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This post has been on the docket for months now, and I keep putting it off because, honestly, there isn’t going to be a whole lot to write about. I’ve mentioned it a few times in past posts, but it’s worth mentioning again–we’re downsizing like whoa in 2016 in most areas of our life. And one of the biggest places we’re simplifying things is in the garden.
For those of you just tuning in, my husband, daughter, and I live on a nine acre hobby farm in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. We bought the place from my parents in 2012 (this is where I grew up) with dreams of becoming homesteading rockstars. In some areas we’ve succeeded (shout out to our beautiful flock of chickens and our awesome maple sugaring operation), but the one place where we thought we’d thrive easily—the growing of fruits and veggies—we’ve struggled quite a bit.
We’re pretty skilled gardeners with lots of academic and colloquial knowledge in the ways of gardening. Both my husband and I grew up playing in the soil of our parents’ respective gardens (mine right here in Indiana, my husband’s in Northwestern Ontario), and we’ve tried to consume as much gardening knowledge as we can in our relatively short times here on Earth.
When we lived in the city, we transformed our little apartment patio into a incredibly well-producing container garden. We rocked it. We grew so much food on that little 8′ x 10′ patio that, honestly, we got a little cocky with it. So what do two people who think they are God’s gift to gardening do? Well, they go and buy a homestead in the country and put in a garden that is 6000% (literally) bigger. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!?
We can now easily see that we bit off too much way too soon. We couldn’t keep the weeds in check. Watering during our yearly August drought took HOURS. Just harvesting tomatoes would be an entire afternoon worth of work, not to mention the preserving of them. It was just all too much.
It took me bawling my eyes out while picking tomatoes one day last summer for it to finally sink in that it wasn’t working, but, hey, at least we finally figured it out. We’re planning on this place being our forever home, and instead of embracing the fact that we probably have a good 40+ years left here, all we could think about when we moved in was “MUST GO BIG NOW.”
In hindsight, we should have done a slightly bigger garden than our apartment garden that first year. And maybe a little bigger the next. And then eventually, in a decade or so, we’d have the knowledge and skills to do the massively huge preserving and market garden we aspire to. Instead, we just jumped in with both feet, and then felt like big ole failures when we couldn’t keep up with it all. The weeds, man. THE WEEDS.
So that’s a lot of backstory to explain to you why our 2016 garden is going to be tiny. Teeny tiny itty bitty compared to the 3500-5000 square foot gardens we’ve planted the past three years. We are planting exactly 128 square feet of garden space this year—or four of our 8′ x 4′ raised beds. It’s bigger than what we had in our apartment, but not overwhelmingly so. In other words, we’re doing in 2016 exactly what we should have done in 2013.
Will I be able to put up 100 jars of diced tomatoes like I did last year? No. But I also (hopefully) won’t have anxiety attacks in the middle of the night over the garden (no exaggeration) like I did last year. And that seems like a pretty good trade off. Honestly, we are SO excited to do a small garden this year. It’s a great feeling to know that we can rock it! We’re feeling confident again, and that’s huge.
Alright, now that you’ve heard my life story, let me tell you exactly what we’re planting in our four little raised beds this year. You know me, I have a chart.
(Click to see a larger version.)
For the Spring crops (which are planted right now), we have:
And then once our last frost date passes (at the beginning of May), we’ll put these out:
We also have another bed in the garden that holds our perennial herbs (sage, thyme, etc.) and that will still be producing. We have a permanent bed of asparagus—I just saw the first shoots coming up a few days ago! And we have our grape vines.
And since we’re cutting back on the rest of the garden, we also have some plans to do some fun plantings for Juniper. Like a sunflower play house for her and maybe a pole bean tent. I think she’d love those! (And we’d love her having something to play with while we weed the garden.)
Overall, our goal with choosing varieties was to stick to ones we know and love to eat. Which sounds obvious, but we’ve (read: I) have been guilty of letting the shiny, shiny pictures in the seed catalogs convince me that I need to grow blue tomatoes (even though they are mostly tasteless) and I need to grow whole beds of radishes (even though I don’t really like radishes). We stuck with varieties we know grow well for us and to veggies we know we’ll eat.
We still started our own seeds this year, but instead of having a massive shelf with dozens of flats of starts like we did last year, we literally have one little flat of plants started. It sitting in my office window. And I water it everyday with a hot pink watering can we got at the One Spot at Target.
