{gardening} Making the Most of One Acre

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.

{Our First Garden 2008}

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!

{Our raspberry bounty}

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.

{In 2010 we added chickens to the mix and increased the size of the garden to 864 square feet}

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. ‘Tis the season for starting from seed, if you so desire. Check out Deanna’s Guide to Starting Seeds for help.
  6. 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.
  7. Go organic. You can really garden without the pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides- promise. Your soil and body will thank you.
  8. Compost and make your own dirt! Again, if you need help with this check out Dianna’s Compost 101.
  9. 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.

30 Comments Add yours

  1. Awesome : ) Looks like your husband does good work – & I love your chicken coop!

    1. Heather F. says:

      Thanks Jackie! I’m a lucky girl 🙂

  2. Dianna says:

    Wow that is a beautiful garden Heather. Nice work!

    1. Heather F. says:

      Thanks, Dianna! Coming from you that is a huge compliment!

  3. So much hard work, but worth it. This post makes me want to start planning our garden for the spring, although I will also be seven months pregnant.we’re thinking of changing out existing garden to raised beds to make things more manageable. Thanks for sharing your garden adventures.

    1. Heather F. says:

      Thanks for stopping by! Best wishes on your new additions, both baby and garden.

  4. Ona says:

    What a great job the two of you have done! I especially love how you integrated the chickens into the garden.

    I was hoping you might answer a question. I have some incredible weeds, sometimes I just think to myself how amazing they are in how fast they can grow when constantly being pulled down – more accurately hacked at the base. I’ve never been able to control them well in my garden.

    Any recommendations? Perhaps I place a foot of soil over the top? Gasoline and lighter?

    1. Heather F. says:

      We have had a lot of the same problem. We usually do well for the first few months and then by the end of August are sooo tired of pulling weeds in the heat they end up getting the best of us. In the past we have tried biodegradable weed blockers like color-free newspaper covered in straw, thick grass mulching etc. The best results we have found so far in blocking weeds is the thick grass mulching with our grass clipppings. Several things to consider. Is your lawn treated with anything that you don’t want in your food? Are your lawn clippings that have weeds or has your grass gone to seed? If any of these are true than you might want to reconsider using the grass mulch. My husband and I are trying something new this year in using hardwood leaves for our mulch. Last Fall we put about 6″ to 12″ of hardwood leaves down all over our garden. This has actually created a blanket of warmth When we go to plant this spring we plan on removing a small area of mulch where we intend to plant but leave the rest of it down. Our hope is that this will prevent most of our weeds and we will be able to incorporate the bio-matter into the soil at the end of the season. We are unsure as to how this method will impact soil ph over an extended period but we are willing to give it a shot. If we can cut back on any weeds from going to seed this year it might give us a leg up in 2013!! I’ll give you an update on how it turns out.

  5. Betsy says:

    Love it! What a wonderful garden!

    1. Heather F. says:

      Thanks, Betsy!

  6. Gina says:

    I notice the original had a fence, but the expanded pic doesn’t. Did you end up putting up a fence after, or did it work out okay without? I have terrible rabbit, deer and neighboring cat problems, and in a fit of frustration ended up removing most of my raised beds last year – the cats using it as a litter box really took the fun out of growing garlic, onions, and root veggies.

    I have a tiny lot, and we aren’t allowed to put up fencing without HOA approval. Since I already got a variance for a dog run/play yard, I think I’m out of options and was considering something small and electric for a food garden, but I’m not sure I’m up for the meshugas.

    1. Heather F. says:

      Hi Gina, I was convinced that we would need to put up fencing but for some reason we did not have any problems last year without it.
      I’ve seen some nice options for vertical gardens. If you still run into issues with space and HOA restrictions, you might want to consider a community garden in your area.

  7. This is such a wonderful post. We have a small yard and have always had so many shady trees that we’ve not been able to garden much. Now that some of the trees have had to come down, we’ve identified the right spot for a raised bed. You have inspired me…and given me the each to start planning NOW!

    1. Heather F. says:

      Thank you, Natalia!

  8. What a great garden. We too have a garden and its going on its second year. We too have to fence in our garden. we have a lot of critters eating our food. Any ideas on how to KEEP them away.

    1. Heather F. says:

      Hi Janelle! Just seeing this comment now. Sorry! Any ideas on what kind of critters you’re having trouble with?

  9. Wanda Rudzki says:

    Four years ago I decided to start using a raised bed that we inherited when we bought our house. But, it was covered with tough weeds and baby mesquite trees. I live in Kirby, Tx (near San Antonio). Mesquite trees have REALLY deep taproots so they can survive the dry environment. They have thorns on them too. I worked for and hour trying to clear just one little corner, without much luck. The trees just break off. I finally learned about sheet mulching, which is a process widely used in Permaculture. I stamped down the weeds and trees and covered them with flattened cardboard boxes, the thick kind, and thick layers of newspaper. Then I raked the front yard under the huge Live Oak tree and put the leaves and dried blooms, acorns, etc. on top of the cardboard. Add food scraps, green or dry leaves, cut grass, just about anything organic (not meat). I made little pockets of dirt and put plats in those. Since then I’ve added bags of dirt, compost, and mulch. VERY few weeds and no mesquite trees have been seen since. I raise tomatoes and bell peppers, eggplants…all kinds of things in that bed now. It’s very healthy.

    1. Heather F. says:

      Way to go Wanda! Sounds great!

  10. narf77 says:

    Where is the “LOVE” button? It was never more needed than for this post…I am off to check those links and I am SO glad that I found this blog 🙂

  11. Debbie says:

    Very nice site! Looks like the chicken coop is in the garden area. Do your chickens eat your plants or dig them up while scratching around?

  12. Great blog here! Also your site loads up very fast! What host are you using?
    Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours

  13. Robin says:

    Heather, great garden. May I give couple suggestions? For weed control grass over news paper any companion planting. Both work very well for us.

  14. Thanks for the gardening tips! I found your site through Pinterest 🙂

  15. Amber says:

    Do you use the rabbit poop as manure? I was curious what their part is in the process. I know someone who uses his fish poop for his garden and it flourishes.

  16. Alex says:

    Great site you have here but I was curious about if yoou knew of any community forums that cover
    the same topics discussed here? I’d realply like to be a part of group where I can get
    opinions from othe knowledgeable people that share thhe
    same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
    Thank you!

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