Food Security 2009

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Our 2009 Gardening Success was due to exclusive planting of seeds donated by
In 2009 I recognized that the economic situation was making a lot of people suffer terribly. Many were not accustomed to having to struggle to get by. It was a year for community gardening, but with a twist. I decided to talk to friends in the community and ask them to grow food in their own yards. The public space option was too risky.I also recognized that the size limitations of my own yard would severely limit what and how much I could grow. That is if I didn’t start thinking differently about growing space.

My first thought was potatoes. Last year I really wished I could grow more potatoes, but the traditional rows heaped high with straw took up too much room. I decided on stacks of tires.  My husband kindly dragged some home. They were huge – and they were heavy.

There are several schools of thought on this method. One plan is to lay them out as described at Stop the Ride frugality blog.  The author draws on the writings of Backwoods Home.  However, the plan presented here seems to take up just as much room as the traditional row. So what’s the point? Unless you have a bunch of old tires you can’t get rid of.

You can stack them up – which makes the most sense like the ones pictured above – and described at this site. But you still have a stack of dirty old tires in your yard. I thought of painting them. But I then I came across a terrific post at Tip Nut.


A friend sent me a link to Tip Nut, and I’m now addicted. What great down to earth ideas. Be sure to visit them.Anyway, they had an article entitle How to Grow 100 lbs of Potatoes in 4 Square Feet. What an idea! So much more attractive than old tires. A great idea and attractive, but as I read on, it started to sound complicated.  For starters, if you wanted to harvest potatoes from the bottom layer, you had to unscrew the thing. Too much work!

I put on my thinking cap and my darling husband said, uh oh. I showed him the potato box above and then I started to describe what I wanted to do. He didn’t run away. Instead, he took my idea and improved on it.

We got pallets which are everywhere for free. He sawed them in half and fashioned a side by side compost bin / potato box.  He fitted the front with wood bars so that it could (in theory) just slide up instead of complicated unscrewing.

I slid “books” of hay into the openings to keep the soil and potatoes from falling out, and also to allow air in. The best part is it was free! What a team we make! But we weren’t done.

Our new potato box / compost bin was in place, but unfortunately it was over the spot where Feeney liked to dig to try to reach the neighbor’s dog. He hopped in and couldn’t get out. To make matters worse, the feral cats in the neighborhood thought it made a swell litter box. And Puggles just love stink. Ugh!  A quick covering with a chicken wire frame took care of that.In the days that followed, it was rainy and I couldn’t get into the garden, but my brain kept going. I saw some alternatives to those pricey Topsey Turvey planters for tomatoes and thought, that’s just a bag. Some folks were hanging 5 gallon buckets. Too heavy.  Hmmm, I said to my husband. Uh oh, said he.  What if we put up a frame. It could fit right into the opening of the pallets. Then I can make planters out of 3 liter soda bottles. He agreed. What a team!

The planters were fashioned from a variety of soda bottles, a bleach bottle, a pretzel canister, and a water dispenser.  I planted not only tomatoes, but also strawberries and cucumbers.

So far so good.

N e x t    S t e p s  .  .  .
The planters looked a little blah, so I decided to stick some petunias in the top to add color I should add that the area where this wonderful construction was built is along the edge of our driveway. It is no longer than 15 feet and about 4 feet deep at the widest. At one point I had a pretty pink rose bush planted behind a shrine of the Virgin Mary. It never did well. Finally, I realized that was because there was concrete just a few inches down.Remember that falling down brick wall from last year that never got fixed? Well, with a little help from my son, we dug out all the remaining soil and the tubers from the very invasive spiderwort and paved the area with some of the bricks.

A small space container garden was born — and Mary still had her place in the center of it all.

