Last summer I read Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver which greatly influenced me to try and grow more of our own food. And so I spent the winter reading up an gardening. Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman was very helpful as well as a subscription to Mother Earth News. Not to mention many hours of internet surfing, looking for info about how to grow asparagus or potatoes or whatever else I thought we might want to try.
Our existing garden is a fenced area, 60x60 feet square. We have put in some sort of garden each year that we have been here and usually the tomatoes and squash have done well, however the rest of the garden was always overwhelmed by weeds. So this year I formulated a plan. In April we had a few weeks of really warm weather and we spent that time tilling and forming raised beds for planting. Right now we have about 24 beds each 3x8 feet and they have all been planted (there are a few more beds that need some work and I plan to put in a small cold frame structure on one of them in order to extend a few things into the winter and early spring). Then we will lay down weed barrier in the walkways and cover the barrier with mulch. We have begun this process but it's a ton of work and we got distracted from it while planting. Also in April, I planted things that could take a few frosty nights, which we had until the last week of May. I planted broccoli, lettuce plants, direct sowed carrot and sweet peas and Doug put together the asparagus bed and planted 25 crowns. We like asparagus! The strawberry and raspberry plants from last year came back pretty well. Then we spent another month building the garden, forming more beds and much weeding. Finally in the first week of June we did the fun stuff and planted seed potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, pumpkins, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, cucumbers. I also direct sowed beans and spinach. Oh and I still have a few rhubarb plants to put in as well as two grapevines. And my daughter brought home a cabbage plant from school which is thriving. Too bad we all hate cabbage....
I spent a few days covering the edges of some of the beds with newspaper (you can see them in some of the photos) which will help to keep the weeds at bay until the barrier and mulch gets finished up. In the meantime I try to keep up with the weeding, pulling out the weeds in each bed by hand every day. Also we haven't had much rain this spring so one of us has to go out and do the watering every day. We used to set up a sprinkler but that really encouraged weed growth everywhere, so we water each plant by hand now. It takes about an hour and believe me, my days now revolve around determining whether or not it will rain!
Our fence is ok but I think we have to do something else. A deer (or something) got in a few nights ago and ate a good part of two broccoli plants as well as sheared off several strawberry plants and some of the peas too. My son and I put a deer mesh around each of those beds and that seems to have done the trick. Some people in the area have electric fences around their vegetable gardens and so I suppose we will have to look at that option someday.
I planted way too much lettuce and have practically been throwing bags of it at anyone who unwittingly drives past our house! On Saturday I brought in a garbage bag full of lettuce (romaine, green and red leaf) and it turns out that just dumping it all into our big ol' sink is the best way to rinse it. My daily salads have been awesome though!
The strawberries are close to getting ripe and I have been eating the broccoli which is excellent. Too bad only Doug and I will enjoy THAT vegetable! The blueberry bushes that we planted in containers on our patio are doing well, although one didn't seem to make it through the winter. I was supposed to cover them with mulch and straw for the winter but never got to it because I was sick (and then kinda lazy).
Along with the food we are growing and our local farmer's market we are looking at not buying food in the grocery store for at least 4 or 5 months. We will have to eliminate a few things from our diets to accomplish this goal, but that can only be good for us. The kids aren't too happy about it but I suspect they will adjust.
This is all a ton of work, but a lot of fun, challenging and fulfilling too. When I am inside I often feel overwhelmed with how much there is to do, but once I am standing in the garden and looking at everything that is growing, and feeling the sun and a warm breeze I am very happy.
Potatoes in the front and then four beds of tomatoes:
Front to back, sweet peas, carrots, two broccoli beds, and asparagus bed:
Two beds of lettuces:
Green peppers (and a skewed bird house):
Squash and pumpkins:
Table and chairs (for resting:)) and bean tower in the back: