I'm about three years into developing my suburban yard into the kind of landscape I'd like to live with. When we purchased the property the front yard was so degraded that not even weeds would grow, and the back yard was nearly all thistle. At some point in the distant past the house clearly had owners who planned as all the existing landscaping (except small boxwood hedge) was either a nut tree or a flowering plant. Most of my efforts have been in improving the soils and laying out gardening beds. In the front yard I am trying to keep things conventionally attractive for my neighbors. I don't ever expect to grow anything close to all my own food, but I do think that at some point I will be eating something from my garden in every meal. Long term goals for this property is to have a home my nieces want to inherit.
I'm attaching a horrible roughed in paint picture of where I'm at as far as the yard goes. Not actually proportional as the backyard is 2/3rds the size of the front. Blue splotches are productive woody plants, orange is productive perenials, and yellow is where the annual rotation is right now. Plans for next year include finishing the swales and paths in the back yard, extending the long curving bed towards the shed, and planting a trio of Olive trees in the front yard.
I think you'll find you can grow a lot of your food on even this small amount of land. Certainly you can grow all of your vegetables and a lot of fruit.
This Youtube channel has a lot of videos by a guy who grows huge amounts of vegetables in small spaces: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUnFheTbVpASikm0YPb8pSw
This guy has tons of fruit trees in his yard: http://geofflawton.com/videos/urban-gardens-microspace/
Designing a permaculture urban yard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEBANCui2WI
A method of growing a lot of food in a small space: http://www.growbiointensive.org/
I'm using a lot of techniques in those videos already. Each year I expand the gardens several feet and try to plan crop rotations that increase the organic matter in all the beds. Eventually I will be able to fall back on just maintaining existing beds and plants. Till then I just try to keep everything moving forward a little further every year.
Right now we have two Pecans (one mature, one young), four peach trees, two pineapple guava, one mandarin kind of orange, one escarpment black cherry, one apple, one grape vine,one pomegranate, two "ugly agnes" bushes and two beauty berries. In the future there will be a fig thicket and probably a mulberry in the wild area, as well as olives, persimmons, another apple, raspberries, blueberries, and grapes. I only plant a few trees or shrubs each year so that it's easier to give them the attention needed during their establishment year.
It feels like as much effort is going into learning how to prepare and preserve our harvest as actually goes into growing it. This month marks the first time we finished all the greens I brought in before I was ready to harvest the next batch.
Casie Becker wrote:
It feels like as much effort is going into learning how to prepare and preserve our harvest as actually goes into growing it.
This has been a challenge for me too, as it has meant a change in our diet to include some things that I can grow that we wouldn't buy, for instance turnips - they grow well for me but we never ate them before I grew them.
Earlier this week I planted the first fig for the fig thicket at the dripline of the existing red tip phontinas that it will replace.
Things are steadily progressing through the plans I made. We've planted the first fig, a mulberry, an Fuyu persimmon, the other apple, and another grapevine in the back yard.
The fuji apple was allowed to keep one fruit to maturity. I don't know if a neighbor has an apple in their back yard or if it's self fertile, but I was thinning apples this spring. It was a delicious apple.
In the front we planted two olives and two asian pears for another espalier.
The peach espalier produced peaches that I thinned to one per each branch. I think I'll thin more next year as I wasn't happy with the fruit size. It did seem like a lot of fruit for the tree size.
I have changed my plans for the pomegranate, which I was planning to keep pruned very small. Instead I think I will allow it to grow big enough to replace the red tipped photinia that blocks the view of a neighbor's driveway. Hopefully that means we'll get some flowers next year.
Our hugelkultur (12- 18 inch pit piled four feet deep in logs) has sunk to about two feet above ground level. We've been planting asparagus and seeing it survives without water and it did, so this year the bed has been filled with more asparagus, strawberries and one stray artichoke. The artichoke was nearly an accident. We had a plant with no spot to put it and so stuck it on the side of the hugelkulture and then forgot about it. My mother discovered it while preparing the bed for the new plants.