As far as the garden beds, we didn’t do much to get them ready for the year. Just pulled back the straw that we had protecting the beds over the winter, put on a layer of compost, and planted.
We’re still trying to decide what to do with the other 4800 feet of fallow beds this year. Right now, they are all packed under a heavy layer of straw, but even with that mulch, they will start sprouting weed seeds soon. We might go ahead and plant cover crop on all the beds, but that’ll take some time and effort—and we’re trying to keep that to a minimum this year.
So there you have it, our entire garden plan in less than 1000 words—that’s never happened before! Like I said, I’m super excited to get to focus on our small eating garden this year. We definitely need a gardening win.
I want to hear all about your gardens in the comments! Who is going big? Anyone scaling back like we are? Anyone going to grow something new to them this year?
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Hi Cassie! I am thinking of doing a little container gardening this year. Do you have any posts on container gardening or can recommend any go to resources?
I highly recommend checking out Square Foot Gardening—the philosophy behind it totally changed the way I looked at my container garden: http://amzn.to/1S2IrgG
Check out Vertical Veg: http://www.verticalveg.org.uk
The holy grail of container gardening!
So ready to get outside! Haven’t planted anything yet. I have two beds right now, 6×12, and want to do one more. Yay spring!
And yay for my favorite posts of yours! :)
Great post! I too have gone through the same process and learned to cut back to be more productive in the garden. I remember the summer days when I would spend hours just watering… ugh! I put in an irrigation system, am using large containers for my tomatoes now as they took up way too much precious space in my raised beds, and have a relationship with a local food bank to give them any excess this year. It sounds like you will have a happier growing season. Good luck!
Irrigation is our next big gardening hurdle! We have a lake on our property, and we’ve LOVE to figure out a way to pump up water for our garden. But not this year. Baby steps. :)
I just started gardening – in Brewster NY. I planted herbs from seed indoors (then realized no one does this lol), the basil has done the best, garlic outside, and some kale indoors. lots of lessons learned, I have no experience. I will start planting maybe spinach and romaine, and try to move the herbs outdoors. I have been using the basil but wish I planted more !
*raised hand* I do this! I have about half a flat full of herb seeds I started. You are doing awesome! And ALWAYS plant about three times as much basil as you think you’ll use. It freezes awesomely (both by itself and in pesto), and honestly, it’s so good you’ll probably eat it all fresh anyway. :P
Basil drugs fine too, have lots leftover from 2015
I homeschool my 7 year old daughter, and this year we’re doing a huge gardening unit to correspond with planting season. We’re in Sacramento, so our planting season is considerably different than yours :-). We mapped out all our beds (math!), decided what to plant based on our growing conditions (geography/social studies!) tested our soil (chemistry!), loosened and amended our beds (PE!), and planted.
We’ve got quite a bit of space (although not nearly what you’ve had), so we have pumpkins, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, sugar snap peas, and pole beans planted. We’re also going to make some seed tape to plant carrots and beets, but right now there’s a HUGE California Golden Poppy that volunteered in the designated bed, so we’re waiting until that’s died back a bit.
It’s been super exciting to go through the process with my daughter, and I’m eagerly anticipating home grown veggies.
What an AWESOME homeschool unit. I’m sure she is LOVING it. Some of my best childhood memories are in the garden with my parents. :)
We are moving into a house with a yard in July and can’t wait to plant. We are starting with 4 raised beds and a pergola to help some eventual grape vines grow. Luckily, we are starting mid summer so I can’t go too big too fast!
Yay! That’s so exciting. You’re gonna have so much fun! End of July is right when we plant our Fall garden each year—so that’s perfect!
How about planting some flowers or wild flowers in your extra space? The bees would love it and so would your little girl!
That’s what our cover crops would be—mostly hairy vetch and sweet peas. The bees LOVE them. Like I said, the only trick with that is it still requires maintenance. To get them planted, we have to prep the beds, plant the seeds, and mow/trim the crop down before it goes to seed (so we don’t have flowers growing in our food beds for years to come). We’re still debating. :)
I live in north central South Dakota (3 miles from North Dakota) so we aren’t ready for planting yet but I am pretty anxious to get out there. I normally plant a very large garden but we have a 17 month old and a 2 month old right now so we decided to cut the garden waaay back this year. I tried to keep up the garden last summer but with a baby it was much harder then I anticipated. “The weeds, man. THE WEEDS.” We decided to plant corn row pumpkins and Mandan Bride corn just for the chickens. My mom lives a few miles away so we are going to plant some extra tomatoes in her garden this year so we can still put up some salsa and canned tomatoes. Maybe in two years after my girls are big enough to help pull some weeds we’ll go back to our biiiig garden.
