Home gardens to the rescue!

by Brendan Riordan  ·  May 20, 2022

Growing your own food is easy to start doing and has benefits for health and family; here are some tips


It’s a good time to start a food garden!

Food gardening has been a normal way of American life since our inception as a nation. We can thank the indigenous peoples of Massachusetts for teaching the pilgrims how to grow food and sustain themselves. All the crops grown by the indigenous peoples back then, including beans, squash, and corn—the “three sisters”—are still viable sustenance crops.

If those indigenous peoples were to give us some advice today, I believe they would emphatically advocate “growing your own food” and growing it locally! It just doesn’t make sense that we would rely on cross-country or international supply chains to sustain us.

Homegrown or locally produced food also increases the nutritional value of what we’re eating. That nutritional value can improve our immune system and overall health.

It also tastes a lot better.

In 2008, my wife, Dawn, our three young children, and I moved from a New Jersey city to the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Over the next 12 years, we cultivated a 1-acre area and began growing our own food. After a while we had enough food for ourselves, started a roadside farm stand, and sold to local restaurants. Our children are now grown, but my wife and I continue to grow our own food at our new homestead in North Carolina. None of our children became farmers but are successes in their own fields, having learned a good work ethic on our small family farm.

Dawn and I encourage everyone everywhere to “grow your own food.”

Gardens to the rescue then

Again in 1942, Americans learned the lesson of “growing your own food” locally, as World War II created leanness in our food supplies.

Public parks and even the White House lawn were tilled to create food gardens, which were called Victory Gardens.

I see Americans getting back to growing their own food locally, out of necessity. In fact, Micah 4:4 says that each person should sit under their own vine and fig tree. And, when God’s people entered the promised land, one of their main rewards was to inherit food gardens that were already set up and wells that they did not have to dig (Deuteronomy 6:11).

Gardens to the rescue now

Officials have recently warned of potential food shortages due to the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. With the addition of ongoing supply-chain problems, rising grocery prices, and intermittent empty shelves right here in America, the writing is clearly on the wall. It will pay to “Grow your own food” and “Buy local.”

But how can you grow enough food to provide for your family?

The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan, published in 2009, says that a small family can grow all the food that they need on a quarter of an acre. But what if you don’t have a quarter of an acre?

You’d be surprised by how much food can be grown in a small space, too. Better yet, you can coordinate with your neighbors or with your church to form food co-ops. With everyone growing some food, a substantial amount of food can be grown and used for bartering.

Here are two of my favorite ways to grow food.

No-till wood chip method

I like this method the best as it cuts down weeding and watering and it feeds the soil.

You can use just about anything to cover the ground. Just look in God’s creation. Nowhere, except maybe in a desert, is the ground uncovered. The purpose of ground covering in nature is to prevent erosion and to provide a continual source of food for soil and plant life.

As organic coverings like leaves, grass, woodchips, and other materials break down, they compost into usable nutrients for plant life. I like woodchips the best, as they are easy to manage and readily available. And no, they do not make the soil overly acidic as long as you do not till them in.

Following Paul Gautschi’s “Back to Eden” method, I converted a 60-by-100-foot plot on our vegetable farm with great success. You can use just about any organic matter, such as leaves, grass, or pine needles, but woodchips work well because they are neat and easy to walk on as well as good at holding moisture during dry spells.

An added benefit of the no-till woodchip method is that the soil gets better every year as the woodchips continually break down and compost.

You need to start with 10 to 12 inches of woodchips directly over low grass or bare soil the first year. Every year after that, top-dress with 2 to 3 inches of additional woodchips in the fall.

After about one year you will notice that the woodchips are turning into rich compost filled with soil-friendly worms that encourage sustainable growing of vegetables. And it’s practically a no-weed and no-water system. What’s not to like about that? If you sign up for the Chipdrop app you may be able to receive more free woodchips delivered to your property than you know what to do with. I did. Or you can certainly use whatever organic covering that is readily available to you such as leaves, straw, pine needles, grass clippings, and more. Woodchips are neat, making muddy areas stable and passable and retaining moisture when it’s dry.

Kitchen garden boxes

If you want an instant-grow area, build a kitchen garden box. Kitchen garden boxes are raised beds, usually 18 to 36 inches tall and approximately 8 feet long by 4 feet wide.

Here again, there are many materials that can be used to create this growing area, from wooden planks to concrete blocks to metal roofing. The sky is the limit.

The idea is to position the kitchen garden box close to your kitchen to grow everyday foods that are easily accessible, like herbs, cucumbers, lettuce, and carrots. Kitchen garden boxes provide quicker results, as they are easy to construct, and you can start with ready-made soil. In fact, most garden centers now sell bags of soil labeled for raised beds. You can easily find bulk-potting mixes as well for a fraction of what bagged soil costs. I like to make my own mix of half compost and half professional potting soil. Any way you slice it, you can have a grow space with soil ready to grow crops right now.

At our new North Carolina homestead, we built a kitchen garden box, bought ready-made bulk composted potting soil, and planted garlic last fall. By the beginning of April, the garlic was over 2 feet high, and we planted lettuce seeds between the garlic.

Witnessing the miracle of life from seed to harvest is a joy of my life. This God-given joy is available to you as well!

Samaritan Ministries member Brendan Riordan is the owner of Homestead Food Gardens, offering food garden design and coaching (virtually or in person). To book an initial garden consult with Brendan or to learn more, visit his website.