Tuesday, December 8, 2020

New ebook! Fire

Red flames race across dry forests as Sylvia works in her rural California home, unaware of the deadly danger approaching. Her husband James, at work fifty miles away, learns of the fire but can't reach her on the phone. When the smoke nears Sylvia, she has to flee, into a maelstrom of burning ash, of flaming pine cones flying like bullets, into a thick cloud of smoke that makes finding her direction impossible. Over frantic hours, James desperately tries to find her, risking his own safety to get to the woman he loves.

Will either survive a terrifying California wildfire?

Available at Amazon (click that for link)



Wednesday, November 4, 2020

I'm still out here!

I tell you, friends, from August through Oct 1, a huge garden like mine beats you up badly. Oh my gosh, the preserving! It feels endless, but I definitely have fruit and veg enough through next June put away. I'm just finishing putting all the veg beds but one 'to bed' for the winter, and once that's done, I'll finish proofing the book I wrote in January and February, about a California Wildfire, have it pro proofread, and get it up, I hope by December, I'll be back to writing a new book (or two) this winter, but I don't yet have one that is calling loudly to me. I have several ideas, some openings written, and many choices, but it'll likely be Dec 10 before I choose one to move forward on.

I hope you and your family have been okay during the pandemic. I've had several friends and family with Covid, one hospitalized, but so far, knock wood, I haven't lost anyone. I feel fortunate indeed and even more fortunate that my work is done at home and alone, so it's easy for me to stay safe. I am vividly aware that's not everyone's situation. My thoughts are with those of you who have health problems or jobs that require public contact.

See you in December for a new release announcement!

Friday, July 31, 2020

Long time, no post!

It's tomatoes. I overdid it! I am drowning in tomatoes and the work to keep up with them. But these are the sorts of problems to have, right?

I'm nearly done proofreading my next book, a wildfire adventure. I have the cover, and I'll hold the release until after the US election because last time, the US election messed up releases and sales, and I'd rather steer around it, you know? So before the holidays this December, you'll be able to ask for the ebook as a gift or give it to yourself.

I hope all my readers and fans are healthy and happy.

ignore that text--hadn't re-set date on camera
Forgot to reset date on camera; this was last week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

New Book Released

Ice Storm is available for sale at Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited!

Ray, barely fifteen years old, knows a lot about gaming and getting As at school. He's about to learn how useless those skills are in a crisis.

Freezing rain pelts down over a small Virginia city, coating roads, power lines, and trees. In a few hours, the city bustle grinds to a halt. When his mom is stuck at work for the duration of the storm, Ray's first challenges seem like no big deal: don't fall on the icy walkways, and make his own meals.

But as the ice continues to fall, his problems mount. First he loses power, then cell phone service, and then an icy tree comes crashing through the roof. The survival video games he has been playing bear no resemblance to real-life survival in extreme conditions.

Only his connection with the old woman next door can save him... he hopes.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Oil Apocalypse series in Audio book format

The final two books of the Oil Apocalypse series are going into production for audio. Thank you to those fans of it who were so patient in waiting! This will put the whole series onto audio. I'll email my mailing list and announce here when they are available for sale.

Stay safe and be well, friends.

Friday, March 13, 2020

A journey toward food self-sufficiency, part 4

In year one, you had a 4 x 8 (more or less) bed of vegetables, and while it was fun and tasty, you'll have noticed it didn't feed you much, or for long. You'll need more growing space to feed yourself all year, plus plenty of gear, like glass jars and pressure canner, a chest freezer, and thousands of square feet of gardening space, not just 32 of them. You need more trellising materials, and you need several tools beyond your fingers and your junk-drawer scissors. You'll want compost bins and leaf-mold bins for soil improvement every year. You need fruit trees and bushes, which cost more than 25-cent seeds, and the trees likely won't bear fruit for 3 years from planting. If you eat meat, you'll need a meat source. You might want to build a smokehouse or solar dehydration system for jerky and a greenhouse and rain collection barrels. You need, in short, money to get into gardening in a self-sustaining level.

