Last summer at our previous home, I fell in love with gardening. I used to think gardening was just work with little reward, likely due to ho-hum past experiences. But when we planted our last garden and I actually began spending time each day working in it, my attitude towards gardening changed. The more time you invest in something, the more you begin to take ownership of it, feel more confident doing it and discover the joy and satisfaction it offers. I couldn’t wait to get my hands in that soil each day, feel the satisfying rip of weed roots being pulled from the earth and the excitement of vegetables beginning to grow. Soon enough I ran out of daily work in my garden and found myself looking around our 1/3 acre lot, wondering where I could put additional gardens, fruit bushes and trees. Now that we find ourselves on 10 acres, I desire to produce as many vegetables, fruit and honey on the homestead as possible. When we first viewed this property, I immediately picked out a great spot for a vegetable garden. It has taken some time, however, to figure out the placement plan for all the other plants we want to grow on our farm. After spending a few months getting to know our new property and envisioning the possibilities, a plan has formulated in our minds and we have transferred it to paper for easy referencing.
This is a rough sketch of the front, three-acre homestead portion of our property. I did not take the time to draw this to scale or use a ruler. 🙂 The purpose of this quick drawing was to see, at a glance, the plots of each group of plants we plan to grow on the farm.
The vegetable garden will be about 100’ x 35’. Much bigger than that little garden we had last summer! The purpose of our garden is to experiment with gardening and reduce our dependency on the grocery store. This year will largely be a learning experience and therefore I’m not setting high standards. If I grow an excess of anything that would necessitate canning, I will give myself a pat on the back.
We plan to save seeds from this year’s harvest for next year, therefore we invested mostly in organic, non-GMO seeds. Saving our seeds allows us to choose the plants that perform the best in our garden each year. If we continue to do this, over time we develop our own line of plants that are uniquely developed for our soil and growing conditions. Plant breeders mainly choose plants for seed based on how well they can be shipped and stored for supermarkets, rather than the things a home-grower wants like taste, pest resistance and hardiness. Also, we’ll save money and cut ties with the seed companies rather than being dependent on them each spring.
We plan to cover the garden in the winter with a hoop house which acts as a greenhouse to extend our growing season and possibly house chickens in the winter, who would spend months tilling and fertilizing the soil.
Next to the garden we have a raspberry patch that we have already planted. It feels so good to have something in the soil at this point. It has given us the encouragement to eat this elephant-of-a-project, one bite at a time. We were blessed to be given a tiller by a family friend and raspberry plants from my father-in-law’s garden. The three older kids were eager to help get those plants in the ground. Everyone working together to grow food is an awesome family experience. I thought it was a beautiful picture of life on a small family farm.
Next to the two berry patches will be the pumpkin patch. This patch will contain jack-o-lantern pumpkins that we’ll grow mainly for feeding to the sheep in the fall as a natural parasite remedy, not to mention a tasty little treat before the scarcity of winter. We’ll also grow sugar pumpkins for soups, pies and canning.
To the south of the berries, on the other side of a line of spruce trees, will be our orchard. There is already an established, albeit neglected apple tree in this area, for which we are grateful. We will be adding several more apple trees as well as cold-hardy cherry and plum trees.
To the east of the orchard we planted 6 blueberry bushes on a sunny hilltop. We have 3 different varieties, all known for great production and taste, although we’ll need to practice patience while waiting for them to mature and bear fruit.
The current barnyard fence will be coming down and the materials will be repurposed for other projects around the farm. In its place we plan to eventually construct a greenhouse. This greenhouse will allow us to get our seeds started earlier in the year as well as grow things which tend to be difficult to grow successfully in Minnesota’s short growing season and harsh winters. We will also use the greenhouse for a late-season planting of select cold-tolerant plants, extending our harvest into winter.
We have ordered 2 ounces of native wildflower seeds to sew on the south side of the house. This wildflower garden will provide our future honeybees with valuable pollen and nectar, as well as beautify the landscape out my kitchen window. We already have a bird feeder and birdhouse in this area, we will add a birdbath and a path that meanders through the wildflowers.
Just north of the house is a little pump house. This sits in full sun and we thought it may be a good place to grow sunflowers. Sunflowers are another favorite of honeybees.
There is a fenced-in backyard behind the house which we were debating deconstructing. But one idea we like was to keep the north and south sides of the fence and plant fruit vines such as blackberries and cold-tolerant grapes.
Crab apple trees are useful near the orchard as their blossoms stay open for a long period of time and can therefore pollinate a wide variety of apple trees. They are also so pretty in bloom. I plan on adding an ornamental variety to our front yard, but I was pleased this afternoon to find five large budding trees we believe to be an old-fashioned crab apple variety in our backyard!
We have lots of work ahead of us, but we’re excited to work together as a family, increase our gardening knowledge and bring fresh, tasty produce to the table.