The First Twelve Months: Months Ten and Eleven The Garden: What worked What Didn’t

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The Garden: What Worked and What Didn't

This post is part of a series chronicling the first year on our homestead.  Links to the rest of the series can be found here.

As we near the one year anniversary of the date we  officially launched our homestead, our first summer gardening season also comes to a close.

This is a great time to look back over our first growing season here and evaluate what went well and what didn’t.

One of the things that really caught me off guard was the fact that our gardening zone was actually different here on our acreage.  I’ve not had the time to take down all the data necessary to determine what zone  it actually is here,  nor do I have the data available to know what it was when we lived in the city.

I do know that whereas before we had a tall privacy fence, brick houses on either side, and tall trees that created a microclimate; here we do not.  So there were some things that we were able to grow there that didn’t grow here, and some things that grew here that didn’t grow there.  We also tried some new techniques that we had not tried out before.

So then, first off ~ What didn’t work:

Back to Eden ~ You’ve all probably seen it.  The free online movie about using permaculture methods and sheet composting techniques for an “easy care” garden. Back to Eden gardens are springing up everywhere as a result.

It would be unfair for me to say that this doesn’t work at all but it didn’t work well for us for a variety of reasons.  The main one worth mentioning being : we don’t live in Oregon.  We live in Oklahoma.  The climate here is brutal as are the weeds and pests.  Compost and mulch work to an extent but we’re not pulling up beets the size of watermelons.

Rain barrels ~ This is another component that would be unfair to say it doesn’t work at all Rain barrelbecause it does work to some degree.

But rain, in order to be captured effectively, needs to be coming down off of a roof.  And there is no roof over our garden.

Using the rain water to irrigate our garden meant taking numerous trips back and forth between the garden and the house using whatever we could as a container: a 5 gallon bucket, a watering can, an old kitchen waste basket.

Yes, we had free water, but some days the effort wasn’t worth it. And just in case you were wondering: our initial intent was to have the barrels installed over by the barn and much more handy to the garden.  However, our guttering, which needed to be specialized in order to accommodate the barrels went in before we realized what was going on so that was that.  Yes, I could have pestered the builder about it, but I was already pestering him about the paint, the cupboards, the back door….those who have had a home built will understand.

Natural Weed Control ~ I wrote about that here.  We have bermuda grass that is way out of control.   The vinegar that I have used to keep it at bay works some, but I can’t stay on top of it and keep enough vinegar stocked in order to keep the beds free and clear of the stuff.  Honestly, I have no idea what to do.  I’m ready to curl up into a fetal position and cry over this one.

How to use Vinegar for Weed Control

What worked:

Potatoes ~ this was one of the crops that failed to launch back at our urban homestead but that we enjoyed here.

We tried both kinds: white and sweet potatoes.  The white potatoes we purchased as seed potatoes from a local Amish market.  I am not sure of the variety and they actually went in late but we harvested a good many that we enjoyed over the course of a few meals.

The sweet potatoes were started from slips that we purchased from Territorial Seed*.  While we actually have yet to harvest these, the slips took off right away and have grown into nice healthy vines.  I loved the fact that these could be planted mid season (in June) after some of our spring crops had been harvested.  This kept the garden space occupied and busy.

Kale ~ I had typically thought of this as a cool weather crop but our kale kept right on producing through July bridging the gap from lettuce to tomatoes and zucchini.  This gave us something fresh to eat at every meal during the season.  So much so that we are sick of kale.  Braised kale, pickled kale, kale chips, kale salad.

This was also one of the first crops that bolted and went to seed here on our homestead.  This fall we planted kale seeds harvested here in our own garden.  They sprouted immediately and have started coming on strong.  It has been a blessing to see this particular crop come full circle.

Squash ~ Another crop that never would grow in the city due to pests: the squash bug and the squash vine borer.  Whether it was beginner’s luck, the climate, or they just aren’t out here I don’t know, but we had more zucchini than we were able to handle.  I was particularly excited because home grown zucchini is something I have wanted for some time and never really been able to achieve.

Lemon Cucumbers ~ This was another first.  I selected the seeds simply because I thought they were pretty.  I thought for a long while they were another “no go”.  The vine took a long time to mature, and for several weeks there were no flowers to be seen.  The first few potential cucs yellowed and withered, but once we got one, it was followed by several.  In spite of heat and a little bit of stress they weren’t bitter.  They were a lovely yellow color, a unique round shape, and had a great flavor.  These are definitely something we’ll be trying again.

Summer Harvest

Mulch ~ This isn’t a crop but this is one of the few things that helped control the weeds in the garden.  It didn’t prevent any, but it did help suppress them and made them easier to pull.  After months of trying to keep our grass garden paths contained we ditched that idea in favor of plastic mulch covered with hay.  The hay is cut from our property and used both on the paths and on the garden beds themselves.