That artichoke was actually part of a trend this year. Other plants we planted and then forgot about and had thrive include the Christmas Limas, my first planting of favas, and the volunteer sweet potatoes. We had a couple of plants which weren't forgotten but were treated with premeditate neglect and seemed to appreciate it. Other plants suffered and/or died, or weren't forgotten about but still suffered and died.
I had planned on this being 'the year of the bean' and planted lots of different varieties all over the yard. The one that did well the year before just limped along this year. The limas were a surprise success. We were literally going to weed out all the grass where I'd planted them and then build a raised bed in that spot when we realized they were finally setting seed. I'm saving seed to grow them again next year.
After three years of trying, I've finally tasted the bean of a scarlet runner vine. Absolutely loved it. Huge, meaty with a proper green bean flavor. I planted them in three separate locations and two of them are still surviving. The real test is going to be next spring when I see if they come up from the roots.
I've got kale in a couple of locations in the yard, some of which is on it's third year. They're cool looking miniature palms by this point. Now that the weather is getting cold enough to kill the bugs, we're pulling a harvest off them again. It's generated some interest from other gardeners in the area. Planted with them are lettuces, swiss chard, and collard greens.
I grew minature eggplants this year. They survived, but I wasn't overwhelmed by them. I think next time I try eggplant it will be a full sized version. There just wasn't enough harvest to justify the effort.
I had a similar lack of success with my pepper plants. Though I will say, the two minature bell peppers which we overwintered last year did remain healthy this year. They tiny peppers just weren't worth the processing effort.
Right now I'm growing my first turnips and favas. I'm still on the hunt for those crops that take next to no effort to grow in my climate. I wish I'd started the turnips later, but there are a few who germinated and then survived the unusually long hot fall. I'm watching them. The favas seem to be thriving.
I've tossed bread seed poppies where I had a full hedge of dill last year, so I'm watching that to see what sprouts. I'm also watching the back yard to see if we get cilantro throughout the grass again.
When the weather warms we'll see if we get volunteer amaranth from this year's plants. Two of them were very vigorous, so I scattered the dried flowers at the end of the season.
It's the same bed as the volunteer purple sweet potatoes. They did give me a good harvest when I waited till they froze before digging. See, hunting for a plant that takes next to no effort isn't futile. It might be foolish, but it pays off sometimes.
While I would have wished for a more abundant year, I learned a lot of lessons, saved a lot of seed, and watched a lot of plants multiply. Next year I'm going to try to make 'The Year of the Squash.' We were very happy with our first harvest of winter squash but didn't plant enough this year.
Sorry, I don't gather all this together very often so it seems a little long. I actually needed to see it myself to mollify my guilt in planting ornamental flower bulbs instead of anything edible. I have such a big weakness for flowers, and bulbs have the added bonus of a nearly do nothing plant. Within the next month the first iris will bloom. If this next set of freezing weather finally sends the milkweed and lantana dormant, then I'll have missed full year blooms for pollinators by only a few weeks.
I'm trying to select seed to have better adapted plants and keep experimenting with new varieties. I prefer that kind of work to dragging row covers in and out every cold snap or going out to hand pick stink bugs every morning.
When we were there a couple of weeks ago we discovered they had a few piled up behind some other plants. Most were sad looking but the broccoli looked good so that is what I bought. We the weather said temps would be freezing I read Bonnie Plants. They said cabbage would be ok but broccoli would set the fruit too early. I covered with a sheet and so far its been ok. Anyway everything is a learning experience if they don't work out.
My sweet alyssum took the freeze well. It was still looking good until I caught dear hubby pulling it up. Luckily he hadn't pulled up my perennials. I told him my idea of a garden and his were two different things. He thinks sweet alyssum is invasive and I think it is beautiful.
I think a huge part of how well it has taken off is that it's planted right next to our half sunken hugelbed. I have no doubts it has roots sunk deep into the decaying tree trunks, ensuring that it never runs short of water.
