Planning Our Summer Garden: Raised Beds

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Backyard Garden 2009

For the past 3 years we've planted a traditional type of row garden in a 14' x 40' and 20' x 6' sections of our backyard.  When we bought the house from my parents, there was a large ornamental flower bed that we slowly converted to a full vegetable garden.  Not really knowing what we were doing, we started slow, learned along the way and know there's much more to learn. 

This picture is the only one I could find that showed the entire garden.  Even though it's a bit small you can see the rows and the 2 apple trees in the back that we planed last spring.  The large tree in the top left corner will be moved as this year we want to move towards raised garden beds.  We want to go down that road for a few reasons:

Dogs: We have a 3 year old and an 8mth old pair of black labs.  They are great but the little one is a digger and chewer, so this is one of the main reasons for the change.  She already chewed up my raspberry bushes planted last year, which was my fault for putting her out where she could reach them, what was I thinking??  More on my remedies for this later.

Square Foot Gardening: The last few years we basically bought our seeds on a whim without much planning.  This worked out OK, but we didn't space our our plantings and ended up with too much lettuce or cherry tomatoes all at once, not enough potatoes, beans or carrots to carry us into winter, etc...  This year we are going to plan for preserves and follow intensive square foot gardening practices to increase our yields and maximize the space we have.  Also want to try companion planting of mutual beneficial vegetables and flowers.

Extending Growing Season: I've seen a few articles on using 8' pvc pipe and cover to create nice row covers to extend the growing season here in our Great White North when frost comes earlier then we want, so want to test it this year along with possibly experimenting on a few removable "Cold Frame" cover for the beds.

Ease of Management:I've never worked with raised beds before, but from I've read and feedback I've received from others, they are easier to keep up and work on.  Ours will be hemlock, which will match our fence when it goes up.  Everything is at an arms length away and the paths in between give you ample room to move about, also important for the dogs and kids ;o)

Esthetics's:I honestly find raised beds more neat and esthetically pleasing to the eye.  Since my wife is a photographer, we have a few other backyard projects to create good photo ops, which will tie into the beds as well.

I'm still playing with the design and layout, but we can easily go with eight 4' x 12' raised beds in the main area and another two 4' x 8' in the back.  This year we're going to test growing potatoes in a "potato stack" so that will be in addition to the raised beds and another post all together.

Putting money away for this project already and will purchase the hemlock for the raised beds in end of April or start of May depending on how the thaw goes... can't wait and will do a follow up post including pictures ;o)

2010 Plans for the Homestead

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2010 is here and with it comes new plans and aspirations.  I'm sure everyone has felt that there are just not enough hours in a day to learn all the things you want to learn... at least that's how I feel ;o)  It would seem that every time I start learning one thing I get an idea for another project so I'm trying to come up with a "list" to keep me on track.

Like everyone else, we have a lot going on in our family while still working on living a more sustainable lifestyle and making the right choices for the environment and our future.  The following list is a transcription of my notepad I drafted up today and expanded on... daunting at first glance, but nice to have a starting point and some ideas.

Things to Learn & Research

  • Custom Glassware:  This is a small hobby project for my wife and I to possibly make custom jewelry from scavenged sea glass.  Also looking into small kiln to fire glass jewelry.
  • Sewing:  Have the sewing machine, just need to learn how to use it.  My mom will teach me ;o)  She is an awesome quilter and I can only hope to be half as good.
  • Soap Making:  Want to learn to do this with my son so he can make is own special soap (incentive to bath
  • Beekeeping:  Always was interested in beekeeping and can watch/photograph bees being bees all day long. 
  • Chickens:  Want to learn all I can about keeping chickens for eggs so when the time comes that I convince my wife I can jump at the opportunity. 
  • Plan Garden for Preserves:  We don't have the luxury of gardening year round and have a short growing season.  Although we eat fresh all summer, we run out by the Thanksgiving so this year want to focus on expanding the garden and planning for preserves for the winter months.