Combination Compost Bin – Potato Box and Hanging Garden Close Up of Planter with Flowers Strawberry Pot
The pallets also had spaces that were perfect to hold small pots. I collected extra decorative vines and flowering plants and fit them into the spaces.
In case you think this all looks very expensive, it’s not.  The pallets were free. The lumber for the frame was left over from a neighbor’s deck. The bricks were given to me by the City. Some of the pots were found and others were given to me by a neighbor who moved away.  The 5 gallon tubs were found at the local bakery. They took a lot of scrubbing, but they were free! The beautiful teak trellises had price tags on them – $39.99 for the small ones and $49.99 for the large one. I got them at a church sale for $2 each. The strawberry pot was another purchase at a garage sale for 50 cents. As for the plants, most were grown from seed donated to our program. Oh, one other cost. 5 cents each for the soda bottles we didn’t return for deposit.
Wasted Space Now Productive
In a tiny garden, every inch counts. And in busy lives, every unnecessary chore eliminated means more time for productive activities. Next to our back deck we had a privet hedge that had grown to an insane height.  It was also the occasional home to a sharp-toothed hissing opossum. Every year my husband and I spent hours and sometimes days chopping it back. As we grew older, I realized that it would get more and more difficult to do.  I decided it was time to get rid of it. With my best Tom Sawyer skills I got our son to help – telling him that this was for his own good. I told him we wouldn’t be calling him over to trim it twice a year for the rest of our lives! OK. He didn’t just help. He did 90% of the work.  It was a huge task.  The plan was to install a planting box where the hedge had been. The sandy soil was chock full of rocks and broken glass and pottery, so we used one of our garden chairs as a soil sifter. Once the hedge was gone, I realized that a good deal of our privacy was gone, too, so a trellis was added.  Since it was already a little late in the season, there wasn’t a lot of planning time left to decide what crop to put in there.  I had a few eggplants that hadn’t found a home, so in they went along with some basil and dill.  I never did get a chance to take a last photo when everything was fully grown, but the beautiful freshly sifted soil made those eggplants take off. There were over 20 fruits hanging off each branch! It was a struggle to harvest them all. In 2010 I think it will be home to zucchini squash.
A garden chair placed over a bucket made an excellent soil sifter to remove broken glass and rocks The new planting box built of left over recycled plastic deck planks and a cobblestone base Less than a month later the eggplant, basil and dill took off with incredible yields
What worked – what didn’t
The homemade topsy turvy planters had mixed results. The strawberries were fabulous and did much better than the ones in the strawberry pot only because the slugs couldn’t get to them.The other planters were not so terrific.  I left a lot of open space at the top for ease in watering and with the thought that they’d get more rain water. Unfortunately, they also got seeds from tall wild grasses into them thanks to the ocean breeze and passing birds. The grass grew powerful, long roots that competed with the plants. It was impossible to pull it all out and the end result was sickly plants.

Some planters, like the shelf water bottle, had an over hanging area that helped all sorts of who-knows-what to grow. They all went into the trash. L

The compost / potato box also had mixed results.  The compost side worked incredibly well. We kept feeding it all summer and the added water that dripped from the hanging plants above kept it moist.  We ended up with some very fast compost with no turning and a lot of frighteningly huge earthworms. I know they’re good for the garden, but they still give me the creeps. The design made it easy to pull up the front and scoop out the amount of compost needed. On the potato side, things were also a little “off”. I probably shouldn’t have skimped on what I planted. I stuck to my tried and true method of using potatoes that sprouted in the house rather than the recommended layering of late and early yielding eyes. The yield wasn’t great and the sizes were either tiny or huge. I haven’t decided what to do in 2010. Order proper plants or go back to the row method?
Our Featured Seed Company for 2009 – High Mowing Seeds.  Every year we experiment with seeds donated by various seed companies.  When you receive donated seeds, they are usually a year old or sometimes older.  This can affect the germination rate and often you need to sow more than you normally would to achieve the desired amount of plants.  High Mowing Seeds sent us a wonderful selection of seeds that were appropriate for our garden zone and conditions. Yes, they were expired.  Surprise!  The germination rate was through the roof.  In our garden and the participating gardens around us, we had to do a lot of thinning.  The plants were all healthy and robust. Lettuce seeds are notorious for losing viability after the first year. Not so with High Mowing Seeds. As you’ll read below, all of the lettuce was out of control, particularly the romaines. The herb seeds were no exception. We grew a variety of interesting basils, dill, and other herbs with great success. High Mowing is on our best bets list.  Don’t miss them.
Everything Else –  Great successes this year!  The beets were the size of baseballs and larger. Green beans were so abundant, it was hard to keep up with them. I never had such a successful year with romaine lettuce and struggled to find people to give it away to. Similarly all the other lettuces and greens were hugely abundant.  While everyone was struggling with a mysterious tomato blight and had plants dying off left and right, I was proactive with mine.  All of the plants were severely pruned and the pots were moved out to allow as much sun and air circulation as possible. The tomatoes planted traditionally in the garden were pruned as well but were so huge that they collapsed the tomato cages. At the end of the season, I was picking slightly less than a bushel a day and had the canner going around the clock. I planted a single zucchini squash plant due to space constraints and a history of having them die with squash borers. This single plant was huge and the zucchini fruits were hard to keep up with.  The grape vines we planted grew nicely and I’m hoping for grapes in 2010, but suspect that the supports we made might not be strong enough. All in all, our cupboard is full of good food grown with heirloom seeds so we know there is no genetically modified scariness in it and there are no chemicals. Everything we planted was from High Mowing Seeds
Canning – I had canned lots of tomato sauce in previous years using the boiling water bath method but this year I needed to learn about pressure canning. Pressure canners are a major investment, but one that will last a long, long time. Where we live there aren’t lots of them in the stores, and whenever I saw them, I was short on cash. When I went back, they were gone. Finally, I purchased a 23 Quart Presto Pressure Canner.  Pressure canning was always something that scared me silly with images of explosions dancing in my head.

