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Celt's Garden - Adventures in Microfarming

I have moved up from nano-farming. I am now learning micro-farming. Like all transitions, it has its moments. Eating snow peas off the vine was a good one. Breaking into the first row of potatoes and coming home with the best, freshest potatoes ever, that was great. Half a bucket of fresh snap beans to share with my family and friends, yah. Most of the moments so far have been intangible joys: Navajo Grey squash swelling on the vines, corn tasseling, soup peas in exuberant bloom, looking like something too decorative to eat. 

So far, I've learned that an eighth of an acre can crank out an amazing amount of food. Other moments have been more of a learning curve. Pole peas need really sturdy posts because they will knock over anything wimpy. Dry farming is all about timing. The barley and spring wheat have to go in in time to get solidly rained on. April is a rush to plant peas, potatoes, onions, and beans. Corn and squash go in in May, and then have to be watched and replanted.  

Crows are persistent about pulling up germinating seeds. They are particularly fond of heirloom corn, and will ignore acres of commercial corn to eat every seed of heirloom varieties. Weeds were my friend. Where I assiduously weeded, the crows got it all, and then all of the replanting. 

Weeding corn, like harvesting more than a test patch of grain, turns out to be an issue of social organization. Turns out that weeding is best ignored until the corn is tall enough to resist crows, and then done with all your friends. Which immediately leads to time organization. An urban garden can be maintained in a state between neat and cheerful disarray by one person with a day job. I tend towards disarray, personally, but neat could be done in theory. Weeding the corn patch all at once requires teamwork. 

Once upon a time, the Arikawa ladies hoed the corn together in June, moving from patch to patch until it was done. Then they came back in July and hoed everybody's patch again. Then they went on the buffalo hunt and came back just in time to harvest. Sounds like a plan to me, particularly the part about taking off buffalo hunting. So, properly I should arrange my life so that I have a week in both June and July to participate in roving garden work parties. Then I could take off fishing in Alaska. So far, this is a mismatch with my day job. 

The goal of micro-farming is to grow more calorie crops than will fit in my urban garden. Ten feet of bush beans will produce a pound of dry soup beans. Heirloom corn in my garden test patches produced 1/5 pound of dry shelled corn per plant last year. One pound of shelled field corn makes a batch of tortillas or cornbread. Barley yields about 3 cups in 16 square feet, which is a pound, which is enough to malt and add plenty much zip to a kit beer. Potatoes yield 5-10 pounds or more per pound planted, 20 to one is exceptional. And the big honking sprawling Navajo Grey squashes taste delicious, cook up easily and store well, what's not to like except that they take up 64 square feet per plant for a couple of squashes each. I planted in wide rows, with plenty of space between plants because it was not planned to be irrigated. A little calculation reveals that an eighth of an acre will produce a lot of calories, even more with irrigation available.

You probably know someone who has an eighth of an acre in a perennial crop of grass clippings. Perhaps you do. Perhaps you can convince that person to lend you their lawn in exchange for plenty much potatoes, squash and beer.



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