Learning from the Past, Planning for the Future

potoato harvest family

As we settle into the winter and all it has to offer (sporadic rain, cold weather, hot cocoa, and warm thoughts of family and blessings…) our activities begin to shift to spring garden preparation.
This time last year, we were making the same types of preparations. Since neither my husband (a public school teacher), nor I, had any experience with gardening (aside from a small, fruitless (all pun intended) effort to start one a few years back with nothing more than hope, and wishful thinking) we sought help from the experts.
And from experts I mean I picked up the phone to call my brother, and additionally my mother. I just knew we needed help in the “where do I start? What do I do?” category that was oh-so-overwhelming..
They had been growing vegetable gardens for years and had developed success in the same type of soil and weather conditions. And additionally, supplied information as to where we could get compost if desired.
We had many tasks on our to do list: choosing a location, deciding what our garden beds would look like/contain (soil composition), and what we wanted to plant.

Location
We live on just over two acres of land. Space was not an issue when determining whether we’d start a garden or not, but location was. Where were we going to plant a garden that would yield our hopes and desires in produce-form? Where were we going to “set up shop” so-to-speak and make a go of it?
We needed an area that would receive a good deal of sunlight, that did not retain water after a heavy rain, and that would provide some shade in the blistering Texas summer heat. We found such an area next to a Catalpa tree. (Ha, I only learned the type of tree when I saw the swarm of caterpillars on it during the start of the fall!)

Appearance/Composition
My husband and I discussed having rows, and tilling the area, but after much thought and deliberation we decided to build raised beds. Five, to be exact. And by “we build” I mean mostly “he would build.” Travis is very thoughtful in this manner. Things come easy to him. He’s very resourceful and handy when it comes to figuring out solutions to things quickly. With an appropriate amount of effort, he is able to build things, and build things well I might add. He doesn’t need me in the building process, but yet always finds a way to incorporate me and “discovers” a position only I can fill. He makes me feel useful, that I am contributing to the process, and not hindering its success. I love this! I am not gifted in this arena, but I do so love to get my hands dirty and see a project to its completion.
We used two different types of compost in addition to the East Texas soil that God had graciously given us. One was a mushroom mulch compost, and the other was from a wastewater treatment plant. Both did well, but the latter was certainly cheaper and yielded a higher number of crops. If you find yourself in a situation where you have the means and the opportunity to try different composts, I would highly recommend trying a couple different types out to compare.

Types
It being our first time gardening, we had two options: plant a couple of seeds and see what happens, or stuff as many as you could into the box and… see what happens. We chose the latter. Rather, I chose the latter. With the help of a friend, I navigated Burpees.com and bought a slew of seeds. You name it, I probably bought it with no rhyme or reason to quantity in mind. (Tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, squash, cantaloupe, strawberries, zucchini, jalapeno, bell pepper, banana pepper, etc. etc. etc.) Mind you, we had a set amount to spend on our gardening exploits, so I did not spend more than I had intended. I just did not spend as wisely as I should have. I knew this first garden would be a learning curve of sorts (kind of like a first child… sorry, Skylar), and it did wind up to be just that. I’d also like to mention that even though we “packed” the boxes we followed the guidelines on the individual packets to ensure some victory in our gardening ignorance.

I was SO excited about getting the project started, and not missing the “window” that I bought without thinking things all the way through. We wound up having a fairly successful garden (and I had a freezer full of blanched tomatoes, and squash to attest to that), but there are some things I would have done differently.
First, when you get excited about strawberries and the fruit your children will be eventually, hopefully enjoying from the plant’s bounty, do not stop at ONE plant. May I remind everyone that we have a family of eight. EIGHT. The four or five strawberries that our little plant produced did nothing to satiate our appetites for the fruit, but instead it is as if the plant laughed at our gross underestimation of what could be accomplished by a solitary plant. #fail
Furthermore, when I ordered potatoes, I did not expect to get a bag of potatoes in the mail. Yes, I probably should have expected it as it is clearly marked on the website I purchase from, but to say I was surprised when they arrived would be an understatement. My potato crops did well and I am happy with our little harvest (maybe 60-70 potatoes in all), but I feel like I needed to prepare myself more for the arrival of said potatoes. These potatoes looked a lot like you’d see at a grocery store.

Needless to say, as we gear up for this planting season, we will be using the knowledge we’ve gained through experience and additional research, aiming for a bigger and better harvest this coming spring. We will also be readying a larger plot of land in addition to the raised beds used last spring. We will be repurposing these five beds into herb gardens and independent beds for our six children. Each of our kids will get half a bed to garden and tend. We hope this opportunity will lend itself to instilling lifelong lessons of responsibility and care, as well as a sense of pride in their own cultivation and successes. Stay tuned as we continue this homesteading journey and discuss such things as companion crops for your garden, all things chicken, and much more!

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