Garden Wrap-up: Successes and Failures

My first gardening season on the farm has now come to an end. The end of the growing season brings a mixture of dread and relief. No longer will I be able to harvest the vast majority of our vegetable needs from my own organic beds, where I know the produce I’m serving to my family is safe, fresh and healthy. On the other hand, a garden is high maintenance. The work doesn’t end in the vegetable patch, either. All that produce would get carried in and dumped on my kitchen island, where it sat until I could do something with it, which consisted of freezing, canning and serving it fresh. When it rains it pours, as the old saying goes. There were times when a person sitting on one side of the island could barely see a person sitting on the other side due to the heap of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, beans or watermelon. All summer long we feasted on our vegetables. It was a liberating experience for me to head to the garden when it was time to prepare lunch and dinner, rather than to the fridge for purchased food. I no longer added lunch and side dish ingredients to my grocery lists as I knew I would prepare whatever happened to be available in the garden at that particular time. We enjoyed a bountiful harvest.wp_20160730_11_15_12_pro

My garden successes made gardening fun.wp_20160808_09_44_16_pro It was incredible to see how much the plants grew and changed over the course of several short months. When I first planted my garden, I got frustrated and questioned whether anything would grow at all, and later I’m peering into a jungle of green leaves, vines, and burgeoning fruit. Our rows disappeared altogether and we had to blaze our own trails through the vegetation. It’s miraculous, isn’t it, that all that can be contained inside a tiny seed?

I was surprised and delighted to see the watermelon beginning to grow this summer. I think we experienced success since we didn’t plant the seeds until June. Watermelon won’t germinate until the soil has been thoroughly warmed, and in Minnesota, that is usually the beginning of June. wp_20160915_17_28_37_proWe’ll continue to plant watermelon in June and hopefully we’ll be rewarded with them again.

Our chicken wire fence perhaps wasn’t the most beautiful, but it functioned well in keeping our chickens, turkeys and whippet (that’s a dog 🙂 ) out of the garden. One failure, however, was the fence didn’t keep out rodents.wp_20160924_09_28_35_pro I experienced great damage to my tomato crop due to some pesky critters taking up residence in my garden. I can’t tell you how irritating it is to reach for a perfectly ripe, plump tomato, only to have your hand clasp around a rotten, squishy hole hidden around the back where something has been dining. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I threw about 75% of my tomato crop to the chickens and compost pile. It’s also plain creepy while working in the garden to see small animals scurrying around in the plants. I will set traps next year to see if that helps.

Another failure was how I arranged the crops in my garden. My knowledge of crop placement has increased throughout this growing season and I will plan my garden more wisely next year. I also had the chance to become familiar with the shade patterns of my garden and will rearrange my crop placement so the shade-tolerant plants are in the areas with partial shade.

Almost as quickly as this rectangular piece of earth transformed into a buzzing, flourishing, dewy world of green, it began to brown, wilt and fade. wp_20161001_14_51_22_proSoon the summer crops were dwindling and the fall crops needed to be harvested. We spent a few hours on a warm, sunny October afternoon harvesting all the pumpkins and placing them around the house. The jack-o-lanterns will be fed to the sheep, while I plan to use the smaller sugar pumpkins for soup and pie. Ryan pulled up the corn stalks and bound them together for some fall décor.wp_20161019_13_02_59_pro

I like to give the kids opportunities to be active participants on the farm so the following weekend I assigned them the task of harvesting the squash and watermelon.wp_20161009_15_23_02_pro I gave them a wheel barrow with the instructions to pick and haul everything over to the hose, wash it off, then bring it all into the house. The watermelon we finished off in a week or two, while the squash is now piled up in a corner in our bedroom and we expect our store to last us for months. We will enjoy being able to taste fresh homegrown goodness throughout the winter in the form of hearty squash soup and side dishes. wp_20161008_17_50_30_pro I’m grateful for the break in garden chores and to be able to see the surface of my kitchen island again. In January, when the sun feels powerless and it seems all hope of summer is lost, we’ll cuddle under a blanket and begin planning the garden for spring. We’ll order our seeds and sketch a map of where everything will be planted. Then we’ll begin to dream again of working amongst dew-kissed leaves, sun-warmed fruit and sprawling plants.