We sound like we’re in the exact same place (except we have half the number of kids!). I just try to keep reminding myself that this season of my life will be over, and soon enough, Juni will be pulling weeds and harvesting radishes just like I did as a kid!
Or at least old enough that they don’t eat dirt or rocks like my boys did.
Hah, that “biting off more than you can chew” seems to be a theme! The hubs and I live in a 1br/1ba apartment in Northern California, and I was so dazzled by raised beds on Pinterest last year, I insisted we re-do the sad little clay patch on our patio (with a weird green, 70’s plastic border) so we could have BIG, BEAUTIFUL, BODACIOUS PRODUCE! YEAH! It didn’t exactly go as planned… the wooden bed is beautiful for sure and turned out so well (than you husband!), and I happily filled it with soil last year and planted spinach, carrots, various greens… aaaand they never grew. We got some sprouts, but I didn’t realize that the mature tree right outside of our patio wall COMPLETELY shaded the bed when its leaves came in. I was so sad! Our little produce babies never grew, and then neighborhood cats started pooping in it so I had to lay down some bark mulch to put an end to that. We did discover, however, that the other side of the patio doesn’t get totally shaded, so I bought this fab metal shelf unit (not sure what it’s called) from Homegoods and we grow herbs and put cute decor on it. :) Our oregano plant turned into a BEAST and the basil does really well in the summer. Now I also have some flowers in pots (begonia, calla lilies, gerbera daisies, an African Iris, and another lily that I thought was dead but then magically came back!) and it’s so much fun to take care of them. Gardening has become such a great hobby! I’m sorry you ended up being so overwhelmed, but the selfish part of me thanks you for the lesson! I know that would’ve been me if we owned a house… great advice, and I can’t wait to see how this year turns out for you!
Oh man, I’m so sorry, but I totally laughed at this. Only because I’ve DEFINITELY done the same thing. We put a bed in up at our house a few years back, just something to hold herbs so we didn’t have to walk all the way down to the garden when we’re cooking. We put the bed in in the winter, and while did think about the leaves on the trees, we neglected to remember that the angle of the sun changes in the summer. Almost complete shade. Whooops!
(And if you live somewhere where it gets hot in the summer, you should try dark, leafy greens in that bed in the middle of summer. Kale, spinach, chard, etc. might just do well—they don’t mind the shade when it’s really warm out.)
I’m not a gardener, but I loved the message behind this post. Something I’m working on too: simplify, only have what you love/use, free your time, lessen your stress. Sounds like a winner.
One of my favorite things about gardening is that almost all the lessons you learn in the garden can be applied outside of it, too. :)
We just moved into our house a little over a year ago. Last summer was adjusting to it all but this year the garden is a huge priority for us. Especially a veggie garden. Your post has made me realize that maybe my plan for it is a little too ambitious…..you know what they say about good intentions…lol….anyway, my kids and I have to design our two 8 x 10 pallet gardens (now scaled back from an original 5 beds) very soon and most of our produce will be root veg with the exception of potatoes as well as some cucumber, lettuce, Swiss chard, squash, beans and tomatoes. Not a whole lot of each but enough for fresh eating and some bottling. Especially beets! Yum! We are going to try a new item this year, it’s called pine berries. Apparently they look like white strawberries with a pineapplish taste. Very excited about that one! Thanks for the advice!! Don’t want to set ourselves up to fail with our gardens….working full time as well doesn’t leave much outside time!!!
I’ve heard of pineberries, but I’ve never had one (or grown them). I’m so intrigued! You’ll definitely have to report back on how they grow/taste. :)
Ohhh pineberries was one of those things that my kids saw the seeds for at the store last year and just had to try them. We planted them 3 different times but didn’t get a single plant :(
I hope you have better luck!
Brava! It’s hard to step back and take stock… But doesn’t it feel great when you know you made the right decision?! I love your charts. We have only tried 2 beds in the past 2 years, and that’s about all I can handle so far. We also plant a row of pole beans and snap peas along the fence (the dog claims the bottom 3 feet as her personal harvest).
Now we are selling our house and moving out east (hubby’s job) but I still feel the need to plant at least a few things, even if I never get to eat them!?
Also looking at a whole new growing-season! Adventure awaits! Good luck with yours, and thanks for your posts!
