Sunday, July 24, 2022

Sunday Reading - The Sustainable Garden

What exactly is a sustainable garden? Well basically a sustainable garden is the one you have the resources to produce year after year with no outside inputs other than those you can count on as being available for at least the very long term. Five plus years minimum is my rule of thumb. One reason I switched basic garden types over the years was the quest to find the perfect sustainable garden for my location. 

A couple of basic rules I finally adapted include things like hardware. For instance if you like to use a ground cloth to control weeds this would not be sustainable as the ground fabric would not be available in a grid down situation. The same line of thinking would apply to any temporary input that would need to be replaced every year or three. Like seeds of course, special chemical inputs like fertilizer or other amendments if you use them. 

One reason I include very few Squash varieties in my garden is the resistance and numbers of the Squash bug invasions. Typically if I do plant Squash it is as a late season crop or maybe if I am feeling ambitious one or two plants at most early. I have never found a suitable and adequate method to control those demon bugs once they get started except by eliminating Squash plants period. Which is a shame cause thinly sliced yellow Squash and Zucchini lightly fried in butter is a Summer time snack I often will get a craving for. Triple that if my son is around as he loves it more than I do.

I have toyed with the idea of having a separate Squash bed off by it's self but I have not found a distance that does not allow the demon bugs to easily migrate and those nasty things will migrate to about any plant they can find once their preferred victim is dead. If you do not have Squash to attract them however they usually do not show up to begin with.

Basically in your quest to find what type of Garden is truly sustainable for you it is going to be trial and error in a lot of ways. All I can really do is explain what and why I reached the results I have reached and why I abandoned ways or types of gardens I tried in the past.

Bindweeds, Morning Glory, Rhizome grasses. These were the reasons I abandoned the Raised Beds and Eden type gardens. The Eden types were the absolute worst at controlling these weeds and once they were established the garden spot was useless for years unless you wanted to dig up all the wood chips as tilling them in made things worse. Raised Beds are a bit easier as you can dis-assemble them to remove the rhizomes from time to time.

I should add that my original Eden type garden is still useful to this day however despite being abandoned for 15 years or more. The Chickens LOVE IT!!! I often use the area that is contained with railroad ties to also stage round bales on. The wood chips broke down into a find dry dirt that still gets a lot of rhizome weeds in it but I also keep it mowed if open to control them. The chickens spend every day roaming in and out of hay bales and dirt bathing in this dirt, digging shallow holes to lay in etc. They think it is the biggest chicken play and bath yard in the world. I can go out to feed the chickens old bread or whatever and call em and the entire flock will come running from this area like a pack of ravenous dogs.

What everyone calls "The Ruth Stout Method" today, which I have been practicing for years myself and never heard of her before last year maybe, can be adapted against these rhizome weeds easier but will still require a period where you cannot use the area until the weeds are controlled. The best way I have found to control these weeds in what I am going to call a "Deep Mulch Garden" is by fencing off an area in the middle of a highly grazed pasture. Small Ruminants will graze almost all Rhizome weeds (except Thistle and Buffalo Burr) to the ground and eventually kill it off. By isolating a garden area inside a highly grazed pasture most of these Rhizome weeds are destroyed and unable to invade the garden itself. The constant grazing will kill these weeds off at the source eventually, especially in drought and extremely dry years. Occasionally one of these rhizome weed types can get started inside the fenced garden area and require a bit of work to remove but generally speaking the small ruminants will keep these weeds controlled with little to no managing personally. Sheep and/or Goats both seem to love eating these weed types.

Deep Mulch Gardening - I eventually moved to this overall method but only because I have an unlimited supply of hay even if I have to scythe it down by hand every year. It will always be there. Short of a war waging over my fields anyway. I guess I could add Wheat to the issue if I wanted to use Straw as the mulch but this is a good example of using what I have easily available and sustainable. Whatever is available is what ya want to use Hay, Straw, Leaves etc. as you will more than likely be unable to buy it in a grid down situation.

