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How to Grow Self Sufficient in 90 Degree Heat and 90% Humidity.

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Message Faith Carr
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Restraint is Necessary, but it’s Really, Really Hard.

I am not a “Master Gardner”. Nor a professor or student in Agriculture at UF. I don’t work at a nursery or garden shop, and there are lots and lots of important things I don’t know. Feel free to pitch in. All I ask is that the advice doesn’t cost me anything. This is all about self sustainability.

When you start out, keeping plans simple and manageable is very hard. For the kitchen garden, I wanted fancy salad fixing’s. Since I am an Arugula eating, left wing liberal (sorry, no limo), I went nuts, bananas, crazy over the Dastardly Seed Catalogues! There were 10 pages of JUST lettuce! MMMMMmmmm.

Ooooh the seed catalogues (I’ve already received 9 this year)!  What a rich and warm feeling those thick, glossy 4 color slick catalogues evoke in my heart and soul. It took a failed season to hammer home the lesson that some 70% of the seeds offered don’t have a chance of making it to my dinner table without significant (read costly) soil remediation and watering.

But I tried, really tried that first year. Bags and bags of Black Kow (or generic) manure lovingly dumped, mixed with my sand, and fertilized with the ever useful Miracle Grow. A cheap multi function easy to move sprinkler, and about 250 feet of new hose. In my ignorant enthusiasm I also had bulb and wildflower garden islands in the front of the house. And had to drag that hose virtually miles over the growing season to keep things alive.

At the end of my first season, I figured it cost me about $200 to nurture along, sweat over, even a wee bit of blood over for about $30 (retail) worth of veggies.

Who knew? What grew “up north” vigorously throughout the summer dried and died mid June. Leaving only small struggling bits of pale green, wilted, stunted food, bereft of nutrition. Sigh… The catalogue SAID Zone 8. The packets said to plant in early spring, which it turns out is February in Alachua County Florida..

The radishes were the only sure thing. And jeezalou what can two eaters do with a hundred radishes? I know NOW. Eat the green tops people. Wilted with bacon is the best.

But I managed to figure out a few things that first year. Start off small. Grow what you really like to eat. Sow shallow in sand. Plant in 2 week intervals. AND GET A REALLY GOOD HAT! Skin cancer is really unattractive, you should see my neck. The southeast side of it. UUUUggggly. Melanoma here I come.

Enjoy the catalogs, use a Sharpie Marker to pick your favorites, clip out the picture and description and look up every plant somewhere on the internet. Purchase cheap (yes CHEAP) garden tools. If you survive the first year, get better tools. If you make to it year 3, spend less on seed and buy the very best tools you can afford. Make sure, very sure, you have time for gardening. Trying to "make" time is not what it's all about. 

Nothing is more meditative than sitting on your bum in the garden and plucking out weeds. Nothing is more satisfying than thinning the lettuce bed for a bit of something you can eat for dinner. Nothing brings me as much pride as serving friends some great bread from the locally owned bakery with good olive oil and my own, fresh cut from my garden herbs.

Yum, AND smug. 

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Faith Carr is an old, retired political activist. Started backyard farming for REAL in 2006. And for the first time we ate out of the gardens for all 12 months. The mission now is to get as many people growing food as possible. Raised beds, (more...)

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