Having received shipping confirmations for the seeds we ordered, the girls and I have been talking about just where we are going to plant what we’re getting, and what we need for what we’re getting.
In the two years we’ve been here, we’ve been working at reclaiming neglected spaces before we could even consider planting anything. The area where there used to be a huge garden has had more and more trees planted into them – without adequate planning, unfortunately, and causing a lot more shade areas I remember used to get much more sunlight. We currently have some spots here and there that we will be able to plant in, rather than one big vegetable garden, like my parents had for so many decades.
This is what we’ve come up with.
At the top of the sketch is the area we mulched over, then covered with tarps, last summer. This is where we will be planting the varieties of squash we’ll be getting, and the birdhouse gourds. The two giant varieties of sunflowers will be planted in a part of the old garden that I was finally able to mow last year. It’s more lawn than garden now.
The house is where the happy little gardener is standing. On the left is the old kitchen garden. This had been mostly a flower garden, though my mother did plant some onions there. The trouble with this location are the two ornamental apple trees. Still, we’ve already got chives and onions planted overwinter in the chimney block retaining wall. In the rest of the blocks, and in the area against them where I’d been able to add some soil to try and reduce the slope away from the house, is where we will plant fennel, and some of the varieties of carrots and beets we’ll be getting (we’re getting three varieties of each). The other area carrots and beets will be added is in the soft, deep, loose soil uncovered when we cleaned up the old wood pile area.
We’ve decided to set up the remaining chimney blocks along the chain link fence, between the fence and the white lilac bushes. Right now, there is an area of lawn just wide enough to get a mower through, but it would be great to not have to squeeze through there with a mower at all, and use the space to grow cucamelons. The chain link fence will be the trellis for the cucamelons, which need full sun. We chose the lilacs side of the gate, as they will not be affected by the shade created once the cucamelons cover the fence (assuming the grow successfully!), whereas the section of fence on the other side of the gate has flowers and haskap berries, and they’re already shaded too much from an elm, a maple and another variety of lilac.
What isn’t anywhere on the sketch is potatoes. We’ve ordered 6 pounds of Yukon Gem potatoes, but they are back ordered. These would not be shipped until the right planting time for our area, so they can go into the ground right away, so I hope they were get more stock before then. We weren’t billed for them, though. The gourds were back ordered, too, but we were billed for those – and I got a shipping confirmation for those the day after I got one for the other seeds. This suggest to me that they may not be expecting to get more of the Yukon Gem variety of potatoes. Depending on how that goes, we might end up buying some Yukon Gold, locally. We shall see.
We ended up buying quite a few plants that are climbers, so we will be building trellises, too. We will have to go through the barn to see what materials are left that are suitable to build with. When we do build them, we will keep in mind that they will need to be moved after the growing season. These are temporary planting locations, and very much experiments, as there are quite a few plants we have never tried to grow before.
With all the crazy stuff going on right now, with the Wuhan flu, shelter in place recommendations and grocery stores in many places being cleaned out of inventory, I’ve noticed quite the increase in people interested in growing their own food, so I thought I’d talk a bit about our decision making process.
For us, we’ve long sought to increase our level of self sufficiency as much as possible. When it came to gardening, this was not something we could do much of. Partly due to moving so frequently, but also because we usually lived in apartments with no real space to grow in. When we did find ourselves living in homes with nice, big south facing decks, we did container gardening, with varying levels of success.
Now that we’re back on the farm I grew up on, we finally have the space for all kinds of things, but with all the clean up needed first, we can only do a bit at a time, so we have to be quite selective on what we choose to grow.
When it comes to choosing what to grow, there are two ways you can go. You can look at the things you buy the most of and, if they can be grown in your climate zone, grow those, thus reducing your grocery bill. Or, you can look at the things you don’t buy, or buy rarely, either because they are too expensive at the grocery store, or hard to find. The grocery budget may not change, but you’ll have a greater variety of produce, and more “treat” foods, which has substantial psychological benefits, too.
We’ve done a combination of the two.
Carrots, beets and potatoes, for example, are things that are easy to find in the stores. At least the plain ones. It wouldn’t really be worthwhile for us to, for example, grow Russet potatoes. They are still pretty cheap at the grocery store, and common. What we’ve ordered are common foods in uncommon varieties.
Fennel is one of those things we buy as a rare treat. They’re not significantly more expensive, but enough that when the budget is considered, it’s more economical to buy more of the cheaper produce.
The squash varieties are similar. We like them, but rarely do. Some, like the pattypan squash, are pretty rare in stores, and more expensive.
The sunflower seeds are intended to play several roles. These varieties are good for eating in general, but we’re going to be planting a lot of these to use as bird feed in the winter. The large size and strength of the plants themselves will act as wind breaks, as well as privacy screens. Plus, we’ll be planting them in an area that the leaves will hopefully shade the ground enough to prevent the grass and weeds in the area from growing. (This is where we’re going to need more hoses; the area is quite parched, and there is no nearby source of water.) The straw bale we have now will be used as mulch, though it won’t be enough on its own for such a large area. We’ll likely use most of that up when we get and plant potatoes. I’m hoping to get more straw or old hay over the summer. I’m planning to contact the renter of the rest of the farm, whom we have been buying our straw bales from, to see if he has any – and maybe some well composted manure, as well!
You’ll notice one of the things we don’t have on our list are lettuces. These are often recommended for new gardeners, as they produce relatively quickly, and with successive sowing, you can have 3 seasons of lettuce. We’ve tried growing lettuces in our container gardens before but, ultimately, find they are not really be worth the hassle. We’ve found them to be fragile produce, both as a plant to grow, easily killed off by too many things, and as produce to buy at the store, which inevitably go soggy before we can finish them. We just don’t eat enough lettuce to make it worthwhile.
Cabbage, on the other than, will be something we’ll grow in the near future. We use them more than lettuce, and they store very well over winter.
So a lot of what we’re going to be doing for gardening this summer is pretty experimental for us. How things work out will do a lot to help us decide what we’ll do next year.
Meanwhile, we will continue to clean up, reclaim space, and work out where we want to plant the things that will continue to feed us, year after year; berry bushes, fruits trees and, hopefully, nut trees.
It’s going to be a fun (and, hopefully, tasty) learning experience!