Springtime is here, which means people are ready to be outside and all the plants are springing to life. For us, it’s the start of growing food in our variety of garden spaces. Take a little tour of our garden spaces with us and find out why we love it!
Spring is in full swing over here, which means growing season has begun! We’ve always loved growing things, but last year we decided to try to grow more food and less lawn by converting a lot of our front yard to more productive garden spaces. Gardening has been a way to improve our sustainable living and definitely full of DIY projects. In this post, we’ll cover our different garden spaces and layout, what we planted, our weekly tasks, and why we chose to garden. Now let’s take a garden tour and get you inspired!
We live in a 1970s suburban home in a hilly neighborhood with a lot of mature trees. Our backyard is almost entirely shaded in the warmer months, and there’s not a lot of flat ground. A lot of shade and slopes can make gardening harder, so we’ve gotten creative with ways to create spaces and still grow our own food! From a terraced garden in the front yard to container gardening on our deck, we have a variety of garden spaces. Let’s walk through our three main garden areas.
We designed our terraced garden in February of 2022, which, as detail-oriented as we are as a landscape architect and engineer, led to a lot of back and forth working everything out. Mostly because we had decided to build the wood retaining walls ourselves! With that said, here’s the general layout of the terraced vegetable garden in our front yard:
- Three terraces that are 16’ long by 3.5’ wide (except the top one, which is 4’)
- Their depths vary with the original natural slope. The tallest is 3.5’ deep, while the top terrace is only about 8-10” deep.
- They align with our front entry stairs, which makes accessing the reclaimed stone pathways on each terrace easy.
In April, we also built a DIY tomato trellis to better support our vertical garden growing efforts. The trellis we quickly put together last year was not nearly tall or strong enough to support the never-ending indeterminate tomatoes we grow. This new one is made from strong cedar beams, is anchored to the ground, and is finished with a hydrophobic wood cream. We expect it to do a much better job of supporting our tomatoes and it should last for many years!
Building Our Pollinator Garden
One of the best parts of our terraced vegetable garden was that it converted a problematic hill into usable space. This hill was pretty steep and the grass was always slick, so it made mowing difficult. We never want to mow our slopey front yard again, so we are slowly converting all of the extra space around our vegetable garden into a pollinator garden and semi-edible landscape with fruit bushes and edible flowers.
We planted three blueberry bushes and two raspberry bushes on the hillside last year, but it’s definitely still a work in progress as we had to first kill off the turf lawn and slowly introduce seed starts and seedlings this year. Once the grass was dead, we planted some groundcover starts. It’s mainly Creeping Jenny and a native spreading Sedum (no clue what variety, but it’s amazing, requires no water, and super hardy).
The rest of the area we are now just planting with native perennials like Yarrow, Goldenrod, and Liatris, as well as some additional groundcovers like Rupturewort and Corsican mint. We also had a few more artichoke seeds germinate than we needed, so we decided to test them in the natural clay soil (definitely an experiment here!). Intermixed in all of it are some edible flowers like Borage, and a random pollinator seed mix we got from family that my child flung all over the place.
The overall space is about 430 square feet and it makes a good transition between the little bit of turf lawn we have left and our vegetable garden. It also is already bringing in ALL the pollinators, which will help our fruit and veggie yield this year, I’m sure!
Containers, Grow Bags & Planter Boxes
We try to utilize a variety of spaces and garden sizes to produce our food. This includes container gardening where there’s just not enough space for raised beds or in-ground planting.
We specifically designed and built these long linear DIY planter boxes for our deck space. It allows us to grow more food in a small space where we still get quite a bit of sun. At the beginning of Spring, I focused on the front terraced garden, and am just now starting most of the seeds in these planter boxes. However, I do have some good Romaine and Swiss Chard that I started back in April.
Also on the deck are a variety of pots we’ve collected over the years. I had some celery starts in a few of these, but they completely died off. That’s just part of gardening though. You have to learn what works in your area. Speaking of experiments, we’re also growing some artichokes in larger containers. These have been doing much better, so we’ll see if we get to harvest any of them this year!
The last place we have food growing is along the side of our house. We have 18 grow bags full of potatoes that I started back in March. We didn’t have much success with potatoes last year in our raised beds, and it was hard to dig them out without disturbing other plants. So this year, I went with grow bags so I could grow a lot more potatoes and hopefully have an easier harvest this year since I can simply dump them out. They’re looking great so far!
Garden At Any Scale
Hopefully showing you all of our different garden spaces and methods will spark an idea or inspiration for your own garden. You can seriously garden at any scale with whatever amount of space you have. You just have to start and then keep the momentum going. Fair warning though, gardening is addictive! Every year, I want to grow more and expand our garden. My hubby gives me this “you are crazy, but I love it” look every time I tell him I’m going to buy more plants or try growing something new.
