Intensive Gardening

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Close plant spacing (this is celtuce) also helps keep down weeds.


I am the first to admit that I carry a banner for home-grown food. I can hear some of you now: “The woman has 185 acres, raises her own cows, fer Chrissake, and she’s going on about me raising my own food when I live on this miniscule lot.” Well, yes, I do have lots of space. However, I am also growing older (darn it!) and am always thinking about how to keep gardening as I grow more decrepit. That means more intensive gardening. For that matter, I too have known what it’s like to garden in a small space. You can grow a surprising amount with a suburban lot.

No matter how small the garden, always plant something pretty – Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory.


For starters, if you have limited space, you can practice square foot gardening. This form of intensive gardening uses one-foot square blocks, with different plants in each block and larger plants centered in several blocks. If you choose highly productive plants, you can get quite a lot of food from a relatively small space. Green onions, for example, can be planted very close together – in fact, you want to plant them that way to keep them slender and straight. A cucumber only needs about two square feet (grow it on a pole or it will take over the whole garden) and will provide you with salad material for months. If you really ramp up the fertility of the soil, you can grow a cucumber in one square foot of space. Lettuce can be sown broadcast so it grows thickly; cut regularly about two inches above the ground. It will then regrow so you can repeat the process. Many plants and herbs can also be grown in pots, tubs or other containers. They should be at least two feet deep, and you’ll need to keep a close eye on them as far as watering goes.

No matter how small your garden, always keep new seedlings coming along for the bare spots.


In a 25-square foot space – that’s five feet by five feet for the math-challenged among you – your spring garden could contain:

  • 24 green onions
  • 4 heads of lettuce
  • 24 radishes
  • 9 leaf lettuces
  • 9 spinach plants
  • 2 sprouting broccoli
  • 24 carrots
  • 4 potatoes
  • 18 bush peas
  • Several of these plants – chard, sprouting broccoli, spinach and leaf lettuce – lend themselves to the practice of cut-and-come-again harvesting. You could seed more carrots as you pull the green onions and ditto radishes as you harvest the carrots. If you harvest everything, you could then plant in a summer garden:

  • 2 cherry tomatoes
  • 2 summer squash
  • 18 pole beans
  • 9 leaf lettuces
  • 4 cucumbers
  • Now, that kind of intensive gardening means you have to keep ahead of the weeds, pay close attention to watering and keep your soil in tip-top condition. It also means you need to grow your next season’s plants in containers, ready to pop into an opening as soon as it becomes available. But it can be done. For details consult Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew or How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine by John Jeavons.

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    The Family Milk Cow

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    It’s a lazy afternoon in the pasture.


    Having your own milk cow is one of the best food security tactics out there. In addition to the butter, milk, cream, cheese, sour cream and yogurt your family eats, a milk cow will also provide food for chickens, pigs and – of course – her own calf. Some may also feed other calves as well. Farmers often say the milk cow feeds everybody on the farm and that’s pretty accurate. A milk cow nearly always produces more milk than a family can drink – even in a family with a couple of healthy teenagers who can go through a quart at a sitting. If you do a search on the subject of dairy cows, however, you’re probably going to see lots of articles about how cruel the dairy industry is – using calves for veal, keeping animals on concrete, butchering the cows at a young age. In some cases, these things are true. However, there’s a big difference between a commercial dairy cow and a family cow.
    A commercial dairy is a business operation – the cows must produce or they are culled: sold or sent to the butcher. The most common way to get milk and its byproducts is for the cow to have a calf once a year – and dairies have to do something with the calves. In the days before mechanization, male calves were valued for oxen. Today, they may be raised for veal or grown on to become beef. Some go into dog, cat or chicken food. On the ranch or farm that calf becomes the family’s beef supply – not for the current year, but for the year following. However, dairy cattle don’t make as much meat per pound as breeds bred for beef. Some of the heifers become milk cows, while others are treated like their brothers. Many dairies cull their cows by the age of five or six because their production is lower than that of a younger cow, or they have problems with lameness, mastitis or low fertility.