What remains to be seen:

Chickens ~  They have grown up to be quite persnickety, at least right now. I’d say we are Rhode Island Redabout three to four weeks out from laying the first egg.

The girls spend the  mornings quite happily in the chicken yard and then during the afternoons we house them in a tractor situated in the garden where they eat pesky insects, “till”, and fertilize the soil.

Or at least they are supposed to, and that is provided we can get them to tractor in the first place.  Some days we will go in nicely  and some days we just won’t.

They eat pests, yes even mice!!  But mini rototillers?  Not so much. 

I realize this may change as they continue to grow but right now they like to just eat and sleep in the tractor with the occasional getting up to scratch around.  They are hormonal ladies of leisure rather than busy hens.

Don’t get me wrong.  We will always have chickens on our homestead, but our expectations as to how they would function have turned out a bit differently.

What we plan to do differently for next  year:

Keep better records.  This year I felt we were just getting our feet wet and just basically figuring things out.  I hardly had time at the end of the day to sit down and keep good records.  Next year it will be a priority and this is the resource I plan to use.

Keep the garden the same size.  While we do plan to grow for profit, I feel that the size now is what we can manage.  We have enough for us to eat and preserve and a little extra for the market.  I really want to master the climate, varieties, and size before I’m ready to expand and go great guns.

Save more seeds.  I saved a few this year but I didn’t really do it properly, as in analyzing those that emerged first, and selecting the choicest for seeds.  Most of my seed saved was by accident.  Crops that I couldn’t get to in time bolted and I just grabbed what seed I was able.  Many of our favorite varieties by the way came from Mary’s Heirloom Seed which I would highly recommend.

What about you?  What went well in your garden this year?  What didn’t turn out quite as planned?

*Not an affiliate, just a really great resource and one we’d recommend.

You can find this post and others like it linked to: The Homestead Barn Hop, Homemade Mondays, The Backyard Farming Connection Hop, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, The HomeAcre Hop, Tutoials Tips and Tidbits, From the Farm Fridays

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The First Twelve Months: Months Ten and Eleven The Garden: What worked What Didn’t — 35 Comments

  1. I’m jealous of your Kale bolting. I have kale in my garden right now that I planted last October. It’s as tall as I am and still hasn’t bolted. I’m patiently waiting. In the mean time I pick a few leaves each day, chop it very small and add it into whatever I’m cooking. Yesterday it was added to spanish rice.

    I think you’re wise to not expand your garden just yet, it’s better to have one you can manage than have a huge overwhelming one.

    Thanks for the link to The Gardening Notebook.

    • Wow! That is a long time for it to grow without bolting. I’m really surprised. Kale is one of the few plants that I think is pretty when it goes to seed.

      • I love broccoli so except for the heat of summer I keep planting it. It’s also good when it bolts..the yellow flowers are sweet. The stems do get a bit woodier at that point too.

        One other thing about broccoli..I was looking at it one day and thinking..the leaves look alot like collards..(I’m convinced collards are the reason people here in the south can eat all that greasy fried food and still live into their 90′s). Got me wondering if you could prepare them the same way…never see broccoli greens in the store…mustard and every other kind..but not them.

        So I cooked up like collards and they were great! Looked up the nutritional value…and compared it to my multivitamin? Almost exactly the same vitamins, minerals, etc..and even in comparable amounts per 100 grams of the greens. I ditched the vitamins in favor or the greens as they prolific and cooked..freeze well. Haven’t tried canning them but should be just as good.

        Of course the chickens will suffer if you take a liking to them..they love the leaves.

  2. Wow ! The year went soooooo fast. But look at all the great progress! You are going to like those hens a LOT when they start to make your breakfast and help with the baking. :)

    • Mine too..devastated.

      For all kinds of worms..and soft bodied insects, try food grade diatomaceous earth. It’s grown silica…powederd so wear a mask..but harmless to people. But it’s micro sharp edges discourage soft bodied insects by slicing them. you can dust the plants for bad infestations..or just sprinkle it on the ground periodically.

      As with most organic solutions..repeated applications are necessary..especially after the rain washes it away. But it’s relatively cheap, effective and as long as you wash the produce presents no toxicity or other dangers.

      Good luck!

    • I’ve had problems with cabbage worms on my kale. I’ve just these last few weeks noticed harlequin bugs on them too. I’m going to try neem oil and covering them with a floating row cover as soon as the weather cools off a bit.

  3. The bermuda grass and centipede, which I have, present similar difficulties. They’re both relentless. It appears from the pic that you have raised beds and this solution may no suit your aesthetics but it works great and is low to no work.

