I haven't posted here in ages, but Jersey started commenting on organic and being off the grid in comments for Father Tyme's 'Through an age darkly...' post below.
I am not off the grid, nor close to it yet, but I attempt to grow all my own vegetables. Because I live in a normally conducive climate and I'd really prefer to not support The Man at Monsanto or Cargill or whichever others are in bed w/ the US Gubmint. Maybe I am just old-fashioned that way. Maybe I just want to know that organic means organic and isn't just trendy green-washing.
Technically, I am west of the state's breadbasket, which covers territories starting in the Sacramento valley and ranges down into the San Joaquin valley towards Bakersfield, but this means as a result that I have better opportunities to water my raised beds with saved rainwater, because the central valley (especially the San Joaquin) has been in this bitter drought for years now. Drought and agriculture do not mix well, needless to say (google phrases like "delta smelt" and you'll find a lot of gasbagging and handwringing that at least view didn't do jack shit to address possibilities like growing more drought-tolerant crops, much less break out of the monoculture mold.) A couple years ago I decided to plant some crops which are traditionally grown in the southwestern states, kind of as a precautionary stop-gap. It was a good way to emphasize heirloom crops, get away from hybrids which don't always breed true when seed is saved, and to emphasize water conservation. I grow maize and legumes from Native Seeds at this point and some tomatoes and peppers as well. (It all started because I was looking for teosinte to grow from seed, but that's another story.) My rationale was that because the state's been in a drought and we've had a couple dry-ish winters in the SF Bay Area, I might as well start to adapt growing patterns because the summers here are hotter than the devil's buttcrack much of the time, requiring tons of water. So I grow Mitla Black beans for dry and green beans, and because they enrich the tomato beds. At least that is how it worked in 2010. And I grow maize, squashes and pole beans in a Three Sisters arrangement at the back corner where corn does well, with plenty of Fourth Sister volunteers of various sunflowers planted by my hens when I let them in to scratch and turn over the soil late fall.
Things went pretty well last fall. I had several pounds of sunflower seeds for the hens, I had dried corn to crack for them in the winter, and we had winter squashes for the cold months. And after the first official heavy rains, in the tomato and pepper beds we wound up with boxes of fruit to be ripened in a sunny spot in the living room and/or roasted and cooked with. Not huge fruits mind you, but tasty, and it was nice having that bit of sunshine in our Christmas tamales come December.
Not so this year.
In the spring, I had wised up some on my bean choices for the back corner. Teparies may be preferable if you anticipate a dry summer and need a quick grower, and are actually dry-farmed in some places; I'd interplanted them with a fast-maturing corn, and was hoping to plant and harvest twice. Dry-farming is very popular for tomatoes as well, but I've not tried that yet, although I've certainly let tomatoes get a bit dry so they'll root deeper and suck some of the water out of the amended clay at the bottoms of the growing furrows; works grand near the end of the growing season when the plants are more mature and fruiting like mad because they sense the season ending.
In addition, I'd read Carol Deppe's very good if idiosyncratic and stubborn 'The Resilient Gardener'. I ordered some squashes she recommends for regions where the growing season might be shortened for some reason, like Sweet Meat. I ordered garbanzo beans because they seemed a good transitional legume that tolerates a bit of cold as it builds up your nitrogen. And I went batshit crazy and ordered organic seed potatoes from Fedco in ME. Because, well... because I thought I might do well with them. Why not? I'd been growing organic red potatoes in half barrels and wanted a little more variety.
Starting in October, when the rains slowly began on the heels of Indian summer, I turned the hens out to scratch and weed and poop and turn over soil in the early evenings, and on the weekends. It's become a helpful step because the soil is kind of poor here. Then I sowed favas as a winter and spring crop to keep the soil busy and to leave more nitrogen and some mycorrhizae fungus to ensure good water retention in the spring, covered quite a bit of soil with straw, and let winter happen. One of the big issues with growing in clay-heavy soil, where you'd be better off throwing pots than planting, is that clay is a mess during the rainy season. We've slowly adjusted to this, adding straw and other organic materials before the rains come, sometimes working things in with our cultivator before sowing fava and laying on the straw. Technically we're looking at a decade of such activity before we have SOIL, in fact. But we're determined to speed it up, adding around 200+ lbs of home-composted amendment yearly. A lot of people will add sand to make water flow better in such soil, but that just ensures having to water more often and winding up with cranky plants which are still nitrogen- and phosphorus-starved, IMHO.