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Monarch butterfly chrysalis on a corn leaf

Becca

 

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Harvesting and a Big Mistake

The garden is doing so well that I’m having a hard time keeping up with the harvest. I flashback to the days I was tilling the soil and struggling to plant my seeds and I can’t quite believe how much things have changed.  The garden felt like a lost cause back then and I placed the whole mess in God’s hands.  I told Ryan I thought nothing would grow and all the work would be for nothing.  He assured me I would feel better when the plants began sprouting.  He has much more faith than I, and he was right.  WP_20160808_09_43_59_ProThe plants are huge, green and sprawling.  Everyday I notice how much bigger the fruits and veggies look, or I discover something new growing beneath large, sun-soaked leaves.

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Watermelon

I try to get the kids excited about helping in the garden by making the harvest a competition. This weekend, I grabbed a bag and began harvesting green beans on one end of the row, while giving the kids a bag and instructing them to start on the opposite end of the row.  I kept egging them on with “Wow, I’m finding so many huge beans in these plants!  I bet I’m getting way more beans than you are!”  When we met in the middle of the row I went over and checked their plants to see if they did a good job harvesting.  I teased, “Ooh, you guys missed some!  Now these beans go in my bag!”  They then ran over to the plants I harvested and, to my surprise, found a few handfuls of large beans that I missed.  They added them to their bag.  When I was sure all the beans were picked, I decided their bag was slightly heavier than mine and they were awarded the title of winner. WP_20160724_16_32_36_Pro In the end, I felt like a winner, too, since we had a fun time working together and I’d like to think I’m accomplishing my goal of instilling a love for gardening, healthy food, and the ability to work hard for the satisfaction of a job well done. WP_20160724_16_32_13_Pro

 

So what to do with all this food? Our diet is about 75% garden veggies these days.  We’re eating various veggie concoctions at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Despite this, my fridge, counters and garden are still full of green produce.  We decided it was time to step into the mysterious and slightly scary world of canning.  I have yet to purchase a pressure canner, so water bath canning is my only option right now.  For two days in a row I decided to kiss the sunny afternoon goodbye and devote hours inside the kitchen making pickles.  I made 17 quart jars of pickles, a mere dent in the bags I have sitting in my kitchen, and 9 jars of dilly beans. WP_20160808_19_20_48_Pro Even though we have yet to taste these pickled veggies, I’m pretty proud of my accomplishment.  The jars look so beautiful and symbolize all my hard work tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting, and now learning the process of preserving.  I have much more canning to do and will need many more jars.  And where to put all these jars?  Hmmm, I feel another project coming on.

I did make a mistake in my garden this year. A really big, wandering, vining, soon-to-be-orange mistake.

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Pumpkin plant spilling through the garden fence

In the beginning, our plan was to till a separate patch for growing pumpkins.  By the time I got the tilling and planting done in the main garden plot, the last thing I wanted to think of was starting over and tilling another patch.  Ryan was busy doing other projects and I didn’t want to pull him away from that.  I had a little space at the end of my garden, so I put my pumpkin seeds in this space.  Then, after I noticed a space where it looked like some cucumber plants didn’t come up, I decided to sneak in the remainder of my pumpkin seeds in this vacancy.  Big mistake and one I won’t make again.  I’ve learned one doesn’t “sneak in” a couple packets of pumpkin seeds anywhere.  Those little seeds will grow into monstrous plants.  Those monstrous plants begin to creep along the ground, invading other rows and getting all up in everybody’s business.

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Pumpkins invading beans and cabbage

They devour their neighbors, blocking out their sun and air.  I’m not sure if I can do anything at this point besides hope for the best, realize I’ve learned a valuable lesson, and purchase a machete to bushwhack my way in when it’s time to harvest tomatoes.

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My rows of tomatoes…if you can spot them.

The pumpkins are very exciting to watch grow and hunt for under the broad, green leaves, but next year I’ll give them their own patch, full of large, open, neighbor-free space for them to creep, vine and climb to their hearts’ content.