    First thing I tried was putting a trench between the paths in my gardens and the beds. This served a dual purpose since I don’t have any irrigation and live in a humid climate where too much top watering can lead to all sorts of fungi and rot. So I did it so I could flood the trenches. Saved time and it was bottom up watering..made the roots work for it too..promotin their growth.

    But the centipede marched on!…so I found myself weeding paths. particularly grating since they don’t produce any food…just work. Last week I picked up a free pool liner from some landlord whose renter had left it there. Typical walmart hang-on-the-frame job..about 3 -4 feet deep. I used a razor knife to cut the sides all the way around on the bottom seam and then had about 75ft of (free) heavy mill plastic to lay over my paths and in down in the trenches.

    (I used the center to line a small tub for an aquaponics setup in my greenhouse..but that’s another post still in the making).

    It kills anything! And lining the bottom of the trench, it also holds the water for the beds to soak up laterally instead of draining straight down.

    Now..it’s powder blue…so the aesthetics might not be for everyone…but I now have a clear 4 feet between the grass and my veggies so I’m a happy camper.

    So dry your tears and look on the free section on craigslist. Especially this time of year..pools are usually nothing more than algae ponds so people get rid of them.

    • Yes, we do have raised beds, although just a small portion of our garden is raised. We use them for our winter beds because we can easily cover them with floating row cover and protect our lettuce. Pool lining is a great idea! We did have some plastic that we purchased from a growers supply that we were trying out with our “in ground” beds but it is a little expensive. I will pass this on to my husband and see if this is something we could try. Thanks so much for the info!

      • Yeah..that plastic works as well, but the pool sides are pretty bulletproof and if you use sites like craigslist and freecycle you should be able to get one free…maybe only have to take it down or apart. Just put the word out you’re looking for one. It’ll come. Saw you used hay…that’s a good idea to improve the aesthetics and the traction.

        One thing I was worried about was turning the whole garden into a giant slip and slide! But that’s not an issue so far….seems even when there’s standing water normal gardening activities and doity feets put enough grit on it for traction. Either that or it’s a different material on the sides. I wouldn’t use the bottom of the pool for that reason..it’s slicker.

        But it does make a great pond liner!

  4. arrrgh!…the whole post I did on taters, sweets and using chickens to turn compost disappeared?? too tired to recreate the whole thing…I hate when that happens…

    Short version.

    White taters..grow them in feedsacks…roll down and fill and roll up as plants get 6′ above the rim…to havest, slice the back open and knock over the mound. Beats diggin’!

    Sweet taters…deer eat the leaves off the top and leave the stalks ..made me mad till I learned that removing just the leaves directs more energy to the sweet taters. So I pinch some off every night and feed to rabbits and chickens.

    Instead of burying and cutting vines..try just putting mounds of compost in lines across the tops of the vines..they’ll root and form new potatoes. put mounds 2 – 3′ apart..front to back one month..side to side the next.

    Squash and Zukes…bury the vines and use Neem Oil for control.(organic). Still get borers, but the Neem Oil helps if you keep spraying. The buried vines will root ..just cut off the damaged part from the newly rooted part and it will keep producing.

    Chickens.- not good tillers but I dug a trench around my compost pile and and turn them loose on it..they love it..lots of juicy bugs and stuff…they scratch and kick it down into the trench so no raking up the mess and stuff in the trench composts faster since it collects water there..when they fill the trench..dig it out and toss it on the pile…saves have the work of turning…

    Happy farming folks. I’m done in.

    • I’ve heard that about feed sacks or bins even but never given it a try. I didn’t know that about sweet potatoes ~ I’ll have to see if the girls would like the leaves.

      Fortunately this year we did not have problems with squash pests until about mid September. Then we had some squash bugs show up and I just picked them off. Saved the vine but I don’t think we’re going to get any winter squash. I think that is due to another issue though and not pests. I just ordered some Neem oil. Came yesterday, I need to whip up a batch so we can have it on hand. While we didn’t have pests, we did have powdery mildew. :( I hear it will take good care of that.

      I think the girls might like our compost pile. :) We’ll give that a try. Thanks again for sharing.

      • The girls will love it…turn it a bit first so that the good stuff..worms..etc .are within pecking distance…once they know they are standing on a gold mine they’re very diligent. Do try the trench though..otherwise you’re raking up the mess back on to the pile and not really saving much in the way of work.

        Yes, I forgot that Neem oil is good for powdery mildew and other things. It’s diluted 1 oz of something to a gallons so it goes pretty far.

        Lastly the feedbag thing is a variation on an old southern redneck thing of using old tires.. One issue I think I’m going to run into is that my plants are grwoing so fast I’ll run out bag…but I’ll just cut the bottom off another back before it gets to the very top and slide the resulting tube in the old bag…just not sure how that will balance once it gets full. The hope is it will put out enough taters to hold the soil in place..but just in case..I put them up agains the outside of the garden fence for support..(also good for spot killing that pesky grass!