Seeds - I rarely buy seeds anymore. Or starter plants.  I have over the years saved what works and all of it has been cross bred some I am sure. It has required me to make some sacrifices especially in the variety area. I no longer plant different types of Beans for instance as they would cross breed of course. Cucumbers and Watermelon are the same along with a few others. Interestingly enough Tomatoes are something I have little to no problems with cross breeding with unless I add in some type of cherry variety or plant them very close to each other. Even 20 or 30 feet with a trellis barrier of Beans seems to stop cross breeding with Tomatoes although I think the official distance is 100 feet or more.

Basically to have a sustainable garden you need to find what works and keep it pure or risk ruining or losing it. Kinda a heretical view for modern day Multi-Cult freaks that think diversity is a strength or something but there it is.  Your only option, which might be a good idea for very long term, is to have a second area for experimenting with new varieties.

Ground or fabric covers - I do use these from time to time when I open up a new area or have to control a particularly hardy weed type. I also use a ground cover for walk paths. Since fabric covers and light plastic are not sustainable, even if the fabric says it will last 20 years or more wear and tear will kill it fast regardless. What I have found was a trick I actually learned 40 or more years ago from an old gardener who lived next to my grandparents. Old roofing sheets. I have a stack of these old ugly sheets that is almost 4 foot high when all together and have been using them for years. Some are filled with nail sized holes but that does not hurt any I just cover them with mulch. It will take a lifetime or longer for these things to break down and the old style galvanization types seems to have no ill effect for the soil either that I have witnessed.  No weeds can penetrate them of course and they even work well early on when rains turn your garden to mud you cannot walk on. 

Honestly I consider these old roofing sheets as the heart of my sustainable gardening infrastructure. Every second or third year I rotate my set up by removing these sheets adding compost and barn/fertilizer then setting everything back up starting with the main access pathways of roofing sheets in the new configuration. After the mulch layer you cannot even tell those sheets are in the Garden but it has saved me so much work over the years and money they are now essential to the entire process.

Another after the fact add in - If you cannot find very old roofing sheets then you are probably out of luck as I imagine only the very old steel ones will be sturdy enough to use for years like I have. I was blessed in that my 100+ year old barn had been re-roofed a few times and someone never hauled off the old sheets. About half the sheets I use now I actually found buried and dug them out myself. Still usable.  I cannot imagine modern day sheet roofing to be sturdy enough for my gardening anyway.

Flexibility - Some of these methods just don't work well for some type of plants. I will say I had never considered using the mulch as a hill material  for potatoes until I was introduced to it this year. Now that I am trying it of course I had to do it with out any ground cover besides the mulch. I have also not found a good method for growing Carrots without weeds and problems except in a raised bed type situation. 

I am currently designing a carrot only moveable raised bed type thing that can double as a garden fence. The idea is I can then place the carrot beds around the garden and reduce my chicken invasions a bit. The chickens don't do a lot of damage but sometimes annoy me digging through my mulch.

The last issue that comes to mind, although I am sure I missed a bunch, is Corn. Basically I no longer include corn in my garden. What I do is choose an area each year and cover it with round bales although anything will work. Basically I kill the grass/weeds over a year and then till that area up in the Spring (sometimes plow it first) and just plant a corn plot. This year's plot is destroyed of course due to the drought. I could have saved it I think but just didn't bother but that is just me. If I wanted the extra work I could incorporate corn into the garden proper but usually the space issue makes it much easier to just rotate it around to a different location out somewhere and let it go. 

I should also address fertilizer. I have found the mulch I use each year breaks down and basically provides it's own composted fertilizer of course. If I have a mineral deficiency in my soil I have yet to discover it. I do compost on the side but end up never really putting any of it on the garden except in whatever I use to start seedlings. I have never analyzed my soil, hell I don't even know what PH my garden is from year to year. I tried checking it myself years back but I am not even sure I was doing it right. Using a deep mulch pretty much takes care of soil amending. Occasionally I will clean out the sheep part of the barn and instead of taking the manure spreader out to the fields I will dump some on the garden instead to add Sheep Manure to the whole mix. 

As I say alot of what I do will be different for you as your circumstances will vary according to location.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!!



