“This Week in the Hollow” is a weekly series sharing glimpses of the adventures from our simple life in the hollow.
You may have noticed that I am off schedule here at GracefullyHome.com. So many new things going on at one time has left this busy mama re-evaluating how to simplify my online business and life in the hollow. On top of this busy season, a recent family canoe adventure down the Buffalo River left me without a smart phone. (sigh) On the surface, this puts a damper on running my online business, but no worries! What is truly important is right here safe and sound on the farm. Praise the Lord!
Not having easy access to social media apps has actually been a nice break. It has forced me to dive deeper into my desktop picture archives. I found so many great memories to draw inspiration from. So, today…I am sharing a look back at our garden through the years and sharing some simple tips learned to help encourage you with your garden this season. Taking a look back can help us see how far we have come and feel a little more encouraged when progress seems to stall.
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Tip #1: HAVE A ROUGH PLAN
When planting a garden, it is important to have a general plan ahead of time. This will help insure that your plants will give you the most from your efforts. Keep in mind that the plan may not be full proof and shouldn’t be super restrictive. Be flexible and give your garden some grace. Gardening can be a trial and error kind of experience. Hello, “experimental gardener” here and I have found that it is always changing from year to year.
The general lay out of our garden was already in place when we purchased our homestead in the hollow. It is a humble size with some nice charm, but if we were to build from ground up ourselves, we would have made it larger to meet our large family’s needs and we would have built the raised beds higher. Proper drainage is a must! The old owners missed that memo and as a result, we have lost fruit trees, berry bushes, and other plants over the years due to improper drainage. Now, it has been our mission to slowly correct the issue one area at a time.
Fresh blueberries from our berry bush.
Tip #2: START SMALL
When I first started my planting in our garden, I was still in the middle of my cancer battle and I probably should have been resting, but even though I felt like dying (literally), I forced myself to go outside for fresh air and sunshine to help my body with the recovery process. I am so glad I did because it gave me purpose and a vision of what the future would be like when I stronger again.
When you’re first starting out, it is easy to get carried away. I am speaking from experience. (smile) In the beginning, I wanted to plant it all! But it’s important to make sure to choose your seeds well according to your growing zone and start with just the main veggies that you and your family love to eat already. One year, I had planted egg plant and another year I planted okra. Bok Choy was fun and super nutritious, but wasn’t as popular as something like carrots or cucumbers with the little ones. It was fun to give it a try, but after the one season, I have not planted any of these since.
These days, our garden resembles what we put in our daily salads and side dishes to serve with our meals. It seems so simple, but believe me…when you see all the seeds available out there, it can be like shopping hungry. Hahaha!
Tip #3: ENLIST HELP
We are on our 10th year of homeschooling and each planting season, I enjoy sharing the outdoor experience with our little ones. Nothing beats that hands-on learning that we get from hearing, seeing and doing ourselves. The little ones have actively seen the life cycle of our seeds. They have planted and harvested right along side me. They sort, count, and do simple arithmetic with our garlic and green beans. By being part of the growing process, they are more likely to eat what they have grown with their own two hands. The experience helps build a healthy foundation for their future and gives them a sense of pride in their work and gratitude in their hearts.
Seeing the baby vegetables popping up all over the garden is an exciting thing to see!
Tip #4: WEAR PROPER GEAR
I am all for getting your hands dirty and getting that healthy exposure to the good microbes in the soil, but knowing when to put on protective gear is important. Whenever I am working with metal or wood, I put on my Digz gardening/work gloves. These are essential not just for the garden, but all around the homestead. I also make sure I have a hat and sunglasses while I am outside. I typically have knee pads on to make it easier to get low on the ground while picking weeds.
The mosquitos, chiggers, and ants are awful in the country during the warmer months. Having proper foot gear is essential if you want to outlast the biting critters. Gardening boots and breathable clothing with light colors help to keep you cooler during those hot summer afternoons and can help decrease the amount of pesky bites at the end of your gardening session.
