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{The Homestead Garden} Katie and Goliath

I thought about calling this post “How to Build Raised Beds,” but who am I kidding? I am definitely not an an expert at any of this gardening stuff. I am just googling for tips and then adapting to my reality and hoping I get it halfway right. There are two huge primary challenges with building our Homestead Garden: 
1. Our garden is a 900 square foot fenced in area that has been overgrown with weeds and poison ivy for 10 years.
2. As mentioned, I don’t have a green thumb.

 

The past couple weekends, we’ve been tackling point one. Can’t get to point two until we have somewhere to try not to kill the veggies, right?BedsCollage

I spent two weekends pulling the weeds by hand and fighting with vines that would totally support Tarzan swinging through the trees. My battle with the vines growing throughout the garden was my first battle with Goliath in the garden project. See the one sticking out over the asparagus that I gave up on?

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I finally called the local equipment rental place and picked up a rototiller, which promptly leaked gas all over my car #awesome. TimTheFarmer was at work when I got home with it and when I want to do something, I want to do it now #instantgratification, so despite the fact that it took two guys to load it into my car, I was going to get it out on my own. I set up a ramp with two boards and managed to get it out of the car by myself. Can you tell I’m proud of myself? ‘Cuz I am ;). The trip across the yard to the garden was brutal – there is nothing ergonomic about a front-tine rototiller! I then got to work tilling everything up and holy crow! If I thought the weeds were my Goliath, I had another thing coming. It took every.single.muscle in my body to control that dang rototiller. Here’s me looking like it’s a walk in the park:

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Here’s reality, triple chin and all:

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TimTheFarmer came home (with a truck full of dirt dug up from a back corner of the farm!!) and we took turns with Goliath. It was much easier for him than me. What the heck?! Within a couple hours, though, we had the entire garden weeded and turned. Yippee! Remember my plan? I was trying not to bite off too much at once and was going to weed and plant one bed at a time, but forget that! We are all weeded and ready for beds. Just looking at the cleared garden makes me feel like I can take a nice, deep breath.

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As a side note, it seems I’m one of those people who doesn’t react to poison ivy, unlike TimTheFarmer (who will puff up like a blowfish). I didn’t recognize the dormant vines as poison ivy and have been pulling them for a few weeks without reaction. I’m allergic to everything else on the planet…small wins I guess?

In between weeding and rototiller wrastling, we got to work building the garden beds. We spent Mother’s Day with TimTheFarmer showing me how to use a circular saw and I cut up all the boards for the beds. I insisted on cutting the boards myself (can you say stubborn?), so Mother’s Day looked like this, which cracks me up.

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I ultimately decided not to treat the boards which I’ll get into in a another post. I know, a whole post dedicated to treating raised beds…you can’t wait. 

To build the beds, we used 2’x10’x8’s. Most of my beds are 4’x8′ so we cut one board in half for the ends and used 3 boards total per bed. I priced out the different board lengths and it seems lumber is not one of those things where bulk=better price. I guess that’s why they don’t sell it at Costco? I thought that the 16′ boards might be less expensive, but it all seems to be about the same price per foot. We used scrap 2’x4’s to brace the corners. And, I learned the value of good screws. Apparently the Home Depot guy sold me crappy screws and I had my third Goliath experience trying to screw together the beds. I’d been using TimTheFamer’s non-galvanized star lock screws and it was easy peesy; then I used my new phillips-head galvanized screws and the heads were getting stripped and they just wouldn’t go in the dang wood. It took me HOURS to put them together. TimTheFarmer came home with some more of the good screws and put the rest together in minutes, not hours. Ugh! But yes, Dad, I did use my pink screw gun.

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We moved the beds into place and then laid down weed barrier between all the beds. I stapled the barrier inside the beds to hold it in place and minimize weeds poking through. I used garden staples to secure the perimeter of the weed barrier.

