Each year we wait for it; the arrival of our favorite local organic seed catalogue. Its usually deep into Winter when it arrives but it serves as a reminder that Spring will soon return. As an urban homesteader this means that although its a Winter wonderland outside, its time to start remembering the sun-kissed Earth blooming and buzzing with life; its time to begin planning next year’s gardens. So with that intention in mind we write to share the way we plan our urban homestead garden.
At our urban homestead we have a few different gardens. A shade garden at the front of our home filled with hosta from Tony’s childhood home as well as tall grasses and an assorted variety of oreganos. In our backyard we have a berry patch that centers around an abundant growth of wild black raspberry vines. We added cultivated raspberry, blueberry and elderberry bushes alongside these breathtaking trio of hibiscus trees gifted to us from Tony’s mom as a housewarming gift.
Along the stone path we built a small yoni garden with perennial flowers to support the pollinators. In the yoni garden we grow yarrow, coreopsis from my best friend’s garden, peonies from Tony’s mom for our wedding, and a dwarf peach tree we planted in honor of my niece Kaylynn who passed away in 2013. On occasion we add a few annual flowers like sunflowers and zinnias while nurturing the wild clover, thyme and milkweed that also grow in this bed each year.
We also built a gated 12-bed garden; 4 of the beds are in a simple hoop house we also built. Inside the hoop house we typically grow plants that thrive in the extra heat like tomatoes, tomatillos and assorted peppers. In the remaining 8 beds we grow a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.
(Below is an outline of our 12 raised beds. The beds with the lines and dots at each corner are in our hoop house.)
Every year we keep complete records of what we planted in each garden during the grow season as well as what cover crop we planted at the end of the season. All of these records are kept in a binder with a copy of the seed catalogues from each grow season. This binder, along with the seed catalogue for this coming grow season is where we begin the planning process for next year.
There are many practices and philosophies that inform how we homestead, grow food and steward the land. And although we will not go into all of them in this blog post we do want to share that we are guided by both science and the sacred. Below we will review a few key practices that inform how we plan our grow season each year.
On our homestead we practice a method of gardening called square foot gardening. We chose this method for many reasons, primarily because it allowed us to easily plant above ground. Planting above ground was important because prior to owning our home, the backyard was full of tall arborvitae that left the earth practically impenetrable with gnarly roots systems and compact clay soil. They were cut down long before we bought our home but we did not have the tools and resources to turn the soil enough to grow directly into the earth itself.
Tony took a workshop on square foot gardening and then shared the methodology with me; we both decided it was a great fit for us. Each garden bed is divided into 16 boxes and each box has a prescribed template for growing foods of all kinds.
In the images above the first picture (left) shows a single garden bed divided into 16 boxes. The second image (right) shows templates of how to grow varying types of vegetables in each of the (16) boxes; a single broccoli in one box, 4 lettuces in one box or 16 onions in one box. Square foot gardening also uses a particular formula of (soil – compost – vermiculite – fertilizer) in each bed. This combination makes up the soil ecology of each bed that we will grow food in.
When we bought our home we began with building 8 raised beds. Over the years the number grew to 12. When we got our first flock of chickens, we added a fence. We then doubled the depth of the beds and added a hoop house over 4 of them. Its been, and continues to be, a gradual process of shaping our little urban homestead and stewarding it into a thriving ecosystem.
We also practice companion planting, crop-rotation as well as grow cover crops at the end of each season to assure that the soil health is at its best each year. Companion planting is the practice of combining plants that work well together in one bed and aids in optimal growth and “pest” control. Crop rotation is the practice of planting a different type/category of crops in a specific sequence after each grow season. For example, If you grew legumes in bed A this year, next year you should grow root veggies in bed A (see image below). Alternating growing crops in this way aids in the health and vitality of the soil. Lastly, cover crops are the practice of planting specific plants after the grow season is complete that will be the first to grow in the coming season. Cover crops nourish the soil by providing the nutrients that tend to be deprived from the soil after a season of growing. Some of my favorite cover crops to grow at the end of each season are garlic, oats, vetch, rye and clover.
We begin where we left off, reviewing what we grew in each bed during the grow season and what we planted for cover crop. Using that information some of the things we begin to think about that inform our plans are:
Being guided by these questions and others we begin to make lists of all the vegetables, herbs and flowers that come to mind. Then we take that big list and divide it into the following categories of:
Once this information is ascertained we then begin to map out a calendar or timeline for starting our seedlings. Any seeds we do not have in our existing seed storage we purchase via local sustainable organic and heirloom seed cultivators. Once all seeds are in our possession we organize the plants into order based on each seeds outlined days to maturity.Take note that some plants will have the ability to be grown multiple times within a grow season and some will grow one time during the grow season. For some plants, one seed will yield one fruit or one vegetable. For other plants one seed will yield either multiple fruits/vegetables or a plant that will be able to be cultivated and grow back fruit/vegetables. Days to maturity can be found on every seed packet along with other general information about the plant; its important to review these write-ups in entirety while planning, prior to growing.
In order to create a timeline for growing seeds you will need to know the zone you are growing in and the last frost date in your zone for the coming grow season. This information will enable you to know when you can begin to actually plant your seedlings into the Earth without risk of lingering winter weather causing harm. Seedlings and the time after transplanting seedlings is vulnerable and in need of caution, diligent tending and observation.
Ultimately, when the Earth thaws and the land awakens from its deep Winter rest we will follow its lead and adjust our plans as needed. We will also test the soil in each bed at the start of the grow season to learn the breakdown of the soil’s nutrients. This will aid us in knowing what nutrients are also needed in the bed’s soil.
Lastly, we will need to refill the beds to the top with the square foot gardening combo of compost, soil, vermiculite and fertilizer. Knowing the correct amount can be determined with the support of some home math and online calculators. We’ve also found that many garden stores have helpful staff that can aid in figuring out container/bed quantities for soil. Because of the quantity of gardens we have we order bulk soil, compost and mulch orders from our local gardening store. This typically saves us in costs and time as bulk purchases such as these are delivered to our homestead for us.
Each year we grow we are presented with varying conditions that we document in the same binder mentioned earlier in this blog post. Some challenges we face in our gardens fall into the common categories of pests, diseases and unusual weather. Other challenges we face are life related; like the loss of job(s) or having unexpected major home renovations that are a priority over our gardens in our financial budget. We have also experienced the loss of family members, work related travel and physical injury that impact our capacity to grow. Life happens and because of that we have to allow our plans/vision for the gardens to breath and be able to ebb and flow with life's fluctuations. Some of our favorite mottos to live by are:
Its my hope that this blog post supports your gardening journey. Never hesitate to reach out with comments below or questions. Feel free to also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Yoga. Food. Urban Homesteading. Herbalism. Wholeness. Teacher. Healer. Writer. Visionary. Truth Speaker. Protector. Trauma-Informed. Queer. Femme. Decolonization. Anti-Capitalism. Trekkie.