 

Becca

10 Zucchini Dishes (that don’t require flour or sugar)

The zucchini season is upon us! I have a whole row of zucchini in my garden and last week we enjoyed our first zucchini harvest. WP_20160722_10_43_33_Pro

I brought my quality control specialist to ensure the zucchinis were fit to be eaten.WP_20160722_09_48_07_ProWP_20160722_09_48_28_ProWP_20160722_09_48_34_ProWP_20160722_09_48_12_Pro

Looks like they passed inspection. 🙂

Zucchini plants are known for their productivity. Most people have so many zucchinis, they begin giving them away to coworkers, neighbors and friends because they don’t know what else to do with their fresh, green bounty.  Last summer, we made lots and lots of zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, and even a pretty delicious chocolate zucchini cake.

But since last fall, we’ve decided to actively reduce our consumption of sugars and grains. This summer will not be filled with cakes, muffins and breads of the zucchini variety.  I’ve come up with 10 simple dishes for using those green summer squash that don’t involve drowning them in cups of flour and sugar.  This is how we do zucchini in my kitchen:

#1 Sautéed Zucchini

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Photo credit: http://www.recipegreat.com

It doesn’t get simpler or tastier than this quick, savory side dish. Slice several zucchini thin and sauté in a tablespoon of butter with salt and pepper until the zucchini slices are soft and turning brown.  Mix it up by adding in onion or other fresh veggies and herbs from your garden.  I served this for lunch last week and my kids gobbled this down and requested more.  I rarely serve anything that evokes excitement by all six of my children, unless, of course, it’s pizza or ice cream.  Even when I went to clean up the baby’s booster chair in the dining room, I found my homemade coleslaw on the floor, I found our farm-fresh, free-range chicken on the floor, but I did not find any zucchini slices…anywhere.  This dish gets two pudgy baby-thumbs up!

#2 Stoplight Kabobs

Skewer those green babies stoplight-style. Bright colors make for an appealing and impressive cookout with family or friends.  Try red cherry tomatoes, yellow bell pepper pieces and thickly-sliced zucchini for the green in your stoplight.  Drizzle a little olive oil over the kabobs and sprinkle with your favorite seasonings.  Grill alongside a meaty main dish or sandwich pieces of chicken, steak, shrimp or fish between your stoplight-patterned veggies.

#3 Campfire Veggie Pouches

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Food Styling: Jamie Kimm Prop Styling: Paige Hicks http://www.blog.foodnetwork.com

Nobody wants to turn on their oven and heat up their kitchen in summertime. My solution?  I make dinner over the campfire once a week.  Not only does it keep my farmhouse cooler, there is always less mess to clean up later.  Suddenly dinner feels a little more fun for everyone.  Or bring these pouches in a cooler the next time you go camping.  To prepare this sizzling side, lay out a rectangle of aluminum foil.  Lay some chopped veggies like zucchini, onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, potatoes or grape tomatoes in the middle of one end of the foil rectangle.  Plan to make one pouch for every 2-3 people you are serving.  Season with salt, pepper, fresh dill and garlic.  Place two or three small cubes of cold butter over the veggies and seal the pouch by bringing the empty end of the foil rectangle over the veggies, then folding the edges of the aluminum foil up two times on all three open sides.  You should now have a handy-dandy pouch, ready for the fire.  Let your fire burn down to coals and throw those pouches on top.  Allow them to cook for 5 minutes, flip over and cook five more minutes.  Open one of the pouches (careful for steam!) to see if the veggies have reached the desired tenderness.  Grab a fork and enjoy!

#4 Sliced Zucchini Pizza

We do pizza night every Friday night to welcome in the weekend. I make a homemade grain-free crust and we pile on veggie toppings for a healthy dinner everyone loves.  When I have some extra zucchini, I love to slice it thin and top our pizzas with it.  The zucchini blends nicely with some chopped red onion, mushrooms, yellow bell peppers and some spinach leaves.

#5 Zucchini Patties

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Photo credit: http://www.simplywholesomekitchen.com

Shred 2 zucchinis into a colander and toss with 1 teaspoon salt.  Place colander in sink and allow to drain for 10 minutes, then squeeze some moisture out with some paper towels and place in a bowl. Mix in two eggs, salt, pepper, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and form the mixture into manageable patties (keeping them on the smaller side makes it easier to flip).  Once the butter is hot, place patties, about 4-5 at a time into the skillet.  Allow to cook and get crispy brown on one side, approximately 5-6 minutes, then flip to brown the other side and cook through, another 5-6 minutes.  For a cheesy twist, top with a handful of shredded cheese during the last two minutes of cooking.