We built a swale around the apple tree with a secondary berm below. It was planted next to where we had to remove a very large dead tree trunk when we moved in, so I'm sure the decaying roots are serving as a natural hugelculture for the apples. The apple has put most of it's growth into spreading it's limbs wider rather than taller, but there's been a lot of spreading going on. Just remember if you try to emulate this, plant the tree in solid ground to give the tree stable roots. The hugelculture goes off to the side. The trees just dip their toes in.
So, other things I've noticed. I don't have any bluebonnets this year. They're a winter annual which fixes nitrogen. After two winters of a vigorous stand in the most barren corner of the front lawn, the grass is too thick for the bluebonnets to self seed. I wish they hadn't been such an effective cover crop. On the other hand, I may obtain more seed and start using it as a winter cover crop in garden beds that I want to leave fallow. Gathering the seed for future planting isn't actually difficult.
Common plantain has been another victim of the improving health of our lawn. It's usually sprouting across a wide section of the grass by this point of time. So far I've found one plant. Between mowing high and strategically placed swales there wasn't much bare ground left for it this year. I'm still keeping my eyes peeled as I was planning to freeze a large amount this year to have on hand for big bites later on. This is important enough that I'll probably go foraging for it if some doesn't sprout soon. It could be a good activity to take my youngest niece on.
I'm also considering hiring my youngest niece to pull dandelions. There are hardly any thistles left in the yard, but there are more dandelions than ever. When we finally get chickens (no one hold their breaths yet) that will be a valuable resource. Right now they're too bitter for my family's tastes and uncomfortable to walk on. Just knowing that I should like them makes me feel guilty when I contemplate pulling them, though.
The cilantro, that has successfully self seeded through the back yard again, looks even more vigorous than last year. I really do wish I could find more palatable edibles that can compete with grass like this.
I planted small portions of all of the more cold tolerant plants. Just a little because most of these are either fall planted or spring planted. So that's turnips, carrots, poppies, spinach and favas. It is still the middle of winter, even though we're in the 80's today. It's so hard waiting for the last frost for everything else.
I've gone out and reseeded where I lost favas to these last two cold snaps. Turns out I had twice as many survivors as I thought in the crimson fava variety. I planted the last few seeds I'd held back, so that's it. I'm still holding out hope of a decent amount of seeds for replanting.
My kale, collards, and swiss chard all survived without any covers so I'm not replanting now. I may replant later in the year just to have a succession when these plants finally play out. I'm up to year three on kale.
I'm still waiting for the pistachio seeds. I typically don't have good results with growing things in pots, but it's looking more and more like I'm going to have three kinds to take care of this year. There's the sunroots, the pistachios, and the dahlia. For one reason or another each of these will better suit my needs in a pot.
I'm not planting new onions this year. I'm going to try to be better about using the perennial onions in our cooking. Just a little better because they really need to multiply more to meet our needs, but we've got to start somewhere.
I did have a garlic that I thought had died last year come back up and it's looking very healthy. Depending on how it grows this year, I may eat it or save it for replanting.
I don't want to disturb them too much, but since I was digging in the ground anyways... There is what feels like a thick woody, healthy root at the base of where my runner beans were growing last year. I mean connected to the old vine not just in that location. I expect to see new vines sprouting in a few more weeks. Fingers crossed.
If the runner beans succeed then I have a paltry total of four perennial/naturalized vegetables so far. That would be beans, sweet potatoes, greens (kale, chard, collards), and various onions. I'll keep experimenting and maybe I'll start getting the kinds of yields that make a real dent in the grocery bill.
Somewhere around here I have seed that I saved, also, but I can't seem to find it. I literally held the basil seed in my hands, for one. I don't know where I set it down.
I'm hoping the amaranth will join the Siam basil and the cilantro in reliably self seeding. Right now one corner of the back lawn is half covered in self seeded cilantro.This year I'm watching for amaranth to pop up on it's own in the front garden. I scattered the flower heads at the end of the season.
Casie Becker wrote:
If the runner beans succeed then I have a paltry total of four perennial/naturalized vegetables so far. That would be beans, sweet potatoes, greens (kale, chard, collards), and various onions.
