The most magical season for our yardstead is spring. Now that everything is in full bloom in Texas, and before the chiggers and mosquitos realize how nice and warm it’s getting, it’s time to get out in the yarden and plant all of those yummy veggies and fruits for harvesting this summer. What do you have growing or planned for your yarden this year?
Before we dig into what’s growing at my house, I want to start this post off with a disclaimer:
I am by no means an expert at growing my own food. I’m probably somewhere between a novice and intermediate level yardsteader at best (and that’s only because I lived next to my great-grandmother for three years in my twenties and got to take a lot of directions from her), and pretty much 50% of everything I plant myself still dies an untimely death that makes me feel really bad about myself for a short spell. So please keep in mind, if you’re debating whether or not your thumb is green enough for these activities, we are truly in this together. I just happen to document my efforts.
So how do we (you & I) grow from typical grocery-store-shopping-urban-home-dwellers to more self-sufficent-sustainable-satisfied-yardsteaders? How do we go from kind of sucking at all of this stuff to one day becoming sustainably self-sufficient on a .5 acre of land or less? Well for starters, we (you & I) don’t learn it all overnight. We will read a lot, and, most importantly, play at doing it badly, year after year, from which spot of the yard we choose to grow our yarden, what we plant, how we water, how we prepare what we cultivate, how we share what we create, etc… And each year, we will get a little bit better, and suck a little bit less, than the year before. RESILIENCE at it’s finest!
And what a great cause to practice failing at annually, right? Headlines every day remind us that it is more important than ever before to “know” our food and ensure that it’s not causing us to grow extra limbs and eyes or making us, our kids and future grandkids very sick. Headlines like the one I read yesterday morning for instance, informing me that a chemical and pharmaceutical giant now controls over 25% of the food system’s seed and pesticide market, make me happy I’m starting this learning process now instead of later.
The good news is that regardless of how proficient we end up, all of us urban dwellers can fairly easily become more self-sufficient when it comes to the food we eat, without a lot of extra expense, and with a considerable amount of satisfaction and fun to gain, from however much or little effort we can or want to offer. And we can opt out wherever possible of buying those foods we know have been compromised for profit at the cost of collective health.
With all that in the background of our minds, let’s hop into my family’s yardstead and see what’s growing in 2018:
We have our herb bed from last year that we created with cinder blocks and a squirrel cover (that was formerly our baby chick run last year – it’s always fun to see how things get repurposed on the yardstead with different projects that come up) where we are growing our favorites: basil, thyme, sage, oregano, lemon balm and rosemary. You can see this picture from last year has a few other veggies in it, but it will give you the basic design idea.
And for a new adventure, we started a self-watering 5-gallon bucket vegetable yarden that I am super excited about. My great uncle Roger used to grow tomatoes year round in 5 gallon buckets on his front porch, so this project called out to me for reasons of nostalgia and convenience!
I won’t go into the creation process for the self-watering container, because it is already detailed very nicely here by Learn and Grow. But do check it out and see if it would work well for your home space. And just to give a shout out to their work, something I love about this site is that they offer a free curriculum to go with this project for kids in grades K-12, which is music to this homeschooling mama’s ears!
The curriculum and site do a great job reminding us all that food security is our most valuable resource to protect – something that’s easy to forget with huge grocery stores in every neighborhood and grocery delivery services available in pretty much every urban area right now (Side note confession: Grocery delivery services are my favorite thing in the entire world right now, so I’m not knocking it, just acknowledging it).
With all the modern day conveniences, it’s easy to disconnect from our food quickly and forget how vulnerable we become as a species when we entrust those most interested in profit with our most important sources for survival – water and food. The 5 gallon bucket system makes it possible to grow your own food pretty much anywhere you can find 6 hours of sunlight, regardless of your home environment or size of yard.
Something I will note about the 5-gallon bucket garden is to be sure and find food grade buckets for this project. Even though plastic is a huge bummer for the environment, food grade will at least help you avoid some hormone disruptors like BPA being added to your yarden soil. It’s also a great opportunity for reuse, so the plastic that’s already been produced has a second life and purpose. Check out craigslist and restaurant suppliers in your area to find free ones. This blogger gives some good tips about how to do that: http://www.solarsurvivors.com/free-5-gallon-buckets-with-lids/
It’s easier than you might think to find buckets companies are tossing. My kids and I just picked up 12 free food grade buckets today from a local dressing and marinade business in town. From there, we drill weep and draining holes, add a small larger drain, a short piece of pvc, soil and plants, and voila! Our garden output just doubled in size.
