plotting our stealth garden

Tony and I survived our ambulance runs and Test 4 of our EMT class yesterday and have a few days now to tinker up at our cabin on top of Palomar Mountain. Tony has taken on The Tercel, replacing the shocks and a few other things. I have spent all day planting a few seeds, researching how to save seeds, and watching videos about dandelions and comfrey.

I am very excited about our new plan to become “nomadic homesteaders”. Tony and I have been WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms volunteer workers) on nearly 20 farms all over the world. I spent the winter of 2008 in New Zealand where I was first introduced to organic farming and homesteading. Tony spent his own time in New Zealand as well, working as a WWOOFer and we have since worked together on farms in Central America, Nepal, and our own country. We are completely sold on Permaculture (a developing style of farming that goes “beyond organic” and uses a variety of ethics to create a “permanent agriculture” with many purposes, following the guidelines set forth by nature). We listen to a lot of podcasts by Paul Wheaton of permies.com and are saving our money to buy land as soon as possible to begin our own small farm. In many ways, we already practice homesteading skills by our ongoing fermentation projects, and cooking nearly everything from scratch. We dream and talk about the day when we will be able to begin growing our own food permaculture style but it wasn’t until recently that I thought about how I could start growing food right now. Perhaps I don’t need a plot of land or even a backyard to be able to grow my food. Urban homesteading and balcony container gardening is rapidly growing in numbers so there is a wealth of information on the internet about growing in small spaces. I had always assumed that since Tony and I don’t live anywhere more than 6 months, that we are often literally carrying everything we own while walking for months on end, and that we already miraculously smash our lives into his tiny Tercel, that we would be severely limited in our abilities to grow food and homestead until we had land of our own. But maybe not. Our experiment this year is to see exactly how much we can do to create a homestead with food growing and everything (OK, not animals yet) practically overnight after moving to a new place. We move in just about a month to Grand Teton NP, and all we know is that we will be housed in a cabin on a lake. We will not know what it looks like or what kind of space we have until we arrive there. But until then we are scheming and plotting ways in which we can go from nothing to a working mini homestead in a couple of days.

We face many challenges. The first of which is that we must travel lightly. Everything we need for the next 5 or 6 months will need to fit in this car. I mean, look at it: Image

So, we won’t be able to travel with any fancy garden containers or tools or chickens. We will have to source everything once we arrive. I have already contacted a local farm where we can get some compost, and we plan to raid the Teton recycling centers and bone yard for anything that we can use to put plants in. Literally anything that will hold some soil will work for a container garden. I actually had a dream the other night that I visited the Teton Bone Yard and found an old aluminum paddle-boat that I drug back to our cabin and planted some food in.

Another big challenge is location and climate. I have done a little research and found that we will be living in “Zone 4”, which is a cold zone, prone to frost at any time of the year. The last frost could extend into early June and the first in mid August. That doesn’t give much time for growing. But there are ways to work around the frost. One advantage to portable container gardens is that they can be moved inside, or make-shift greenhouses can be created out of clear containers or even plastic grocery bags. On one frost chart I recently found it said there was “no growing season” in Grand Teton NP. That certainly isn’t true, but there will be many challenges due to location.

Ideally, I’d be starting seeds right now indoors to transplant in a month or so, but we won’t be able to travel with baby plants, so we will have to start from scratch when we arrive there. But I can’t wait. Actually, I couldn’t wait at all so I planted some seeds today! I won’t be able to take them with me, but I wanted to start growing food NOW, and I can gift my seedlings to friends before we leave San Diego. Just about the only thing we will be able to fit in our car when we move to Wyoming is seeds, I decided. So I ordered about 40 packets of heirloom seeds and received most of them in the mail yesterday:

Image

I have found some great seed companies this week. These are from Seed Saver’s Exchange (www.seedsavers.org). Some other great small heirloom seed companies are:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. (www.rareseeds.com)

Botanical Interestes (www.botanicalinterests.com)

Renee’s Garden Seeds (www.reneesgarden.com)

There are many many other great seed companies, but these have caught my attention this week. I spent some time looking up homemade potting soil recipes and found a few. It seems the simplest is mixing 50% rich, fine compost with 50% vermiculite or perlite. There are certainly variations with this, but the goal is to create a mixture that is light for the small roots to grow with ease. Virtually any container can be used as long as you are able to punch holes in the bottom. I scavenged some gallon milk containers and old gatorade bottles today. I didn’t have enough potting soil on hand so I decided to go with the egg-carton idea. This is an easy way to get your seeds going. Just take an egg carton, cut an X in the bottom of each spot, add some pre-moistened soil, plant 2-3 seeds in each plot, label, and cover with another small layer of soil: Image

Be sure to keep your egg cartons moist, but not flooded, and with plenty of sun without placing them directly in the sun. I have chosen a spot on the deck under some mesh. I planted some herbs, tomatoes, kale, leeks, and onions. I’m just hoping they’ll be happy and sprout! I’ve got to start somewhere. Image

It can be pricey to buy so many packets of seeds so my next goal is to learn how to save seeds from things I grow. I’d like to be able to travel with seeds wherever I go, and have the knowledge and ability to grow food wherever I end up. We happen to have some ripe heirloom tomatoes right now so I thought I’d look up how to save tomato seeds. I found a great video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3eS5IyoBX4. All you have to do is:

1. squeeze out the pulp from your tomato (everything but the skin) and place it in a glass jar

2. add a little bit of water, cover the top with cheesecloth held on by a rubber band and let it ferment for 3-5 days

3. after 3-5 days some mold will form on the top. Place contents into a strainer and rinse thoroughly with cold water

4. when the seeds are the only thing remaining, lay them out to dry on a coffee filter or paper towel. Change the paper towel in a day or two if you need to but let it dry above your refrigerator for about week

5. once seeds are dry, store in a paper envelope for next season

Pretty cool!

I looked through all of my seed packets after planting my little egg carton and hoped to find something that would mature within a month. Radishes! I have some Early Scarlet Globe radish seeds that say they can mature in 20 days. I planted a few; we’ll see what happens! I realize that gardening is all about making mistakes and learning from them. I may as well start now so that when Tony and I do have some land I will have already made a few mistakes to give us a head start. For now I will keep experimenting. Next on my reading list is: Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway and Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Please share any stealth garden ideas on our facebook page: search crosscuts and castirons. We’ll keep you updated with our plotting and progress.

Emily

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One thought on “plotting our stealth garden

  1. note on saving tomato seeds. Find a strainer that is small enough to prevent the seeds from falling through. And don’t use cheesecloth! This takes an hour longer than it should when you find you need to pick out the seeds individually from between the threads.

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