Welcome to my Fumbling Farmhouse garden!
Let me give you a little back story as to why I even wanted this garden in the first place. Two things happened last summer that convinced me that I wanted a garden in my future backyard.
First, I watched Down to Earth on Netflix. This was during the pandemic when J was back at work, but I was on summer break. It was one of those stupid hot days, so I was Netflixing my day away in front of the AC. I saw a show with Zac Efron in it, which is usually a good sign (I was all about that high school musical life back in the day), but it was a documentary?!? I was very confused at first, but as I continued watching it, I realized I was learning a lot about health and wellness. One of the episodes was about growing produce and it made the point that fruits and vegetables lose something like 30% of their nutrients after a day. Or maybe it was after three days? I forget the specific statistic–Google it if you want the actual numbers–but I was still shocked. I want to be getting as many good nutrients out of the food I’m eating as I can (gotta balance out with the ice cream, you know?), and if I’m not growing it myself and only buying it at the store, I’m really missing out. So I definitely felt I needed to grow a garden, it was just that at the time, I was living in a house on a small and shaded piece of property.
The second thing that happened was we went to an open house during our house hunting. I saw this house on Zillow and I was literally already so in love. It was at the top of our price range, but this was also before the real estate market in West Michigan really took off and became impossible, so we were optimistically thinking we had a chance. The home was beautiful. It was a little smaller than I would have liked, with kind of a strange bathroom situation, but the backyard was amazing. There was an above ground pool–which we didn’t love, a chicken coop–really didn’t love, and a beautiful, big garden–I was in love. The whole yard was fenced in but the garden itself had its own gated fence. It had numerous raised beds full of veggies. The paths between the beds were stone, there were a couple fruit trees, and there was even a greenhouse! It was love at first sight, I tell you. Now obviously, there were already about a million offers on the house, so we didn’t even try, but it was great for inspiration. I knew I wanted to build my own garden in our future backyard.
The home we did buy has a fantastic yard. Everyone who visits tells us to get chickens because we have so much room. I always laugh because a) I’m not dealing with cleaning up chicken poop, b) eggs are super cheap anyways and c) Duke would definitely chase and kill chickens if they were in his yard. I’m very much opposed to the chicken idea, but I was so excited for my garden! My plan is to start small and grow it throughout the years.
When it was my spring break, I drove across the state to visit my family. They own a lumberyard, so I was able to process through my plans and get the right materials. If anyone wants to follow this as a DIY, Google elsewhere. Just kidding! But here are some bare-bones details. I wanted to build four 4×4 garden beds (four feet is probably about as wide as you can make it and still be able to reach across for planting and weeding, though you could make them longer). So I got some 1x6x16s cut into four foot pieces. I wanted cedar boards because they keep away some bugs, but cedar boards are exorbitantly priced right now. So I went with Rough sawn (Pine, but one side is rough, one side is smooth, it’s a cheaper option). For each side of the boxes, I stacked two so that the boxes stand a foot tall. In each corner of the box, I grabbed a random piece of wood from our garage to drill into (a bunch of leftover building materials are all over this house). J taught me how to use his saw to cut these to about the right height, but honestly, as long as they were 8 inches-ish, it was fine.
I then used my drill (yes, my drill. I bought one a couple years back from Home Depot even though I’m partial to True Value stores. J was with me as we were dating at the time. I needed a drill to do some decorating and basic repairs around the house. I was livid when I was checking out and the employee asked if the drill was a gift for J. I immediately and politely corrected her saying it was mine. Yes, J is way better at using power tools and building stuff, but the feminist in me knows that I am still capable of figuring it out, and I was super offended at her assumption. Jeez. And yes, I know, I may be a little too salty or take things too personally, but still.) to pre-drill holes and screw in some old deck screws. This was the tough part. These old deck screws were awful and way too long, but they were also free and you can’t beat free. I’ve been told that pilot holes are the way to go, but this is The Fumbling Farmhouse y’all, I’m not on that level yet.
Within a couple hours, I got them built with just a little help from J. I then covered them with a sealant. I had a gallon of some in our basement that I used in our kitchen on the ceiling, so I’m not sure of the brand. Basically anything will work, I just wanted to protect the wood from water and weather (you can solve this problem by buying treated lumber, it’s just more expensive).
Then, based on the advice of the interwebs, I filled the boxes. I started by laying down cardboard. We had a ton of cardboard left from our move and apparently cardboard kills the grass where you’re placing your garden beds, and also decomposes nicely. At that point I could have just filled them with dirt, but we didn’t have a truck at the time and buying that much dirt from the store is expensive and feels silly. So again, on the advice of the internet, I filled them with leaves and sticks. We had a TON of yard waste from clearing out an area of our yard that the previous owner had called “the jungle”. It was so overgrown and he used to just dump leaves there. The internet said that the yard waste would be good as far as decomposing and adding nutrients to the soil–and if the internet said it, it must be true. I’m interested to see how well things grow with this approach, if I’m honest.
I then went and bought a bunch of dirt to finish filling the boxes. Now that we have a truck, I’m a little bummed, because all over facebook marketplace there are people giving away fill dirt and compost and mulch. I could have done the box filling for much cheaper if we’d done it when we had the truck. But whatever, I was working with what I had at the time.
Then, I called my grandmother and asked for advice. She suggested which veggies I should get, when I should plant things, and where to get seeds. She also suggested Invisible Fence spray to keep out those pesky rabbits. My grandma is amazing and has had a garden for about as long as I’ve known her, aka my whole life. My organized planner self really came out during this phone call, and I took pretty detailed notes in a Google Doc, because that’s just how over-the-top I sometimes get. Anyways, if any vegetables actually grow this summer, we can all thank my Grandma Hooper.
Finally, when we had our last frost (the internet said the first Saturday of May, I waited until the next Saturday). I got to planting. In retrospect, I should have been more intentional with this. I wasn’t super careful about planting in straight lines and marking my rows. So now that things are popping up, I have to go back to some photos I took to figure out what the heck I planted–but that’s ok! At least I think it’s ok…
The biggest negative of my current set up is that my garden is on the far end of my yard (the sunniest spot). This requires hauling a lot of water but oh well, I’m getting my steps in. Things are popping up, so now we wait and I guess we’ll see what the harvest brings.
Here is how I planted (based on advice from grandma and some googling of companion plants)
|Watermelon (trellis)||Watermelon (trellis)||Kale||Kale||x||Corn||Corn||Corn||Corn|
|Watermelon (trellis)||Watermelon (trellis)||Kale||Kale||x||Cucumber (trellis)||Cucumber (trellis)||Cucumber (trellis)||Cucumber (trellis)|
|Strawberries||Calendula||Calendula||Calendula||x||Summer Squash||Summer Squash||Zucchini||Zucchini|
|Strawberries||Carrots||Carrots||Carrots||x||Summer Squash||Summer Squash||Zucchini||Zucchini|
|Strawberries||Carrots||Carrots||Carrots||x||Sweet A||Sweet A||Sweet A||Sweet A|
Clearly bumbling my way through this, but also very much enjoying this fumble. Happy gardening!