Tip #5: COVER UP
Using organic material like mulch, straw, or hay is a great way to lock in the moisture and is helpful for cultivating a healthy soil ecosystem. The healthier the soil, the healthier the nutrient content, and of course, the healthier the plant. A layer of mulch helps fend off pests and helps prevent disease. Over time, the mulch will break down and make good compost to go back into feeding the soil. Check out how we used mulch in our “secret garden” raised beds here.
Chemical-free hay for raised bed covering.
Tip #6: GROW UP
Making DiY trellis combos for your vining fruits and vegetables is simple and doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. This method helps prevent your leaves from touching the ground which helps to decrease their susceptibility to disease and rot. There are many types of trellises that we have used over the years. Things like tomato cages, wooden teepees, leaning metal/wooden grids, and my new favorite, the “Florida Weave” method. Read more about this here.
Old goat fencing turned tomato cage.
Scrap wood turned leaning grid trellis.
Tip #7: MARK YOUR SPOT
There have been years that I would have so many seedlings to transfer into the main garden and by the time I was nearing the end, I just wanted to get them in the ground. In my haste, I would forget what I was planting which made labeling impossible. It’s easy to see what it is, once the plant starts to mature.
I loved seeing these Magnolia Market simple metal chalk board labels during our trip to Waco, TX, a couple years ago. Unfortunately, I could not justify the cost for our medium sized garden. So, to save money, the littles and I created these signs below, with scrap wood and craft paint. We sealed them with a clear coat.
We have used popsicle sticks in the past and have seen folks use painted rocks or labeled air drying clay sticks to accomplish the same thing. It’s fun to use your creativity!
Tip #8: REUSE, RECYCLE, REPURPOSE
Living way out in the country forces you to get creative and our garden is no stranger to my “thinking outside the box” ideas. When we first moved to our homestead, we purchased a larger mailbox and relocated it outside our front gate. Instead of throwing the old mailbox (shown below) away, I asked my dad to install it in the garden. It holds extra gardening gloves, stakes, twine, and gardening tools. It is a great time-saver for when I am stopping by the garden for a little “therapy.”
Having a place to comfortably sit while tending to the garden is another thing to consider, but if you don’t have a gardening stool, you can easily build one out of wood like my dad did one summer, or simply take an extra 5 gallon bucket and turn it over. Voila! Instant seat. This makes weeding or pruning a little easier on the back. I always keep an extra 5 gallon bucket to gather extra green clippings for our chickens. It is quite a tasty treat for them. They all come flocking in my direction as they see me coming their way.
Tip #9: CLEAN AS YOU GO
Over the years, we have developed a “clean as you go” method inside and outside our home. With a large family, this habit along with the “everything has a place and everything in its place” mentality, makes for a more organized and less chaotic environment. These two simple strategies make clean up so much easier and less stressful. Keep in mind, there have been times that extended vacations or a real surge of mosquitos have kept me from implementing these methods in the garden and you can see just how quickly the plants and weeds can take over if you don’t stay on top of it.
Plants going to seed and weeds taking over after an extended vacation from the farm.
You can get an idea of why I prefer using trellises and grids as well. These vining plants like watermelon and cantaloupe made walking through the aisles challenging, but this particular year from when this photo was taken, the crows were horrible and I was attempting to keep our fruits and vines a little more contained.
Tip #10: RELAX AND HAVE FUN
Gardening is a lot of work and takes a lot of patience and diligence to maintain. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, but the act of planting and growing your own food or flowers is so rewarding. Simply being outside in the sunshine and feeling the dirt between your fingers, is so worth the time and effort you pour into it each season.
For this hobby farmer and her family, our gardening experience only gets better with time and I look forward to it each year. If you’re new to the gardening scene, I hope that you have found these simple tips helpful and find the confidence to get “growing” today .