Starting Your Garden

I’ve noticed lately that more and more people are leaning towards a more self-sufficient life. I don’t blame them. With the costs of food in the stores today it becomes hard to stay away from the c…

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Starting Your Garden

I’ve noticed lately that more and more people are leaning towards a more self-sufficient life. I don’t blame them. With the costs of food in the stores today it becomes hard to stay away from the cheap over processed food or eating out and people find they are not happy with the unhealthy food they are feeding their family. I can honestly say that I was one of those people 4 years ago, where it was just easier to go to McDonald’s or pop a TV dinner in the microwave. But once I had my children I knew I wanted them to eat better. However, with the prices of the food at the grocery stores and how much things like fresh produce or eggs cost I wondered how I could give them better healthier food without breaking the bank. That was when my roots kicked in and I started to remember all the gardening lessons my mother taught me and it was then I decided I would utilize what yard I had to dedicate to growing food for my family and less time mowing and weeding the yard.
With more people wanting to start doing this same thing I have found myself being asked more and more questions on gardening and how to get started feeding their families healthy food without going broke. I ran into a friend the other day at the store and we got talking. They had said they wanted to learn to garden more and remembering my posts last year of my garden progress they started picking my brain on how I do my garden and planning, so I thought that this would make a great post.
The first thing you want to think about when you start planning your garden is how much space you have to work with. Do you own lots of land where you can have as large as a garden you want and able to plant multiple types of produce in rows or do you live in an urban setting where yard space varies dramatically? Or perhaps you live in an apartment where you may only have a small patio or balcony? If you live in an urban setting how much of that yard space in in full sun? In shade? Is flat or hilly? Those that live on a large amount of land have more flexibility when it comes to planning their gardens. I have not lived on large land for a very long time so in this post I will focus on an urban setting which is what I have the experience with. I will mainly focus on small yard gardening but much of what I will talk about can also be utilized if living in an apartment.
So once you have your answer to the above questions and know how much space you have to work with then the next thing to decides is do you want to dig in the ground to make a garden? Or would you rather garden in a raised bed or two and some containers? I find that if you rent the best choice is the raised beds or containers because for 1) you will not need to get permission from your landlord and 2) you are not tearing up their yard. I chose the raised bed and container option so that when we move I just have to move the dirt and can take my containers and bed with me to my new place.


Next you want to purchase your seeds. I would recommend going with heirloom varieties for they are non GMO and you can save the seeds from the plants which means that the plants your family likes you will never have to buy the seeds again because you can save them every year. There are many companies that sell heirloom seeds like Baker Creek Seeds, Seed Saver Exchange, Burgess and you can even find heirloom seeds on Etsy. If you have already tried planting a few plants, then you only need to buy the seeds you don’t have.IMG_7371
Once I know the space I have to work with I then take a piece of graph paper and I draw out my garden space. I use a larger type of graph paper and found some real great ones in a garden planner from  Frugal Living. Take your graph paper and trace out your garden space. If you have a raised bed, then use one square for one foot. Also draw in any planters, buckets, or containers you are wanting to grow in so that you know how many containers you will need to either buy or build to fit your garden idea and start acquiring those containers now for you will need to drill drainage holes in most of them.
Now that the bare garden is drawn out on the graph paper sit down and make a list of all the plants you want to grow. Look though the seed catalogs from the companies listed above and “star” the plants you would love to grow. *Note: If you plan to square foot garden you may want to research that a bit for some plants do better at square foot gardening then others. Also take into consideration your location. How long is your growing season? How cold are your winters? Look into finding your first frost date and last frost date for those dates are important and will give you an idea how long your growing season is so you can plan better and make sure you do not plant something that will bolt or die before it produces. Victory Seeds is a great site to find your frost dates Once you have your plants picked out from the catalogs, then it’s time to actually plan the garden. Pick the plants that you starred in your catalog, and read its description. Pay attention to how many days it takes before you can harvest, and if it requires certain light or growing conditions. Write down a list of all the plants that fit these criteria on a piece of paper. Now look at your graph and write in the name of the plant into which container it will do best in. I also practice companion planting which is planting the plants next to their “buddies” not “enemies” so that they will thrive more from being in good company (yeah sounds silly but it does work). Don’t worry if your graph looks sloppy, you will most likely change it up a few times.