What Are We Growing Right Now?
We live in Northern Missouri which is Zone 6b/a. Our last frost date was April 14th, but with our Midwest weather, there are always a few days that have a cold snap after that date. So we watched the weather forecast diligently before we planted some of our summer crops. After the first week of May all the summer crops went out as nighttime temperatures stayed over 50.
Right now at the end of May, here is what we have growing throughout all our garden spaces we mentioned:
- Spinach – Bloomsdale Long Standing, Double Choice Hybrid
- Romaine Lettuce – Parris Island Cos
- Swiss Chard – Burpee’s Rhubarb
- Kale – Dwarf Blue Curled Vates, Dwarf Siberian
- Garlic – Cal-Early Elephant, Hardneck Garlic
- Onions – Walla Walla
- Indeterminate Tomatoes – Amish Paste, Brandywine, Better Boy Hybrid, Black Cherry, and Spoon Cherry
- Peppers – Jalapeno, Califonia Bell, Cayenne
- Bush Beans – Black Turtle, Blue Lake 274
- Cucumbers – Early Fortune
- Carrots – Long Imperator #58, Nantes Half Long
- Strawberries (ever-bearing) – Ozark, Eversweet
- Blueberries – Duke, Pink Icing
- Raspberries – Jewel Black
- Artichokes – Green Globe
- Potatoes – Yukon Gold
- Herbs – Greek Oregano, Purple Basil, Genovese Basil, Italian Big Leaf Basil, Mammalo Basil, Italian Parsley, Marjoram, Rosemary
- Flowers – Zinnia, Marigolds, Bee Balm*, Yarrow*, Goldenrod*, Aster*, Liatris*, Snow-In-Summer*, Borage*
(*In Pollinator Garden not Raised Beds)
It’s truly AMAZING how much you can grow in so little space! I know we have more space than some people, but the majority of our yield comes from our terraced garden, which is only 176 square feet of planting. Converting unproductive turf lawn space into a productive garden was one of the best decisions we made last year! The hardest part for most people would just be finding the time to tend to them. So start small and grow a little bit each year until you find a good balance!
Seeds vs. Seedlings
Seed starting can be stressful for some and is not always doable in some cases. So don’t stress if you aren’t a pro at seed starting or you even skip that part altogether and go straight to buying seedlings. For us, we start with seeds for most plants in order to reduce costs. The seed starting doesn’t always work, but I’m always looking to learn, and failing is part of that!
This year, we started a lot from seed, but there were definitely a few that I tried and failed. Also, there are native plants and herbs that make sense to buy as seedlings as I don’t need dozens of seeds for each one. Here are my failures and purchased seedlings this Spring:
- Peppers – I purchased seedlings for all of these currently in my garden. We tried starting seeds, but only a few seeds germinated and they only got a half inch tall.
- Celery – I had some free seeds that I got a lot of germination from. However, they didn’t get very big and they all died off a few weeks after transplanting. By this point, it’s too warm to buy celery seedlings, so I’ll just try again in the fall.
- Bee Balm – I have a few tiny ones I started from seed, which I’ve transplanted now. They seem to be holding up, but we’ll see whether they survive!
- Marjoram – This is an herb and we only need one plant, so it made more sense to buy a seedling than a whole seed packet and waste it.
- Yarrow, Goldenrod, & Aster – These are plants I have for the pollinator areas that I knew I wanted and didn’t have seed for, so I purchased plants.
I try to take notes in a garden journal throughout the growing season. This way I can track things I need to do differently next time and repeat a process if it’s successful. I promise you that you’ll forget exactly what you did a year from now, so taking notes is critical. I also use this fantastic planting calendar called Seedtime to help me visualize and keep track of everything. It has a journal portion too, so I can keep all my notes and calendar in one place.
Daily and Weekly Tasks
With all those veggies, herbs, and flowers planted, we’re outside in the garden frequently. Honestly, I’ve found that spending even 5 to 10 minutes out in the garden each day doing a few quick tasks helps make it manageable without getting too overwhelming.
Here’s what I typically do daily or every few days throughout the week:
- Harvest – Simply walking through with a basket and shears to harvest as needed. Our toddler is always eager to check if any strawberries are ready, so it’s easy to stay on top of those! It’s important to harvest often to encourage plants to produce more yield, especially with herbs and leafy greens.
- Weeding – Most of the time, I just do this by hand as I go along checking on other aspects of the garden. Sometimes, I like using my weeding sickle if there are a lot of weeds and no seedlings in the way.
- Pruning – Most plants don’t need pruning, but I try to not have a ton of suckers on my tomato plants, so I prune/pinch the suckers off as I see them.