#6 Zucchini Lasagna

My pickiest eaters cheer when I announce it’s lasagna night. Even if you eat pasta, you may still enjoy this lower-carb option every now and then in your meal plan.  This is easy to make, and you can even use your favorite lasagna recipe.  All you need to do is omit the lasagna noodles, and shred about 3 medium-large sized zucchinis.  Crack three eggs into this mixture and add in the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese and spices as called for in your recipe.  Now put your meat sauce in the bottom of your pan, and smoosh on half the zucchini/cheese mixture, followed by meat sauce, then the other half of your zucchini/cheese mixture, and finish off with your meat sauce.  Top with cheese and bake.  Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

#7 Zucchini Egg Bake

WP_20160723_17_45_34_ProFor a healthy veggie boost, swap the hash browns in your egg bake or skillet scramble with shredded, seasoned zucchini.  I make a very simple crock pot egg bake.  Pat 2 or 3 shredded zucchinis, seasoned with salt and pepper, into the bottom of a buttered crock pot.  Top with a thinly sliced (8 oz) block of cream cheese, 5 sliced green onions and 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.  Whisk together a dozen eggs, 1/2 cup milk, salt and pepper and pour into the crockpot.  Chop and cook a pound of bacon until crisp and sprinkle on top.  Cook on high about 3 hours or low for 5 hours, until eggs are good ‘n’ set.  Garnish with a few sprinkles of cheddar cheese and one more chopped green onion.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.  I made this yesterday evening and all the kids requested a second helping.

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#8 Ratatouille

My daughter, Hannah, requested ratatouille for her 9th birthday.  I’ve never made this dish before.  It sounded fancy, French and fussy and I was anticipating a lot of work to get this dish on the table.  In the end, I’m so glad I gave it a try despite my reservations.  It’s a delicious, one-pan dish, and is another use for that abundant zucchini in your garden.  Click here for the easy recipe I used.

#9 Zucchini Boats

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Photo credit: http://www.wellnessmama.com

Another way to indulge your Italian craving without carb-loading are these tasty zucchini boats. I use this recipe and it’s kid-approved.  I’ll be cooking my zucchini boats in foil in the campfire this summer.

#10 Chili

Just when the evening air turns cool and crisp, and the trees are changing color, but your zucchini plants are still offering up their fruit, it’s time to make some chili. Chopped zucchini can be added into any chili recipe.  Soften and cook them along with the meat or veggies you sauté in your usual recipe. You just may enjoy the healthful addition!

For those that still plan to make some breads, muffins and cakes, I don’t want to leave you out, either. Last summer I made this chocolate zucchini cake and it was very good.  If you have a birthday coming up or were asked to bring a dessert to a potluck, I think this will do nicely and you may even impress someone by saying it contains vegetables from your garden. 🙂

Did I miss your favorite zucchini dish?  If so, add it in the comments!  Enjoy those versatile zucchinis!WP_20160722_10_43_15_Pro

Becca

Blood, Sweat, Tears…and Radishes

Gardening is not for quitters. Especially during the first year, a garden will test you.  It will push you to your limit.  It demands your time, your energy, your problem-solving skills.  I’m not talking about the cute little pot of tomatoes people grow on patios or the 2×4 foot raised garden box.  Those are good things, don’t get me wrong, and any effort to produce one’s own food should be applauded, but a pot or two is mostly maintenance-free fun and doesn’t compare to our 3,500 square foot garden.  The garden we are growing, the hey-let’s-try-and-grow-all-our-own-veggies garden, the why-did-we-start-out-so-big garden, the that-grass-was-here-first-and-wants-its-land-back garden, our garden has called for my literal blood, sweat and tears before we even saw the first seedling sprout.