Once you have your final hand drawn plan you can go make a nicer one using a gardening planner found on many of the gardening sites. I use both the planner at Gardener’s Supply as well as the one on the Old Farmer’s Almanac site. IMG_7368
Some great plants to be planted in containers are tomatoes, peppers, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, potatoes, heck really from what I am finding out that there is a good chance anything can grow in a container as long as the container fits its root length and wide enough to hold the mature plant. Last year my large containers held peppers, carrots, dill, strawberries and my raised bed had zucchini, yellow squash, onions, carrots, beans, peas and tons of leaf type plants.
Set your plan aside for the day and go back to it tomorrow to see if you are pleased with it. Start small your first year gardening so that you do not get overwhelmed. Plant vegetables that are easy to grow like tomatoes, beans, peas, carrots.
Once you are comfortable with how your garden plan is go ahead and order your seeds so that you can start the seeds in seed starter right away (another blog post to come).

If you still have snow on the ground set up a seed starting station in your house preferably in front of a south facing window but if like me, you do not have a front facing window then consider getting either a starting station or build one with a shelving unit and some florescent lights. We purchase a three shelf started kit from Gardener’s Supply found here. Once the snow is melted but chance of frost is still there go ahead and start prepping your containers by either building the frame of your raised bed (perhaps another blog post), or by drilling drainage holes in your containers and start buying your soil you will be using. That way your garden area is almost ready to go when your seedlings are big enough.
Some other tips or suggestions that I myself do are;
I add compost to my beds and containers to help the plants out and give them nutrients.
I add large rocks to the containers so that the water can drain out without the soil compacting down.
Another note is keep a binder with the layout of your garden each year and a journal on how well your garden did or didn’t this will help you plan for the following years by either changing the type of plant, pest control, bigger containers or a different way to grow the plant and also helps by allowing you to remember what was planted where so you can practice succession planting by rotating the types of plants into different plots or containers. Frugal Living mentioned above has an excellent garden planner that I use.

Busy yet not.

So made the hard decision to drop classes this semester to recharge my batteries and reevaluate my degree. I will be going to talk to advisor about switching my degree to an associates so I can decide further education once we figure out where we want to move. Of course this means that I have more time on my hands. 

I’ve managed to get a lot of de cluttering of the house done, crocheted both Zoey and I ear warmers, and started on a granny square apron to wear around the house.  

 
The girls are making me so proud with the egg laying! Got 5 yesterday including my first green egg from twilight sparkle. Today we only had three so hoping for more tomorrow.  

   
I planted a few more seeds today after receiving my first month seeds from urban organic gardeners. We also have some on the seeds we planted last week starting to sprout.  

 
Had some friends come over for dinner and drinks Saturday and ignore the super bowl to crochet a lil more. Yeah I’m missing school just a tad bit.

Holy Snowness Batman!!

WOW!!! What a week. First off let me explain the absence. I guess you can say I am part bear. Yes, I am a bigger girl, Yes, you mess with my cubs I will tear you up. No I am not a hairy beast only thinking of food (ok can’t fully say that since when winter hits hubby is snuggled up to some unshaved legs). However, none of those are the reasons I say I am part bear. I say that because when that first snowfall comes it takes a work of the gods to get me out of the house. I am perfectly content staying indoors with the curtains shut, working on projects and pretending that it’s not a white sheet of nasty crap.
Why am I bringing this aspect of me up you ask? Well because if you follow the weather then you will know that the Rockies got crapped on by Jack Frost. I live in Colorado Springs and on Friday my hubby told me that I was going to be a cranky mama. When I asked why he said the dreaded “S” word. I didn’t believe him so checked the weather and it said winter advisory. Yeah someone needs to fire the weather guy. Pat had staff duty Saturday so I texted him and said that if it started snowing before I had to pick him up on Sunday he was taking a cab. Yep you guessed it…He took a cab.

