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While the people of the United States become increasingly more dependent on the supermarket and restaurants to feed themselves, Doug Miller of Southeast Ohio is focused on becoming more self-sustaining. Miller was raised on a farm and has been canning food since his youth. The benefits of farming and canning food are not just his own, though. The food grown on Miller's Hocking County farm is for his wife, his family, his friends, and others members of the community. With sweet potatoes, squashes, cucumbers, banana peppers, onions, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and other foodstuffs growing in the raised-bed gardens on the family farm, their pantry is always full of organic, naturally grown fruits and vegetables. Miller, who grew up in a farm family, has learned the craft throughout his life and recently began using raised beds. He now advocates their more widespread use.
“The raised beds are the absolute best way to go because you can grow so many things. In a 4' by 8' bed, we picked probably 25 watermelons...it's unreal,” Miller said.
Miller credits his wife as a primary influence in convincing him to use raised beds. Now he says he will never go back to the ground. For those who do not have the advantages of living on a farm and having acres upon acres of land, this sets an interesting precedent. You don't need a whole lot of land to grow a whole lot of food. With just a couple of a 4'x8' beds and proper planning, anyone can supplement their costs at the supermarket with natural, home-grown produce.
For information regarding how to build your own raised-bed garden, Sunset magazine put together a nice set of step-by-step instructions. http://www.sunset.com/garden/backyard-projects/ultimate-raised-bed-how-to-00400000011938/
Popular Mechanics also published a compilation of valuable information about building and installing raised-bed gardens. http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/how-to-plans/lawn-garden/4308264
So, what does Miller do with all this food?
“We can everything,” Miller proclaimed. “It's super easy, and like I said, stuff that's canned up will last for years. Years.”
Miller is hardly exaggerating in saying that he cans everything. He cans tomatoes, meats, peppers, onions, dill beans, pears, green beans, fruit juices, broths, fruit butters, and pretty much everything else, making for a very colorful pantry. What he does not can, he dehydrates. Dehydrated foods also keep extremely well when stored in resealable platic or vacuum-sealed containers.
Canning food is an intricate process as there are different methods required to can different foods, but all require either a water bath or pressure canning method. Equipment for these processes can be purchased relatively inexpensively. The benefits of keep a stock of canned and dehydrated foods cannot be understated, as these foods do not require refrigeration or freezing. This can save you a lot of money on your energy bills, of course, but even more importantly, canned foods will not good bad if you lose electricity to your home for an extended period of time. For further information on how to can your own food, along with further information regarding food preservation, you should visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation's website (http://nchfp.uga.edu/
On top of this, Miller does not use any artificial pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers to grow his family's food. To control pest populations, Miller allows his chickens to run around the garden and feed, as they will pick bugs off the plants. Miller does warn that chickens may peck away at vegetables along with the bugs, though. If you have more land, you could consider raising guinea fowl. Guinea fowl are nifty birds that eat bugs and weed seeds without eating vegetables or destroying plants, as they do not scratch, and they can be bred and raised to be housed with chickens. Miller uses all-natural compost to fertilize soil along with horse manure and fish emulsion, using a shredder to grind up vines, weeds, and other errant plant matter before adding it to a compost pile, allowing it to break down faster.
“It's much better to use natural means because then you don't eat it,” Miller says. “All the crap that you see in the stores now is grown with all this junk, and they're even talking about the stuff that's marked organic isn't really organic.”
Miller's system of raising and storing food is one that serves as an excellent model for those with limited access to organic produce or limited space to farm. With just a few raised beds, one can grow enough food to significantly reduce bills at the grocery, all the while raising, eating, and sharing a higher-quality product, free of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
Written by Paul Monnin - Grow Food Not Lawns
Photo ©AlyssaNedrow2012 #GrowFoodNotLawns