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.

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.

Meet Cory

Hey, y’all! I’m Cory and I’m excited to introduce myself! Well, actually not really. I’ve never been great at introductions; I never know what to say and usually end up rambling on and on… so here we go! I’m a wife, Christian, mom, educator, educational consultant, speaker, perfectionist, pie lover, art maker and proud Texan, born and raised. There! Oh, and I also run a half-ass homestead.

I met my husband Brian (also known as Brian Sr. or Sr.) in college while he was in the Army stationed in Texas. We went on one date and didn’t spend a weekend apart despite living nearly two hours apart. We got married less than 3 months after that first date, just before Brian shipped off to the Iraq War for 14 months. We’ve been married for 13 years this year and together we have three children, Brian Jr (10), Ella (8) , and Grace (5). You’ll get to know these guys more in future posts (the kids are planning to create their own pages #ProudMomma).

So, why am I writing about my half-ass homestead? Who am I to talk about homesteading, or half-assing it anyway? Well, I grew up with two of my four brothers in semi-rural home with a couple of acres on a red dirt road outside of Houston, Texas. My parents are DIYers and entrepreneurs and had their own business, which meant they often didn’t have much money to spend and even less time. But that never slowed them down.

At our house, we always had some sort of project happening at home whether home renovations, landscaping projects, or the latest project car of my Dad’s. Now our land was by no means a farm but we had plenty of animals to keep us entertained and busy. It was quite an adventure. There were the poodles and malamutes we bred, and often dressed up; our crazy outdoor cats with extra toes; Blitz our shetland pony that thought he was a dog, liked to swim and had a slight drinking problem; Jake my stubborn Palomino-Welch horse who liked to buck and nearly killed me, more than once; the hens that laid our eggs and lived in the old storage shed; and the mean old rooster that terrorized the coop until one day he attacked my Oma (German for Grandmother) and became dinner. More on these adventures in future posts, I’m sure.

In addition to our daily home, our family always had a home away from home on more land–whether a hunting lease, our own ranch in Eden, Texas, or my Opa’s (that’s German for Grandfather) ranch in the Texas Hill Country. We spent every opportunity we had on a ranch tending to livestock, hunting, fixing fences, working on the camp house, riding four-wheelers, and spending time as a family around a campfire.

At our old ranch in Junction, Texas

I feel these experiences have prepared me well for a homestead lifestyle. I can mend a fence, plow a field, dress a deer, shotgun a beer, ride a horse, assist with birthing a calf, wield a power tool, and shoot a riffle like nobody’s business. I can also can food and bake just about anything. You know, at one point I dreamed of having my own ranch with rolling hills full of livestock and a garden that produced enough that we barely needed to go shopping.

However, that life, at least for now, is not the reality especially on the income of an educator and military veteran with three kids. Regardless, we are living our best life, especially since moving from Texas to our 1+ acre home here in Ohio in 2018. Why move? My husband is from here and begged to leave the blazing Texas heat. Just his luck to fall in love with a stubborn Texan. I even vowed to never leave The Great State when he proposed–a condition he agreed to for the first year or so before the heat wore him down. It took him about 10 years to sweet talk me into moving—though if you talk to him he’ll tell you it was my idea to move (even if this were true, he planted the idea). Despite the stress and anxiety of moving a family of 5 across the country and starting a new job, it was the best decision WE ever made. We’ve enjoyed the more mild summers, four seasons, SNOW, and year-round green grass the Mid-West has to offer. I mean it’s amazing; the plants don’t automatically die here come June! Until recently I could kill anything green with out trying. Now, not only do I not kill the plants, I’ve been known to accidentally give special care to weeds I didn’t know were weeds (I’m still learning).

We’re blessed to have a home in a wonderful neighborhood full of friendly neighbors and younger families like ours with children the same age as ours. We’ve become great friends with our neighbors Tarin and Clint who have a daughter the same age as our Ella and a son a two years younger than Grace. The kids run back and forth between our two yards almost daily, we have spontaneous family meals together, and I can always count on Tarin to join me in a glass of wine or three. Last year, Tarin I started talking about wanting to start a garden. After a few more conversations and a little research, not much money, and no real time do do it all, we were suddenly marking off a not-so-small plot of land on the border of our adjoining properties.

Our city friends refer to our little plot as a “farm” – though it’s far from it. This year we’re raising chickens and expanding the garden crop. We’ve learned a lot in the past few years and more each day. I don’t plan to give you advice but I will share what has and hasn’t worked for us. But more than the lessons learned are the adventures and stories that come from living the half-ass homestead life while raising kids. We can’t wait to share it with you.