I was thinking we would at most get maybe 5 inches of snow…IT DID NOT STOP!!!! So Sunday he took Zoey to see Star Wars and Viktor and I stayed home. I got on my cold weather gear and tromped out to the coop, gathered the eggs said hi to the girls and came back inside. I proceeded with doing anything I could to distract me from the snow.

I had been promising Zoey that I would make her cinnamon apples, so I dug out the dehydrator and set it up on the table, washed about 10 apples, grabbed the mandolin slicer and went to town slicing the apples (I so need to get me an apple corer). I loaded the trays up with apple slices and sprinkled a generous amount of cinnamon on them and kicked the thing on medium and walked away. Hours later she had her nice apple slices, which by the way were gone in a day and a half. IMG_7237

While the apples were drying I decided it was time to try my hand at growing a Scoby for homemade Kombucha. That means I took again to trusty Pinterest and searched how to grow a scoby. I added water to the pot and once it was boiling I took it off and put 4 green tea bags in the water to seep. The once cool I took out the bags and poured the tea into my gallon jar. I then added a bottle of original store bought kombucha to it and gave it a gentle stir before placing a few layers of paper towel over it and secured it with some rubber bands. It said to leave it in a nice spot undisturbed. We I got young kids, they disturb everything! So it was placed in our bedroom on the top shelf of the five shelf bookcase.

Monday comes along and the whole city is shut down. No school, no work, thankfully we had food and milk already here. We pretty much spent the day watching TV and drinking some jager. Hey it was snowing what else was there to do!

Here comes Tuesday…Yep you guessed it! STILL SNOWING!!!! Still no school, still no work, still stuck inside. Glad we stocked up on some booze. IMG_7254

Finally, the stow stopped late Tuesday afternoon. Frigidly cold our total snowfall was 17’’! I cannot remember ever having that much snow. Course the city does not plow the side roads so it was off roading for Pat to go get us cigs and some beer. I grabbed the mason jar and started shaking some butter…Wow that is tedious and I pinched a nerve in my left arm (my dominant) so Pat went on Amazon and bought me a butter churner.

We go to bed early and wake up Wednesday to him having a delay for work and still no school. We spent the day setting up the new seed starter area and the kids and I planted some of our seeds. We ended up repotting the sage and cleaning out the dead parts of the chocolate mint. We then planted red and yellow onions, leeks, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, spinach and kale. Tried to tell Zoey it will take a bit before we see sprouts but she keeps checking every couple of hours. Once those were made I finished finalizing the garden and my layouts. Once printed and in my garden binder, I had to print Zoey her own copy because she said she had to check it. So glad she is enthused about gardening.

Later that day I was surprised a day early by the arrival of a package from my dear friend Victoria over at Warpedhearthomestead! I knew she was planning to send me some seeds of some of the plants I wanted to grow but haven’t acquired yet, but she also sent a big bunch of yarn. I took to that yarn right away! I made myself a blue ear warmer and then was ordered to make Zoey a red one. Then I got started on some granny squares for an apron. It’s awesome!

Stay tuned for the pattern for the cutest, customizable apron in tomorrow’s blog as well as making a granny square and how to give cushion for hand relief to your crochet hooks. If in any of my blogs you want instructions or a recipe or even just more information please leave me a comment.

Oh how I hate algebra

Friday was pretty uneventful day. Took the hubby to work and then got the kids fed before pouring myself a cup of coffee and started on my algebra homework. I absolutely hate math! Like more than anything. This is my third attempt to achieve a C or I’m changing my major. So really all I accomplished today was finishing this week’s math homework, fetched an egg from the coop, and managed to get two bunches of parsely in the dehydrator since I was extremely low on my dried parsley. Like I said an uneventful day of just homework. Now time for dinner.

