We are always striving to develop our half-acre plot; not only working to make it grow more and diverse types of food, but to also make it a beautiful place to be for us and for the amazing amount of wildlife we enjoy. Presently we have six main areas, pictured below: the main garden, the greenhouse, the chicken coop, the raised bed garden, the pond, and the composting area. I will also feature two areas that are not on our land, but that we utilize and help us greatly: the forest and the shop. In addition to these areas, one day we hope to add an orchard, a shade garden, and have discussed a bog garden to help in the low northeast corner where water collects as it heads into the drainage creek leading into the forest.
The Main Garden
Pictured here in Spring, the main garden is a roughly 25×22 patch of ground at the bottom of our yard, nestled near the tree line and adjacent to the chicken coop. The soil is a clay-loam we’ve been working on for a decade by adding compost and leaf mould. It gets east-west exposure, with the tree-line making morning light a little hard to come by, but our house is small and squat, allowing for ample afternoon light. We mainly grow our canning and long-storage crops here.
Or perhaps more aptly named a tunnel, since it is not made of glass. This is a new addition to the homestead and still under construction. It’s a roughly 16×8 structure designed and built by Brian using PVC, custom 3D printed backets, wood framing, and some 6 mil plastic sheeting. It’s our goal to make this greenhouse suitable for year-round growing before winter. This summer we’ll experiment with growing tomatoes in both the main garden and the greenhouse.
The Raised Bed Garden
A roughly 35×16 area we spent all of early Spring revitalizing this year. It sits against the east-facing back wall of the house, and so provides an opportunity for shade for tender plants during the heat of the day. It features raised beds for our kitchen/eating and herb garden and a bed nestled along our back patio and between the lawn and the garden for a perennial garden, that features butterfly and pollinator-friendly plants and flowers, as well as herbal medicines and teas.
This photo captures Brian completing the coop, 5 years ago. Previously we kept the chickens in, what we called then, The Barn, which was really a garden shed we’d transformed. They didn’t get enough sunlight here to keep their egg production going, as the garden shed sits in the damp corner of our yard hugging the tree line. Our flock is presently comprised of 8 hens and I like to keep a variety of breeds. Presently, we have a black australorp named Luna (Lovegood), a barred rock named Polly, a leghorn named Feisty, an easter egger named Spirit, a rhode island red named Misty, a new hampshire red named Hermione, a golden buff named Mrs. Puff, and a Wyandotte named Liam Jr (by my son many years ago). We have had as many as 30 chickens at one time, and have kept roosters, as well, but this flock size is easier on the garden as we do still let them free-range whenever possible.
A garden is all about balance and developing a mini ecosystem, which means that to really attract wildlife and keep them healthy, you need some kind of water. We opted for a pond, fashioned in a way similar to some of our favorite koi ponds in conservatories and gardens we’ve visited. It’s still a work-in-progress, and the unstable winter weather (cycles of freezing and thawing combined with torrential rains) caused major erosion and leaks to occur, so presently our two surviving fish are in a tank inside the house learning how to request more food rather often by jumping and splashing. Once we get the food areas sorted, we’ll be focusing our attention on repairing and improving this area. This photo captures our water lily in full bloom with one of our happy frogs, whose calls and little splashes we miss hearing.
The Composting Area
We have been composting for almost a decade now, somewhat imperfectly, though we have managed to amend our soil and feed our plants each year to good effect. This is a goal we have for this year: improve and organize this area. Presently we have a single hot compost heap where everything goes, from kitchen scraps to chicken waste. We do collect our autumn leaves separately and keep them in plastic bags where they break down into leaf mould. We don’t turn the compost heap as much as we should, meaning heat stays trapped on the bottom, and while the wildlife loves how much we are feeding them, our garden shed, which we’d like to make better use of (and make into a proper potting shed) is overrun by mice and voles. An effective and well-kept compost area is essential to a healthy organic garden, so stay-tuned for updates on our progress.
We are so fortunate that our land adjoins thick forest. It’s largely unused and belongs to a local church. When we first moved here the church had trails cut through that led back to a pond and an outdoor chapel area. Over the years, it fell into disrepair, as no one maintained the trails or tended the forest overgrowth. Invasive honeysuckle threatens to damage and kill all of it if it isn’t kept in check. Brian now maintains the trails and the honeysuckle. The pond has been filled-in, as well, which makes our pond all the more important for the wildlife. We find morels growing here in the spring and occasionally a patch of ramps, as well. There’s a planting of sugar maples that look as though they’ve never been tapped for syrup. We may at some point keep a bee hive in a little meadow clearing where there’s lots of forest flowers and wild raspberry brambles grow. We maintain the thicket of woods directly behind our homestead, as well, connected to the trail via the raspberry meadow, and have started growing mushrooms here. We’ve often discussed buying this beautiful property that we have grown to know and love so well, but we doubt we have the money. It is our dream property, though. We hike and run and walk through it all year long and enjoy the woodland landscape, the birds, deer, and other creatures that inhabit it, and overall thank our lucky stars we have this in our backyard.
The Shop is where Brian’s makerspace–Maker Factory–and his custom industrial design and fabrication shop–Maker Services–is located. The shop houses other businesses, as well, which is rather meta, since a makerspace is intended to be a community in and of itself. That the shop houses other businesses doing a variety of things makes the shop even stronger, we think. It’s also where we have the grow room, at present, where we share a grow light and seed starting space with other members of the makerspace community, and the shop’s owner, who is quickly becoming a good friend. The shop means that Brian can make or repair just about anything we need for the homestead, which keeps costs low but results high. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and 10 years working as a mechanical engineer, Brian’s skills and knowledge are a constant resource for us. The shop is 20 minutes north of the homestead in an isolated, rural area.