Note: This post is image heavy.
Growing food, in a sense, is supposed to be simple and easy. For me, it’s my chance to be in the dirt and to get centered. It’s my escape from the chaos of parenting two high needs kids (even if they’re in the garden helping me) and working in the public sector. And, for the most part, gardening IS simple and easy, but it can take a while to see results. One change from year-to-year will take, well, a whole year, to know if the change I made was effective or not.
And so I started 2017 with a goal to feed our family of four 25%, from our own minifarm, of the produce we eat by the end of 2018. We turned half of the backyard into a space for food production with about 580 square feet.
I dug paths and flipped sod over to create frameless raised beds. I sowed seeds and transplanted seedlings. I watched my young peach and cherry trees blossom and hoped that the tomatoes would grow tall enough before the walnut tree that hovered over the garden fully leafed out and shaded out the midday sun.
Here’s a detailed account of the HPF minifarm so far, for 2017:
Creating The Frameless Beds and Swale Paths
I started with creating the whole garden on graph paper and first marking out the existing elements like fence, shed and trees. Then put in the paths and broke up the garden beds in no more than 4 food wide sections so that I would be able to reach into the beds without stepping on the soil.
Here is the garden before, as a keyhole style. We got rid of the rocks and curves. Most of the existing plants stayed in place.
Then we dug the swale paths and flipped the sod over. The purpose of this was to have the soil and the bulk organic matter still within the system (this is a permaculture process of stacking functions). The roots would be exposed to the sun and dry out, hopefully killing the grass. While the chunks of soil were held together by the roots of the old sod and kept form to the frameless beds. This other hope was that this would help prevent soil erosion when we water the beds.
The purpose of digging the paths and beds this way was to retain water. The paths would hold the water and prevent it from leaving the garden. Mulch would be added to the minifarm later.
The minfarm took two cubic yards of mulch. We lined both the paths and the beds with it. But it didn’t cover everything. I’d like to get another cubic yard or two for next year because the path and bed closest to the fence do not have anything.
To dig the paths, first I followed my graph that I created during the winter when the snow was still on the ground (I also alphabetized my seed packets; Hey! I was bored). Then I measured from existing structures like the shed and the fence (this is when I learned the back fence isn’t strait). Then I took the spade and cut the sod all the way down each side of the path and dug just at the root level of the sod. The paths look deeper because of when we added to the height of the beds with the sod chunks.
A friend had about a cubic yard of too much composted manure so we spread that around before we put the mulch on the beds.
The MiniFarm Garden Today
Here is what the minifarm garden looks like now. I still don’t have red tomatoes but I’ve harvested a few pounds of strawberries and currants. And there’s a ton of mint, chives, and herbs (sage, savory, oregeno and thyme).
This photo shows sunchokes (left) and mint, sage and dandelions (right) in the foreground. Currants are along the fence. Tomatoes in the center. Sunflowers, sweatpea, mint and chives are in the background. It’s a lot of green for mid-July but this is a journey I’m taking year to year.
What have you been planting this year? Have you experienced any challenges? Or did you change anything last year expecting it to improve your food production? Let me know in the comments.