Now it’s time to get into the crux of the situation. Survival farming. What do you need to do that?

You need tools and seeds and skills. You also need more land than I have.

you won't need this many tools, but you'll need some

How much space do you need to live on your own land?

There's a lot of debate about this, but I've experimented in my climate and think the most optimistic estimates you can find online are far too low. In 2000 square feet (and that includes some paths--to get around to weed, water, and harvest), I can grow enough veg and fruit to feed myself for a year, assuming normal losses to pests and surprise freezes and too much or too little rain. I think a second person could eat from only another 500 square feet, if we were careful with our planting and did trellising of squash and melons so they didn't sprawl and take up so much ground.

In a normal world, that 2500 square foot garden for a couple is all you’d need to eat for a full year. With 2500 square feet of space in garden, you would never need to spend a dime on fruit or veg at the store. You could build up to that much space in 3 years, and if there were a limited disaster (truckers all went on strike, so no veg/fruit were being delivered), you could eat. You could barely survive on that and possibly whatever meat you had the in your fridge and dried beans in your cupboard.

But let's imagine the worst-case scenario, and we need land to create everything we'll need, year in, year out. If I had 4 hens for eggs and 3 breeding rabbits for meat via their offspring, even if I tractored them on pasture, I'd need a lot more space to grow their hay and grain. If I had a dairy cow in addition, it'd take 5 acres minimum…plus a few acres of woods both to burn for heat and to attract deer that I'd also hunt for meat. If I had goats and not a cow for dairy, I could get by on 3 acres.

Still, I’d want you to own 8 fertile acres if you really wanted to plan seriously for a survival scenario. 5 cleared, 3 in woods, ideally abutting another property with more woods on it. (More woods = more deer.)

And even in this situation: rabbits, hens for eggs, hunting deer in your woods, a cow for dairy products, you need to breed a dairy cow or she'll stop giving milk, so who has the bull? When your hens stop laying in year 4, how do you replace them? And farming 5 acres with hand tools (we're assuming a total collapse situation right now, so there's no diesel or petrol to run tractors) is one heck of a lot of work. 3000 square feet even is a lot of work, as I can attest!

Whew! You're not ready for the jump from year 1's 4 x 8 bed to the 8-acre farm in year 2, even if you could afford the land right now. For now, you expand slowly on the property you own/rent, and you quit expanding when you run out of land or time or patience. But in expanding, you're always developing those skills that might keep you alive in some distant future. Understand that food self-sufficiency isn't the work of one year or two years for most people. Getting to that point will likely take you five hard years of gaining skills.

Remember my 4 x 6 foot plan as a sample for your year 1 garden? You'll need 100 of these to feed two people.

Some other issues to consider. If you're a vegan or vegetarian, or if you think a SHTF scenario might force you to be one, you need crops that have fat and protein and calories, which many vegetables are short on. In my climate, that's likely to mean potatoes, peanuts (barely doable for me—they need a long growing season, and we had an early frost this year that might have killed a peanut crop), sunflower seeds and storage (or shell) beans, like pintos or Great Northerns, cowpeas, and lentils. Pumpkin and squash seeds are also good, though they are more like a bonus to the main crop of the flesh of squash, and remember to save some seed for next year's crop first! Corn, Brussels sprouts, peas, and artichokes are good protein sources, though artichokes are quite particular about climate. Potatoes, peanuts, and squash take a good deal of growing space. Squirrels love peanuts and sunflower seeds and took my whole crop of sunflower seeds last year. (I assume it's the high calorie/fat thing that attracts them so, lots of energy for very little work.) So I'd have to kill them anyway to save the crop, and it seems to me if I kill them, I may as well eat them. Vegetarianism in a survival situation makes little sense, though you might well eat meat less often after collapse of civilization, and one squirrel might be the only meat your family gets in one week.

