For those of you who are not familiar with these gentlemen posted above, they are the Hefty brothers of the show AG PhD on RuralTV. Each of them owns a farm in the Midwest and every week they present some topic that is related to their craft. They have segments on their show titles, “Farm Basics”, “Iron Talk” and one of my personal favorites, “The Weed of the Week.” Now I am sure by now you think I have completely lost my marbles because there is nothing in common between the farms in the Midwest and my land here in the swamp.
Now it is true there are more differences than similarities with our methods of crop production. They have heavy machinery. I have a shovel with a crack in it. They have tiled fields with good drainage for their crops. I have a swamp. They have serious corporate backing complete with computerized soil sampling and grid layout of each of their fields. I have a Lowe’s credit card and a book on gardening.
But what I do admit is the very basics of crop production remains the same. You need good seeds. You need good soil. You need decent moisture, heat, light and food to help the plants grow. Then you need some sort of pest control because, as we know, the swamp is filled with these little pests that eat everything. So lets look at each one.
As far as seeds are concerned, Lowe’s carries much of what I need. Whether it be from an actual seed or from a seedling, their product seems to have worked the longest for me. Personally, I prefer a pre-started plant if it is not a root crop. For example a pepper plant or a tomato plant I prefer a seedling of at least 12″ in length. The extra cost is well worth the hassle. For carrots and such, well the seeds will do just fine.
Now moisture is an issue. I cannot afford to tile my lawn like the Hefty boys do so I decided I will grow my plants above the base soil. The soil here in the swamp is acidic and sandy – any growth above the indigenous weeds and vines are likely to have a short lifespan. I have watched healthy trees go from full blossom to dead in less than a year so again, unless the soil has been fully prepared by adding 100% organic soil to the entire plot, forget about growing anything IN the soil. So what do I do?
(1) Use well-drained pots. This is easier to maintain, especially if the weather turns severe you can simply pull the pots under a roof or inside the house. The key is they have to drain very, very well.
(2) Raised beds. Now I will start by saying I have had only moderate success with this method. What I did was lay down a barrier of cloth over the grassy area I just cleared. I put in 6″ tall wooden barriers in a 6 foot by 6 foot square. I fill this bed completely with organic soil and then plant what I want.
Have I seen locals raise crops directly in the soil? Yes i have. I hate them.
The next thing is the heat of the summer. Many of the ordinary crops will melt away in the summer’s ugly heat. Those Florida hybrid tomatoes? They were the first tomato crop to die last year. Beefsteak tomatoes? They were the second to go. I have found the cherry tomatoes and the heirloom tomatoes the best of that type of plant to use here. The peppers do fairly well here also. I have had success with pimento and green chili peppers – so much so they lived all through the winter and have produced very well for two years and counting! I keep them in partial shade and pull them further into shade in the heat of the day. I have had some limited success with carrots, aloe, bamboo, rosemary (for the baked chicken) and basil. The rest – not so much. Hopefully this list will (forgive the pun) grow well in the future.
Food for the plants is important. I do lay out washed out egg shells for fertilization often. If you grind them up and put them on the leaves they are also an insect repellent. We also use cayenne pepper on the leaves to keep the damn squirrels from chewing on the green shoots for moisture when it gets dry out. I also place organic plant food every so often and we transfer the plants to other pots after a year or two to get fresh soil.
Now I do have some blueberry bushes. I learned that they do moderately well where I placed them on the slope of my backyard as it begins to tumble down into the moat. I have for the most part left them alone, only going back there to water during the drought years and to keep the thorny vines off of them so they are not choked to death. When they produce berries the race is on between the damn squirrels and me to harvest as many of these little gems as possible. I am pleased to say I harvested about a cup and a half total last year, and I am optimistic this yield will continue to increase. One lesson learned, when planting these bushes, buy two different sets of two species of blueberries to allow for cross-pollination. That way additional “baby” blueberry bushes will end up growing alongside the ones you planted.
So as you see I do gain some knowledge from watching these two Midwestern good-ol-boys talk about their trade. Farming is not easy, nor is growing anything of substance here in the Swamp. But I will admit, there is nothing like harvesting and eating something you have grown.