by Lizzie Bennett
As preppers we are far more aware of what’s going on around us than the population at large.
We are rightly concerned about the future, and food security for the future occupies our minds on almost a daily basis. We know we cannot store enough to keep our families fed indefinitely. Our choices, especially after a collapse of any sort will be limited.
Over the past four years I have tried different methods to increase my yields, and logged the results. This year my garden will be planted according to those results.
Summarizing, this is what I have discovered:
- Raised beds are easier on the back, and they heat up about two weeks earlier than the soil.
- Using raised beds allows me to really enrich the soil, as you would with the no dig method where organic matter builds up over the seasons.
- Building raised beds need not be expensive. I am using the one metric tonne bags that sand and gravel are delivered in. They are robust, cheap and make what is normally hard work very easy. At 39 inches tall they are suitable for those who have problems bending.
- Combining my own version of square foot gardening with the no dig method has given me the best results. I have produced several times the amount of food in half the space as compared to conventional row gardening.
- Bug control is far easier on the raised beds than in conventional row gardening.
- Sprouts and sweetcorn do not do well in such high beds, the wind breaks them. Peas and beans likewise.
- Potatoes do incredibly well even when grown in a black rubbish/garbage bag.
The secret to the success of the Bennett method is successive sowing and intensive sowing at the same time.
I fill the bottom of the bags with a layer of hardcore, bricks, rubble, stones, anything you have to hand. This gives them stability and aids drainage. The fabric they are made of is similar to weed control membrane, and this prevents weeds growing in from the bottom.
Next I fill them to within six inches of the top with a mix of compost, well rotted leaves, well rotted manure and soil. That done they are ready to use. I have mine located at the far end of the garden in a large U shape with four rows in the centre of the U, leaving room between for a wheelbarrow.
One bag at the end of each row is rolled down and filled to six inches to accommodate potatoes. Earthing up is simply a case of unrolling a little more bag and chucking in some soil.
Once the last frosts have gone I sow directly into the bags, across the entire width of the bag. The seeds are placed much closer together than in conventional gardening, and I don’t thin out, they wouldn’t thin out in nature so who am I to argue? My gauge is the size of the seeds. The larger the seeds the further apart I plant them.
I sow another row every week, no more than a couple of inches away from the first row. I do this until I get to the back of the bag.
This produces a huge amount of produce in 9 square feet, my version of square foot gardening!
Obviously with larger crops that need space, such as courgettes (zucchini) I wouldn’t sow in rows, I would put three seeds per hole six inches in from each corner. The extra seeds cover any that fail to germinate. Using the same theory cabbages would be planted 4 inches apart and the same distance between rows.
I genuinely couldn’t believe the amount of produce 18 square feet gave me when I first piloted this, but the proof was in the eating…and the reduced grocery bills.
Pest control is easy, just planting a small pot of strong smelling herbs in the corners of the bag is enough to deter carrot and onion flies by simply brushing the herbs to release the smell before you pull up lunch.
Making smaller U shapes allows for wheelchair or seated access meaning gardening really can be open to all regardless of age or physical ability. We are all getting older and anything that we can do that allows us to continue food production is in my opinion a good thing.
This spring a hardy kiwi vine will be planted at the back of one bag to scramble up the fence, (the variety is ‘Jenny’ for anyone who wants the name) Making holes in the side…carefully, a small cross with a sharp knife, allows such as strawberries to be grown off the ground, and herb pots soon cover the bag making an attractive and useful display.
I also intend to put cheap bamboo screening around the bags to make them a little more aesthetically pleasing this year. Bright blue bags with ‘Jewsons’ emblazoned across them is not exactly pretty, but they are exceptionally strong and very cheap.
Even in a small garden, one bag stood up a corner will give you 9 square feet of growing space, more if you put herbs through the sides on the bottom half of the bag.
Providing for our families is becoming increasingly difficult with rising prices and weather issues looking set to cause food shortages. Anything we can do to increase the amount of food we get from our gardens has to be considered.