Introduction to Pragnat 2: Basic Garden Design

“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack…” -Bill Mollison

Failing to plan, is planning to fail. Unknown

If you have decided to read this article, like many at the moment, you are looking to make a start or an improvement on a basic food garden. With rising food costs and general food supply and security issues there has never been a better time to get started, there is an abundance of information out there and some really good local connections to be made if you are willing or wishing to interact with people who are also making this investment in their own food security. Every garden will be different, but for many a basic variation of a victory garden should suffice.

Asking a grower what you should plant is like asking how long a piece of string is. The answer will always be different for many reasons. During this article we will go through some of the basic considerations you will have that will allow you to plan a garden in accordance with your needs and maximize its return based on your skills and time investment.

The most basic consideration is what do you actually eat? Do you have fussy eaters in the house? There is no point growing it if you won’t be able to eat or trade it for something you will. So in sneaks the next sub point, can you store it or can you only eat it fresh? All this before we even take a peek outside and ask ourself about sunlight availability and climatic considerations, and what season you are in. Sounds difficult? Not at all, we have developed the ability to garden and even farm pretty much anywhere, its just up to you how you want to go about it and how willing you are to make it work. For most people starting out the best tool for you to plan your garden from that information is which not only allows you to explore each plant, its needs for growing and seasons but also plan your outlay and time required.

Some other considerations before you break soil area:

What information / networks are available to me

How do I start without alarming or alerting anyone to my concerns (Remembering this is even being watched by your friends at facebook for a reason)

How much time can I realistically dedicate to this

What, if any, other skills do I have

Once you’ve answered those, or at least considered them lets look at the next step, securing seed or seedlings. Most of the time when people are starting out their growing journey I send them on the path most aligned with who and what they are, unfortunately dear reader I can not give you the same in depth consultation so forgive me if it is not the most direct way to your goals. For basic high yield, low maintenance gardening there are some stand out varieties. Garden salads, spinach, tomato, bell peppers, chili peppers, beans (especially dwarf varieties) can also sneak onto that list. All these foods became staples for their ability to be used immediately or stored for long periods with the most basic methods. You should pick what you eat and what will interest you or those around you. Tomato from seed is an incredible yet easy path, seed to soil, keep moist, watch it break surface and celebrate, keep it moist and it will soon be a foot tall, once it flowers yet again you celebrate, you can hand pollinate it if growing inside and soon you will have little fruit growing, keeping it moist they will flesh out quickly and within 3 months of seed in the soil and with several happy moments and milestones you will be eating your first tomato. Women and children especially will widen their diet when they have played an active role in assisting. Try broaden their diet and involve them in the process where possible. Select what they will eat now, but by all means look into fast growing food sources you can grow and widening their diets to include those, long term look to growing from seed and seed saving / swapping within your community. It is a long term goal, you may not have the skills or time to develop that today but you can start securing the foundations to that goal.

Other considerations are:

What local stockist or retailer can I build a relationship with, nursery etc

Are there any local seed swaps, seed banks, community gardens at my disposal

Does craigslist hold any bargains, often gardeners sell excess through alternate sites

Now the hard part, setting a course and holding yourself accountable. For most people I recommend only introducing 3×3 as a maximum when starting out. 3 plants of 3 separate varieties, for most of you reading it would be 3 X tomato, variety of your choice based on trelace requirement, plant requires full sun, 3 X dwarf beans, variety of your choice, start with greens or for kids try a purple to keep them interested. 3 X lettuce, variety of your choice and as close to what you would normally eat. Always retain the seed packet as the most basic advice contained on the back is actually all you will ever need to be successful with it and as you introduce more varieties and plants into your life that information is easily forgotten, but I digress, back to the garden. This basic garden could realistically be some pots on a balcony. If you choose to go from seed, which is the perfect time of year to sprout inside, you will save money and develop skills but also capture into your daily life the routine of gardening. You eat, the plants get checked and fed or watered, simple. Do not introduce too many plants or too many varieties, to gardening you want to develop an intimate understanding of each plant to master it for crisis gardening where you optimize its yield en mass. The process of incremental growth will not only grow your confidence but it will allow you to gauge your growth and ability to learn new skills / techniques which will become invaluable over time as you allocate time to learning them with realistic expectation of outcomes.

Set an internal goal, maybe prepare a meal from 100% home grown vegetables, maybe its to never buy a tomato again, or perhaps make your own chili sauce, or chili from own beans and peppers. Be ambitious, literally grow towards your goals.

I implore you before breaking ground to rethink what gardening is in your mind. Consider vertical gardening and using wall space, or stand alone hydroponics that are in essence a tower of food growing in limited space that can provide endless bounty with minimal investment or knowledge of growing. Look at modular growing, container growing, symbiotic growing (like the 3 sisters etc) There really are endless ways to allow you to produce a large amount of fresh food in the home with relative ease and minimal or no start up costs. You may never delve into aquaponics and raising fish in tanks from food you grow and using their waste water as fertilized water to feed the plants, but you will certainly learn how simple it is to feed yourself and others should you wish.

Once you are growing, you will soon realize there are ways to support the plants with extra nutrient and p.h changes etc, rest assured there are endless products sold to assist with this, as there always is. But there is no consumer solution, many of the best fertilizers are made locally and on craigslist. Worm juice, compost, endless manure elixirs and uses for waste (try drying a banana skin and grinding it to a powder for a fertilizer, you will be surprised, it also makes a liquid fertilizer when the skin is freshly peeled, sometimes known as worm tea) Some plants will require supports to grow up, you can be as creative as you like. I have always found the answers to these questions in construction site dumpsters myself.

Ultimately you will develop your own style, you will see your own pathway to food security and develop the skills to get yourself there, but only if you actually start.