It’s cool and cloudy here so I’m in the gardens getting dirty—planting new plants and taming old ones.
4 years ago there were just 3 poppies on this plant, look how many this year! It’s my favorite plant and blooms around Memorial Day each year.
This week has been a stressful one on the Camp Farm.
Everything has been so frozen here, our poor hens seem to have made the menu of some predators. Sunday we discovered something tried to get into the chicken run by ripping up the chicken wire from the bottom of the run door frame. It was easily fixed with some more zip ties but it has put us on high alert. Thursday something made it INTO the chicken run and tried to get into the coop. Luckily, they were unsuccessful and all hens are accounted for. We suspect raccoons.
Tuesday we found out that, while my due date is 4 weeks out, my body and this baby are preparing for a very possible early arrival. I’m in early labor, which can last days to weeks. Since Tuesday I’ve been been trying to balance an attitude of “GET ALL THE SHIT DONE!!!!” to “take it easy, rest while you can”. Not sure who it’s more stressful for, me or those who have to live with me 🥴
Either way, we’ve been making some MAJOR progress on the nursery and it’s almost ready for its reveal!
If you follow our page on Facebook, you probably saw the paintings I created for the nursery. As I was painting, the kids asked if they could creat something for the nursery too (OF COURSE!)
Ella and Grace drew inspiration for Eric Carle and Jr. looked to the internet for a mentor image. We’re only missing some original art from Sr. now 🤣. Check them out!
Finally, despite all we have going on, and soon to come, my mind keeps drifting to spring and planting the flower and vegetable gardens. Pretty sure I won’t be able to do much this year but I’m itching to plan. What are your super-simple, go-to plants?!
This week was a busy on for me at work but in the back of my mind I all could think about was how I needed to get seeds started. I spent evenings in my newest book, In Bloom: Growing, Harvesting, and Arranging Homegrown Flowers All Year Round, and to say I’m inspired is an understatement. The pictures are beautiful and have me dreaming or a cottage style cut flower patch.
Last week I put in my request with 811 and got news that the entire side yard is clear! Unfortunately they didn’t inspect the back yard as I asked so I had to put in another request. I think this was due to the comment I made on the request that made is sound like I just wanted the back left side of the yard. Despite not having the rest of the back surveyed yet, I’ve officially decided where I’m putting the garden!
As I shared before, some of the pain points of the current location are that it’s too far from the how, and a water source. After some thought, I’ve determined the side yard is the best place for the garden – it’s close to the house, and the water hose, so I’ll be more likely to get out there and watering will be easier. And even better, it’ll be right in my line of sight while I work and paint from the sunroom! I watched the sunlight on the plot throughout the day to ensure it receives plenty of sun.
So this morning I got right to planning. First with the vegetables using my handy-dandy Clyde’s Garden Planner to map out what, how and when I can plant. I found it easier for me to visualize everything by making a chart with each month and a list of what would need to be planted indoors, outdoors, and harvested.
I did this same thing with my flowers and added the tasks to one of my new 5 year planners. Both planners have places to log information about planting and harvesting but I like the open layout of the of the Royal Horticultural Society record book.
After I laid out the scope and sequence of planting and harvesting times, I took a break to get the the girls shoes for Roseanne and Cameron’s wedding next week . On the way home we stopped by Lowes… I mean, shut up and take my money, Lowes! I not only picked up the landscape fabric I went in for, but I also came home with tulips (because the girls had to have their own tulips ), gladiolus (because they remind me of my Mom), peonies (my favorite), dahlias, and some evergreen trees to add a screening around the fire pit area.
When we got home, I went out to see what I had to work with in regards to dimensions for the side garden. Because we need to maintain a passage large enough for us to drive a truck in the back–for when we have mulch and gravel– I’ve got a maximum width of 12 feet but have a lot to work with regarding length. Rather than doing the traditional raised rows of 18 inches, I’m opting for 3 ft wide rows for more surface area to plant in – like a hybrid raised bed/raised row.
As I was showing the girls, they requested a sitting space for their “Girls Club”. The Girls Club was just started this week between the girls and Ava. When they meet they “take notes on nature” and have even requested a guided tour of the emerging plants in the house gardens. ❤️ They also plan to have art on Wednesdays, picnics on Thursdays, and show-and-tell on Fridays. With this adorable request in mind, I’m thinking I’ll opt for 40 or 50 ft and have sketched out a few plans.
