The Big Garden, Year One: Our Half-Ass Fence

This first year of raised row gardening is the most expensive, as you spend you money on not only plants, but dirt, mulch and other essentials supplies you may not have. Initially, we decided we’d try to avoid the need for building a fence during the first year since we didn’t have it in the budget. We made plans for using marigolds and Irish Spring soap to deter animals from our garden.

Before we got out plants in the garden, a groundhog helped itself to our tender crops like they were a buffet. Luckily, (for the groundhog) it stopped hanging around in the house shortly before planting time, However, once we got the plants in the ground, Tarin and I started feeling a little paranoid about all our plants just hangin out in the open. In addition to groundhogs, our beautiful neighborhood is full of wildlife, including and abundance of deer and rabbits. I felt like every time I looked out the window the deer were standing around the garden mocking me.

While we never saw them IN the garden, their presence around it was enough.

We asked around on some local Facebook groups about the costs to have someone build our fence and the cost of labor alone was way out of our budget. Having mended fences on our old ranch back in Texas, I was pretty confident we could do a simple fence ourselves. After a few conversations with my Dad about how to go about it and the spacing of posts, and pricing our various fencing materials, we decided to got with t-posts and chicken wire as they were the most inexpensive options. Again, the garden plan I created came in super helpful when figuring out our materials list!

I picked up all the materials at Tractor Supply and had Brian Jr. Help hammer the t-posts in place. When Tarin got home she and I tackled the chickenwire, which was a bitch. The wire and posts were the same height… until I put the posts in the ground… because I hadn’t accounted for that 🤦🏻‍♀️. Chicken wire is also super flimsy and can easily stretch out of shape. So all along the top the wire was loose given we didn’t have supports aside from the posts and we were too lazy to rig up a fence stretcher–which would have made some difference I’m sure.

All in all though, we got the fence up, and the extra fence height I hadn’t accounted for went on to the ground as a skirt on the perimeter, which would be great for keeping small animals from digging in the fence.

By the time we got to the gate our half-assery was in full swing, partly because we were exhausted, partly because we were discouraged but how not-so-great the fence looked, and partly because we had not idea what we were doing. I resorted to a primitive gate method we used on many fences in ranches back in Texas… we just took some chicken wire across the gate opening and used wire to hook it closed. It was by no means sturdy but it closed the gap.

Surprisingly, we had no animals break into the garden last year! Our hopes were to build a new, legit fence this year… more on that later.



The Big Garden, Year One: The Garden is Taking Shape Despite Shitty Soil

In a raised row garden, there is no need for tilling and working the ground soil or building boxes for your garden beds. You simply cover your walkways with a non-producing mulch, straw, or rock material and create raised rows of quality soil about 18 inches wide and 6 inches high in the middle.

Once we had out big garden plot marked off, we decided to cover our walkways first with a weed barrier cloth since we didn’t have it in the budget to spend a lot on materials for the walking paths. This way if we couldn’t get enough mulch to cover the pathways, the cloth would keel the grass and weeds down. I created another diagram to help us determine where and how much cloth we’d need.

With the weed prevention fabric down, we then covered them with straw–our cost-effective “mulch” alternative–and ordered our soil. Unfortunately, we were a little late on the garden soil request. Because we waited until the last possible moment to order our soil, many places were out–something Tarin and I hadn’t considered as a possibility. I finally found a local place that not only had soil, AND would deliver that weekend.

The soil arrived when Tarin and Clint were away so the Camp kids helped me transport all our dirt into rows. Pretty sure this is when Jr. began to hate gardening 🤣 However, I was pretty proud of how hard Grace worked with her kid-sized shovel. We were all pretty proud once it was done.

Unfortunately, all that soil, wasn’t as great as we thought it was. When Tarin and Clint got home we went out to the garden to bask in the way everything was coming together. As Tarin looked at the soil in rows, she commented on how much the soil looked like mulch… in fact it looked exactly like mulch. In a panic, I called the place we ordered it from to confirm they had not delivered mulch instead, I mean it was all ready in TWENTY ROWS, how on earth was I going to give it back to them?!