 

Timer On, Timer Off, First Egg, Butter and Salad in Jars

This semester’s schedule is crazy! After last semester I realized I needed to balance both studying and housekeeping. I noticed that I was studying so much that my house always seemed messy and I could not keep up with any of the cleaning. I decided to change my ways this semester so that I can better manage life. How I figured I would do this is a “wax on, wax off” type of way. Depending on when I wake up which some days are at 5am and some at 8am, I set a timer on my phone for an hour. I grab my coffee and during that hour I study. When the timer goes off I reset it and spend an hour doing house chores, budgeting, or chores outside. Then timer goes off again, it’s again reset and I go back to an hour of studying. The only time this timer sequence doesn’t happen is when I am out doing errands. I just wanted to give you this knowledge so that if you see a blog and there are tons of different things going on it (as this one will do) that is why.

I woke up this morning and made my coffee. Did an hour of Anatomy and Physiology reading and then went out since it was going to be a nice day to let the girls run the yard. I knew I would be cleaning the coop today and it’s easier to do when they are not locked in the run. I then dumped some vegetable scraps in the compost bin and even though I was not expecting anything I decided to check the nesting boxes. I looked in two and it only held the fake eggs, so then looked on the other side. To my ecstatic delight there was our first egg sitting there next to the fake one.

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I had noticed one of the Buff Orpingtons and the Plymouth Rock squatting earlier in the week but was not expecting this surprise. I brought the egg inside so excited to show my daughter our first egg. She held it so gently with a big smile on her face.

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This of course meant for sure I had to clean the coop today so after the Hubby took Zoey to preschool and came home and had lunch I dropped him back off at work and went to Big R. We need a new pitchfork to turn the compost and we also needed feed. I spent a lot more than I wanted but it was for needed things like a new pair of jeans (tore my second pair a few weeks ago), and some rain/garden boots for myself and for Viktor though he did not like them because they were not Spiderman. We then ran to Walmart to get some household items that were needed and I found the perfect Kombucha Brewer. We went and picked Zoey up from school and came home. Zoey saw the black rain boots and she had to try them on. I tried telling her they were Viktor’s and I would get her a girly pair but she wanted the black pair that Viktor didn’t like. We put our new boots on and headed out to the coop. She used the rake and raked piles of the scattered straw and compost so that I could put the piles in the compost bin. It sure was interesting trying to drag out the drop trays with now three squatting hens squatting at my feet clucking. But at least they now have a clean coop!

Afterwards we took our boots off and I had to change the pants covered with mud and well we will just call it mud. I then reset the timer and sat down to some more Anatomy reading. Fast forward and hour and it was time to reset. I then prepared my tofu and put it in the oven so that I could prep my salads for this coming week. IMG_7224While the tofu was baking I finished cutting up the rest of the vegetables and got the jars ready. Once the tofu was done and cooled I started getting the salads put together and in the fridge. IMG_7225The salads contained homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette, tofu, green/orange peppers, red onions, tomatoes, carrots, baby Bella mushrooms, hard-boiled egg, roasted chickpeas and lettuce. IMG_7229

As I was putting them in the fridge I her the clucking at the back door. Pinkie Pie was there calling to me and I looked out to find Stir-fry using my flower pot as a dust bath. Going to need to figure out a way to block off the whole side of the chicken area so they stay out of the container gardens.

Pat got home and started dinner and asked if we had any butter. I then remembered I forgot to make some to quickly grabbed the heavy whipping cream, and a quart jar and got my upper arm workout in. IMG_7230 Dinner is done, dishes are done and as I sit down to do more homework, Zoey wants to snuggle so I will be making a fresh pot of coffee and pulling a late nighter study session tonight.

How it all started

It’s funny how things can change within 10 years. If you would have asked me back in 2006 if I would homestead, I would have looked at you like you were speaking a foreign language. But now that I reflect back I realize that I have been homesteading all along.

