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.
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.
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.
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 about 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