With food shortages, rising prices, and job insecurity we were really itching to grow a garden this year.
There were lots of reasons why growing a garden– this year especially– was important to us. We’ve had a garden for most of our married life (nearly 15 years!) besides the past three years. When we bought this house just over three years ago, we knew we wanted a garden, but it was something that was going to require some major work.
The majority of our property is on a serious slope. We knew that eventually we wanted to terrace part of the property and put in raised beds, but it was going to be a huge undertaking that would require hiring a bulldozer operator for the excavation. We put off the investment of time and money while we focused on other financial goals.
We still grew a little here or there or in pots, but nothing as extensive as we had done in the past or hoped to do in the future.
But a few months ago we changed our thinking.
For more garden footage check out the video version of this post or keep reading below.
Funding the Garden Project
If you got an extra $5,400 out of the blue, what would you do with it? We asked ourselves the same question when we found out we would be getting an economic impact check of that amount (2 adults + 6 children).
Our first instinct was to just to treat it as normal income and put it toward our normal goals, especially since that’s about what we stood to lose with our Airbnb vacant over the next few months. In that regard this wasn’t “extra” money; this was covering our income loss due to the coronavirus. That was partly what this stimulus was intended to do.
At the same time, all of this corona craziness and eating from food storage (we didn’t go to the grocery store for 3 months after the shelter in place order in California kicked in) had us thinking about growing as much as we can.
We decided that after paying 10% tithing (as we do with all of the money we get), the rest would go toward the garden project.
Mike made a spreadsheet to estimate the garden costs. As we brainstormed we could plug in the numbers for different scenarios (different number of beds, different soil, various building materials, etc) and decide how best to use the funds.
We quickly saw that even with the huge stimulus, the full project (with an orchard and as many raised beds as we wanted) would have to be spread over multiple years, though we could get a really good start this year.
The Garden Plan
We had all of the terracing done at once, but we will only be using parts of two terraces this year. In total we have 5 terraces in addition to ground level, so there will be 6 levels of planting. Each terrace is between 60 and 100 feet long.
We will plant fruit trees on the top two terraces (beyond the fence on the top). We are suuuuper excited about them! We hope to plant them in January or February.
The next three terraces will have various raised beds. Our native “soil” (if you can call it that) is fine for oak trees and weeds (poison oak also thrives 😂), but not for cultivating. We have rock with some dirt (instead of dirt with some rock).
At the bottom (what I’m calling “ground” level) we will plant berries. We have planted blackberries and raspberries in several other spots on our property, but we would eventually like to have it all within the giant garden fence (which in itself was a huge project).
This year we put a total of ten 4’x8′ raised beds divided between two of the terraces. Eight of them are 12″ high and two of them (that are planted with sweet potatoes) are 20″ high. Originally we planned to make them all 20″ high, but finding the right lumber dimensions was tricky. Lumber for raised bed gardens has apparently been flying off the shelf like toilet paper! We may add more height in the future as we rotate crops.
We purchased a 12 cubic yard truckload of potting soil mix from a local landscape supplier. At $47 per cubic yard, plus $80 delivery, we spent $680 on dirt alone! Having it in raised beds means it will last for years. We will amend it as needed, but this year we are using it as is. It seems light and lovely, so we’ll see how it grows!
In the future I’ll share a full garden cost breakdown. We’re still working on fencing, which is a major cost for such a large area (roughly 10,000 square feet), so we don’t have all the numbers yet, but I will say that we have exceeded the amount we received for the stimulus!
We planted lots of different things and we’re hoping it all grows!
What We Planted
Before we got our stimulus check and decided to go for the big garden plan, we went ahead and planted what we could. We found a flat spot near a pond on our property, tilled up the grass that was there and planted it with squash (pumpkins, butternuts, zucchini, banana squash, and spaghetti squash) and melons (watermelons and cantaloupe). Since the terraced hillside took several weeks to get to the point where we could plant it, we were glad that this spot got a head start.
Even with a headstart, we are behind where we could be, but we’re still hoping for a good harvest in the coming months.
We have another bed that will have cool weather things like lettuce, but it got hot too fast for it.
In addition to the squash, melons, and random other plant starts that needed somewhere to go, we have blackberries and raspberries at several different spots on our property. Eventually we’ll migrate them over to the main garden, but for now they’re spread out. Hopefully the birds will save some for us.
In the terraced garden, we have three beds of various tomatoes (8 plants per raised bed). Before the garden fence was done, about a dozen of the tomato plants were completely devoured by deer. That was a hard blow!
Thankfully we planted loads of tomato seeds back when we first decided that we needed to plant all we could this year. They had been sitting on our back patio, stunted in their tiny pots, but we were grateful to have them to replace what the deer took. If we could only plant one thing, Mike would have it be tomatoes, as homegrown tomatoes are so much better than what you get at the store. He would have happily filled every bed with tomato plants, but I made him diversify a bit.
We planted some Armenian cucumbers and some other cucumbers we got from a friend, along with some watermelon and canteloupe. They haven’t really taken off, so we’ll see what happens.
We also did a bed with squash, so we can see how it compares with our other squash patch that got a head start. It has some yellow squash that we got from a friend, some zucchini, some butternut squash, and some spaghetti squash. We put lots of seed down and planned to thin them, but right now they’re all struggling, so we’ll see.
We have three raised beds of sweet potatoes. Each bed has 12 sweet potato plants. The deer took a few, but we were able to replace them with some leftovers Mike’s dad had. We are hoping for a good sweet potato harvest because that is a favorite vegetable around here!
We have one raised bed dedicated to a “three sisters” garden where we have corn, beans, and pumpkins planted. We planted the corn really close like this guy did and have a pumpkin at either end banana squash plants on the far side. The plan is to let them vine over the edge and let the beans (which we just planted) climb up the corn. The kids are really excited about having corn on the cob and we are all having fun watching the corn grow!
We’re really excited about having homegrown fresh produce! Especially after doing our quarantine food storage challenge we can really appreciate how great it will be to have fresh produce to go along with our food storage. Knowing that there will likely be another wave of this covid19 pandemic, it will be nice to have garden produce to go along with our food storage.
If you’re planning to grow your own food this year, whether it’s a container garden on your patio or a full homestead, there are loads of really valuable resources in the Gardening and Sustainable Living Bundle! I purchased the bundle a few weeks ago and I’m really enjoying it! If you are gardener or an aspiring gardener, you should definitely check it out!
Do you have a garden? I would love to hear what you’re growing. Please share down in the comments.