The Garden

“Large streams from little fountains flow. Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” ~David Everett

 

Folks are always amazed to see the VARIETY and AMOUNT of produce that we grow in our backyard garden. In a space that is just under 40 x 60 ft, we produce at least a TON of produce (based on actual measurements in Summer 2010). Not bad for less than 6/100ths of an acre, eh?

Miss Muffet with some veggies from Summer 2009

Part of the Summer 2012 Watermelon Harvest

A still life from Pa Hubbard in Summer 2007

Some of the varieties of Asian, European, and American Heirloom melons grown in 2012.

Lower half of the garden in September 2011

 

This year we are going to weigh our produce for an entire year instead of just the summer, starting from our first freeze date (which this year was November 1). I think we’ll easily pass a ton… perhaps two. Easily.

How do we grow so much food on such a tiny area? You’ve got to have a good base to start with, and we are incredibly lucky to have terrific soil.

The first time Pa Hubbard fired up the rototiller, we couldn’t believe our eyes.

Spring, 2009. Miss Muffet hangs out in the Pack ‘n Play.

 

I’ve gardened elsewhere in Appalachia, and in most other places I’ve had to deal with heavy clay. Our soil was a beautiful loam.

I soon realized that we would need to take extra precautions to preserve our soil. Though I’ve gardened in Appalachia my whole life, working on a hillside was new. It didn’t take many rains to realize that we could have problems with the traditional, widely spaced garden rows that we’d used before.

What happened to Miss M’s leg? She’s in a rut. Summer, 2009

 

 

The first solution involved planting strawberries through the center of the garden, hoping an area with more permanent vegetation would slow the movement of water down the hillside.

Pa Hubbard and Miss Muffet picking strawberries in the patch running across the garden’s center. Spring 2010

 

The ultimate solution was to terrace the garden. No more ruts, and the stability of the soil improved greatly!

Looking down from the top of the 2010 garden.

 

 

The addition of terraces opened up a whole new world for us! First, it drastically cut down on the need to use the rototiller.

 

Have you ever used a rototiller on a hillside? ‘Nuf said.

 

But limited tilling is also important to the health of your soil. With established raised beds, I need only use a spading fork to loosen the soil when a bed is finished with one crop, and I am ready to plant the next. I rotate crops in quick succession. In just one bed alone this year, there has been broccoli (spring), corn (summer), sugar snap peas (fall), and now greens (getting started for winter).

 

Another benefit of raised beds? Gardening under cover. About half of the garden is under landscape fabric/plastic at any given time. This drastically cuts down on the amount of time spent weeding (I do work full-time and have 2 toddlers after all!). It also allows us to use low tunnels to extend the seasons and grow food year-round.

Landscaping fabric keeps the weeds out until the watermelon and cantaloupe vines have a chance to fill in completely.

Example of a “quick hoop” low tunnel, as developed by Eliot Coleman.

 

An unexpected benefit of the terrace? When I work from the side that is downhill to a raised bed, I don’t have to bend over much at all! Weeding and harvesting become a breeze!

The downhill edge of this bed is hip-height to Miss Muffet.

Another perspective on the height of the downhill side of the terraces.

 

 

We do all of this using heirloom seed varieties and organic methods. There are few things more satisfying than being able to eat veggies as you pick them.

Picking and eating fall tomatoes.

 

By growing the majority of the food we consume, I can ensure my family’s food safety, and we are one step closer to living sustainably. And it just feels good to be in the garden with them too!

I’ll be sharing more about my gardening methods throughout the blog. It is so much fun to grow food for your family, and you can do it too!