last fall because you were too busy stacking and splitting firewood, which is REALLY not a job for a single person of your size/build/health/age/attention span.
Determine the area that’s to be the new planting bed. (Don’t make it too crazy big- there’s only one of you to feed, unless you’re growing fodder for livestock.)
- Get a trowel and make a bunch of holes in the sod, best as you can. Don’t put too much time or effort into it. Save your energy for the remaining zillion other chores that need to be done around planting season.
- Plant potatoes in holes.
- If you have any livestock bedding, rotted leaves or compost, spread this stuff over the potatoes as evenly as you can.
- Let the potatoes grow. You won’t be able to hill the potatoes like you would in normal soil, so you’ll end up with more green potatoes than you would otherwise. (See above warning note regarding efficiency- or the lack thereof.)
- In late summer (or whenever your local harvest season is), pick the potatoes. Your soil will be nicely broken up as a result.
- For additional goodness, spread more compost, mulch or bedding over the empty potato patch and let that stuff rot over the winter. Next spring, you’ll have a perfectly good garden patch there, ready for planting.
Other alternatives to potatoes are turnips, beets and pumpkins (which need to be planted in little hills of compost heaped over the sod), as per other accounts I read or heard. I prefer potatoes, because I’m unfortunately not a fan of beets (anything that pink should taste like berries, and therefore should not be in my stew) and turnips require a hacksaw to cut up for cooking. Besides, if you plant a good storage variety, you really can’t have too many potatoes. (My favorites for the Maritime climate are Kennebec and Yukon Gold, though I hear Russet also works fine. The photo above shows Fingerlings, best eaten fresh.)
The end math is as follows:
- Work: minimum
- Backache: minimum
- Headache: as usual- still need a place to cure the potatoes for storage, etc.
- Yield: moderate, though even the crappiest soil (ie. anything short of concrete) will give you enough potatoes to make it worth your while, especially given how little time and effort it takes to grow them.
Moral of the story:
Homesteading is best practiced as a team sport, but if it’s just you and your lone arse out in the sticks, you can still feed yourself.