We’ve been working really hard in the garden this year. Last year, deciding to have a less demanding travel schedule for work moving forward, we were already making plans to expand our garden. For the past few months, we’ve been busy building raised beds and getting all the starts in the ground. We got an incredible deal on some thick cedar boards, and couldn’t pass it up. Like so many, money has been tighter than usual for our family, with many of our income sources drying up during everything going on this year, but any extra we can spare has been going to the garden. We’ve built four new garden beds this year (plus a tiny one with remnants), and would like to build many more. We have limited garden space here, but we will squeeze in more places to grow food anywhere we can fit!
Something that delights us to no end about the raised beds we’ve been making is that they are mole-proof! We stapled hardware cloth on the bottom of each of the new garden beds we made, so no moles will be getting through to dig around the roots of all our plants. The mole situation in our yard is so bad (I’ve written about this here many times before- they’ve even killed large fruit trees and berry bushes) that the only way we can grow a garden here is by building protected raised beds with hardware cloth underneath, putting plants in the ground in mesh planting bags (for things like berry bushes etc., but that gets spendy fast!), or planting in pots. People tell us all the time how to trap or deter them, but honestly- they just keep coming. The best solution we’ve found is to keep them out of the places we grow a garden altogether. The raised beds with hardware cloth are an investment, but we know they’ll be paying for themselves many times over with all the food we can grow in them.
Jeff has been growing plants in pots for many gardening seasons now. It’s a good option money-wise because Jeff has collected so many pots over the years at garage sales etc., that we have a lot of them available to us, plus they don’t require as much soil. Some plants do really well grown in pots, lettuce for example- we’ve had a lot of success growing it in pots (although we need to use shade cloth for it sometimes), but other plants don’t like to have their roots constricted and can be challenging to grow in pots. The best solution for that Jeff has found is to drill extra holes (about 3/4″) all around the pots and bury them in the ground. It makes for a lot more work, but the roots can spread out a little more through the holes, yet still have the main root system protected from the moles. By doing that, we can grow a huge 6 foot seeding kale plant in a one gallon pot, as one example. Also, pots sitting on the ground dry out so quickly, burying them keeps the moisture in longer.
So, we’ve found planting in pots to be an affordable option to protect our plants from moles. The downsides to planting in pots besides more work, more frequent watering required, and constricted space for the roots, is that it doesn’t make for the most picturesque garden, but the benefits of homegrown food and saving lots of money on the grocery bill far outweigh that for us! That being said, this spring I have absolutely loved seeing Jeff’s joy over being able to plant his precious starts into the raised beds we built, with so much space to stretch out. He’s also planted seeds directly in the beds, and how wonderful it is to see the plants grow so quickly with all that room! It has felt like a luxury, almost surreal, each time we do it. We’re still growing a lot of plants in pots this year, but we’re grateful to have more options for the plants that need more space.
Something we do to grow more food in the space we have available, is to grow vertically. Do any of you do this in your gardens? Besides being busy building raised beds and getting everything planted, Jeff has also been making trellises. We grow bamboo here, and this year our family harvested nearly all of it. It grows so quickly- such a great renewable resource- and makes for a strong building material for trellises. It feels really good to be utilizing what grows right here on the land. You can see in the pictures the green bamboo that was just harvested and hasn’t cured yet, and the brown bamboo that is already cured. In one of the pictures above, I showed one of the trellises he built along one of our new raised beds (and to the left of that raised bed is the entrance to a slide that goes down the hill to the lower part of our yard, in case you were wondering what that is.) It was amazing how quickly the runner beans started climbing the trellis, soon after Jeff put them in the ground. We also grow cucumbers vertically every year, and plan to grow winter squash vertically this year as well.
