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 forest, and the composting area. We used to have a pond, but erosion on our land caused it to leak. Since we’re actively seeking a new plot of land (hopefully a full acre) in our area, we have opted not to repair it, even though the pond adds important elements for wildlife and plant nutrition.
The Main Garden
Pictured here in late 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. 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.
The Raised Bed Garden
A roughly 35×16 area. 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.
The chicken coop is adjacent to the main garden, and you can see it in the main garden photo. 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 there 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 6 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, and a new hampshire red named Hermione. 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.
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. We now maintain the trails and the honeysuckle. We find morels growing here in the spring and chanterelles in early summer. Wild garlic blooms and blackberry brambles abound, as well. We occasionally also find 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. We maintain the thicket of woods directly behind our homestead, 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.
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 our new homestead–keep this area better organized. 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 the infrastructure here will be better considered when we find our new homestead.