Would it surprise you then to hear that I love my garden? That I’m already thinking how I’ll expand it for next year?  I love working in it, seeing the plants grow and produce. WP_20160705_12_57_16_Pro And now that it’s covered with mulch and looking a bit better, I’m proud of my garden.  Is it still full of grass and weeds?  Yep.  Is it hopelessly patchy where some seeds didn’t sprout?  You betcha.  Are the rows wandering and uneven?  Totally.  Will passersby slow down and take pictures out their car windows like they do with Helga, our chicken mailbox?  Doubtful.  But I still love it.  The kids and I planted it together, so it’s not perfect.  WP_20160705_13_01_47_ProAnd I am far from a gifted gardener.  I have no green thumb.  I am a novice with much to learn.  I have to grunt and claw my way through this process of growing food, but I still find it fascinating, fulfilling, satisfying and spiritual.WP_20160705_12_56_12_Pro

We finally got this beast of a garden covered with the hay/manure mixture from the barn and surrounding barnyard that wintered our sheep and cows. Before we accomplished this, we had grass thriving right along with our fragile seedlings.

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Wow, this is really embarrassing.  But yes, that is an actual garden, not just a patchy lawn.

It took a long time to clean out the whole barnyard and spread it on top of those weeds and around each of our plants.  WP_20160705_12_55_26_ProWe just barely finished and now we see grass poking up through the mulch.  Much less grass, to be sure, and much more manageable.  Each day this week, my morning project will be weeding a section of the garden.  If I wait until afternoon, the sun is so hot and I can feel it beating down on me.  Morning weeding is actually very pleasant, with mourning doves calling, ducks splashing, and a gentle breeze stirring.

 

This morning I was weeding my third row of carrots, while Elijah is a few rows down weeding beets until he decides he wants to check the radishes. He begins harvesting the larger radishes and thank goodness for them.WP_20160705_09_54_02_Pro  Radishes are as relentless as weeds and are neither hindered by them, nor any other shortcomings of the gardener.  Elijah pulled up a healthy handful of the spicy, round roots.

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My happy, pajama’d harvester! 🙂

Radishes are about the easiest thing to grow, and provide as close to instant-reward as it gets in the agriculture world, therefore they are the perfect vegetable to grow to get a group of kids excited about gardening.  Think you don’t like radishes?  I think you’re wrong.  You love radishes, you just don’t know it yet.  Grow some, you still have plenty of time this year.  Once you harvest, slice up your radishes, sauté them in some butter until they are soft and sprinkle on salt and pepper. WP_20160705_17_27_59_Pro Mmmm, you’ll be glad you grew some!  Our radish tops don’t go to waste, either.  The bunnies were delighted to receive a delicious snack after I cut and washed our first garden harvest, mere weeks after planting the seeds!WP_20160705_12_44_52_Pro

 

Becca

The Vegetable Garden

The vegetable garden is finally in! We got it in a bit later than we wanted, but better late than never.  This garden is huge.

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I ended up doing the majority of the tilling of this garden myself since Ryan was busy with the chicken coop project. Let’s just say I’m not a skilled tiller!  Maybe it’s something you get better at with practice?  I thought I was doing a good job at the time but when I went to plant the seeds I could see there were patches that didn’t get tilled properly.

It’s about 3,500 square feet. We pounded T posts into the ground and attached 4 foot chicken wire to them all around the garden to keep out our poultry.  It seems to be doing the job just fine. WP_20160607_13_40_10_Pro

We decided to plant the following: sweet corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, pumpkins, lettuce, carrots, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, winter squash, zucchini, radishes, watermelon, cilantro, onions, dill, basil, bush beans, sugar snap peas, beets, chives, leeks and spinach.

We’d like to purchase a pressure canner this year and learn to can any excess from the garden. I brought home 17 heirloom tomato plants, both Roma and Beefsteak.  If all goes well we’ll be swimming in tomatoes and we could can our own sauces.WP_20160615_07_48_17_Pro

I spent some time weeding the garden yesterday and many of our plants are beginning to come up! It’s so rewarding to see things beginning to grow after all the work required to get a garden planted.  It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I’ve worked in a garden.  As I was weeding yesterday, I realized how much I’ve missed spending peaceful moments, connecting with creation, in my garden.

