Years before our homestead dreams became a reality, I took an interest in gardening. Our first garden was a simple little raised bed planted in the backyard of the parsonage, when Josh was in his first senior pastor position. That first garden wasn't all that successful, but it was a learning experience. We planted just a few basics - tomatoes, squash, and some cucumbers.
Fast forward a few years... we moved to the coast as Josh started a new calling as a church planter. We mostly lived in rental houses at that point and gardening just wasn't high on the priority list. I still looked longingly at the gardens we would pass on the drive back home to visit family.
Then in 2013, we moved backed to western NC and put down roots. We bought my grandparents' old house right in the middle of a neighborhood. Even though the neighbors looked at us like we were crazy, we tilled up some ground and planted our second garden. The first year was a total disaster! The ground was red clay and nothing would grow. The next year, we tried again and got slightly better results. We were able to harvest some tomatoes and green beans, even a few slightly sad looking okra. It wasn't much, but it was a start. Each year got a little better.
A few more years drifted by and our children were getting older. Instead of tiny toddlers, now we had preteens. Josh and I started to think about life skills that we really wanted them to gain. In a world that felt increasingly uncertain, we longed for a more sustainable lifestyle. We wanted to grow our own food, raise chickens, and just pursue a purposeful life that didn't depend on constant trips to the supermarket to feed our growing kids.
At the same time, Josh and I were more and more convinced that we wanted to find a way to live debt-free. We wanted out from under a mortgage. When we bought my grandparents' house, it was in need of some significant repair and updating. We had spent years working on it a little at a time - new heat pump, new plumbing, updated electric, new kitchen. In 2019, we finally took the jump and put it on the market.
Our plan was to buy some land near family and build a little house, but nothing came together. We couldn't find land in the area we wanted, we couldn't find the house plan we were looking for, and it just didn't feel right. One night, my in-laws came over and the 6 of us gathered at the dining room table. We went around the table and talked about what we truly wanted in this "homestead" we had been dreaming of for years. We prayed very specifically for each of those things.
Nearly instantly, God answered our prayers. Josh found a property in foreclosure. To put it bluntly, it was a dump. The house itself was in no condition to move in. The land was overgrown with weeds, thorns, and wild blackberry bushes that were out of control. But there was a peaceful creek down at the border and the land was laid out perfectly to have some chickens and goats, a huge garden, and even the fruit orchard that Josh was particularly interested in starting.
So we jumped on the opportunity and went through the necessary steps to bid at the auction. After a few anxious hours and several bids back and forth with competing buyers, the property was ours! In another post, I'll share the long process it took to get the house move-in ready. It was a nightmare to put it lightly. But here we are - all moved in and ready to garden!
For this first year, we decided to build raised bed gardens. While the back field will eventually be the perfect place to plant, it is large and we decided we better start a little smaller since we are still learning. Plus, we've spotted 4-5 deer back there multiple times and I worried that they would eat anything we planted before we got close to enjoying a harvest.
We decided to spend this year working the land, tilling it up, working in some compost, and figuring out some fencing before we pour a ton of money and time into planting on a large scale. We researched raised bed gardens and Josh happened to have some wood leftover from the house remodel. One afternoon, we got our supplies together and started building our first three raised beds.
We built these first three raised garden beds with the wood we already had on hand, but we have plans to build a few more garden beds later this spring. We gathered up the stack of 16-foot deck boards we had stashed in the barn and got to work. The beds are 16-feet long and 4-feet wide with 2x6 bracing in the corners. We also put stakes around the outside to support the weight of the dirt. The beds are two boards high (11 inches total).
For our next raised beds, we will most likely purchase 2x8's or 2x10's and use 2x4 around the top for bracing. Once the frames were complete, we lined the bottom of each bed with cardboard boxes as a weed barrier. Thankfully we had saved a lot of our moving boxes for this very reason! We spent a Saturday hauling and spreading 3 truck loads of top soil and compost (shout out to Sigmon's Mulch Yard!). The beds were finished and ready for planting!
Of course, around the time we started making plans for the garden, the coronavirus pandemic hit. This meant we were limited in going out to buy seeds and some of our favorite heirloom seed companies were so backed up that they couldn't ship what we needed in time. We did the best we could with what we had. My father-in-law had some heirloom seeds in the freezer that he had been saving for the right time and he was happy to pass those along to us. We started seeds in the small greenhouses we had on the back deck. We also bought a few seedlings at our local hardware store.
Once we had enough seedlings ready, it was time to plant the garden. Today, I'm going to share with you our garden plans for 2020. Here's a look at what we are growing and how we are making the best use of our limited (for now) space.
First, let's talk about container gardening. Since we just moved in February, we had a ton of big plastic rubbermaid containers. We have a large deck on the back of the house that gets good sun exposure so I decided to try growing as many things as a I could in containers.
So far, we are having some good success! In our containers, we have planted radishes, carrots, strawberries, yukon gold potatoes, cantaloupe, onions, spinach, and pickling cucumbers. We are also working on some new seed starts for black beauty zucchini, okra, basil, and a few different varieties of cucumbers. The hope is to plant those along with some corn in the next round of raised beds that we will build at some point over the next few weeks.
In our three raised garden beds, we decided to focus on growing a handful of crops that we could eat this summer or can for fall and winter. In our first bed, we decided to focus solely on tomatoes. On one side of the bed, we planted a variety of plants to see which kind grew best and which kind we most enjoyed. We are trying Goliath, Parks Whopper, and Better Boy varieties. We also added a Fantastico Grape tomato plant. These were all purchased at the hardware store and were over a foot tall with lots of blossoms in place by the time we put them in the ground.
On the other side of the first raised garden bed, we did a row of 6 roma tomato plants. These are much smaller seedlings at just a few inches tall when we planted. We will see how they do, but they all look healthy so far! We chose roma tomatoes because they are excellent for canning and will be perfect for several things - tomato sauce, tomato paste, and salsa.
We went ahead and put our tomato cages in place around all 11 plants. Josh built these cages using concrete wire. He cut them 36-inches long and left a little metal to use as a tie. He also used zip ties to secure them together as well. These were buried into the garden soil to keep them in place.
Next up, we planted raised bed #2. We are going to try to grow everything vertically this year to save space and maximize our yield per square foot. So in the second bed, we planted half bell peppers and half crookneck squash. Bell peppers are a staple in our house! We use them for fajitas, pico de gallo, soups, and just raw as a snack. I can't wait for the day when I can just go pick peppers from my garden instead of buying them at the grocery store each week.
Yellow squash was planted in the other half of raised bed #1. We added cages around the plants and as they grow, we will trellis them up to maximize our space and hopefully prevent fungus growth from being right on the soil. Squash is Josh's absolute favorite. He loves it battered and fried (like all good southern men, right?!), but we also enjoy it roasted with other veggies or raw in a salad. Squash casserole is another yummy favorite in the summer. Squash also freezes well so hopefully we will have plenty of harvest to eat and freeze for fall and winter.
For garden bed #3, we decided to focus the entire area to green beans. We planted two rows of half runners. We decided to direct sow the seeds as this worked well for us in the past when we grew green beans in our last garden. We eat a lot of green beans around here - it's really a staple vegetable! We like them boiled or pan roasted. Personally, I like eating them raw as a snack, but the kids look at me like I'm crazy. Do you like raw green beans? Just me?
So there you have it! That is the story of how our 2020 garden was born and what we have growing here at Grace Walk Farm this summer. What about you? Are you planting a garden this year? What are you growing? Leave a comment and tell us about your garden plans!