If need be that is nearly a complete diet! You'd just need larger quantities and supplement with small quantities of a few other things. I think you can pat yourself on the back. I'm nowhere near that close to the basis of a homegrown diet; I only have the onion component really nailed down at this point. I'm hoping some sweet potatoes will return when it warms up but I can't count on it.
edit: I won't completely give up hope then. I didn't dig them up, just planted seeds between them. Most of them don't look very promising, though. From culling the white ones, I know the worst case scenario is that they functioned as a good nitrogen fixing cover crop. The roots of the culls were covered in nodules.
That's what happened with my plans to build a raised bed for blueberries. After a year of building compost inside a cinder block keyhole bed we decided that wasn't actually where we wanted to have a garden bed. The blueberries are going to be permanently kept in large pots which we shall mulch with our used coffee grounds to help control the PH of the soil.
We repurposed the cinder blocks to border an existing in ground bed and moved the rich soil blend (decomposing logs, ramail wood chips, horse manure, compost) to fill it. Our Fuyu persimmon was planted in the middle of where the key hole had been.
I think it counts as a failed plan but it wasn't without it's benefits. Instead of one large bed with blue berries and maybe tea bushes in the future, we have a smaller raised bed, two blueberry bushes in pots, and a fruit tree planted in improved soil. We also got to see how quickly most of the wood we'd buried had already broken down to compost. There were hardly any logs left to dig up.
I was studying my rose bushes in preparation for pruning when I noticed a strange looking mass of roots attached to a small plant. Apparently I actually succeeded with the clematis last year, after all. I'm going to watch this year to see if it grows big enough to start flowering.
And checking on my pots, my dahlia has started to sprout.
I planted and weeded another section of the garden. With the way my mind works I actually planted the middle of the garden with onions yesterday and then weeded either end of that stretch of garden today (perennial grass runners) before planting seeds. Yes I know, I wasn't going to plant any more onions this year, but there were these bags of bulbs sitting in the store entrance and looked like they really wanted to go home with me. I didn't tell them I was planning to eat them. We'll let that be a surprise.
I'm trying something new this year. To separate sections of different plants, and maybe serve as a barrier to grass at the ends of the garden beds, I've planted short rows of swiss chard perpendicular to the rest of the vegetables rows. It's a long shot, but with their thick, deep roots and broad wide leaves I think they stand as much of a chance of fighting off the grass as anything.
I desperately need to thin down my seed stock so I'm planting out all the old seed that I can. I've done a small patch of mustard greens, another row of turnips, a small patch of orach, a row of curly kale, red flax flowers, and scattered the last of my onion seeds over the top of my onion bulbs.
Tomorrow I will either finish weeding in the back or weed in the front and the plant all the remaining flower seed I have on hand, all the lettuce seed I have on hand, a patch of dinosaur kale, and my Italian parsley seedlings.
Inside, using the paper towel method, I am trying to start pistachios (think you Joseph), five kinds of peas, and turnip rooted parsnips (also thanks to Joseph).
We're gonna plant all the peas together in the bed where Jazmyn will be planting her popcorn this year. The peas will just be starting to suffer from the heat at about the time we're supposed to plant corn so I think they'll be the perfect cover crop. Last year was the first year I've had reasonable returns on peas. I started a tiny amount using paper towels before planting. After two dismal years I was only planting tiny test amounts so that I wasn't wasting garden space on them. Presprouting made such a huge difference last year that this year I have high hopes of harvesting enough peas to freeze some.
It's going to be hard finding all the space I'll need for vining plants this year. I think I've figured it out, but if you hear about me digging out a new garden bed you'll know I needed more space. Most of the other areas destined for squash are growing fava right now. I'll start the squash between fava plants and cut back the fava as the squash need space. I'm seriously considering planting squash at the end of every garden bed and then training all the vines out into the grassy areas.
My youngest niece sat down with me this morning and we went through all the seeds to plan out her garden. We're going to overhaul the whole bed to clear out the encroaching grass, hopefully this weekend. Once the grass is gone planting will be a breeze.