What you also notice quickly with gardening at my level of self-sufficiency is this: you get sick of crops that tend to come in all at once. When tomatoes are coming in, you eat tomatoes two meals per day until you can't bear it another day. When summer squash is coming in, you get sick of summer squash. Sometimes you have a big lettuce salad every day for lunch for 10 days running and would just about tackle a stranger to steal their turkey sandwich to get some variety into your diet. So preserving is important, and getting used to less variety is important as you mostly eat crops that are in season. If I crave a spinach salad in August, tough, I can't have one. In my climate, I'll need to wait until October when I can harvest one again. You begin to value crops like potatoes and winter squash and onions that store easily, don't need canning, or electricity to freeze, and can be eaten either at harvest or up to 8 months later. In a SHTF fan scenario, if there's no electricity, it's storage crops like that which will feed you. You could always water-bath can on a wood stove or over a barbecue pit--if you have access to woods and saws and axes to cut your wood. If you're in an arid and hot climate, you can dehydrate veg in a screened box outdoors. But it's traditional root-cellar crops plus any meat you can hunt that'll feed you most of the winter, and with the least effort.

You'll also learn to succession plant (you plant carrots and cucumbers every 2 weeks so you always have a few coming in and never three hundred at once because what can you do with 300 cucumbers beyond can pickles?) You grow 2-3 varieties of a crop that'll come ripe at different times (summer and fall raspberries, for instance).

And there's a lot of tedious work in preserving. Shelling peas and storage beans is BORING--at least for me it is. That's the time you want some audiobooks. And if SHTF, yeah, no more audiobooks. In that world, you have your 12-year-old kid read to you from a paper book, both to practice reading, and to entertain you while you shell and shell and shell those peas you're going to can. A day of canning tomatoes and tomato sauce and salsa can be six hours long and involves a lot of cleanup. You'll appreciate having done so in the dead of winter, to be sure, but don't think it's no work at all. It's work.

Of course, in a SHTF scenario, you don’t have to show up at a job, so you have the time to do it all. Good thing! Spring and autumn are busy times in the garden and kitchen.

You'd have to learn how to make your own vinegar to preserve foods in a SHTF scenario, or rely entirely on the crock process of making pickles and sauerkraut where anaerobic bacteria create the vinegar and preservation. And then you'd need one massive store of salt on hand, or a salt mine on your property. If you have the right climate, or can pull a lemon tree in and out of your home, there's another natural source of acidity to help preserve foods.

I'm hoping to be 85% food self-sufficient this year as an experiment, though that includes fishing and hunting offsite, so you might not count that as truly self-sufficient. I'll be vegetable self-sufficient, I believe, in 2020, which is my third year of gardening here (and seventh gardening year of my life, in three different climates). In 2021, I should be vegetable and fruit self-sufficient. In 2022, I'll have more fruit variety and can finally harvest the asparagus and rhubarb I planted this year. For the other 15% of what I eat this year, I'll still need to buy dairy products, eggs (unless I decide to get hens, which now that I’ve found a local source for $2/dozen free range eggs, I probably won’t!), and staples like oil, salt, vinegar, flour, yeast, and spices that I can't grow like cinnamon and nutmeg. And bacon for my BLTs. Bacon is crucial! ;-)

If a SHTF scenario came, I could live without that 15% extra food, but then I'd also have to defend the large garden I have going—it'd be very attractive to any hungry person passing by. To be blunt, I wouldn't survive for long in a true apocalypse. So for me, this effort is about safer and healthier and tastier vegetables and fruit, a way to get daily exercise that I enjoy far more than I enjoy going to the gym, and making this land that it cost me to buy (and still costs me, with my insanely high property taxes) pay me back financially in some way. Also, I hate lawns, which seem to me the most ridiculous crop ever grown. (Unless you’re a cow and can eat grass.) I'd rather weed and plant and pick two hours a day than mow one hour per week. If there's economic collapse of a limited sort, if Amazon quits taking books like mine, or if vegetable prices soar, I'll still be able to feed myself for as long as I'm spry enough to work the garden and walk to the nearest river (only 1/4 mile, and only 3 miles to the nearest pond) to fish it.

