Learning: Gardening and Environmental Education
1. Pay attention to your land.
2. Learn your average frost-free dates. Notice how they vary year to year.
3. Notice where water collects and where the soil dries fast.
4. Notice where wild plants grow most abundantly.
5. Read gardening and farming books.
6. Talk to local farmers.
7. Consult your local Cooperative Extension.
8. Contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District.
9. Check out online forums like Permies, Gardening Channel and Homesteading Today.
10. Borrow issues of different homesteading magazines before subscribing to any.
11. Evaluate everything you read and hear. Notice disagreements and consensus.
12. Make small-scale experiments. See what works on your land.
13. Notice changes in crop yield and soil structure.
14. Start small. Build up gradually. Don’t get overwhelmed.
15. Make soil-building a top priority.
16. Add organic matter to your soil to build nutrients and increase water retention.
17. Compost makes for great results.
18. Compost food scraps (not meat or bread) and coffee grounds.
19. Compost yard wastes (not from treated lawns).
20. Compost manures (not dog, cat or human).
21. Mix high-carbon material like sawdust or straw with high-nitrogen material like manure before composting.
22. Age/compost sawdust at least a year before putting it on your garden.
23. Get compost materials from neighbors.
24. In winter, use an indoor worm composting bin.
25. Never leave your soil bare.
26. Plant cold-hardy cover crops after harvest. Let them overwinter.
27. Plant legumes (clover, vetch, alfalfa, peas, beans) to fix nitrogen.
28. Plant deep-rooted crops to break up hardpan.
29. Mulch plants with sawdust, lawn clippings, leaves etc.
30. Mulch empty beds that aren’t cover-cropped.
31. Grow low ‘living mulch’ like white clover under tall plants.
32. Mulch acid-loving plants with pine needles.
33. Add wood ashes around plants that like low-acid soil.
34. Don’t till your soil. Let the earthworms do that.
35. Add compost to the top of your garden beds every year.
36. Grow perennials to absorb carbon and build soil.
37. Collect and store rainwater.
38. Use drip irrigation to minimize water waste.
39. Space plants closely to shade soil and minimize evaporation.
40. If you must water from overhead, do it in evening or early morning to reduce evaporation.
41. Don’t leave disease-prone plants with wet leaves overnight.
Managing Microclimates, Stretching Gardening Seasons:
42. Use microclimates wisely.
43. Put heat-loving plants like eggplant and pepper in full sun against south-facing walls.
44. Put shade-loving plants like lettuce North of tall plants like asparagus.
45. Extend your growing season with cold frames.
46. You needn’t buy new frames; old storm windows and scrap lumber will do.
47. Make succession plantings to extend your growing season.
Selecting and Saving Seeds:
48. Plant non-GMO seeds.
49. Grow heirloom varieties for biodiversity, flavor and nutrition.
50. Learn to appreciate odd-looking vegetables. Many heirlooms weren’t bred for uniformity.
51. Get seeds from co-ops and seed saver exchanges, or from neighbors.
52. Learn to save your own seeds.
53. Collect seeds from disease-free, quick-growing, productive plants.
54. Label collection date on seeds. Some seeds can last up to five years, and others are best to plant the following year.
55. Start with easy seeds like peas and beans.
56. Work up to saving tomato and lettuce seeds.
57. Wait until you have some experience before trying to save squash and cukes. Then read up on how to prevent cross-pollination.
58. Save garlic cloves and potato tubers, not seeds; these are easy.
59. Only save potatoes if they’re disease-free.
60. Pull weeds before they go to seed.
61. Learn and target your area’s most obnoxious weeds.
62. Don’t use weed killers. Pull weeds by hand, or use flame or boiling water.
63. Use ‘smother crops’ like buckwheat or vetch to outcompete weeds between crops.
64. Rotate crops to minimize diseases.
65. Spray leaves with 1 part milk in 9 parts water to deter harmful fungi.
66. Hand-pick most pest bugs.
67. Put out beer or yeast in shallow dishes to kill slugs.
68. Encircle plant stems with cornmeal to keep cutworms out.
69. Use organic insecticides as a last resort.
70. Attract insects and animals that eat pest bugs.
71. Plant dill, sunflowers and Queen Anne’s lace to attract beneficial insects.
72. Put out water and shade for toads.
73. Offer perches and baths for birds.
74. Attract pollinators–butterflies, bees etc.
75. Have something blooming in your garden for as much of the growing season as possible.
76. Enjoy and use useful weeds.
77. Add nutrient-rich comfrey to your compost.
78. Eat purslane, amaranth, lamb’s quarters, garlic mustard, Jerusalem artichoke tubers.
79. Leave clover to build soil nitrogen–unless it’s smothering your carrots.
80. Raise both plants and animals for a more complete ecosystem.
81. Use animal manures (not cat or dog!) in your compost.
82. Feed garden excess to animals.
83. Give goats carrots, kale, spent pea and bean vines.
84. Give pigs the same types of things you can eat.
85. Use a chicken tractor.
86. Remember, pigs can handle overripe produce, sour milk or whey, and cracked eggs.
87. Give rabbits carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, kale, and pea vines.
88. Give chickens kale, mustards, and amaranth.
89. Give chickens the insect pests you hand-picked.
90. Give any of the above pumpkins and squash.
91. Use garlic as a natural antibiotic and dewormer.
92. Feed livestock garlic leaves and bulbils–they work like garlic cloves.
93. Don’t feed moldy or diseased plants to animals.
94. These are suggestions, not full guidelines. Research before deciding how to feed your animals.
Saving Money in the Garden:
95. Minimize purchases. Consider what you really need.
96. Be wary of trendy new items. Try tools out before buying them.
97. Share tools and equipment with neighbors who can be relied on not to wreck or lose them.
98. Discard as little as possible. Recycle what you can.
99. Use other people’s discards.
100. Get discarded food-grade buckets from grocery stores to make plant pots and animal feeders and waters.
101. Get discarded bread trays for seedling totes. Ask nurseries for used plant pots and seed starter packs.