The next step with the garden is to mulch all the soil to keep it covered. We learned that little trick after watching an excellent video called “Back to Eden.”  Covering the soil greatly minimizes the amount of weeds growing in the garden, keeps moisture in the soil for the plants and fertilizes the soil as it breaks down.  Nothing kills the joy of gardening like getting overrun with weeds.  We tried this last year with our little garden at our previous home.  Every time Ryan mowed he’d put the grass clippings over the soil.  It made a noticeable difference with the amount of weeds that came up.  This year we are going to use the hay/manure mixture that we’ve been cleaning out of our winter barnyard and animal stalls.

Do you garden?  Even just a pot of tomatoes on a patio can be such a rewarding and fun experience.  Happy gardening to you and here’s hoping our gardens are fruitful this year!

Becca

Planting the Orchard

Last weekend, to celebrate Mother’s Day and our 12th anniversary (which happened to be on the same day this year!), Ryan planned a special outing as a gift for me.  We loaded up the family and drove to a tree nursery just down the road from the farm.  I wasn’t exactly sure how many trees we would be bringing home with us that day, but I about squealed with delight when Ryan announced we could get five fruit trees to plant in our orchard.

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The orchard with newly planted trees

 

We knew we wanted several apple varieties that ripened at differing times so we would be able to space our apple harvest out for as long as possible each year. We walked around the tree farm and read the information cards on each variety until we were satisfied with two.  We took home a SnowSweet, which is a new variety cultivated by the University of Minnesota that ripens in early September, and a Haralred, which ripens in October and stores well over winter.  We purchased young bare-root trees, so most of this season will be spent developing the roots.  We’ll see more growth next year.    WP_20160509_11_05_12_Pro

Next spring we’ll go back to pick up a Honeycrisp, which is an excellent mid-season tree, as well as an early variety of apple tree that ripens in August, such as Zestar.

In addition to apple trees, we decided to add plums and cherries to the orchard. We chose two different hardy plum varieties, Toka and Pembina, which produce sweet fruit excellent for fresh eating.

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Toka Plum Tree via thetreefarm.com

We also took home a Lapin cherry tree, which is a sweet cherry and a self-pollinizer so it does not need a partner.  This is one of the only sweet cherry trees suited to Minnesota’s climate.

 

In the future, we will purchase two pear trees to add to our cozy little orchard, giving us a total of 10 trees.

The variety of our current, very large, heavily-blossomed apple tree is, as of yet, a mystery. We deduced it must be an old classic by its apparent age, which is one reason we decided to purchase newer varieties for our orchard; we didn’t want to unknowingly buy the same tree we already have.  We hope to be able to identify the tree by its apples.  It looks as if it will be bowing under the weight of all its apples this year.WP_20160509_11_20_14_Pro

With our little trees safely loaded in our trailer, we drove the short trek home and got busy planning out the placement of each tree and digging holes.

The kids love to help when the shovels come out. WP_20160507_16_16_13_Pro I loved that everyone pitched in to get the orchard planted.  WP_20160507_16_24_00_ProThis orchard is in honor of our marriage and the resulting 6 beautiful babies; each one of them a blessing. WP_20160507_16_25_40_Pro It was very fitting that we all planted it together and I see these trees growing up right along with my kids.  Each will change dramatically over the next few years. WP_20160507_17_32_41_Pro As we worked together in our orchard, carefully covering the roots and watering them, I couldn’t help but think of the relation to both marriage and raising kids.  Young trees are so fragile in the beginning.  The roots are developing and must be nurtured and tended to daily.  They need attentive watering and good soil.  But once those roots get established, the tree begins to take off, growing quickly and not easily harmed by drought or storms.  A well-rooted, strong tree will bear lots of good fruit that will enrich the lives of many for years to come.

Becca

The Homestead Garden Plan

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. WP_20150609_13_21_53_Pro 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. WP_20150713_15_25_09_ProSoon 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. WP_20160429_13_02_12_Pro 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. garden planI 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. WP_20160429_15_36_38_ProSaving 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. WP_20160423_16_23_26_Pro
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. WP_20160429_12_48_42_ProThere 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. WP_20160429_13_02_39_ProIn 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. WP_20160429_13_11_20_ProThis 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! WP_20160502_15_55_07_Pro

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.

Warmly,
Becca