Is the effort worth it? For me, yes. I'm not only eating well, I'm having fun. For about $300 spent per year, plus my time, I can grow $1000 worth of food. With seed saving, I won't need to buy many seeds in the future. (I don't buy any plants at all and start all my own plants indoors under shop lights, from seed.)

Admittedly, I can't write 5 books a year and have that garden both, even once I'm past the hard part of creating the new beds out of lawn. I couldn't work full-time at a non-writing job, commute, and care for this much garden alone. If I had three small children, it'd be hard to manage both them and the garden. A 3000 square foot garden/orchard plus preserving the harvest is close to a half-time job for one person, though two healthy people and a teenager could manage it in their off-hours.

But the taste of a carrot pulled after the first two frosts in the fall? That first BLT? Tomato soup like nothing you've had from a can? Foods like ripe currants and ground cherries that don't appear in any local store? Salads I'm sure don't have e coli in them? Yes, they make the work totally worth it. 

What I ate on July 30 last year: scallion, carrots, tomatos, ground cherries

2 days later, more food. Kale and chard in addition
Try a garden, and see if you agree. I hope you never have to live 100% from your own mini-farm, but if you do have to, by starting the process in 2020, you’ll have the skills already. Good luck!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Food self-sufficiency, part 3. Problems you may encounter

As your first garden season progresses, or perhaps not until your second season, you're likely to see a few problems. Diseases. Insects. A lot of fungal diseases that tomatoes and cucumbers and squash get can be kept in check by spraying your plants with water + cow's milk or water + baking soda. Don't use chemicals from the store when you can treat with innocuous substances. You're going to eat that stuff, so watch what you spray on it! If you have tomato hornworms, pluck them off and kill them however you wish. (Squish. Stomp. Or cut in half with pruners.) If bugs are eating your kale and broccoli (and plenty love that family of plants), you need a fine mesh net to put over them the instant you see damage. There’s pricey stuff called “row covers,” but I use remnants of tulle fabric from Walmart to net my plants. Also, hunt for little green caterpillars on your broccoli leaves and pluck them off. If you have hens, give the worms and caterpillars to them. Otherwise, smoosh them and drop them on the ground. A bird will come along and enjoy it once you've left the garden. If bugs aren't doing much damage, I leave them be. I can eat lettuce that has a couple of slug nibbles at the edges, no prob.

If you grow squash of any sort or melons in North America, you may well end up with squash bugs or vine borers. They eat the green parts of the plants, and because you can lose a whole huge bed of squash in a week to them, there are organic remedies you can use. ONLY use them once the sun goes down and bees and other pollinators are bedded down for the night. The most common such spray is neem oil—an oil people in India even use in the kitchen, available at most stores that carry gardening supplies. Any bug who is eating neem will die. Bees don't eat leaves or stems; vine borers and squash bugs do, so it's relatively safe for you and for the pollinators, but again, spray it at sundown to make sure you're not hurting the insects you need to pollinate your crops (and the commercial crops, and flowering trees, including all fruit trees. If we like apples or coffee or pumpkin pie, we need those bees!)

Squash vine borer. M McMasters via Wikimedia

And if you see a monarch or swallowtail caterpillar eating your carrot greens or dill or fennel, as a personal favor, please leave the poor thing alone. It won't eat your whole crop. Give it a plant. You get butterflies as a result of your kindness.

As you garden more years, not using chemicals will mean you attract predator insects which will help keep your bad insects in check. (it often goes: year 1, few insects. Year 2, lots. Year 3, predator insects figure out your yard is like a wonderful smorgasbord and you'll have less damage from then on.) You might later also learn about trap plants (plants the pest insects like more than your veg) and plant them in the corner of your yard away from the garden.