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And the last battle with Goliath was moving the dirt from the apple crates to the beds. We took turns shoveling and shoveling and shoveling and…you get the idea. Our backs and shoulders are wrecked, but we’re done!! We filled the beds about halfway full. Since the dirt is freshly tilled under the beds, there should be plenty of room for the plants’ roots to take hold and this gives us room to add dirt for next year. So, we don’t have any more plants in the ground than last week, but the beds are all built and filled!! Are you tired? ‘Cuz I’m exhausted! Time to head to the nursery to look for veggies!

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{The Homestead Garden} Asparagus Planting – It’s a Jungle Out There

I hope all you mamas out there had exactly the weekend you wanted! Happy Mother’s Day! 

It’s Monday and I feel like I’ve been hit by a train. Apparently weeding a garden that has been left to Mother Nature for almost 10 years is no small feat. But, we’re making some serious progress and I’m not regretting undertaking the crazy project. Well, I’m not, but my back (and legs, and arms, and abs) might be. If you missed the first post in this series, click here to start a the beginning of The Homestead Garden.

Before we dive into this, here’s your daily reminder to vote for our photo in the Steamboat Then and Now contest. VOTE HERE: http://bit.ly/1W2WBPt

CQrSnTAccording to my handy dandy weekly to-do list I created based on what my Garden Planner told me, this week was for prepping and planting the asparagus beds and clearing the beds for peas, onions, and fennel.

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I’m just seeing the note about clearing the pea bed today, so … clearly that didn’t happen. But aside from that, we made some great progress! Over the course of the last week, I bought asparagus and onions to plant, cleared and planted the asparagus beds, cleared the onion, beet/fennel, and kale beds, and started building beds. Oh, and I completely redesigned the garden for the third time. Apparently I am really bad at using my steps to measure anything, so when I finally got out there with a measuring tape, my garden got even smaller. Here are the new plans – sketched out and then updated on my Garden Planner.

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Tip: I covered my garden map in a plastic sleeve to keep it from getting ruined in the garden. And, I used a dry erase marker to remind me of the planting specs for that day’s crop.

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Planting Asparagus

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Getting the asparagus in the ground was our priority because it’s supposed to be planted in early spring (May counts right??) and it takes two years to mature, so we didn’t want to wait whole year to start the process. I triangulated the tips from my Garden Planning Tool, my garden book, and the asparagus package and came up with a plan.

Plans

1. Pull all the weeds (that wasn’t in the book, I came up with that on my own #genuis #iknow).
2. Dig two rows of 5″-6″ deep trenches that were 15″ long which would accommodate ~25-30 crowns.
3. Test the soil – asparagus wants a high pH – between 7-7.5. 
4. Amend the soil if needed.
5. Put a layer of compost/manure at the bottom of the trench.
6. Place the crown roots down/crown up (you buy 1 year old asparagus called crowns) and spread out the roots. Plant them 18″ apart in rows that are at least 18″ apart.
7. Cover the asparagus with 2″ of soil.
8. Water.
9. As the asparagus grows, cover with 2″ more of soil until you’ve used up all your soil.

And, here’s how the plan actually went down.

As I was weeding (and by weeding I mean forcefully hacking at the weeds with a hoe), I heard these squeals and was freaked out about what might be on the end of my hoe. Nothing was impaled, but this tiny little rabbit came stumbling out of the ground. There ended up being a nest of teeny tiny baby bunnies in my planned asparagus bed. TimTheFarmer advised me not to touch them because our scent could scare off the mama. We guided it back into the nest with some sticks, covered them all back up, and hoped the mama would come back and move them. I weeded around them last weekend and when I came back Saturday to start digging, the nest was still there and all the bunnies were dead. 🙁 Despite knowing these bunnies would eventually come back and terrorize my garden, it was still super sad. I loaded them up on the shovel and took them into the woods. #keepingitrealfolks 

AsparagusThe bunny is still alive here…be glad I didn’t show you the shovel pic.

