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Thinking Outside The Box

Springtime is supposed to be here, yet the snow rolls around about every other day in the month of April. The saying goes “April showers bring May flowers.” Well these showers come via frozen snowdrops along with some very cold nights.

Last year, we ate out of our outdoor garden seven months here in high elevation Montana (May to November). This year we would like to give it a go and push it to nine months. That triples the recommend normal planting/ growing days for Zone 4. This push is an example of thinking outside the conventional wisdom box when it comes to growing your own food. By the way, we don’t own a greenhouse, we just make use of experimental tricks designed to beat the weather.

Thinking inside the box represent “that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking. Such as: good old single-row gardening, fighting all those weeds and then over-rototilling the soil ending up sending all your valuable organic energy straight into the air through simple oxidation. I truly believe we all need to bust out of this conventional box, breakaway from traditional ways, which allows all kinds of new exciting things to happen. Come on and explore a little. It’s fun.

This year we have several new gardening ideas to test. All designed to improve our ways to grow your own food, faster, easier, and at almost no cost.

Some 2009 questions to be answered:

Can you raise warm season plants like pumpkins germinated as early as March 23? That’s way too early says conventional wisdom?

Can you grow whole gardens in small buckets full of 100 per cent homemade compost?

Can you plant outdoors in a square foot garden with only 5.5 inches (14 cm) of soil as early as two months before the last frost?

Can certain vegetable plants stay alive with Montana nights temperatures plunging into the 20F (-7C) range?

These are just some of the concerns we are going to be testing this year. Of course I say no-holds-barred when it comes to cheating for bragging rights with extreme intensive gardening practices. You see, our main garden when combined together is only 12 foot by 12 foot which is only 144 square foot in size. Last year we had to give lots of nice veggies away.

As far as vegetable production goes, we were able to grow in one square — 12 inches by 12 inches one eight-pound cabbage harvested in August. With a sharp knife I just cut the big cabbage off at the base leaving the bottom leaves in place and that same plant in the fall grew an additional four smaller cabbages. Nice, because the math behind this production says you can grow well over 100 pounds of food from one four-foot square box, which is about the size of a small kitchen table.

When I say intensive gardens, I’m referring to what’s behind all this experimentation that we refer to as “humanitarian food gardening” effort that my wife and I are now totally immersed in. We are trying to learn more new ways to grow healthy food that will change the way people feed themselves around the world all caused by our one trip to Africa.

We have a goal to go back to third world countries especially in Africa and teach children (or anyone who will listen) to become master mini-gardeners. We call this effort new ways to feed the world. We like to think a bit holistic now at least from seed to stomach with this effort. I know that with our changing times this intensive mini-gardening effort is needed more than I ever could envision.

I can say this because as we go around presenting our test gardening ideas people are really are looking for new ways to feed themselves. One church show-and-tell session we set up for 25 to 35 people and 200 people showed up. What is this all about? There seems to be a national movement to become more self-reliant in these changing economic times.

A fellow from Calgary sent me a huge photo documentation of his relatively small backyard growing literally tons of food ranging from hundreds of hanging buckets, intensive planted beds and closely spaced rows, rows of buckets gardens, mini on the ground greenhouses, and whole walls full of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, potatoes plus other crops. I was totally impressed by how little space it takes to grow more food than a family could eat in one year.

That is the potential of this whole idea. As we drive across this nation, I now see the countryside and town areas with such wasted space. What if a very small portion of this beautiful landscape was converted into intensive mini-gardens? We could probably feed the whole world if folks converted a small half of their yards and landscapes in to something editable.

The real purpose behind this article is-try thinking outside the box of conventional wisdom — when it comes to supplying your home food. If each person would take an inventory of their own yards and converted portions of it into editable landscapes, this would have a great potential to feed your family with healthier, tastier veggies. Stay tuned as we continue to experiment and discovering more new ways to feed the world.

Wayne Burleson is a land management consultant working out of Absarokee, Montana. You can visit with Wayne at 406-328-6808 or E-mail him at [email protected]Wayne has an educational web site at

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