  5. my garden did so so a very wet growing season here in Amelia Virginia my jelly bean tomatoes did okay and my tommy toes did okay got a few water melons and cantalopes corn no good and rest of garden so so my soil does not drain good so i will try some pots next year?

    • We had a wet spell right around the beginning June…30 inches in a matter of two weeks!…most gardens around here lost everything and mine was not as productive..but as it turned out the trenches that I dug around them spare most things.

      My soil didn’t drain all that well at first. but every year I add more and more compost and till it a bit deeper. That improves drainage immensely. Takes some time but in the meantime ditches will help with abnormally high levels of rainfall
      .

    • You could try pots although I’ve not had the best success with tomatoes in containers. You might also try amending your soil for better drainage.

  6. I love that you are honest about your experiences and don’t try to make it all ‘homestead-dream-perfect’! Love being able to keep up with your adventure! God’s blessings on you.

    • Thank you Teresa. :) It has been a good year but it has been difficult. I think this next year we should have a better handle on how things go.

  7. It sounds to me like you’ve had more successes than non-successes ;-) (failure is not an option!) To me, every year is a learning experience and I find out something new about gardening.

    This year I discovered that the pretty yellow foxtail has amazing ‘virtues’ of self propagation! It is taking over my garden. But then, I should have known this by looking at all those pretty little seed heads. :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. I read with fascination your year’s experiences. My husband and I (on the other end of the age range than you) are hoping to do the same thing you have. We are currently in OK but plan to move to MO is things work out. If our plans materialize, I will be studying your blog in depth! Thanks for your honesty.

    We have studied the writings of Joel Salatin and Greg Judy about raising animals so that they “work” for you and are much healthier, etc; the soil is much healthier, too. I strongly recommend their books.

    • Hi Terri, It is always nice to meet another Oklahoman although it sounds like you won’t be one for much longer. :) We have read some of Joel Salatin’s books but not Greg Judy. We’ll have to look into that. I hope things come together for you for your move.

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  10. Hi Jenny, I understand your frustrations with gardening in Oklahoma. We lived in Tulsa for 27 years and had a suburban garden (more or less). A great weed-control trick I learned from a neighbor was to place wet newspapers — four pages thick and overlapping — on the garden paths, then cover with mulch.
    Take a stack of newspapers and a five-gallon bucket of water to your garden, soak four or more pages at a time, then place on the path. Apply mulch to hold it in place. The technique keeps weeds out of the paths for years. However, if there’s any Bermuda grass around it will still try to crawl over it. So as long as you don’t allow it, all is well.
    We live in north-central Arkansas now. The temperatures are generally cooler than temps in Oklahoma, but the soil is stony. (It’s always “something.”)
    Good luck!

  11. Bermuda grass is horrible! If you ever find an easy spray solution you could get rich selling it! We have some on a side of the hill here and we have started pouring salt on it as nothing else is working. That will kill everything though, but it’s too steep for us to do anything with. At the bottom is a street so no danger of the salt washing into another area.

    • Connie, if you kill the bermuda grass and make the soil too salty for anything else to grow, then you may invite significant soil erosion on your steep hillside. If there’s anything good about bermuda grass, it’s good at preventing soil erosion.
      Nevertheless, if you don’t like the bermuda grass but you’d like to prevent soil erosion, then you can cover it with black landscaping fabric. The black fabric will prevent sunlight from reaching it and check erosion as well. Here is a very good non-commercial website for controling bermuda grass — http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7453.html

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  14. I had 2 hens and they grew to be adults but would not produce eggs… what do you think went wrong?
    also, I moved houses this year and would like to start a garden. Does it matter if I buy seeds from Walmart than a local garden center?

    • Ivy I don’t know what went wrong with your hens, but I have some chicken friends who have a bit more experience than I do and I will ask them.

      Yes, you can buy seeds from WalMart. The only thing I would recommend is to make sure that the varieties can be grown in your zone. If you have any questions about which ones to use, contact your local extension office for what they would recommend.

      Good luck!

  15. I’m super impressed! I can only imagine up the appropriate amount of appreciation for this first long 11 months as we have been planning our own homestead here in Tennessee.

    Love your writing! :)

  16. It’s been a little white and I just found you again, after moving from rural Colorado to real farm country in Minnesota (but we are currently on the edge of town in a real close neighborhood shaded by giant trees so NO garden at all!).
    I have been busy dreaming of our future lol, I just re-read your recommendation NOT to jump in and tackle it all , all at once… but I’m only doing it on paper, really!
    One question I have, you said “— we had begun the makings of what would eventually become a 3,000 square foot garden.”
    Could you share a photo of what that 3,000 feet looked like? I’m trying to get an eye for sizing.
    Thanks in advance!