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Learn and Live Well

February 15, 2009

This is a worn-out looking Siberian Kale plant in the middle of the winter. It should look exhausted, because it has provided a hundred salads or stir-fries and will continue to provide food for several more months, until it finally seeds. It has endured winter temperatures below 10 degrees. In the spring, we will gather its seeds so we can share with hundreds of other families. All of those many meals came from one tiny seed like the one pictured here in my hand.

Most people plant large, labor-intensive gardens. They are useless for several reasons. It is difficult to accumulate enough organic matter to accommodate a large garden, so, due to poor nutrition, many plants are stunted or get diseased. Bugs attack only the unhealthy plants. Also, big gardens are difficult to keep weeded, so plants get choked out. Furthermore, big gardens are fun in the spring when the weather is perfect, but a misery in July when the sun is hot, so they get neglected. And finally, big gardens, properly tended, produce so much fruit that we grow weary trying to keep up with picking.

The key to a good garden is not harder work, but smarter planning. Last year, I had a vegetable garden about 15 feet wide and 25 feet long. I picked bushels of food and NEVER weeded. Yes, it took a little planning.

First, several months before planting, the planting area was covered with a layer of composted manure and hay. Second, it was covered with several layers of cardboard derived from throwaway boxes, which I soaked with water once they were in place. Third, I covered the ugly boxes with a layer of wheat straw. Any organic matter will do—grass clippings, wood bark, leaves, etc. During the winter, I place heavy rocks or old board, as needed, to keep the boxes from blowing away.

Then, when it came time to plant, I made holes in the decaying boxes and deposited my seeds or young plants. Midsummer, I added a few more boxes where the weeds were poking through. Since the boxes helped hold the moisture, I only had to water once all summer.

One afternoon last summer when I was in the garden gathering tomatoes, Gabriel dropped by to pick some of my sweet peppers. Gabriel was so impressed with the amount of vegetables and the lack of labor involved that he got out his video camera and started asking me questions.

James, Shoshanna’s husband, was also impressed with the ease of having such an abundant garden. (I am one cool granny to impress the young folks!) Anyway, James asked me to give him a list of my favorite garden seeds so he could make them available through his herb store. I like to use heritage seeds, not the hybrid or genetically altered seeds. If you are interested, you can get Mama Pearl’s Garden Seed at:

Also, here are four books (and one DVD) I would suggest for aspiring gardeners:

Lasagna Gardening
This book teaches non-traditional methods of gardening that are not only organic, economical, and incredibly easy, but it will enable you to accomplish more in less time, and with less work! (This is the way I like to garden. —Debi.)

All New Square Foot Gardening
by Mel Bartholomew
If you are a visual learner, this is your book. It has lots of beautiful, full-color pictures, instructions and plans for square-foot gardening methods. It can save you time and money. 271 pages.

How to Grow More Vegetables: Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine
by John Jeavons
This book has been around a long time and has proven its worth. It is now in its revised seventh edition, with over 300,000 copies sold.

Seed to Seed
by Suzanne Ashworth
Complete gardening, from planting the seed to a Seed-saving Guide for 160 vegetable crops. It includes detailed information on each vegetable: pollination methods, isolation distances, caging and hand-pollination techniques, proper methods for harvesting, drying, cleaning and storing the seeds. This is the best book ever written on seed-saving from mature plants. If things ever get bad worldwide, the knowledge gained from this book would be priceless.

Books available through

Homesteading for Beginners, Vol. 1 DVD
Learn everything from starting and maintaining a garden, raising and butchering chickens, cutting firewood, to baking bread, making cheese, and much, much more. This video is for anyone who would like to have basic country life skills but is not sure how to even start. It is entertaining for the entire family. Available through the NGJ webstore:

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5 comments on “Learn and Live Well”

  1. This works great. I tried it last year and had great success. I only watered once to get my seeds started and I live in a drought sandy area. I didn't have a weed problem, but I did have a crabgrass problem. Crabgrass is tough stuff.

  2. What is the purpose of covering the cardboard with hay or other organic matter? If the roots of the plants are growing under the cardboard, is it really necessary? Also, it seems like you must start with flat ground, and you don't make built-up rows or hills to put the plants in. I really don't know much about gardening, but everyone I know that has a garden makes rows or hills for the plants. Why do they?, and how can your garden do so well just flat? I've spent half the day for the past three days slaving away in our garden (moslty fighting weeds and grass), so I'm eager to learn your method! HELP!