My pea seeds are just starting to sprout, too. So either Monday or Tuesday I'll probably spend an hour or more carefully poking each individual seed in the ground.
Actually, for seeds that I have trouble sprouting, I'm on year four of spreading seed for bread seed poppies. I think I might have some sprouting in the front garden this year, hopefully it's not wishful thinking. But I saved seed back to spread at different times to get more chances for germination. I wonder if it's possible to use the paper towel method with such a tiny seed?
I spent more than an hour this morning carefully placing lines of peas down in one garden bed and then covered them with about an inch of very fine aged wood chip mulch. Many of them were starting to sprout in the paper towels so it seemed time. It worked out to pretty precisely half of that garden bed so I still have half a bed available for early spring crops.
I spent a couple more hours weeding the bed between our house and the neighbors, in the front yard. Everywhere crab grass was sprouting I poked swiss chard seeds into and scattered a mix of spring flower and lettuce seeds on the surface of. Between each of these patches is now a thick layer of organic materials that I cleared off the weedy sections. When the season is right (about three months) I'm going to put squash seeds under each of these mulched sections. Then they can duke it out with the swiss chard for dominance of that bed.
I planted another row of spinach, the first row is coming up nicely. Next to that, where my swiss chard didn't successfully perennialize last year, I planted dinosaur kale. I thought I'd lost the seed packet, but when I went to get some fertilizer for the lettuce, and for some reason I'd left the seeds inside the fertilizer bag.
I still have two unopened packets of swiss chard seed, collard seeds, more kale seed, and various herb seeds that I haven't decided where to plant.
The parsley is particularly hard because I really want it, but we have a huge amount of cow parsley in the yard. Since the cow parsley produces obnoxious little burrs that stick in our clothes I weed it out of our garden beds. I'm not sure how I'd tell the different kinds of parsley apart. What I really should probably do is just harvest masses of the cow parsley and freeze it to use throughout the year.
Anyone seeing this in cold climate, just remember that when it's over 100 degrees in the shade and 80 percent humidity and no rain for six weeks, you'll get your revenge then. I won't even have the option of hibernating inside away from the elements, the garden will still need tending.
Has your layout changed at all since you started? Or are you still spot on with your diagram?
As I get more established perennials and identify more low maintenance annuals I may add more beds in the future. Eventually we'll get chickens. We had planned to do it this spring, but some other stuff has come up. We can't free range on half an acre and with the predators here (fox, raccoon, and rats for a start) we'll need to build a very secure coop.
I have a pretty clear picture of what I want this place to look like in thirty years and so far it hasn't changed much. That's why I already know I'm close to the limit on trees I can plant. I'm aiming for a food savannah rather than a forest. That means I'm trying not to even look at plants bigger than large shrubs any more. I've got seeds sprouting (if it all works properly) to plant pistachios and they're the last large tree I can fit.
Swiss chard has been pretty reliable for me, what are you doing when you grow it?
A late edit: In other news, I'm sitting and looking at four rose seeds that I pulled from mature hips on the knock out. The knock out is thorny enough on it's own, but it's planted right next the Joseph's coat that won the battle when I was pruning earlier this week. After some serious consideration I've come to the conclusion that I don't really want to try planting these seeds. It might be a different matter if roses would thrive in the shade under my nieces window. Bring on the thorny security in that case.
I just finished weeding the last garden bed. Despite having gloves on I still feel like I'm developing a blister on hand from going after the long chain of roots. I was a little worried about digging up a snake because there are deep fist sized holes dug in spots of the soil. In fact at one point when I was digging I lifted my hand and there was a snake coming out of the dirt. I threw him a few inches over, where I'd already worked and saw a lively wriggling earthworm next to him. For size comparison, the earthworm was twice the size of the snake.
Our apple tree started blooming this morning. I know there are folk sayings about thing that should be happening in the garden when you see that sign. I just don't remember what any of those things are. I was timing things according to when the crab grass started to sprout.
Still no more parsnip sprouts. Nothing else that hadn't already sprouted either.
Lows are to be in the low 30'/high 20' for the next week.