The dirt company had a completely calm response to our freakout. Turns out, it was soil but it hadn’t finished “processing”. We were told to “just water it and it’d look like dirt” and as time went on the particles would finish breaking down. In other words… It was totally mulch, y’all!

Despite mulchy soil, we were ready for planting… or so we thought.

Our first lesson in plants

While we were able to get pricing on dirt (your most expensive purchase in year one), we had no idea what plants or seeds would cost. Tarin and I meandered around the aisles of our local nursery, list in hand, but overwhelmed at the where to start. Luckily we stopped an employee who shared with us which plants we could start by seed–a much cheaper option (cucumbers, squash, zucchini, carrots, green beans, peas, lettuce, spinach and kale) and which we should transplant ( tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and herbs).

After several questions, I’m sure the gardening specialist, sensed our ignorance so she shared that we needed to “harden” our plants before planting and that we should wait until after the danger of frost has past–which is after Mother’s Day here. While we were bummed we’d have to wait 3 weeks to plant, we were thankful for this extra bit of wisdom as it snowed into mid-April that year.

While we waited for Mother’s Day, and the danger of frost to pass, we followed the instructions from the garden specialist and hardened our plants on the back deck. Our plants sat on the picnic table toughening up, that is until a ground hog decided it was a buffet and ate all our broccoli and cauliflower down to nubs. That groundhog wasn’t the slightest bit phased by the marigolds surrounding the plants, nor my presence in their sunroom Trying to remain professional during a video conference while the groundhog went to town. (This was the first sign we’d need a fence.)

What’s ‘hardening’ mean? Plants from nurseries are started and kept in greenhouses, living the lush life. The shock of transplanting them to new soil combined with sudden and constant exposure to the elements (wind, sun, rain) can kill theses tender little plants. therefore, you need to toughen those babies up by gradually increasing their exposure to the outdoors over a week or so–setting them outside during the day and bringing then indoors in the evenings if cold or daytime if really hot.

Once Mother’s Day passed, and what was left of our plants had sufficient time to harden, we got to planting in our mulchy soil. We had everything except the popcorn seeds (that row remained empty the whole year) and the boxes for our herbs, onions, and potatoes (which we never got around to planting).

This first year of raised row gardening is the most expensive, as you spend you money on not only plants, but dirt, mulch and other essentials supplies you may not have. We decided we’d try to avoid the need for building a fence during the first year since we didn’t have it in the budget. We made plans for using marigolds and Irish Spring soap to deter animals from our garden… more on that later.



This week on the Half-ass Homestead | May 31-June 1, 2020

The week Brian Sr. came home from his brain surgery and we were blessed with so much help on the Camp Farm from mowing the yard to delicious dinners. Honestly, I haven’t had to think about dinner all week. It’s been glorious, and super helpful as I pick up Sr.’s activities. So. much. laundry. We are so thankful for the continued support. Check out these awesome cookies my friend and colleague, Kyle made and sent to us from Houston!

As for Sr., it’s been pretty rough with severe nausea and pain. Mornings are the worst for him and walking is still pretty taxing as his neck is regaining strength and balance is still off. He’s supposed to work up to walking 5 miles a day. The first day he could gather strength to get out side and walk, he only made it across the street and back. We have a long way to go but each day he makes it a little further down the neighborhood and this weekend, he was able to walk with out his walking stick.

Ella and Grace have been playing entrepreneur all week, with an “Amazon delivery” adventure and having lots of meetings. It’s quite the business of the future. I don’t even have to order the items, the just show up in bags with “invoices”. And they are things I love, like my favorite books or high heels from my closet. 🤣

Little Miss Grace has gotten quite good on a bike and earned herself a shiny new one! And Jr. finally earned enough to get his new bike–thanks to his cat sitting job and helping in the yard and garden.

The hens continue to grow and have proven themselves capable of being able to roam free in the back yard mostly un supervised… I guess this means they’re now free range!