Building/Fabrication Plans

  • Old School Chalk Board: We want a large old school chalk board in our kitchen to mark down notes.  I want to scavenge some old weathered window frames or something to frame the actual board to give it an old country look.
  • Soil Seedling Pot Maker:  This is a must for this year.  I have plans in my head on how to build this and am a hobbyist metal fabricator with tools so this should be easy right?
  • Compost Grinder: Currently have a homemade pallet composing bin I'd like to throw into high gear and multiply.
  • Wood Caddy: Going to fabricate a wood caddy to bring in my 3 cords of wood for winter heating that will also double as a gardening wagon.  I am not doing 284 hand loads down a flight of stairs again next year!
  • Design & Fabricate Garden Ornaments:  I've been asked to do some metal sculptures so going to start with scare crow, bean poles, tomato posts and other functional garden ornaments that come to mind.
  • Seedling Starter Rack/Lighting:  This is a must this year and probably the first project as planting season is coming soon!
  • Cellar Cold Room:  Want to transform one corner of our cellar into a cold room for storing food during the winter.

Yard/Garden Plans

  • Potato Stack:  I read up on this last year and will give it a try this year in a 4x4 bin.  Still have to work out the details as I'm not using old tires, but am curious to see how this method will work out.
  • Plan Raised Beds:  This is the biggest change as we transition our conventional row garden to square foot/raised garden beds.  This is mostly due to having dogs and not having a fence around our current garden, plus it will really give character to the backyard along with other design changes.
  • Water Catching/Watering System:  Currently have 2 x 55gal water barrels used to water the garden, but have a design in mind to use a 250gal container (think old school western water tower style).  Excited about this one if i can pull it off.

Well that list is a bit daunting and I know some items will drop and others will be added as priorities are shifted and everyday life events occur, but it's nice to have a list and starting point.  Time to start reading and designing plans for the Seedling Starter Rack/Lighting... can't wait to start!

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Common even the President of the United States of America is gardening!  Ok well at least the White House will get it's first garden since the Victory Garden days, so what are you waiting for?

Food gardening is becoming a movement on it's own.  Not only due to tough financial times to reduce grocery bills, but also people are becoming better educated about produce and want to know where their food is coming from and is as healthy as possible. 

According to a recent survey by US National Gardening Association, seven million more people will start a vegetable garden in 2009, which is up 19% over last year.  This statistic itself is good motivation to get started if you haven't already!  Home vegetable gardens are easy to start and don't require that much time or effort.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Location, location, location... most staple vegetables thrive in full sunlight so find a location that has at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
  • Start small... you don't need to feed the neighborhood on your first run (although that can be a goal later ;o).  Start with a couple 8x4 raised beds or even plan some cucumbers, tomatoes and pole beans in an empty flower garden or a small 10x10 plot if you don't want to build raised beds.
  • Watering...take watering your garden into consideration and preferably plant close to rain barrels where you could possibly run a drip line.  Don't plant your first garden where you or your garden hose can't reach or you won't make the effort to water when needed.
  • Planning hint... plant tall vegetables like corn and pole beans on the north or west sides of the garden so they don't block the sun for your smaller vegetables.
  • Good Soil... if you can prepare your soil with plenty of organic material like compost and KEEP AWAY from fertilizers and chemical pesticides.  Key to delicious vegetables is all in the soil.  Not too sandy and not too clay like... good amended soil will stay together when you squeeze it into your fist, but break apart easily.
  • Mulch & Mulch... mulching is one the best things you can do for your vegetable garden.  Use good quality organic mulch and lay about 2-3 inches around your vegetable plants and on top of your drip lines, if you use them.  Mulch will help retain water and help stop weeds.
  • Relax & Enjoy...relax and enjoy the garden.  Gardening is a fun experience and you trully get the fruits of your labor.  Nothing is more fun or rewarding then going out and picking fresh produce from your vegetable garden for a meal.

So there is no reason to not start a vegetable garden.  If you have kids this is a GREAT way to kick off the summer months as they can learn with you from start to finish... from planting the seeds or starter plants, to picking summer snacks while mom or dad aren't looking!  Most of all kids can learn that tomatoes do come from a plant that you cared for and helped grow, not from a grocery store counter.