Maybe I just buy some seed ...
We're officially 8b, but most of this winter I think it's been acting more like 9. We had highs over 80 degrees yesterday. It's been a warm winter overall. This why the plants couldn't handle the rare cold snap. I'm still waiting to see if my arctic frost satsuma will sprout new leaves.
I do have potted dahlia seedlings in a self watering window box that I carry in and out according to the weather. I'll separate the seedlings into individual pots after I won't regularly have to move them. Because I hate moving pots so much I'm moving almost all my gardening to direct seeding, or sprouting in paper towels and then seeding immediately. Otherwise I'd already be starting my tomatoes.
I planted turnips and more swiss chard in that last bed. When I pull the turnips it will be time to put in tomatoes and squash. I wonder if I train the tomatoes up a trellis, and leave the squash on the ground if I could fit both plants there.
I do still have half a bed with the peas and we intend to plant the entire bed with popcorn when the weather warms. Maybe we should plant turnips there right now, also. That would use the other half of the bed.
There's a full shade bed around the base of my pecan tree. Right now I've got flowering shrubs there, but I planted those parsley starts there, this morning. And some swiss chard to possibly give some color.
I've planted kale in several locations but still don't have any sprouts. Once I can get it going it's actually more reliable than swiss chard, but it isn't as easy to start.
My peas keep popping up above their mulch covering. I think as they try to push roots down they're pushing themselves up. Next time I plant, I should either bury them in soil first or use more mulch. For this time, I just keep poking them back down as they pop up. Maybe tomorrow I'll add more mulch instead.
We had at least one frost this week. It wasn't in the forecase, but I went out in the morning to water the seeds and my hose shot out a small pile of ice before the water flowed freely. It didn't seem to hurt anything. There's not even frost damage on the tropical potted plants sitting on the lawn.
I've also prepared enough pots for 20 dahlias, but there's a good chance I'll be sending a few of the seedlings off to a neighbor. I just pinched out all the seedlings that haven't formed a true leaf yet. That still leaves me with way more than twenty.
I'm also concerned about my olives. They've lost almost all their leaves. They're clearly struggling and we're getting closer and closer to our rainy season. If they don't have leaves to transpire some of the groundwater, I think they'll be in more danger of rotting roots. I'm hoping they put out new leaves soon, and that the falling leaves aren't a sign that they've already passed the point of no return. If they die, I'm definitely replanting, but I think I'll choose a site further away from where water tends to flow during rain events. I'm still really opposed to the idea of planting any tree that needs me to give it a winter blanket. We've got people in my family that get cold easily. We need those blankets in the house.
I've pulled five of the pistachios from the refrigerator bag and am seeing if they're willing to sprout yet. I still haven't received the seeds from Amazon, but I'm finally within the projected delivery window. They could turn up any day now. Well, except for today, since it's a Sunday.
I'm getting close to a deciding time with the parsnips. I'm planning on growing at least a couple of them out for seed to send back to Joseph Lofthouse. If I only grow out the first few seeds that germinated, am I selecting for easier to grow plants? What should be the time limit for being allowed to reproduce? How many should I let flower for decent diversity? One nice thing about this is that as a biannual, I can still grow out the losers for a crop. I just need to eat them before next spring. That also gives me a good window of time to make my decisions.
For now I'm transplanting them into seedling pots when I see a root starting. When they get true leaves (one) I'll plant them in the garden. If I plant each pack of ten in a block I can keep them grouped together by germination speed.
Oh, on the last sprouting report, I forgot to mention my daffodils are poking their heads up and my irises are starting to form flower heads. I planted some Byzantine gladius at the same time as the daffodils, I should see if they've sprouted. In the short time we've lived here, in all but one year, within the first week of the iris blooming we had our last freeze.
Everything in our current forecast is showing highs in the 70's and upper 60's. I must not fall for it. If I put squash out there right now, the moment they start to flower we'll have a freeze. I must wait until at least mid March. If I keep reminding myself, maybe I can make myself hold off. I do have a fair number of tomato seeds, maybe I can take a chance with them...