    Maybelle and her daughter Hershey, who was half Dexter and half Jersey.


    A family cow that is well-cared for can live to 12 or even older, producing a calf each year. Milk cows are more fragile than beef cows, partly because they have been specially bred to produce more milk. In order to have a supply of milk all year around, the cows in a commercial dairy are bred throughout the year instead of being bred in early fall for a spring calf. This kind of breeding cycle is not the healthiest thing for mothers or babies. Milk cows are also more susceptible to conditions like mastitis and milk fever, the latter because they produce such great quantities of milk and pull calcium out of their own bodies to do so. A milk cow takes much more careful management than a beef cow. Crossbred cows – those that are only half or three-quarters dairy breeds – tend to be sturdier and have better overall health. Milk cows that are crossed with other dairy breeds are also less fragile than purebreds. However, most commercial dairies have purebred diary cows, with Holsteins being the most common because they produce the most milk. Jerseys, Guernseys and the occasional Milking Shorthorn or Brown Swiss are typical family cows. These breeds produce less milk but a higher percentage of that milk is solids and butterfat, which is what you want for byproducts like butter and cream.
    Milking one or two cows a day is not at all hard. An hour a day is about all it takes – and that includes washing the milker or bucket, straining the milk and so on. It’s also a nice time to relax and one of the few times on a ranch when you get to work sitting down!

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    So Why Do We Do It?

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    Compost pile additions from cleaning out the milking pen.


    “It” being the daily chores or the tears when you lose a pair of lambs because the ewe had such severe pneumonia that they couldn’t get enough oxygen. Not to mention feeding in a hailstorm or irrigating in 110-degree heat. Or the labor of splitting fence posts or digging post holes in ground that could give concrete a run for its money. Then there’s the regimen of daily milking or shoveling out the sheep pen.
    “It” also includes shoving your arm up a cow’s backside because she has an infection or trimming away the smelly black spots of a fungus from the inside of a ram’s hoof. And “it” includes digging thistles out of the pasture by hand because you don’t want to spray chemicals, or spreading well-rotted manure on the garden.

    Baby lambs are so cute.


    Well, we do it because we care about what we eat. We think animals should be raised at home, well cared for by the people who will benefit from eating them. We think real tomatoes — even when they’re canned in glass jars — taste much better than the cardboard supermarket variety. We like making (not to mention eating) our own bread and butter and cottage cheese.

    Raw milk butter in the making.


    We like to know that we can handle pretty much anything life throws at us, from an 18-inch snowfall in 24 hours to a dead water pump to a rattlesnake in the front yard.
    We like the challenge of figuring out how to keep that consarned 600-pound boar from destroying his pen.
    We do it because we get to see the first swallow of the spring or the glimmer of sunlight on the pond and hear the faint rustle of a goose’s wings as it flies directly overhead.
    We do it because of saffron and ruby sunsets and because we love snowball fights.
    We do it for the satisfaction of a delicious meal from meat, fruits and vegetables we grew ourselves.

    Summer apples must be dealt with no matter how hot it is.


    We do it because of the entertainment value in watching baby pigs play tag or lambs springing in stiff-legged bounces over new green grass.
    We do it for the pleasure of hearing the sheep talk to each other — often with their mouths full — as they wander around the pasture.
    We do it for the scent of apple blossoms on a spring day and the taste of asparagus that was growing in the ground ten minutes before it hit the boiling water.
    We do it to pass on skills and experience that have been a lifetime in the making and because we want the kids and grandkids to have the same pleasure in mastering life’s challenges.

    Small fry on bottle detail.


    We do it because it’s quite a thrill to have several generations of Quarter Horses – all of which you’ve raised yourself – wandering around the pastures.
    We do it for the sheer joy of ranching.

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