Every once in a while it occurs to me that I haven't showed much of our garden plots lately, so let's change that this month. After all, it's already late August and if I put this off any longer, crops will be harvested, on their way to the compost pile, or under a layer of snow! Let's have a look around while there is still something to look at.
The lay of our land has been about the same for the last 3 seasons. Since we find ourselves cramped within a well-treed urban neighourhood with very narrow lots, we've resorted to looking beyond our home lot for growing space. In fact, all of our growing space today is on land that we don't own! This collection includes a mostly empty lot next to ours, an sunny boulevard across the street from our house, and one more private backyard and boulevard a few blocks away. The growing space on these three lots amounts to 2950 square feet, more than enough room to grow all the vegetables we can eat!
Homestead Garden Part 1
The plot next door is where we plant the crops that need the highest amount of maintenance. This could mean occasional pruning, some trellising, frequent harvests, or in some cases all of the above. Basically, if a crop is going to need pretty regular attention, we want it to be as close as possible. This neighbouring lot has basically become an extension of our own backyard, as you can see from the photo below.
Don't be intimidated by the 600 square foot high tunnel, because the last message I would want to convey is that a high tunnel is a necessary component of a homestead garden. I couldn't resist building our tunnel back in 2018 to help boost the productivity of crops like cucumbers and peppers for our urban farm. That it did, and it also served as valuable crop insurance against the risk of hail damage in summer. Today though, with our smaller homestead scale of production, the tunnel spans a bit more space than we actually need. As a result, I've moved a couple of beds of Nova raspberries into the west end (the slightly shadier and less productive end) as a little experiment. It will take that patch a couple of years to reach the desired density and start producing for us, but I look forward to compare raspberry yields in the high tunnel with those in the field.
Outdoors at this home plot we have 8 smaller quarter size beds that provide well defined spaces for crops that we need in smaller quantities. Think snap peas, summer squash, pole beans, celery, etc. Some of these beds are protected with small netted structures, while others have trellises, or cages for support. What these beds have in common are galvanized metal sidewalls and a more flexible style of drip irrigation using 1/4 inch tubing, two features that have worked out nicely for these smaller beds. You can see more about how we set up these galvanized beds in this post.
On the east end of our home plot, we still have some room for a few of our regular standard beds, and we've loaded those up with carrots, strawberries, and sweet corn. The two beds of carrots you see here have been remarkably weed free this season thanks largely to the stale seed bed preparation I did before planting, as demonstrated in this video. Our strawberry patch sits just to the left of us in the photo below. The netted tunnel is our keeps the birds from nibbling the strawberries before we pick them.
Homestead Garden Part 2
Moving out to the boulevard garden plot, we see a significant shift in crop selection.
With more than enough space to grow all of our own vegetables, I have started to dabble in grain production as well. The city boulevards have been great for these crops. The neighoubrs enjoy waatching them grow, there is no threat of theft, and thanks to their tolerance of drier conditions, I don't feel the need to drag our hose across the street to water the boulevard quite as often as we would have to for more sensitive vegetable crops.
That said, we did still squeeze in a few more typical garden crops at the far end of the boulevard. Wait! I may have spoken to soon because the outer edge of this second section is lined with lentils, another crop selection from big agriculture. Don't ask me how I'm going to shell these efficiently yet! That's going to be one of my new challenges this fall.
Growth is fast around here in mid-summer so the next photo shows the same space, believe it or not. Just a few weeks after the previous photo, the garlic has been replaced with kale and spinach in the distance, the corn is twice as tall, and the beans and lentils are getting close to maturity. The bed directly behind me in the photo below is shared by parsnips and leeks. If your corn isn't 8 feet tall, don't fret. Our sweet corn isn't that tall either. The corn in this boulevard is flint corn. It will be left on the plants until the cobs are totally dry. Then we'll use it for popcorn and milling into cornmeal.
Homestead Garden Part 3
If we carry on a few blocks passed our boulevard, we soon come to our third and final garden plot shown below. Apparently, this backyard was once well known for its garden decades ago, along with the Ukrainian baba that tended to it. The land came into our hands with a lot of collateral damage from the construction of the new home on the lot, but we've slowly whipped it back into shape.
At first glance, this garden appears to contain more of the same, (ie. vegetables) but a theme emerges when you look closer. That theme is low maintenance, so you won't see cucumbers here, you won't see broccolini here, and you'll hardly see ME here quite frankly. The goal with a plot like this is to set it and forget it. I would guess that I visit this plot once a week on average, sometimes more frequently and other times missing visits for weeks at a time. I generally don't encourage that much absence from your garden if you're just getting started, but it's certainly possible when you've got weed pressure under control and an automated irrigation system to keep your soil moist without you.
I elected to fill most of the boulevard here with grain once again, this time hulless oats. The oats make use of a large amount of growing space, while also providing a living privacy screen for our potatoes, a more recognizable crop which has been known to disappear from our public growing spaces occasionally.
Inside the fenced yard, you see a garden largely dominated by winter squash, one of the textbook "set it and forget it" crops. Once we get winter squash off to a good start in the spring, we can always count on it to cover its bed fully, suppress weeds, and require little maintenance aside from a quick prune around the edges occasionally should I find it wandering into another crop's bed. All we need to do is show up again before the first frost and pick up the squash fruit.
The downside of squash is that it's a bit of a space bully! To anticipate this unbound growth, I will select the neighbouring crops for squash strategically. The strategy is to either get a crop in and out quickly before the squash takeover, or get a crop up into the air quickly before the squash takeover. I like the photo above because it so clearly shows the taller bed of corn amidst the sea of squash. The corn narrowly won the race in height and gave us a good yield from that cramped space despite the high density and encroaching squash. There are not many other vegetable crops that could have stood tall and remained productive in this scenario.
In case you're curious, the full crop list from left to right above, is as follows, yellow onions, yellow onions, shelling peas, Prism squash, Red Kuri squash, sweet corn, Sweet Mama squash, Jester squash, red and white onions, carrots, more carrots, and a netted tunnel with two beds of brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Life inside that netted tunnel is sublime for our vegetables as long as I do a good job of setting up without certain insects already inside. There's no plastic used in that small tunnel at all, just fine insect netting selected to exclude the types of insects that would really like to eat the crops inside and lay their eggs all around them. To that, I say, "No thank you insect sir. You are welcome on planet Earth but please flutter elsewhere." With the netting as a barrier, I don't think the insects even know what they're missing and we end up with clean hole-free, caterpillar-free, and toxin-free food to eat.
That, my friends, is how we are growing our own food this year. Oh, and if you still can't quite fathom how we eat ALL of this food ourselves, we don't. I still host a small fall market for our past farm members once each fall and I use that to distribute large volumes of garlic, onions, squash, carrots, and potatoes just in time for Thanksgiving. If you happen to be in Saskatoon and you'd like to get on that farm member list, just send me a message.