More Essential Factors of Production; Is it a subsistence garden or a market garden?

Once you have decided which vegetables to plant and what varieties, it’s time to design your field or garden.  In his book, “Five Acres and Independence”, Kain presents a diagram of a large garden layout.  This is not the only way to plant a garden.  Additionally if you plant it exactly the same every year without rotating vegetable groups you could end up with a buildup of soil born plant pathogens that lead to crop failures.

Before you even decide on the design of your garden, you need to determine an appropriate garden size for your situation.  A wise place to start would be to measure out the size of Kain’s suggested garden.  Try to imagine what tools and time you would need to prepare, plant, maintain, and harvest the garden over an entire growing season.  Ask yourself the following questions;

  • Who will help me work in the garden?
  • Is this a market garden (income generating) or a subsistence garden (personal use)?
  • How much time do you have available to work in this garden?
  • What resources, such as seed, fertilizer, mulch, irrigation supplies, and quantity of water do you have?

Now that you’ve answered all these questions where do you want to plant this garden and does it have to be contiguous (i.e. one big garden or a series of smaller gardens)?  If the garden is not going to be a market garden or various structures make it impossible to have one garden as large as you want, there is no reason not to have multiple smaller gardens.  In fact your farm may have a number of microclimates that you will want to take advantage of such as shade, full sun, or wind blocks such as buildings or windbreaks.  In fact some of your garden may need to be grown in a greenhouse or hoophouse for year round production or extended seasons.  Greenhouses and hoophouses will be the be the subject of future posts.

Gardens and fields can be any shape so don’t worry if you can’t find a location that is exactly Kain’s dimensions or rectangular.  The size and shape should be governed by the available space and whether it is a market garden or a subsistence garden.  Something to think about that is not mentioned in Kain’s book is the positioning of plants for ease of harvesting.  As plants grow, space between them will diminish.  this is especially true of vines.  Also tomato plants tend to bend over as they get taller and laden with fruit.  You may need tomato cages and trellises for bean and other vine crops.

If you plan of planting sweet corn you will need to plant it in blocks of neighboring rows or hills with multiple stalks.  The reason corn must be planted in either of these ways is that it is a wind pollinated crop that if the stalks are not planted close enough together will result in ears that are not filled out.  This does not mean you cannot use the Native American practice of the “Three Sisters”.  This is a system where corn, beans, and squash are planted together in hills to support each other.  More on this system in future posts.  As long as you have multiple stalks planted on the same hill you will probably get adequate pollination of the corn.

So far I haven’t said a lot about where to locate that garden.  Mostly that is a matter of personal preference, such as convenience to kitchen, packing sheds, or accessibility to farm equipment.  However, adequate sunlight, and proximity to sources of irrigation water are also important.  The latter will be the subject of my next post.