When I finally got underway, with no experience, I couldn’t tell whether the weights were rocking or not, what was proper venting.  All sorts of beginner questions.  Presto has a toll free number for support and they are worth their weight in gold. I even had questions about a recipe and they had their test kitchen people call me back!

Aside from canning, another indispensable method of preserving food is by drying or dehydration. You’ll save space, too. Tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, beans, herbs, berries and other fruit, and even bargain meat to make jerky treats for our dogs (while avoiding who-knows-what in the commercial products made in China).

Another great source for learning is an internet discussion group – Preserving-Food at Yahoo Groups. What an incredible group of nice and knowledgeable people! There are lots of recipes and tips in the file section. I recommend subscribing to a daily digest since there can be a lot of mail.

Heinsohn’s Country Store Hard to find products for home food preserving.

Our Best BetsNational Presto Industries 23-qt. Pressure Canner


Granite Ware 21.5-qt. Covered Canner

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Below are photos of a small portion of what I canned using these two products

Aroma Housewares Co. Food Dehydrator

Perfect for everyone from outdoor hobbyists to the health-conscious, this dehydrator is designed for efficient, even drying. It handles everything from fruit slices to beef jerky on five spacious, height adjustable trays. It’s equipped with an electric fan and automatically rotating trays that spin in both directions, and was designed to prevent the overheating that eliminates food’s vital nutrients.


Nesco Deluxe Dehydrator

This innovative design features 700 watts of drying power, and generates maximum speed and quality for dehydrating fruits, vegetables, beef jerky, and venison jerky. The top mounted fan eliminates the worry of liquids dripping into the heating chamber!

More Food Security Alternatives – fish and foraging
Fishing – If my family comes home in the summer and fall and I’m not in my office, in the garden, or canning, they know where to find me – at the fishing pier. I’ll admit I get a little obsessed and very competitive. I love the peace and beauty of God’s creation where the sky meets the water. Sometimes there’s a rainbow. Sometimes two.I love the old retired gentlemen who spend hours gossiping and sometimes catching fish. I love the cocky young men, filled with bravado, who offer me unsolicited advice. I smile, say nothing, and pull in far more fish that I should. Most of all, I love helping youngsters learn how to catch their first fish. Even if the “youngster” is almost as old as I am!


I bring home a lot of fresh Atlantic Ocean fish so there’s always fish on Fridays. Since the men folk in my household won’t even think of helping me to clean them, that job is reserved for me alone and the scraps are buried deep in the garden.

 In 2009 I perfected my technique for catching kingfish, a species that eluded me for years. (Below)

Sometimes in September and October, when the porgies are biting (but almost always too small to keep) a similar species with no bag or size limit swings through. Popularly called Lafayettes or Spots, if you know what you’re doing, you can pull up four or five at a time.  They are delicious and wonderful to share with my Filipino friends, deep fried and served with rice and fresh vegetables.

Commercial Fishing Products – Do you want to catch fish – LOTS of fish? Visit Heinsohn’s Country Store.


I am also blessed with wonderful neighbors, one of whom is a local legend for his fishing abilities.  Bernie regularly drops off frighteningly huge bluefish on my front porch. I never know when he’ll drop by, so the filet knife is always on hand since they’re too big to fit in the refrigerator.Bluefish from Bernie

And, of course, I catch plenty on my own.

