Excerpt: The Ranch Wife’s Garden

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So I like a little variety in my summer squash...

So I like a little variety in my summer squash…


Yes, I’m working on a new book (which is one reason why I’m even more behinder than usual); here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

My family gardens.
I have plants in my garden that I got from my grandmother and that I fully expect to pass on to my grandchildren.
We’re pretty sure it’s something genetic, although even if the gene passes you by, anyone who grew up in my family would also have a strong environmental exposure. My daughter keeps insisting that this is a part of the family heritage she missed out on (“I am not a gardener, Mother!”), but I know better. Every year she gets more deeply enmeshed into landscaping and food production activities. Never mind the name; it’s the doing that counts.
Although I use the term garden in this account, what I’m mostly talking about is food production, so we’ll take a few side trips into the orchard, ramble down the road where the wild blackberries and plums grow and delve into topics such as growing your own wheat. We’ll touch on the beauty aspects as well – roses that smell like roses, flowers for beneficial insects and how to attract hummingbirds. After 50-odd years, I think I can be said to know at least a little about the subject. Of course, each year, it’s a new ball game — I’m up to about my 75th experiment in the garden (more than one garden a year in some years, each of which is a different experiment). I’m still learning and making plenty of mistakes. Every year I get a little better at producing more of our own food. Hopefully, by the time I’m too infirm to produce much, the grandkids will have taken over.
In the garden, my goals include maximum food production, ditto nutrition and best taste. I am just as susceptible to the blandishments of seed catalogs as the next girl, but I have learned to be ruthless about selecting seeds that produce and bypassing those fancy exotics. I’m also lazy and I usually have too much to do, so I want to achieve those goals with the minimum of effort. Organization and planning are the keys to this system, not to mention flexibility. If your plan for the day is to plant some early spring crops and the partly cloudy forecast turns out to be a gully-washer of a thunderstorm, your perfectly-arranged schedule is going straight into the garbage. What I usually do is keep a running list, so if I’m balked in one area, I can switch gears to something else.
I do a certain amount of succession planting — following one crop immediately with another — but in practice it rarely seems to work for me. The broccoli that should be ready to harvest needs a couple more weeks, so I can’t get the tomatoes in and they get root-bound in their pots. Succession gardeners don’t seem to do much seed-saving, either, based on the books and blogs I’ve read. They yank out the lettuce that’s bolting and going to seed, while I need to leave it in place until the seeds are ripe enough to harvest. Although we live on 185 acres, I am not willing to spread my food-producing activities over so much territory that I spend all day getting from one growing spot to another in order to have a productive day-to-day food garden, a seed-saving garden and a succession-planting garden.
If you’ve ever read my blog, Jefferson’s Daughters, or my previous book You Might be a Ranch Wife, you know that I am a contrary, independent woman (my husband calls it “stubborn as an oak post”) who does her own research, winnows the wheat from the chaff and makes her own decisions. I have great respect for good science and no respect whatsoever for science that is swayed by funders, bias or political agenda. In other words, I don’t garden with conventional fertilizers that come from petroleum products, I don’t plow or rototill or double dig my garden, I almost never use hybrid seeds (and the ones I do use are all flowers rather than food) and I flatly refuse to have anything to do with GMO in the garden or on the ranch. There are a few occasions when I’ve had to use herbicides (if we hadn’t sprayed the blackberries on this place when we first started reclaiming the pastures, we would have no pasture). Generally speaking, however, I prefer to use methods such as intensive grazing, heavy mulch, hand pulling or natural enemies to manage diseases, weeds and insects. By the way, it’s been my experience that when you grow plants organically and save your own seeds so your plants gradually become adapted to your garden conditions, insects don’t bother them much and they’ll compete quite well with weeds and be less susceptible to insects. Insects, like predators, tend to go for the weak, unhealthy specimens. Birds, on the other hand, are another matter — they, the raccoons, the deer, the rabbits and my personal nemesis: ground squirrels — zero in on the best stuff in the garden. So you fence them out, use netting or shoot them – especially the ground squirrels. Then you feed the remains to the pigs or the chickens, who relish the extra protein.
Welcome to my garden!

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