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{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….

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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.



{Keeping It Real} Empty Oil Tanks and Piglets Edition

If we’re honest, I’m sitting here wearing multiple layers of clothes, under a down blanket, and with the space heater running. No, we didn’t lose power. Yes, we went to check the heating oil level in the tank and it was 100 gallons lower than we expected, or pretty much on E. A string of expletives ensued. We feel like such rookies.  

IMG_4423 The thing is, we checked the tank in early December and it was more than half full. I was so proud that we were being proactive yesterday and going to fill it this week and not wait for it to be low before we filled it … and then somehow we burned a half a tank, during a relatively warm December, in 4 weeks. I scrambled to find an oil company and it turns out I should have answered the door when the oil salesman kept coming by, because we inherited a service account from the previous owner. #thanks They’ll be here soon, but in the meantime, we’re relying on the Mr. Slim’s which reviews say aren’t reliable heaters in “the North” (they’re set to 80° and it’s 58° right now) and a space heater. In other words, we’re really cold. We also have a lot of dirty dishes because our hot water heater runs off the oil tank and we don’t want to run it dry. Welcome to home ownership, on the East Coast, where people use heating oil – something I’d never heard of in Colorado. The space heater has replaced the fireplace Taz was used to.

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It's a good thing heat rises. #favoritespot #dogsofinstagram

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In other news, TimTheFarmer picked up the first group of piglets for Rose Hill Farm yesterday. Would it be in poor taste to say “mmm…bacon”?

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This is the kind of phone call I get: 

TimTheFarmer: Hey, are you busy?
Me: Well, always.
TimTheFarmer: Yeah, but can you help me with something quickly?
Me (assuming he needed me to look something up): Maybe, I have a meeting in a couple hours and have some prep to do and lots of emails. What’s up? 
TimTheFarmer: Any chance you can come over here [to the farm] and help me unload the piglets? It won’t take long.
Me: Uh, no. Sorry. I have too much to do before the meeting. 

This call seriously happened. He cracks me up. 

Since we’re being honest in this post, the first thought that actually ran through my head was “No way! I’m in my nice work clothes. I’m not getting near those pigs.” To be clear, my “nice work clothes” on days when I’m not hosting events, like yesterday, include jeans and some shirt that makes me look somewhat professional. But hell no! I was not leaving work, in my fancy clothes, to go out in the cold to handle pigs. I may be a farmer’s wife, but my affection for animals does not go beyond dogs. It took years for me to be comfortable picking up chickens, and pigs have this weird, scratchy hair on them. 

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That’s all I got for ya, folks! Happy hump day! Tomorrow, we’re picking paint colors. Stay tuned. And, hope the oil guy comes so a) we warm up b) we can bathe and do dishes and c) I can finish painting at a temp that will allow the paint to properly dry.