In the gardens, plants have been loving the sunshine this week. We’ve seen tons of growth in both the house gardens and big garden. My favorite peonies came into bloom and Ella and Grace helped me make a trellis for the peas and to support the green beans.

With all the extra sun, the soil in our growing rows was starting to dry out and crack. We hadn’t gotten around to adding mulch to the rows, or even deciding what kind of mulch we’d use, so I added grass clippings from our last mow. I’m hopeful this will be a good, free, solution.

Grace found our first strawberry and the girls helped me pull seeds out of a few melons and cucumbers for later planting since our first round of them didn’t take after all the heavy rains a few weeks ago. My sweet friend, neighbor, and fellow gardener, Amiée, brought us a few of her extra cucumber plants as well as a few extra goodies! I mean, I couldn’t be more excited about this book, y’all!


The Big Garden, Year One: Big Plans

Early last spring, while watching the kids play in our back yards, Tarin and I began chatting about gardening. I was loving reaping the benefits of well established gardens around the house–thanks to Kay the original owner of our home and her 45 years of love in the garden. Most of the house gardens are floral, with the exception of the one side herb garden and the two rhubarb plants in the back. While I had made great use of the rhubarb, mint, lemon balm and chives, there was more I wanted to grow. Tarin and I talked about wanting a garden with more produce.

Soon after our chat I found out about a class being offered at a local nursery by Jim and Mary Competti on their raised row gardening technique, which promises a well producing garden with minimal work– and not a lot of tilling, weeding, hoeing, and spraying. (Hallelujah!) I registered but by the time Tarin got around to it, there were no more seats. The plan was I’d go, take copious notes, and we’d start our garden shortly after. I didn’t make it to the class but did find the Jim and Mary’s Old World Farms blog with details on their technique and even complete garden plans!

Big Plans

After a morning of coffee and researching in the blog while sitting on Clint and Tarin’s back deck, we were inspired by this Old World Garden Plan featuring a 45 x 60 foot garden. Tarin and I marked off a spot where our yards meet of the same measurements. When we asked what Clint thought about our initial layout, he gently suggested we might scale it back a little, “because you know, it’s your first year. You may not like gardening.” 🤣

Once we had the spot laid out, I made a detailed, scaled plan using excel, and we made a list of materials. We may have opted for a smaller plot but our garden is not exactly small. With a 30 x 45 perimeter, 20 ten foot growing rows and space for raised boxes for herbs, onions and potatoes it’s plenty big to produce crops for our two families.

It may have been tedious, but this plan made to scale has served us well, from determining the amount of materials we needed for growing rows and fencing to how many plants each row can fit and where we would place them.

Our Garden Plan 2019

This year, I simply copied last year’s plan, rotated where our crops would go in the growing rows and made modifications to the crops we wanted.

But just because we had a plan, doesn’t mean we knew what we were doing. After all, we weren’t looking to invest a lot of time or money into this new garden–we were really banking on the promises of the hassle-free gardening technique of raised row gardening . Also, neither one of use had a great track record with keeping plants alive. In Texas everything I planted burned up in the summer heat or died from neglect when life got busy. We definitely half-assed this first year int he garden. In an upcoming post I’ll share how we made this plan a reality and tell you about our soil mishap.



Our First Strawberry!

by Grace, age 5

Yesterday I was in the big garden with my Mom and I found a strawberry! It was not attached to the plant anymore, I guess maybe Vinny picked it. I don’t know how it could have grown not on the plant.

Our first strawberry!

The strawberry was a little bit tiny and red. We took it inside and washed it off. Mom said it was a little too ripe and we shouldn’t eat it. I’m so excited for more strawberries to come! And for the peaches and blueberries to come too! The blueberry bushes have lots of flowers that are almost going to grow to blueberries. We don’t have peaches yet but Momma bought some at the store.

Me by our peach tree with my strawberry

When we get more strawberries we will wash them and eat them. We can make strawberry pie, strawberry cake… I had strawberry cake for my graduation. Did you know I graduated pre-school?! I’m going to Kindergarten next year! I’ll get to ride the bus with Ella and Brian. I’m so excited!