To add to the feeling of being in wilds of the jungle, I was seriously pulling out 8′ long vines from under the entire garden. Between the vines I fought with and the manually dug trenches, it’s no wonder I feel like I did after that one time I tried surfing (except for the full body chafing from the surfboard … so there’s that #brightside). And, because I was deep in the wild jungle, I was startled by this little guy when I went to pull the tarp off the fence to load up more weeds. I’m confident my next sighting with be a cheetah. 

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I was able to get the kiddo off his phone for 30 minutes by enticing him with doing our soil testing. A chance to dig in the mud, but not actually have to weed? For sure! It turned out our pH is perfect for all the other veggies we’re going to plant, but not alkaline enough for asparagus. So we picked up some lime and as I dug the trenches, I mixed it in to both the bottom of the trench and the dirt I was piling up. I used a regular shovel to dig the trenches and at first I was wishing we had a pick axe because the width of my trenches seemed overkill, but once the asparagus was in there with it’s roots spread out, they were perfect. Oh, it was raining while I dug the trenches … that asparagus was getting planted come hell or high water. 

Asparagus4Note: I was NOT intoxicated while digging these trenches. It’s hard to dig a straight line! (I should have put the twine up first)

TimTheFarmer brought me pig manure home from the farm (that might have been my Mother’s Day present??) #thankshoney and I laid it down in the trench. I went light with it  and mixed it in because it had some shavings in it. For the record, I have no idea if that matters … don’t forget that I’m making this whole thing up as I go. I then got to work spreading out the crowns.

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I planted them ~18″ apart, covered them with 2″ of dirt, and watered them in. Fingers crossed I didn’t completely blow it at some point of this because that was a TON of work for a crop we’ll harvest in two years! Now, on to the rest of the garden we’ll actually get to enjoy this year.

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Here are the question marks at the end of the process, which we’ll answer as the asparagus starts to grow:
– How quickly can you change soil pH? Will the lime be enough for the asparagus to thrive?
– Is old pig manure mixed with wood shavings an adequate compost/manure?
– Did I plant the asparagus too late in the spring?



{Homestead Garden} The Plans

Alright y’all, I’m about to majorly over commit to a project, so I thought it’d be a good idea to put it out there publicly. This way, if there is an epic fail at the end of the summer, everyone will know about it. You’re following my logic here, right?

The project? A homestead garden that replaces our CSA/farmer share. The reason? I’m not completely sure. We have all sorts of farms around us that could provide our vegetables and we both work (very) full-time jobs and I’m trying to complete big home makeover projects. But, our new house came with a giant, fenced-in garden that’s just begging to be used. And, if zombies take over, we’ll be ready. 

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Before

With this project, I’ll start a new series here, The Homestead Garden. Each week, I’ll post updates on our progress, tips, and lessons learned (of which, I’m confident there will be many). Now, I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t you married to a farmer?? Why would this be a challenge? Well…let me tell you.

First: I have absolutely no green thumb. I’m currently struggling to keep aloe alive. 
Second: TimTheFarmer did large scale, in-the-dirt farming on an 80 acre vegetable farm; we’re doing this in 900 square feet with raised beds and have to be super strategic with when and where we plant things. 
Third: I hate weeding. 
Fourth: I am really good at killing plants.
Fifth: our garden is current a giant bed of weeds (did you see the pic above?), so substantial prep is required.
Sixth: it’s humid here. I don’t function well in humidity. Weeding and humidity=whiny Katie. #somanythingstolookforwardtoo That hashtag for for my dad, in his style.

So, we’re going to set aside all the reasons this is a big, scary, intimidating project and focus on the fact that we’ll be growing our own food, will be producing what we eat, and will have what we need to preserve for the winter. Plus we’ll totally feel cool 😉

 

We’re drowning in produce….

A photo posted by Katie@Isn’tThatGrand? (@kt_co) on

The only other time we planted a vegetable garden, we totally winged it. We bought all our plants at once and planted them with minimal strategy.* Some worked, some didn’t, but between that lesson, watching TimTheFarmer farm, and seeing my rockstar gardener friend Gretchen garden, I’ve learned that you do need to have a plan. This weekend, with planting season upon us, was the time to plan and I dedicated an entire day to making a plan of attack. I got out our various gardening books we’ve inherited from people and pretty quickly turned to the internet to help me make a plan…who has time to read an encyclopedia to plan this out??!