- Check For Pests/Diseases – Pests are inevitable and part of nature. Staying on top of them and checking daily will help reduce their impact and minimize loss of produce. I try to not use any chemicals on our garden, so I handpick pests off or use jets of water sometimes mixed with dish soap to get rid of them. In a few cases, I’ve used neem oil on my tomatoes when the pests got really bad, but that doesn’t typically happen until it’s hotter here.
- Sowing New Seeds – For some plants, I sow throughout the growing season and try to have succession planting. Succession planting is simply not planting all your seeds at once and staggering the time, so that when the first round of harvest is done, you’ll have another round coming up shortly after. I mainly do this with leafy greens like spinach and lettuces.
- Water (sometimes) – Most of the time, we just water using our DIY irrigation system with a timer for the front terraced garden, so no work there. But, I water our container gardens and pollinator areas by hand with water collected from our stacked rain barrels, which takes a little time each week.
That might sound like a lot to do, but it doesn’t take as much time as it seems. And you don’t have to do every single one of those tasks each time you’re out there. Just pick a few (or even just one!) and make sure you do all of them at least once or twice that week, depending on the garden’s state. It makes it so I don’t spend hours on the weekend doing all those tasks that have built up over the week (aka bigger weeds to pull, more pests, tons to harvest, etc.).The more often you’re out there, the less time you spend, in my experience.
Outside The Garden
The other weekly tasks actually happen outside the garden and in our kitchen.
- Washing and storing any of the produce, as needed.
- Making delicious things with my harvests like fresh pesto, kale chips, strawberry jam, and more. We mostly have only leafy green and herb harvests currently, but later we will have things like tomatoes and peppers.
- Dehydrating herbs when we don’t get around to using them fresh
- Composting any leftovers in our electric composter to feed back into the garden soil eventually.
Why Do We Garden?
Starting a garden has led to so much more than what I had expected. We started gardening as a way to “live big while leaving a little footprint” on our environment. But I have fallen in love with gardening, and I enjoy every minute that I get to spend out amongst our plants. I especially cherish getting to share this activity with our child.
Suburban homesteading and gardening are one of the ways we minimize our footprint as it makes some of our food hyper-local. We aren’t purchasing plastic packaged produce as much, our food isn’t shipped from far away, and we are reducing our waste by eating more seasonally with what we were growing. Moreover, it made me teach myself to preserve and can our harvests, so that we can benefit from the garden long after the growing season ends (I just bought a can of pasta sauce for the first time since canning our own sauce last year!).
So Many Physical, Mental, & Health Benefits
There have been studies that show there are many physical and mental benefits of gardening as well as eating fresh, chemical-free produce. The National Institute of Health notes gardening can act as a form of therapy to help reduce stress and muscle tension, and that sunlight lowers blood pressure and increases vitamin D levels in the summer.
For me personally, the fresh air, sunshine, and greenery help reset my mental state when I’m feeling anxious or stressed. It also improves the mood of my child who’s typically on his own adventure out in Nature. I also get such a sense of accomplishment when I cook a meal and see it made primarily from elements I grew! The mental boosts, whenever I’m in the garden, have truly helped me.
Our diet was always pretty good due to meal planning. However, gardening allows us to not only have super fresh produce that tastes way better, but we’re consuming fewer preservatives and reducing our grocery bills every month. Gardening brings all these physical, mental, and health benefits to our family and I don’t think we’ll ever be able to go back!
Teaching & Learning With Our Child
I learn a lot in the garden as it’s different every day and year to year. It’s also unintentionally become a teaching tool for our child. We discuss the life cycles of plants, where food comes from, pollinators, how sun, water, and soil help the plants grow, and more. It nurtures our son’s curiosity, and I love seeing the wonder in his eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. Gardening with a child is challenging, and we’ve definitely had many veggies and fruits picked. But he’s learning. He’s seeing where some of his food comes from. He’s fascinated with it all and loves telling me about the bees he sees pollinating the garden.
We’re trying to instill eco-friendly and sustainable living habits into our child so he grows up caring for what’s around him. I think the example that blows my mind the most is when he wants something to eat or when grocery shopping. He asks me if we have the ingredients to make something or tells me not to buy that because we’re growing it (mainly strawberries!). It’s an awareness that meals/snacks are made from ingredients and not just bought in a package. An awareness that we have a local supply of food at home. Children’s abilities to learn, remember, and understand still amaze me.
More Gardening & Homesteading
So that was a lot of rambling, but I wanted you all to know why we started gardening and the ripple effect it has had on our life. I hope this little tour helped you better see what a Spring garden is like here for us, too. If you’re looking for more gardening/homesteading inspiration, check out some of our other posts!
- Down To Earth Tips For Eco-friendly Lawn Care
- 7 Beginner Garden Tips & Recommended Tools To Encourage Plant Growth
- What Is Rainwater Collecting – Rainwater Collection System Basics
Hope you start a little garden if you haven’t already! Let us know what you’re growing and how gardening has impacted you in the comments below!
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