Some bugs can get knocked off a plant with a spray of the garden hose. Some won’t eat plants you spray with a weak solution of dish soap. 

mildews that appear on squash and cucumber plants. Baking soda spray it

For years one and two, I've given you some innocuous tools to use on diseases and pests. As you've no doubt intuited, the more often you go out to glance at your plants, the sooner you'll catch the beginnings of disease or insect infestation. You'll need to go out once per week at least to weed and possibly to water and to harvest, but more often would be good to catch insects and diseases at their first signs. Certain crops like summer squash and cucumbers will produce so quickly, once a week isn't often enough to harvest. Every other day is needed. Walking your garden with a cup of coffee in hand every morning is a nice way to start the day (if you don't have the Asian mosquitoes I have!)

Harvest your crops on the day you eat them. They'll taste best and be most nutritious. The first BLT of the season always makes me get a tear in my eye, it tastes so good. By August, I've had so many tomatoes that I preserve most of the rest. (Toss them in the freezer, cored and halved and packed into zipper freezer bags. They'll be good for sauces and soups throughout the winter and taste far better than anything you can buy in a can).

The first year, you want to consider planting a spring crop and main crop. Peas, lettuce, and spinach are good spring crops. The first of the summer, rip those out (lettuce and spinach may have gone to seed already) and replace them with summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and summer squash. Crops that take a long time to grow (leeks, Brussels sprouts, parsnips) will be planted in spring and not harvested until late summer or fall. Garlic is planted in autumn and harvested in mid-summer of the next year. In subsequent years, you'll probably want spring, summer, and fall crops. Maybe you'll even have a covered bed (covered by a low tunnel or cold frame) for a winter crop, which is actually a fall crop that you didn't pick all of in the fall. Things don’t grow in winters, but they will stay alive under plastic low tunnels or cold frames.

In general, gardens need 1 inch per rain every week. Note the rain in your area, and water when you must: do it deeply once a week, not a little bit every day.

It's fall of season 1. You're picking the last of the tomatoes and peppers. Did you enjoy it? If so, get cardboard and wood chips and set them up so that you can expand your garden space for year 2. How much should you expand? I'll address that in part 4.

Friday, February 28, 2020

A journey toward food self-sufficiency, part 2 Watering, trellising, tomatoes

Imagine picking a warm, juicy tomato, perfectly red, straight off the vine. The sun is warming your shoulders. Birds are singing all around you. You take the tomato inside and slice it for a sandwich. Or you put it in a salad, or in your omelet. Or you stand in the garden and bite into it like an apple, and the juice runs down your chin. Perfection.

It takes a bit of work to win through to that experience.

When last we were together, I had you put in a 4 ft-wide bed—either 4 ft long or 8 or 12 feet, (1 meter square, or 1 meter by up to 4 meters) whichever size you think you could handle. I don't recommend going any grander than 4 x 12 your first year ever of veg gardening. It's easy to be overwhelmed and burn out, so go small at first.

If you have a rainy spring as I do, you can forget about watering for now. Your only job that first spring is to pull any weeds that pop up. Which are weeds and which are plants? It's hard to tell in year 1! You can google "radish seedlings" or "lettuce seedlings" or whatever to see photos. By year 2, you'll recognize all your seedlings just fine, but year 1, it can be confusing. If in doubt, let it grow a little longer until you decide if it's food or weed.

You need 1 inch of rain per week. If you don’t get that much one week, you have to water. Set out a tuna fish (or equivalent) can outdoors and measure the water and toss out the can every Saturday. If you had an inch in there, great. If not, add water to your garden.

If something eats your seedlings, don't be shocked. Birds can. Rabbits can. If this happens, plant again and cover your bed with deer netting or bird netting and see if that does the trick to deter the hungry critters. If not, you may need to fence your garden to get food. If netting doesn’t work, sometimes draping chicken wire over a bed keeps things out. Or you might have to put that chicken wire onto 3-foot-tall t-posts and make a fence. If you have deer, you'll need to fence in a major (and expensive) way. In Arizona's deserts, there were a lot of thirsty pests who'd eat anything in my garden just to get the moisture, and many gardeners built six-sided cages of chicken wire to protect their garden. I grew my tomatoes there in containers up on a picnic table or rabbits would eat all the flowers off. Learning to live with wild animals is a challenge. In a survival situation, I'd trap or shoot all of them I found in my garden and make critter stew later that day. In this current life, living in a town that frowns on gunfire, I fence and net.