Tomorrow I’ll spend the day planting seeds, marking off the side garden with landscape fabric, and maybe even moving soil.
It feels like the 2021 garden planning is officially underway! Well almost.
As the snow has begun to melt and we’re seeing the grass for the first time in weeks, I’m anxious to get an actual layout of the 2021 gardens mapped out so I can make a list of plants and supplies. I’m constantly thinking about it. However, there are a few things getting in my way.
We’ve decided to move the big garden, which is currently situated on the property line between the Camp Farm and the Norris Homestead. We’d like to build a legitimate fence around the garden and this is the only way I can convince Sr. to let me do so – he hasn’t been interested in investing so much into a fence not completely on our property should the Norris’ ever move. Not that the Norris’ are planing to move but they had discussed it a few years ago so Tarin and I discussed relocating the garden this year. Both families will still share the garden.
Having the garden on our property will not only allow me to get a proper fence but it will make it easier – I hope– for us to get in there and maintain it. The garden’s current placement is too far for us to easily reach with a hose which meant either several trips with a watering can or lengths and lengths of hose coiled up in the backyard. We can also consider redesigning the garden; something that’s been spinning in my mind as I read a new book on mini-farming which touts raised beds over row gardening for many valid reasons. Though the book doesn’t present an argument against raised row gardening which is different from traditional row gardening, it has me thinking differently about spacing and such.
Moving the garden, however, grants some challenges. First that’s a LOT of soil to move and we’ll want tot make sure to plant grass seed ASAP before the weeds roll in on the vacant turf. Also, WHERE will I put it? I know there are a few places I don’t want to put it given where and how the kids play in the backyard currently. I’m thinking side yard because the grass is patchier here given it get so much sun. The side yard is also closest to the Norris property which is important since it’s still a shared space. However, I wonder is this is too sunny, especially for crops that need less sun. Also, if I ever get my dream greenhouse/she-shed, I imagined placing it its also closer to the fire pit on the other side of the backyard. Placement also depends on what’s UNDER the space. Since we’ll have to place the fence posts, or raised bed corner posts if we go that route, below the frost line, I need to call 811 to get the entire backyard’s underground utilities marked –I’ve been waiting for the snow to melt to do so.
Once I figure out where the garden is going, I’ll have to land on how I want to redesign the garden: raised row or raised bed… any opinions??? This mini-farming book has me intrigued and I’m only in the “overview” chapter. Once good thing I’ve learned is that we really should be journaling EVERYTHING if we want to be serious about our gardens. With not one but TWO five-year journals I should be set up for success.
I’ll continue to share some of the interesting things I’m learning from this book as I go. This next week my goal is to schedule 811, begin a list of plants (in my journals!)and determine which and when I’ll start any from seed – since I now know how to start seeds! I also plan to get Jr. outside with me and start some grounds clean up for the house gardens… his not-so-favorite thing to do with me (see his January post “I Hate Gardening“. 🤣)
So, we’ve spent the last few days in a battle with groundhogs. Sunday morning we noticed something had gotten into our garden and ate the tops off the carrots, leaves off most of the green beans, and a good chunk of our lettuce, spinach, and kale crops.
Later that evening during dinner, Vinny told Clinton and Tarin he noticed something through the window in the garden. Sure enough it was a groundhog! Clint chased it out the garden and discovered it CHEWED a hole in our fencing (cheap-ass chicken wire!).
Clint ran to the store to get reinforcements and I debated if I wanted to pull out my riffle for some target practice.
When Clint got back, I showed him an old trap I found from the previous owners and we loaded it up with all the groundhog’s favorite things then set it outside the garden by the hole it made. Inside the garden we situated the owl.
Then we waited.
The next morning it didn’t appear that the groundhog returned. The trap was untouched and the garden appeared to have no further damage.
The waiting game continued… until Sr. took Jack outside:
This. Was. War.
Sr. added celery to the trap and reset it inside the garden covered with hay. A few hours later Jr. came screaming inside with news that we caught the villain!
As we all gathered outside, the kids were the first to fall prey to the evil groundhog’s cute exterior.
Clint offered to remove the animal to a local park but Tarin’s dad was unsure this was legal and offered a more permanent solution.
Sr. was put in charge of “handling it” after the kids all went inside, which turned out to be much more difficult. Apparently our garden vegetables made it temporarily invincible and it knew it as it but the end of the barrel and tried to eat it way through the side of the trap.