  1. Something you might think about with squash. My neighbor runs them in her squash bed once they are big enough (hairy enough) that the chickens cannot do much damage. She removes them during the flowering stage and first fruit buds, then puts them back at end of season.

    I've suggested but she's not done it yet with squash beds are chunnels (chicken tunnels) to allow the chickens controlled access to the beds to reduce the squash bugs as they crawl-fly about.

    My Grandmother used to do this sort of thing long before Purina Chicken food even existed. Fed those problem bugs to the hens AND Pumpkin was her primary winter feed for the chickens. A win-win.

    The squash bug lifecycle is eggs IN the soil hatch early on, by the time they are almost ready to do the egg thing the chickens are there. After the year the chickens eat most of the eggs by scratching them up.

    My neighbor helps them with an iron rake and some scratch feed broadcast all over her plot. Chickens get Every last bit.

    1. Interesting but then how is it that I get Squash bugs no matter where I plant them? They have to be coming from some where further away since I will get them where I have never planted Squash before. The eggs in the soil makes sense but a chicken tunnel would go beyond sustainability. However confining chickens to the garden area when not planted might achieve the same end. My chickens seem to have a very long list of things more attractive to them than Squash bugs. The only thing I think less attractive to them than Squash bugs are Chinese beetles.

    2. I should also point out I planted a Squash this year. 1. It has Squash Bugs on it now and is the first Squash plant I have planted in about 2 years. I planted it in an old water tank that got a hole in it. Filled with about 6 inches of old wood remains and covered with composted soil about 2 foot off the ground and I still have Squash bugs. Not many but they had to come from somewhere further away.

  2. Thus, the active chicken patrol. Chunnels are as sustainable as any fencing or wire protecting your chicken house from predators. I do know that squash bugs lay eggs in the soil to overwinter in NH and that they do fly a fair distance. I also know French Marigolds (self seeding, overwinter in zone 5) help a LOT in keeping many pests like squash bugs out of my garden. Also so far keeps rodents like chippies and deer away unless they are very hungry.

    1. All I can say is I doubt confining my chickens up with Squash Bugs would make the chickens eat em. My chickens rarely seem to be interested in anything above the soil as it is. I saw a hen attempt to peck a mole to death this afternoon though. I wish I had my phone with me to video it. I imagine bugs are regional in many ways, so what some have little trouble with others others would have a lot more issues with. Squash bugs are a menace around here. I don't know laying eggs in the ground but here they lay eggs on the underside of Squash leaves and will become a mass of millions in record quick time too. As I mentioned I have just pretty much stopped planting Squash with the rest of my garden for that reason because they are just uncontrollable. I have also never had any luck with Squash bugs caring about marigolds myself, although I have never seen them feeding off the marigolds after they have klilled everything else.

  3. Maybe you feed them too well? Maybe gardening is regional, and my squash bugs are tasty treats to my chickens and my neighbors' chickens?

    I just got gifted a bag of squash from my neighbor yesterday and we traded stories and I brought them some Egyptian walking onions AKA potato onions. They were thrilled as neither of us can get onion sets to do anything but this rather fiery onion self-plants year after frozen winter year here.

    Gardening is regional.

    1. Oh it certainly is especially bugs.

  4. We are in south central Missouri and this post is especially appreciated, as we are gardening here for the first time here on our little 5 acres. Enjoying seeing your posts again!!

    1. Evelyn - Thank you for the comment!!!! I appreciate em as well. Just knowing people read em makes it worth it!!! Good luck with the gardening and let me know how it turns out.

  5. I found a solution for squash bugs that works for me. Step 1. Use a hand held, battery powered vacuum, like the Ryobi P7131 to suck up all of the bugs you can find. It has a crevice tool to get in small spaces between the stems. Dump the bugs in a bucket of soapy water. Step 2: Brush the eggs on the underside of leaves with Tangle-Trap sticky coating, which is meant for coating traps for apple maggot flies. The Tangle-Trap keeps most eggs from hatching, and it traps the bugs from any eggs that do hatch. You have to do this several days in a row, and then keep checking daily to keep them under control, but it works.


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