My two kids and I had no problem putting this project together on our own, and it was a fun excuse for them to use power tools. We can’t wait to see what happens in the buckets with the tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow squash, and cantaloupe (really curious about this one, as my six year old picked it out and I have no idea what I’m doing with it) as the season progresses.
I am also really excited about the 5 gallon bucket design for Texas summers. In Central Texas, when there are usually long stretches of 100F+ temperatures, water is a valuable and expensive resource. Also, nobody likes standing in that heat to water their veggies each day by hand. In fact, it helps the water go much further with much less. One youtube demo for these buckets said that a single watering lasted his plants two weeks. And last, if the heat starts burning our veggies later in summer, the bucket containers will be easily moved to partial shade in other areas of the yard.
Something I did NOT do on my own was build my new raised bed in one of the few areas of our yard that doesn’t have tree cover and does have full sun exposure. My husband is super handy, and has a mind over matter ability to move really heavy things that are twice to thrice his size. For this project he moved about a million buckets of dirt from a former fountain / koi pond in our yard (next project!) and transferred it along with some old logs (*note that some tree species are not ideal for this for various reasons) to build a raised bed for me to plant additional veggies.
Along with the bed, it was important that we have some kind of cover for any veggies or food planted. We have some tenacious squirrels in our yarden who never fail to uproot or rob anything I intentionally put in the ground or in a pot. I’ve tried stalking them round the clock with a foam dart nerf gun in year’s past (don’t worry, I’m not a good shot) to keep them out of my garden, and I have heard from more experienced gardeners that I should give up and just plant enough for the squirrels to enjoy too, but I have a hard time believing we’d have anything left with this strategy based on what I’ve seen to date. We have a small city of these dudes living amongst us. So, with that in mind we repurposed a pullet run that we (aka husband) built last year. It’s serving as a temporary cover to protect the plants, with the (my) goal of (my husband) making an enclosure for the raised bed in the coming weeks ahead.
In the raised bed this year we have more cucumber, squash and tomatoes as well as butternut squash seeds. We’ll figure out some kind of a drip system for water that we don’t have in place yet, but in the meantime I’m watering daily with a can.
A quick word about seeds: When buying seeds for your yarden, we always go for non-GMO (who wants pesticide built into their food?), organic or heirloom varieties. These are usually easy to find at a local plant nursery. If you want to read more about why to purchase non GMO, heirloom, organic seeds, here’s a place you can begin.
In other news on the yardstead, the pecan trees have suddenly started showing some leaves, and this year ought to be a big one for them, since last year was a dormant year. They tend to produce every other year. We’ll see if we end up with upwards of 180 pounds again! They made great Christmas presents and inspired us to get a deep freeze off craigslist last year, which continues to prove very useful for other food storage as well.
Our fig tree leaves look gorgeous and already have a lovely fruity smell. I’m excited to make preserves again early summer and also loquat preserves from our yard again in the next couple of months. We also have flowers on our dewberry bramble for the first time too! We’ll probably just have a few berries to nibble this year, but hopefully dewberry jelly is on the horizon soon. We all have our eyes peeled for the mustang grapes to forage on hiking trails around us in the month ahead.
And we are having fun trying to outsmart our first broody hen, who seems to think her life’s mission is to have baby chicks and guard the eggs and nesting box. This involves moving her from her nesting box to her roost at night and doing crazy things we read on google (like swapping eggs for bags of ice) to help calm those maternal hormones.
We are still watching our hawk family’s nest in the granddaddy pecan tree, and also happy to see a titmouse couple nesting in one of our bird houses.
Let me know what you’ve got going in your yarden this spring! This time of year is so happy and hopeful and should be shared.
If you’d like support creating your own rituals, yardsteading and nature connection practices, check out The Handmade Life! There I offer nature-based coaching sessions, share herbal traditions, handcrafted goods, DIY workshops and herbal consultations.