It does feel SO great when you know you got it right. We haven’t regretted scaling back once so far. Not even when we were looking through all the beautiful seed catalogs. Good luck with your move (and may your plants grow fast enough that you can eat at least something before you go).
Ha, this is pretty much the exact size of our garden this year! Instead of scaling back, we’re building up – we didn’t have time to set up the deer fence or raised beds last year, since baby girl arrived in the spring. So we’re starting with the raised beds this years, and then in the fall we’ll prep the soil for raspberry beds next year, and blueberry bushes the next!
I am as great in cooking as sucky in gardening. I have small backyard though. I will be planting tomatoes,cucumbers, dinosaur kale, spinach and herbs. That is it. Harvesting figs and apples in fall makes me stressed enough. Love my farmer’r market haha.
When I had a 6 and 2 year old I even didn’t have flower baskets. So I get why you are scaling back.
What is Cosmonaut Volkov? Sounds awfully Russian to me.
You have a great property!!!
I just came in from planting one of our beds right now ;) We have 4 4×6 foot beds. One of them is all strawberries. We also have two smaller beds near our house and garage that are a mix of vegetables and perennial flowers.
Our last frost date is the may long weekend but I like to get everything in early. I just shared on Monday on my blog our plans with a diagram. have a read!
Would it work for you to rent/lend out your extra beds to a local community centre/church/school/organization or to families?
Oops- here is the link to our garden plan… http://onemamatoanother.com/2016-monthly-goal-plan-april-gardening/
We have a bigger balcony this year so I’m hoping to do a little bigger container garden and actually stick to it this year! I usually neglect it half way through the summer :(
Looks amazing! I wish we had land, and that I wasn’t scared of bugs (lol). I want to be a gardener but man, I kinda stink.
I’ve been looking forward to seeing what you decided to do for gardening this year.
I think taking a big step back on size and simplicity is a great idea, and a reminder for me that, once I move to land, I need to take it easy and start small, while still making sure I plan out my space for future garden expansion.
As for the unused garden space, perhaps just throw out handfuls of flower seeds and see what you get? It would look pretty and give you lots of flower picking/playing time with Juniper.
I have a flower bed in the front of my house that I can’t get anything I plan to grow well, so this is what I plan to do once I think we’re past the last frost. Just chuck out handfuls of mixed seeds and hopefully be pleasantly be surprised.
My husband and I have talked about putting in a garden for at least 2 years. However, we have never pulled the trigger. In addition to our full-time jobs and raising our 2 daughters, we operate a blueberry farm, so spring and summer are VERY busy times for us.
This post gave me a interesting thought – of putting in just a single raised planter bed and see how that goes. Then we can build from there.
I always want to do too much with my garden but I’m limiting myself to about 120 square feet plus some containers on our patio. I’m due with our second baby in June so know weeding will be the last thing on my list!
I picked mostly things our oldest will eat and we can consume fairly quickly: peas, carrots, pepper, greens, cucumbers, melons and lots of tomatoes. Plus herbs because those are the one thing I’m guaranteed successful on!
I’m just generally behind on prepping the garden this year! I think we’ll keep it simple and focus on what we always appreciate the most – tomatoes, strawberries, greens…and maybe some late season carrots that Nora can pull up
Post-baby, whenever something comes up that we realize we’re just not going to be able to do, I remind myself that this is just one season of life, and in this particular season, we’re focusing on helping a baby grow. The other things can wait..
I feel your pain. My husband insists we plant 24 tomatoes plants (different varieties) just in case we lose a few. It’s what we have done in the past, and every year we have great intentions and end up with a bush garden. It’s definitely a work in progress.
Happy planting! May this excitement last through the season :)
What about potatoes? Don’t you plant them? I’m planing to move to a rural property in a few years so is delightful to read your routine because even though the weather here is a lot different I’m pretty sure I want to have chickens and a very productive garden as you do! Thanks for sharing Cassie!
We normally do with a bigger plot, but the yield isn’t huge for the space they take up. And, honestly, we don’t use a ton of potatoes anyway!
Again – love your writing. I sooo connect. I have to use a community garden plot, each one being 600 sq’. One year I tackled 3 plots – mind you I am the sole gardener as my husband has 0 interest. Crazy! so now I’m down to 2 plots and that’s my summer job. As I see the dining room table covered with tomatoes I wonder if 1 plot is enough. It won’t be. It’s a lot of work but I love all the veggies!
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