How Does Your Garden Grow? Sizing up our land and making the most of 1 acre.
My husband is a cultivator; it’s in his veins. By the time most people begin their Spring cleaning he is out tilling the ground and planning the upcoming year’s garden. When were looking to build a home all he knew specifically is that he wanted land. After a few years of searching and asking around, a coworker mentioned to me that her father-in-law was looking to sell an acre or so of his farmland. This acre happened to be on one of the most beautiful roads in our area. We became the owners of a little parcel of land and began the process of building our home.
In 2008, we took our first go at a garden. We moved into our home in 2006 but it took us about 2 years to get all of the rocks out of our dirt, grow grass, and add two more children to our growing family.
Gardening and homesteading has to start somewhere. Having long-term plans in manageable pieces helps keep a person sane. We knew that we wanted to grow everything from broccoli to fruit trees but with just the two of us, one of which was 7 months pregnant that summer, we needed to be realistic. Our first 576 square foot garden was cute at first. Everything had a place and space but come harvest in August it was really crowded, and ugly. Our garden did so well that we just hadn’t accurately projected just how large our full-grown plants would be. In spite of our naive attempt we produced more food than we knew what to do with. We found that growing food was easy, but preserving it was actually way more work.
In 2009 a friend came over with four of his small red raspberry plants and showed us how to plant them. He also took a look at the huge bushes on our property line and was excited to tell us that they were black elderberry. We celebrated that discovery, but also devised a plan to keep the small hands of our children away from the toxic raw elderberries. Those original four red raspberry plants have expanded into a complete 250 square foot hedgerow of bushes that line the south end of our property. These ever-bearing raspberries produce throughout the growing season and make some of the best preserves I’ve ever tasted!
During the Spring of 2010 my husband got the itch for adding chickens to our 1 acre of land. He researched for hours, days, weeks on how to make a coop and sketched up his own master plan. Our kids thought that our new friends were the best thing that they’d ever lay eyes on. Our coop had wheels on the bottom so we wheeled it right up to the garden in the earlier part of the growing season to let the young chickens eat the potato beetles right off of the plants.
2011 brought hemlock raised beds which added an additional 448 square feet, bringing the grand total to 1, 312 square feet. We put pole beans, kale, herbs, blackberry bushes, strawberries, and blueberries in the raised beds. Having one bed for a specific type of plant allowed us to have different types of soil for each plant in the same general area.
You can see in the sketch below, the progression of our garden from 2008 through the upcoming season. The yellow was the original garden, the orange is the first expansion, and the boxes represent the third edition with raised beds:
This year’s goals entail adding more fruit trees (in hopes of a one-day mini orchard), landscaping around our back with vegetables, herbs, and fruit bushes. We’ve already purchased three rabbits in 2012 as pets to our children and green fertilizer for the garden.
In our experience, expanding a garden large or small, beds or containers, is something that you can look forward to with some advanced planning. If you feel overwhelmed with it all take some encouragement and start small. If you feel gung-ho and energetic, I still encourage you to take small steps. Remember that growing food is just the first step in a process. Soon harvest time will be here and if you have more food than you can consume or preserve. You can be sure that you will need to come back here for tips on canning, dehydrating, and other food preserving tips and techniques.
Quick tips for new gardeners:
- Get yourself a notebook, Pinterest account, and/or garden journal. So many ideas are out there and committing them to pen and paper will help you get organized.
- Pick a gardening spot that gets at least 6 hours of full sun with a water source close by, hauling water buckets is not as glamorous as it seems.
- Make sure that you have good, well-draining soil. If you do not, do not despair. You can always opt to add good organic matter or make raised beds.
- Have your soil tested for pH and nutrient levels through your local cooperative extension office. Like Deanna mentioned in her post, if you live here locally check with the Cornell Cooperative Extension.
- ‘Tis the season for starting from seed, if you so desire. Check out Deanna’s Guide to Starting Seeds for help.
- If you haven’t already, read Dianna’s incredibly helpful post on crop rotation and add it to the tail end of your garden journal for this year.
- Go organic. You can really garden without the pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides- promise. Your soil and body will thank you.
- Compost and make your own dirt! Again, if you need help with this check out Dianna’s Compost 101.
- Gardening can create an environment for community. Whether you are asking your neighbor for tips or begging them to take some of your zucchini that grew in abundance gardening brings people together. Involving family or a loved one living with you in gardening can be so rewarding. Gardening is exciting to children and provides a great hobby for more than one adult to do together.