Plans

After a few strikeouts, I found this sweet garden planner on The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Here are the plans:

The Food

Despite my love of the idea of a CSA model, it doesn’t fit our lifestyle. Between our paleo dietary needs (and general preferences), two VERY hungry boys, and our desire to put up food for winter, we need WAY more of some things and none of others. #talkingtoyoutatsoi We got totally spoiled the last few years because, as a farmer’s family, we could get as much of what we wanted—when we wanted—from the farm. This garden is an attempt to recreate that. Before mapping out where we’d plant things, I started with a list of what we wanted to grow. Luckily I have a pretty good sense of how much we need of what after a few years of picking-our-own at the farm. Here’s what we’re growing:

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The Layout

This is where that handy Almanac tool comes in. Not only does it map the layout for you, it tells you how many plants you’ll get in a given area. I ventured into the rain to measure the garden. I walked it out and concluded I had a 62’x42′ garden. All the space! I then spent a couple hours working out (and reworking) a layout. Once I was finally happy (tall things in on the north side, squash with room to sprawl, succession plans, lumber cost plans) I headed outside to prepare the asparagus bed (which needs to be planted yesterday). As I was walking it out, I realized after my first 3 feet, that I did not, in fact, have 39 more feet between me and the fence. Ummm….I walked it again and realized I did my math wrong. This is why that one architecture project I did in 7th grade DROVE ME CRAZY #notgoodatplanning. It turns out our garden is 42’x22′. Hmm. Well, that’s slightly smaller. I spent the next hour reworking our design and was able to get everything in there except the cauliflower and broccoli, which is ok — they are finicky and take up a lot of space. So…here’s the first attempt at a plan:

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Note: We are not doing companion planting, because we’re not really growing things that are common companion plants. In my head, this is a mini vegetable farm, not a garden…somehow that justifies this…on farms, they just plant in rows…there’s no tomatoes by beans by corn. That’s my justification. We’ll see how it goes. Thank you for listening. 

The Timeline

To keep the sense of feeling overwhelmed under control, I next turned to the handy dandy planting tool within the Garden Planner. It gives you timelines for seed and seedling planting, harvest, and tips on each plant.

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How awesome is that?! I used this to make a weekly plan for clearing parts of the garden, building beds, buying seeds and plants, and planting. We are going to do 2nd successions of lettuces, kale, carrots, beets, and fennel for fall harvest. We’ll work on that timeline once we get through the chaos of the next 6 weeks. If all goes according to plan, beds will be built and crops will be planted by mid-June. #alreadyexhausted From there we’ll install irrigation, weed, trim, harvest, and plan for the next succession.

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Note 1: We are not starting seeds, so the only seeds we’ll planting are beets, carrots, and fennel. 
Note 2: We’re planting asparagus crowns (year-old asparagus starters). In two years we’ll be able to begin harvesting them and the bed could produce for 30-50 years if properly maintained. #dedication

The Budget

Our goal is to keep the cost of this project under the cost of a full farm share which is $600 per season. I made another spreadsheet to track costs. The biggest expenses will be lumber and plants plus weed barrier. It’s looking like we’ll need around $400 worth of lumber. At this point, I have no idea how much plants will cost.  So, I’ll track costs and if we go over $600 (which I guess we will), I’ll consider the beds and weed barrier to be capital investments and spread their costs out (in my head) over a couple years 🙂 Luckily we’re on  a well here, so we don’t pay for water. 

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Ok, that’s the plan! We’ll see how this all goes come October. If you have any tips on how to arrange things, or other things I should know…please post them! I need all the help I can get here.

*TimTheFarmer would like me to point out that this was when he was Tim, not TimTheFarmer.