If you have climbing plants, you need to put in trellises. The cheapest alternative is branches, about your finger width size, from off your and your neighbors' trees that perhaps fell in a wind storm, stuck into the ground in teepee formation, wrapped with cotton string or jute to give a climbing plant (peas, pole beans, cucumbers) something to attach to. For tomatoes, you need a heavier stake, like a 1 x 2 wooden post sunk into the ground a foot, or a t-post, or a 8-foot metal electrical conduit post, with or without a cage of heavy-duty wire mesh (like 2 x 2 fencing from a roll) attached to it. The cheapest choice is probably the EMT (electrical metal) conduit, unless you happen to have some scrap 1 x 2 lumber sitting around, which would be (sort of) free. When I moved in, the prior owner had left some scrap lumber in my shed that worked well enough for year 1.

Tomatoes are great tasting. Tomatoes are also complicated compared to every other crop. First, there are 1000 varieties, and that can get overwhelming to choose from! Ask your gardening neighbors or garden center what variety people around you grow, and grow that your first year. (Around here, it's the F1 hybrids Early Girl and Jet Star and the yellow cherry F1 Sun Gold.) You have to decide what sort of trellising you'll give the plants, and that will determine how you care for them. In most places, you want to remove the lowest leaves once every 2 weeks. You never want leaves touching the soil—it's likely plants will get one (or more!) fungal diseases, and that just accelerates the process. The less trellising you have for them, you more you want to pinch out suckers. (again, Pilarchik and OneYardRevolution on Youtube will explain how/when/why to do that). And you need to tie them to their posts somehow. I use cotton twine. Some people use masking tape or jute or old t-shirts cut into strips. If you have a cage of 2 x 2 fencing, you can weave the growing tips in and out of the fencing instead and won’t need to tie.

heirloom tomatoes from Slow Food Nation

See? Complicated! And I didn't even touch on determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes, or hybrids vs open pollinated. Short version of that discussion: eventually, for survival reasons, you don't want F1 hybrids like those varieties I mentioned and what you’ll probably find as plants in your local stores; you want open pollinated varieties because then you can save your own tomato seeds. In a SHTF scenario, you aren't going to be able to order seeds online or run to Lowe's for plants, and you'll have your own seed bank, collecting seeds every year as part of your harvest. But in year 1 of your garden, to make life easier, I suggest buying 1-2 tomato/pepper plants of a variety people in your locale like growing, and those are likely to be F1 hybrids. Get used to growing with those, okay? Later on, switch to heirloom or open-pollinated varieties and the hassle/expense/joy of starting them yourself indoor from seed.

All right, we've gotten you started with your first veg garden and dealt with the topic of tomatoes. Next week, some more advice

Friday, February 21, 2020

A journey toward food self-sufficiency, Part I

I've received a surprising number of notes from fans about my attempt to reach food self-sufficiency. If you're interested in moving in this direction, I’ll give you some hints. It's going to be a four-part series.

Because “in a survival emergency” is not the ideal time to begin to learn how to grow/hunt all your own food, I'd like everyone reading this to start at least a small garden now, in 2020. It can be a simple 4 x 4 ft bed (or 1 meter square) with just one plant each of your favorite five or six veg, but starting is crucial. Your soil, your climate, and your pests are going to play an important role in your gardening future (and if you believe in a real SHTF scenario, in your survival). It takes a few years to learn how to garden, and to learn the peculiarities of your situation, so the sooner you begin, the better. Even if you gardened that one small bed for two years and gave up because you are too busy to keep it up, if an emergency arose ten years later that you needed to grow all your own food, you'd remember those skills. Maybe your kids would remember too.