Ultimately it was done and our crops were safe…
Or so we thought….
The past two weeks have been busy one on the home front and with work for me. It’s weeks like these that I’m thankful to be doing this whole garden homesteading thing with the Norris family.
Work has ramped up between creating two online courses, preparing for our first virtual summit for educators, and meeting with customers to plan for next school year, I feel like I’ve been glued to my MacBook for two weeks straight. And, though Brian Sr. had a couple of days where he started to feel better, he quickly took a turn down hill with severe pressure and nausea. We’re hoping for more answers and relief next week given this new medicine he’s on. On top of that, I’ve discovered I’m now allergic to poison ivy (turns out it’s bound to happen when you spend three weekends with a weed eater killing that stuff). So much itching!
Last week I didn’t get out to the garden once but often looked out the window and would see Clint and Vinny watering the garden, hanging with the hens, or eating lettuce and spinach off the plant. Grace, Ella, and Brian Jr. often joined them. They even dropped off some radish on Father’s Day! So grateful for them!
The kids tried radish for the first time, Grace was the only one who liked it even a little. I really enjoy some fresh slices on my sandwich but look forward to a few suggestions from some of our Facebook friends, especially roasting them!
By the time I got out to the garden this Friday, it was in desperate need for some harvesting! It’s amazing how much of a different the grass mulch has made for our crops!
Tarin, who has been busy with work herself, joined Ella and I in the garden for some picking. We got quite a haul!
On Saturday, we harvested rhubarb and I picked up some straw to recover our walking paths. Grace took pictures:
It’s about time for a second planting of carrots and some other crops. I’ll have to do some research on what would be good to plant.
Sunday, I spent time in the house gardens, adding cobblestone to a some of the paths, and reconfiguring the front garden by removing a bush and widening the area around our front outdoor table. I plan to add stone or pea gravel to level the space out.
While I worked, Sr. relaxed inside, the girls played by the creek catching salamanders and Brian Jr. played ball in the yard and took breaks to play guitar for the hens. It may be a little crazy, but life on the homestead is good!
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One major error we made in our big garden last year was with mulch… we basically didn’t have any. Due to a tight budget, we used straw as our walkway mulch but we overlooked mulching our growing rows. We also missed the memo about planting cover crops over winter. Turns out, the raised row garden technique isn’t so weed-free when you don’t mind your mulch.
This year, we’ve been dropping the ball on mulch–again. We had big plans, y’all, but they didn’t happen. The walkways are in desperate need of new straw but more importantly the rows were getting are dry and cracked just hours after every rain and with longer stretches of summer heat drawing close, we needed to figure out something quick.
After Sr.’s brain surgery, our great friends, the Sickles, have been helping us with the lawn. The first mow, I told Paul the wrong level to cut at and the lawn got a hefty trim. With so much cut, we had rows of clippings across the lawn Sr. asked me to use the lawn sweeper to sweep the clippings off the lawn the next day.
As I struggled to maneuver the first load of clippings beyond out of the sweeper my first few rounds. It was a sight to see. I couldn’t seem to get the grass dumped out at the right spot. I decided to toss a few shovelfuls of clippings on the new compost pile. Turns out, grass clippings are great for compost AND as mulch.
Here’s what I learned:
IMPORTANT NOTE: You should only use clippings from untreated yards.
Grass clippings are are a great source of green or brown material–depending on if they are fresh or not–in the compost. If fresh, they count as a green and require a brown, such as dried leaves to balance things out (I’m still learning A LOT about composting and pretty much only know three things: there are “green” things, (2) there are “brown” things and (3) there should be “balance.”)
Mulching with grass clippings, it not only cools the roots and helps retain moisture, like any mulch, it also can add up to 25% of the nutrients growing takes out of the soil. When using fresh clippings, you should use thinner layers so it can break down and you don’t encourage rot.
Finally mulched rows!
Since most of my clippings were brown, I piled it on nice and thick. I was able to get half the rows done before I ran out of clippings and had to sweep Clint and Tarin’s yard. The second round of sweeping was much easier once I figured out I didn’t have to get off the mower if I used the black rope, and that I could just dump it as I drove by the front of the big garden.
Once I finished, mulching, I took some of our left over soil builder and put it at the base of the plants. They have been LOVING it and so have we–less watering, yay! And the best part – totally FREE!
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.
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.