All of the fish that isn’t eaten immediately gets preserved. Our Puggle, Feeney, loves fish and will eat alive any peanut bunker that escapes the bait net, so canning bluefish is a natural. The bones get very soft so he gets some added calcium.  The rest get frozen.  A food saver is indispensable to avoid freezer burn. It is also terrific for resealing potato chips and cereal bags to keep bugs out and food fresh and crisp. Honestly, it will pay for itself in no time at all. I actually found mine in the trash, sealed and unused. I still can’t figure out why someone threw it out. After years of constant use, it finally gave out and we ordered a new one.


A Good Read:  Meeting the Mystical in Field and Stream

Every now and then you come across a book that is so terrific you just have to tell everyone about it. Hunting for God, Fishing for the Lord is one of those books.  I’ve never come across a book that combines two of my passions in one hard-to-put-down volume.  A uniquely successful blend of the best of outdoor sportsman writing and exploration of spirituality based on sound Catholic doctrine. Father Joseph Classen really knows his stuff: as a fisherman, a hunter, and a Catholic priest. His vivid narrative of the trials and triumphs of field and stream sets the hook for the outdoor enthusiasts among us – and then expertly reels you in to an up close and personal examination of Catholic spirituality. Unlike other touchy-feely works on “spirituality” that are more akin to New Age practices, Father Classen sets the reader straight on how authentic Catholic spirituality meets God in the outdoors – and how it doesn’t.  A must read for the outdoorsman (or woman). As a perhaps unintended bonus, I predict that this riveting book will catch at least one soul for the Priesthood among young men who find his masculine brand of priesthood an appealing lure. This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company.


Foraging – When I was growing up, walks in the fields and woods were a common form of simple and healthy entertainment and inevitably we’d find things to munch on along the way. Nuts. Berries, Sorrel. You get the idea.  My mother and I would enjoy evening meals where we would only eat what we found. We never went hungry.One afternoon in July my husband came home from work with a handful of berries and asked, “What are these? Can I put these in my cereal? One of the guys used to make wine out of them.” After a little research I learned they were mulberries. Hmmm. Make wine? Why not!


Armed with an old sheet, we headed to his work site one evening and started shaking the tree.  What you see above is a tiny portion of what came showering down.  Another adventure was underway.

Of course, I had no idea how to make wine.  Except for an adventure with dandelion wine in the 1960s, but we won’t go there. Again the preserving food group I mentioned, helped out. With bottles gleaned from our neighbor’s restaurant, along with wine yeast and air locks from a local wine making shop, we were in business. Since we don’t have a basement and wine needs to be kept in the dark, the linen closet was commandeered as a wine closet.

I didn’t stop with the mulberries. We found blueberries and wild grapes and soon there were vats of bubbling stuff in the kitchen and the house smelled a little like a brewery. In between stages we tasted a bit, and while it won’t be done until the spring, I think we did alright. We did succumb and purchase a wine kit which made an out-of-this-word chocolate raspberry port that was ready for Thanksgiving.

This is a great place to find wine making supplies

Heinsohn’s Country Store

We also went hunting for beach plums and other delectables and these were turned into jams, jellies and preserves without that dangerous high fructose corn syrup that is in almost everything.

Granted, I am a “just do it” kind of person, but when it comes to making wine, don’t.  Get a book. There are some little paperbacks with great instructions, but you’ll soon find that you’re missing a lot of information. Don’t waste time. Get this one:

The Home Winemaker’s Companion

While we enjoy foraging, I’m always careful to be certain about the various plants I decide to eat. As a former Cub Scout leader and mom of an Eagle Scout, I’ve led many treks to help young men learn how they can find food in the most unexpected places. I hadn’t had a poisoning yet. But when I come across something new, I ask an expert – Wildman Steve Brill


I never intended to run a Catholic antiquities and book business. Not in a million years. As a cradle Catholic, I grew up in a house that was filled with Catholic images and sacramentals not to mention an abundance of excellent books provided by family members who worked in publishing houses famous for their Catholic catalogues. The beautiful images and concepts presented in those books certainly had their effect in enhancing my identity as a Catholic. As the years passed, even in the midst of very un-Catholic settings, I became a repository for my friends’ Catholic “found objects.” Eventually, I had a family of my own. We’re a small family. There are just three of us. And two of us were born with the “junk collecting gene.” Garage sales attracted us like a magnet.
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