Therefore, there's no time like the present. Grow something this year!


The perfect garden would be on the south side of your house, unshaded, with a gentle slope to the south. (in Australia/NZ, make that sloped to the north.) Choice B: a western exposure clear of trees and afternoon shade will give you a full afternoon's sun, which is enough to grow summer vegetables. A steep slope can be terraced. A bit of empty land on the east of your house would be a good place to grow salad greens, as the shade during the hottest part of the day would keep them growing longer into summer, but you'll likely have problems growing tomatoes there. If all you have is a sunny patio or balcony, you can grow your two favorite plants in big pots. Growing something is better than growing nothing.

I'm a fan and advocate of no-till gardening. Here's what I did to create 3000 square feet of garden space so far. (I’m going to stop at about 7000 square feet, half in fruit, and half in vegetables, and leave 3000 in lawn so as not to overly upset the neighbors). For free, in the autumn, I got wood chips from local tree services (call and ask—they usually have to pay to dump these, and they're thrilled someone will take it off their hands instead). I put down free cardboard from stores (plain, dull, uncolored cardboard only and remove all plastic tape from the top flaps). That goes straight on a lawn of grass or a patch of weeds in the autumn, and then you water the cardboard, and then you pile 4-6 inches of wood chips over that. By late spring, you'll be able to plant into those areas by pushing aside remaining woodchips and tucking in seeds or plants. Worms will eat all of the cardboard quickly and the wood chips eventually and convert it to better soil than you likely have now. (Most of us cuss our clay soil, and some of us cuss our sandy soil, but few of us have perfect soil to begin with.) A few pernicious weeds may fight you (Bermuda grass is probably the very worst around here and maybe couch grass in England), but keep yanking it out when you see it pop up, cover your beds with 2 inches of new woodchips again the second winter, and you'll win out over your perennial weeds.

However, as you can see, that over-winter system to prepare garden beds for the next year doesn't help us in year one if we’re starting in spring—but it's a way to make yourself subsequent beds for years 2 and beyond. So in year one, pull or hoe most grass and weeds out of an area (you don't have to be perfect. Get 80% of them and you'll be fine) no bigger than 4 feet wide, and from 4 feet up to 12 feet long, cover it with newspaper 4-6 sheets thick, and then cover that with bagged planting medium from a garden or box store.

For planting medium in year 1, I suggest mixing half a big bag of peat moss (or, if you're in the UK, coco coir), two large bags of top soil, one large bag of Black Kow compost (or any other aged animal manure), one bag of mushroom compost (as large as you can find, if you can find it--if not, any bag of vegetable compost will do), and a small bag of organic slow-release fertilizer pellets like Plant Tone—ones designed for tomatoes will also serve you for most veg and are easy to find. You can sort of sprinkle each one of these ingredients over your growing area, or you can put out a tarp, pile everything in those bags on, and then mix it with your hands (kids love this part) and by tugging up the corners of the tarp to flop it over on itself. If you have a 4 x 4 bed, you'll end up with a mound of dirt, which is fine. If you have a 4 x 12 bed and use that recipe, it will only be an inch or two over grade, which is hardly noticeable but will keep the newspaper in place until the worms eat the newspaper and suppress grass and most weeds.

Do you need raised beds with wooden sides? No. And they're expensive to buy or build and fill, so unless you have a disability that requires you to garden well above ground level, just plant into the new (weedless) growing mix spread over newspaper over your regular ground.

Many veg are best started from seeds sown directly into the ground: squash, French beans, peas, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, and root crops among them. Unless you're in a semi-tropical climate, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet potatoes and peppers need to be started as plants. You can buy those plants (may I suggest the local plant sale of a garden club, rather than a big box store?) or start them yourself indoors under grow lights at about 2 months before they'll be planted out. I'm going to send you to Youtube and Gary Pilarchik for details on that process. And big brassicas  (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts) attract loads of pests if they're out there a long time, and so most people set out plants instead, which helps shorten the weeks that pests might find them. In my locale, summer temps can hit the second week of May, and brassicas hate summer, so it’s good to get plants out as soon as possible. (They can take a 28 degree F night (-1/2 C), but no lower.) For your very first year, in a small garden plot, it’s going to be cheaper and easier just to buy plants, plus packets of seeds for lettuce, carrots, spinach, and radishes.