Anyway, spring came, I harvested about 20 lbs of shelled fava beans (damn they were tasty if a lot of work), we yanked up and composted all the fava plants, and got cracking with planting. Starting with the back corner. I alternated Anasazi corn and tepary beans in the rows, in a nice checkerboard, after we tilled just to reinvigorate the soil and work in more finished compost. Then we did squashes and sunflowers nearby, sowed brassicas which would mature before the temps climbed up, and we had flats full of tomato and pepper seedlings waiting to go outside, too.
And then it started raining, and would not stop for several weeks. This was in March. Now sporadic rainfall into April is common here, but nonstop for weeks leading up to April is not. During this time I was also brooding chicks in the house, they were going to be meat birds and layers, because we'd eaten a couple hens at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the flock wasn't really laying much in their second winter and early spring. Anyway, I managed to find time to replant seeds, because the beds had gotten so compacted by the rain, after turning it over again, with a shovel this time, as it dried out some.
And then we got colder weather. It snowed one afternoon when the normal temp would have been around 65F. I was out there wiring some tarps onto the coop and pen for the younger chickens, just to keep out the rain which had begun when I got home, and then realized I wasn't wet at all, and that it was clumps of snow falling out of the sky... And so then we got more rain, and it took forever for the very important back corner to germinate, and the crops basically failed back there, save the sunflowers. The only squashes I got this year were volunteers from when I'd fed the hens pumpkin guts after Hallowe'en last year (these came up in the onion and tomato beds.) And so the hens got to eat baby corn, because the corn plants got maybe a foot tall, if even that, and not a single ear matured.
We stuck with it and sowed a shitload of seeds, got tomatoes and peppers into the beds, and nothing grew for a couple months. Why? It wasn't stinking warm enough. And then it was too warm. Summer squashes did not grow. There were no bees in the yard to speak of other than a couple big fat orchard bumbles which favored the flowering sages; the rest of the local bees were confused, methinks, or had not wintered over at all.
Anyway, this is an awful lot of pissing and moaning, I'm sure, but it makes me wonder exactly how bad it must be in the midwest right now, in the plains where corn is grown as an industrial operation, and soybeans similarly, and where I hear grains are failing.
If Sara the hippie farmer in CA cannot grow an organic bonanza of veggies, just imagine what has befallen the fuckersons at Monsanto et al who claim erroneously that they are feeding the world when what they are in fact doing is enslaving the world with their crop technologies, pesticides, and fake fertilizers that reduce soil fertility. Friends of mine in neighboring cities had better results, but everyone had at least two or three specific crop failures. Corn. Squashes. Potatoes. Etc.
Even worse, while organic farming is a helluva lot more resilient than industrial, it is not infallible either. I was fully expecting to eat from my yard this year, saving, pickling, preserving, et al. Mind you the fall growing season is coming, so I am going to try again, and have plenty of things to attempt to grow like napa cabbages, turnips, carrots, more brassicas, et al. But if this were all I had to rely on, I'd be pretty fucking hungry right now. So would the cats and chickens. It is all well and good to read Mother Earth News and get a bug up your butt to plant your own tomatoes this year, but that's almost always done w/ the tacit assumption that you'll be buying the rest of your food from somewhere. What if the sources for the somewhere had crop failures?
Apparently Rick Perry doesn't believe in Global Warming, which means he doesn't believe in changing weather patterns either. Does he think the wildfires and drying aquifers are due to demons or something? Or a conspiracy? Michelle Bachmann doesn't believe it in either, never mind that her hairspray contributes to it, as does her mouth whenever she opens it to make weird noises that resemble human speech.
I have better plans for this coming spring, which include keeping the tv switched off.