Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Inch by Inch, Row by Row: Front-Yard Garden

I've written this post so many different ways in my mind over the past week as I've debated whether or not to move forward with a front-yard garden. 

In one version of the post, I was going to write all about how we have to be honest with ourselves about who we are and what our preferences are--no matter what other people say/think and no matter what we tell ourselves in our own romantic stories about who we want to be. 

Ever since I started this blog in 2006(?) I've wanted to garden at home. We went to great efforts to make this dream a reality when we lived in Denver, but it was an epic fail. It required constant watering, and the Colorado sun scorched it and produced only one tomato (which Hoss promptly ate). It was a both a time- and money-suck. 

But I haven't given up on the dream of creating a productive rather than just a consumptive household. Especially now that I have children, I want them to see where food comes from and play a role in bringing it from seed to table. 

But I'm busy, busy, busy. And Matt informed me that he has no interest in taking over garden care (like he did in Denver). He already does most of our yard, dog, and chicken work. 

And I'm only going to get busier as a school leader. So am I kidding myself when I think that I'll make time for gardening on a weekly basis? Am I just pushing something on myself that no longer fits my reality? Would I rather spend an hour in the garden or going to the farmer's market instead? 

But I really do want to create the kind of home where we grow things. I want to work with Henry and Tate to plan the garden each season and then bring our plan to fruition. I want to minimize the work as much as possible (hooray for drip irrigation!), but I think it's still something I want to move forward with (and if it fails we can fill the planters with something like wildflowers, right?).

When I was talking to my friend about the amount of work that she puts into her garden each week, I was inspired by the idea of partnering with my neighbor to make our front-yard garden come to life. My neighbor was thrilled by the idea of our front-yard garden when she first heard about it. She explained that she always wanted one, but her husband at the time wasn't very supportive. I'm wondering if she has any interest in working together to bring a garden to life. She's not working right now, so she has more time to devote to it. I'm going to see what she thinks about us contributing the land, soil, and plants, while she contributes more of the time. Then we can share the harvest. The thing I love most about this idea is creating even more opportunities to interact with our neighbor and work alongside each other. Henry already talks about her a ton. Maybe if all of us worked together, we could give our little patch of earth the tending it deserves. 

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E. said...

My husband and I have a community plot here in Maryland and this year, we had a really productive year. Last year was not great, and I started this year feeling really discouraged. These are some things that made it easier on us:
1.) start with transplants, or seed directly into the ground and then thin. We tried sprouting inside, but nothing got beyond just sprouting.
2.) Grow easy plants for your climate. Things like heirloom tomatoes are prone to splitting. Roma tomatoes are easy and plentiful, as well as tasty on their own or in delicious sauce. I find I don't really like growing cherry tomatoes, because picking them feels really tedious and they tend to grow huge like giant shrubbery.
3.) Grow root vegetables. There is nothing easier than growing beets. I've planted a bunch of rainbow beets every year and they do fantastically (at least here). I had some luck with carrots last year. I'm doing garlic this fall/winter and it seems pretty easy. We found that even with watering 1-2 times a week, the root vegetables did well.
4.) Opt for smaller varieties of vegetables - we did Japanese eggplants this year, and they were very productive for most of the season, and because they do not take long to grow, they did not get eaten by animals while they were growing, plus they were easy to just slice up and saute without overthinking it. We have also done mini peppers with similar benefits.

I would say that for your garden, do not bite off more than you can chew. For your first year, I would only plant 4-5 plants and see what does well. You can fuss about square foot gardening but we did not find it to be particularly helpful, so I think if you just give everything enough room (give the tomatoes a lot of space!!!) you'll be okay.

Erica said...

You should consider a community garden. We have lots of those in our area (mostly at churches) but I could see that working well in your neighborhood.

Jennifer Owen said...

I have found lettuce, radishes, and onions to give good return for very little effort. Lettuce is super easy to start from seed. You can just direct sow in the soil at the appropriate time of year and pick leaves as you need them, letting the plant continue to grow. Radishes grow so fast, and my 2.5-year-old loved picking and eating them this past spring. I am certain she never would have eaten a radish if she had not grown and picked it herself. Onions were nice because you can just pick one or two as you need them. I never managed to use a whole bag of onions before it goes bad, but for our $3 investment, I've had months worth of onions with no waste. I've also found growing herbs to be pretty easy and satisfying.

Tomatoes are nice to have, but they are kind of a PITA. If you're looking for a more minimal effort garden, I wouldn't go tomato heavy to start.

The first year or two of a new garden is really just trying things out to see what works. This was our first summer of a new garden, and several plants failed. But we learned where we need to put in more effort next year and where we can afford to slack off without damaging our results. Good luck!

Sarah @ Affirmaison said...

As you know, I love the community aspect of front yard gardens and think your idea could be the perfect solution for your family. I am sure you are already aware of this, but I would be particularly conscious of how much time your neighbor puts into the garden. After the initial startup cost of the garden, it actually takes very little money to keep it going, but the time investment is never-ending. Just go in with your eyes open and check-in regularly with the neighbor to make sure everyone feels the arrangement is equitable as time goes on. Good luck!

tatgeer said...

Don't be afraid to start small - 2 tomato plants will make a big difference on your plate but require very little maintenance. If you do them in containers, there's less set-up time and less weeding, but more watering. And as someone else said, starting with plants rather than seeds is a *huge* time saver.

Luisa said...

If your neighbor isn't into the idea at this time, maybe starting with a Babylon bag for tomatoes (not too much of a time suck, in my experience), or a small container "garden" herbs could be a nice route to take this year.

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