As a young child we were raised living in cabins or on a farm eating only what my mother grew or my father hunted, trapped or fished. We didn’t know what chicken, beef, or even pork was. We knew beaver, rattlesnake and snapping turtle. I don’t remember much of those days for I was so young. After life threw some curve balls, we ended up living in towns and cities but I always remember no matter where we were my mother had a garden and canned the food she grew.

My mother’s second marriage had us again moving across country to a farm in Wisconsin. Well at that point it wasn’t much of a farm but was a lot of land. My stepfather hunted for venison and we still had a very large garden. This then lead to fencing off most of the grass land and acquiring horses and two calves (sadly they got rid of the calves when my brother died since they were his). We also bred rabbits for meat. I was an unruly teenager and at that time was not happy with my parents for moving me away from my friends and I didn’t fully appreciate the farm life.

It wasn’t until I gave birth to my first child that I started thinking of living somewhere rural away from the busy streets and neighbors houses so dang close. I wanted my children to grow up were they could run and play without me having to worry about them getting hit by a car or kidnapped. I wanted to make sure I knew what was in the food I was feeding them and wanted them to have home-raised or grown food. Sadly, my husband was still active duty military so moving away from the city just was not feasible.

In 2015 my husband left for his second deployment and I was in college as a full time student. My stress level and anxiety was so high and with me missing my husband and best friend I decided I was going to take the summer off of school and spend it with my children. But what was I to do to pass the time if I was not constantly studying? Then one night while I could not sleep I hopped over on Pinterest and started browsing. After I got bored with that I jumped on Instagram and saw a picture my dear friend Victoria posted of her garden. Hey, I thought to myself. Why not start a garden? I remember the old days when my mother would be out on her knees weeding her garden and talking to her plants while us kids were sneaking a ripe cherry tomato or a radish. We rented our home so I did not want to start digging up the ground and thought about how I could grow more than my container herb plants. I hopped back onto Pinterest and searched the gardening boards.

Though I should have started seeds indoors I went to Home Depot and bought the soil and wood and on a warm late spring day built myself a 4×8 raised bed as well as filled up some large container pots with soil. IMG_5117

I then bought some seeds and started plants and got them in. We had so many hail storms at first I had to replant the seeds multiple times and then came the grasshoppers which ate most of the remaining plants. I was getting discouraged that my garden would not yield the food I wanted and supplemented by going to the Farmer’s market every Saturday.

That’s when Vikki mentioned chickens to me in a phone conversation. It took a little persuading for me to get on board. I bought a coop that was way too big and was unable to get it in the backyard so ended up selling it. I bought a brooder and went to the farm store in July and bought 10 chicks. IMG_6271

While they were growing in the brooder I bought a coop kit and put it together with my 3-year-old and then built a makeshift run that the chickens could go in when we were home. IMG_6592

That coop turned out to be crap and fell apart in 2 months. I didn’t know what to do as the chickens were in the coop until on a chicken site someone mentioned a plastic coop. I went to the site and found this awesome coop made from the same material as a child’s play house. It was so easy to put together and light enough to move. Our chickens still haven’t started laying but are so happy to be in a bigger home and I know this year they will take care of the bugs so my garden can thrive. IMG_6881

Once the husband is out of the army we plan to buy land so that our dream of a true homestead can come true. Until then I will continue to grow my urban homestead and be as self-sufficient as we can in the bustle of the military town we live in. The garden is already planned (which will be another blog), and my sweet hubby bought me a new seed starting unit to start my seeds indoors with the help of artificial light. We finished making the raised bed covers though they are big and bulky and not the prettiest but will protect the garden from the weather and the chickens. IMG_6654

Plans to make another 4×4 bed is in the works and more seeds are marked to buy. It’s going to be rough with this semester but I am determined to grow our produce and take care of the chickens. I dream of the day where I can have a bigger garden and more animals and strive to get there very soon.

Follow me as my journey with homesteading and living self-sufficiently continues and learn with me or from the mistakes I am sure we will make as I go back to my roots and begin to live the life my parents gave me and I took for granted. IMG_6535