For your first bed, pick 4-10 vegetables that your family likes to eat. Pick ones that are expensive at the store or taste like crap at the store (hello, Florida tomatoes that taste like water and have as many as 36 poisons sprayed on them). Organic lettuce or spring greens at my nearest store are $8/pound on sale. Obviously, that's a good choice of crop if you like salads. Put in your seeds or plants when the packages/tags tell you to for your locale, spaced as the seed package says to space them, and wait for them to germinate or grow. Keep seed packs, which you might refer back to. Any brand seeds will do. Those 25 cent seeds at dollar stores are fine! As you probably spent $25 on the soil mix for your new bed, don’t break the bank on seeds.

I’d steer you away from pumpkins, melons, and winter squash the first year, as they take up a lot of space to grow. Maybe in year 2, okay? : )

Year 1, harvest your crops when ready and eat them the same day if you can, at the peak of nutrition and taste. And that’s a brief version of how to start your path toward food self-sufficiency. And if you enjoyed it, use my cardboard-plus-wood-chips method to expand your garden for next year.

Note: if you don’t have any land at all, look into community gardens or walk around your neighborhood. Ask someone to use their back yard and offer them half the produce as “rental” for their land. Be a good renter, keeping things tidy, and they’ll likely approve an expanding garden in subsequent years.

Back to me for a moment. My land is 1/3 acre, and 1/3 of that is house, garage, shed, and pavement. This leaves 2/3 of it to grow on, or about 10,000 square feet. That's plenty of land to grow all my own fruits and vegetables and to supply space for laying hens. If I were an ovo-vegetarian, that'd be great. I'm not—I eat meat and cheese—and so I supply some food off the property. More on that in part 4 of the series.

I learned what I could about gardening from experience, from books, and from Youtube. The best book I found for the US is The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, though there are several almost as good.

Stay tuned for parts 2, 3, and 4.
this could be your yard, in year 3

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

I'm anti social media

Just a note to new fans: I don't like social media. If you find someone actively posting on social media claiming to be me any time since early 2019, that's a fake account. (And yes, people will fake being writers online. I'm not sure what's wrong with people! Why don't they take that time and energy and get a nice volunteer job and help people instead?) There's an old Facebook account that might still be visible, but I haven't been there in years.

To stay in contact with me, sign up for my newsletter or follow this blog. I don't send out chatty newsletters, just notices of new releases and, twice in five years, a note about upcoming book plans. I hate getting spammy emails, and I assume you do too! The blog is a little more chatty, so if you're curious about what I'm thinking about, reading, or doing, this is the place to look.

If you like social media, that's fine by me! I'd rather talk with actual people face to face. We're kinder to each other face to face, I find. If you email me, I'll write you back. I enjoy hearing from fans. If that makes me old-fashioned, then I'm pleased to be old-fashioned.

In book news, I have a book out with a proofreader, due to come out in April. Another book is drafted and needs revision and editing, and it will come out in September or October.  Two books per year is my planned pace for the future. I know it was more fun for readers when I was putting out six per year, but I'm unable to keep up that pace and stay healthy. I decided it was more important to stay alive than to die at the top of the best-seller SF lists. It was a harder decision than you might think, but looking back, I wonder why it took me so long to make what now seems the only sane decision!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Book Availability

For a time, my ebooks are only available at Amazon. It's a purely financial decision. I apologize to fans at Barnes and Noble and iBooks, but I do have to pay my bills! I'll probably go back to having books everywhere again, but for now, it's much easier to have all my eggs in this one basket.

Thank you for your understanding. -- Lou