Okay, bye!

*This post was dictated with an app by Grace and edited for spelling and punctuation (and a little bit of clarity) by Mom.



This week on the Half-ass Homestead

May 17-24, 2020

Despite being stuck inside most the week, this week was an eventful one; full of hard work, celebrating the birthdays and mourning the loss of those we love. We celebrated Brian Sr’s birthday as well as one my best friend, Rachel’s birthday. We attended the funeral of my Opa virtually and spent time telling stories of his life.

Last Sunday was a busy day! Ella Rose helped me use some old lumber we found under the pine trees to build a raised bed for our new cut flower garden and then fill it with a combination of dirt from an old compost pile on our property and cheap topsoil from Tractor Supply. I also made a small bed around the mailbox for a little curb appeal and filled it with a few new plants and the tall marigold variety we started by seed a few weeks ago. It rained like a monsoon most of the week but weather cleared up for the weekend. Ella Rose and Grace helped sow seeds in the new cut flower garden more on that later.

We also made our first “cooking videos” as we made our rhubarb pie for us and a few friends. 🤣 Tune into tomorrow for the first.

After all the rain, the coop was starting to smell. The chickens are getting to big! Our coop “for 4-6 chickens” is getting a little tight. Jr. helped me clean the coop on Friday while the girls and a few neighborhood kids kept an eye on the chicks as they roamed the yard (maintaining a social distance of course).

This weekend we FINALLY added a gate to the garden, it’s the epitome of half-ass but it gets the job done for now.

We also planted the last of the new plants including two new strawberry plants, two blueberry bushes, eggplant and our special peach tree.

Grace’s take on Saturday’s planting.

Brian Sr. was also busy getting the lawn on the Camp Farm in tiptop shape and working on the “super Chevy”. Look at that pretty green lawn!

Looking ahead to next week we hope to build (or buy) more space for the chicken to run and get mulch in the growing rows.



A special tribute

Earlier this week we lost Opa, also known as Opie to my kids. (Opa is German for Grandfather.) He was 97 and always full of laughter, stories mischief and occasional a song.

Opa and the girls singing one of his favorites (2017)

A self-made man with experience with just about anything. He was a rancher, a gardener and friends with President Lyndon B. Johnson. He flew planes, played the fiddle, and other instruments, sold Massey-Furgeson tractors, and grew and sold peaches, by the truckload, to name a few. This is how I remember him most… that and him flipping the bird every time we asked him to smile for a picture.

Kramer Family Reunion 2017

Peaches are still my all time favorite. I remember he’d put me to work helping him sell his Fredericksburg peaches in the summer. All I had to do was stand by the road and eat peaches. They were so juicy, people would pull over and buy them. My Mom made me a special shirt with puffy paint that said “Opa’s Little Helper”. Opa always joked that I ate all his profits.

Coincidentally, last weekend when Tarin and I were doing the last of our garden shopping at the nursery we made a few impulse buys. A peach tree was one of them. I told her about my Opa and how proud he’d be. I had planned to talk with Opa yesterday about our new tree and get all his peach farming tips. Unfortunately that call was scheduled a day too late.

He’s going to be missed by all his children and grandchildren. Everyone drove up for his funeral today. Unfortunately, with Brian Sr.’s brain surgery early next week, we are quarantined and travel isn’t an option. It was devastating not being able to be in Texas with family for his memorial. Thankfully my cousin, Cassandra, FaceTimed us during the service.

Afterwards, we held a little memorial of our own and planted our peach tree in his memory.

It’s sweet and special new addition to our garden. In the next few days we’ll go down to the creek to find the right rock to paint and lay at the base of the tree.



Grace takes us to the Big Garden

Last week, Grace couldn’t get enough of the big garden. From taking the chicks out, to seeing the seeds we planted a few weeks ago sprout from the ground, to stomping all over the growing rows when she was thought no one was looking 🙄 . She also decided hats were essential attire.

We’ve made a LOT of progress in the 4 days since we recorded this, can’t wait to show you all this week!