These are just a few tips to get you motivated and moving.  Trust me and ask others, once you start you will only continue to expand every year... it's addictive.  So what are you waiting for?  Go plan and start your vegetable garden today!

2009 Urban Homestead Plans

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Since it's well into 2009 now I thought I'd put down some of our plans for the Urban Homestead.  First though, some accomplishments from 2008.

We expanded the garden and learned how to preserve the basics of our vegetable garden.  We made 24 bottles of salsa and froze onions, carrots, beans and peppers.  After this experience we now have a better understanding of planning a garden for specific yields and times. 

We built a compost bin out of used wood pallets.  This was a fun project and we already have plans to add another to double capacity.  It took a night to build after supper with my 5yr old son helping along.  He is really into composting and helps keep our kitchen compost bin full.  Can't wait to use the fresh compost in the garden this spring.

Personally I learned how to make bread from scratch as well as pies, apple pies being my favorite!  This was a fun experience and we now make our own whole wheat bread regularly.  My 5yr old helps along as well and enjoys the process.  It's nice to see him learn where food comes from, the garden, and also involved in the process of baking.

Now that we have 2 summers under our belt, we are expanding the vegetable garden again.  We have ordered in 2 seed catalogs and are ready to plan/order for the spring.  I'll be starting seedlings indoors where applicable to get a head start.  More on garden planning to come....

We will also plant 2 or 3 Cortland apple trees this spring.  I'm investigating dwarf apple trees as I've read about them online.  We will also plant strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries and raspberries this year.  Not sure how much we'll get out of them this year, but the plan is to keep on them and eventually have enough for jams and preserves in the coming years. 

We already have a rain barrel for water collection but I'm putting together a better system to collect from both sides of the house and will run drip lines to keep things hydrated.  If money allows, we also plan on fencing in the backyard with a nice 6ft hemlock fence.  This wood is harvested locally and has the same rot resistant properties as cedar but less expensive.  It ages beautifully and should give a bit more privacy and a place for the fruit vines to climb along the edges.

We have many other plans but to start you have to at least put things down on paper.  This is a start and I'll be writing and posting pictures of each project as we go.  My wife is taking professional photography now so there's no excuse to have good pictures of our progress ;o)  Till then... cheers.

Garden Planning Helps

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Before you start digging up your backyard to plant your garden, a plan should be made to ensure the best use of your available land and effective selection of vegetables and plants to get the most of your garden layout. The first thing to do is decide how much space you can dedicate to your garden plans. This choice is based on both the amount of yard you want to give up as well as the amount of space required by your selected crops. These two work hand in hand. If you are planning to grow a lot of large vegetables, your garden layout needs to reflect that.

The best way to start your garden is to take measurements of your backyard, decide on the crops you wish to grow and draw out your plans on paper. This will help while planting your garden as well as selecting the best logical location for your items such as compost bin, crops proximity to rain catcher and potting shed or green house if you have one.

Garden Plan

Garden Plan

If you decide to change your crop or add anything to your plans, this is normal and at least you will have your general layout, look and feel. Adjustments can always be made as your plans are not set in stone. Having a fluid, functional garden is what you want, not chaos. So take your time in planning and research the space required for the yield of crop you wish to harvest.

Some of the other things to consider when laying out your vegetable garden plans include:

  • Do you have pets that will be running around the yard? If so, think about fencing your garden off or planning your garden layout so they can't run through your freshly-planted crops.
  • The same goes for children. If your kids are playing soccer or baseball in the backyard, you don't want them running through your garden.
  • Think about how much time you have to water and maintain your garden. Don't plant an entire field of vegetables if you can only spend hour working on it every couple of days.
  • Think about where your water faucets, or even better, the location of your rain catchers. You'll need to water your garden regularly, so it should be somewhere that is within reach of your hose.

These tips are just a primer of some things you need to keep in mind before jumping into planting your vegetable garden. Remember planning makes perfect and the same for your garden. Hopefully it is where you will be spending lots of time so make it functional.

Most of all have fun... Keep it Green!