Speaking of growing vertically, we enjoyed this video on vertical gardening and thought you might find it inspiring too. (We just discovered Roots and Refuge Farm’s youtube channel recently, and they have lots of inspiring gardening/homesteading videos!) We really want to make some arches for garden trellises, like in that video, with cattle panels/hog panels, but our challenge is how to transport the long panels since we have a truck canopy on the back of our truck. (We need to keep our truck canopy on until we transport some animals coming up here, and it’s much, much too heavy to take on and off. We got it for a good deal on craigslist years back, but we’d love to get a lightweight one in the future- is there such a thing?- so we could have the option of easily removing it when we need to. We’ve especially wanted that this spring for hauling soil to fill the raised beds!) There are tricks for how to bring the long panels home in your truck, but we don’t know of a solution how to do it with a truck canopy on, do you?
B has his own garden this year, like in years past, and it makes me smile every time I hear him chatting on the phone with his grandparents listing off all the things he’s growing. I helped him weed it, and Jeff helped him plant it. It’s fun to see him get a little more confident in the garden each year, and see him planting things by himself. I feel the same way, I get a little more comfortable each year too. I didn’t grow up gardening, I’ve learned about gardening from Jeff who has had a garden since he was eight years old. I won’t divulge how old he is exactly (only joking, he doesn’t care), but he’s been gardening for a long time now. Jeff lives and breathes the garden, it’s his passion. He wakes up early and heads out in the morning to get started out there right away, and spends all the time he can out there. I love when B and I are able to join him after we wrap up things inside and we all work in the garden as a family. B has wanted to spend every waking hour outside since he could walk, so the more time we spend in the garden the happier he is.
We’ve had a rainy spring here in western Oregon. A really rainy spring. Despite the rain, our family has still been getting out there and getting our hands in the soil. We’ve had days of working in the rain until it poured so hard we had to take cover, and then headed back out when the rain lightened again. On the one hand, with our dry summers here it sure is nice to have plenty of rain (and to have our garden watered for us, since watering the garden is quite time consuming), but on the other hand our garden is seriously ready for some sunshine! It’s been getting pummeled (as I write this, it’s been a downpour outside like it’s the middle of winter.)
Not only the garden, we’re feeling ready for some sunshine too. I was so excited to start hanging the laundry out on the line on sunny days and Jeff started making daily sun tea, but that felt like it passed much too quickly. Yesterday was so cold and rainy, we had a fire in the woodstove- in the middle of June. The slugs have been out in record numbers this year, due to all the rain, and we started paying B a nickel for each slug he caught in the garden. We like to work outside in the garden in the evenings, but the rain has made for more mosquitoes than usual too. Do any of you have any favorite natural mosquito repellents you use or recipes you feel like sharing?
Jeff and I have felt a bit overwhelmed this year as we tackle the many projects that need to be done here. Years and years of trying to squeeze in homesteading on top of working for ourselves (which has always felt like more than a full time job) and then adding traveling for work to the mix where when we were home we were always preparing to leave again… has made for many, many projects that needed doing on the land, being set aside for the time to come when we could get to them. Now that we are home, we feel like we’re facing many years’ worth of work that all needs doing right now. It’s overwhelming, yes, (and some days we wish we had a crew here), but it also feels really, really good with each and every project that we complete here. So, so good. We’ve had many plant starts to get in the ground (and filling those raised beds to prepare for planting is a big job) and have felt a time crunch with that, but I’m happy to see that slowly but surely the garden is settling into place.
I’m not sharing any of that to complain. Jeff and I feel so very grateful for this life, truly. (Jeff’s dream for his retirement has always been to spend his days gardening and woodworking… spending our days at home working and homesteading is a dream come true for us.) I just want to share honestly that it’s a lot of work and that sometimes it feels overwhelming with so much to do, yet we wouldn’t trade it! To have a little piece of land to call home and a space to garden is a blessing that I do not take for granted. I have more I want to share about growing food with limited space, but I’ll need to save that for another post because this is already quite long. For now, here is a peek at some of what we’ve been up to in our rainy spring garden. All the time spent in the garden has meant not as much time keeping up in the house, so this rainy week I’ve got a messy house to get back in order. Have any of you been busy in your gardens lately? Let me know what you’ve been up to if you feel like sharing!
P.S. Jeff’s been letting lots of kale go to seed, I thought it looked so pretty covered in raindrops. He saves tons of kale seed every year. What do we do with it all? We save it for growing microgreens.