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We fulfilled an experience at the beginning of the summer that had been on our home bucket list for YEARS: building a home garden! I can’t say I particularly have a Green Thumb– in fact, growing up predominantly in New York City, I didn’t really have much context for gardening in general! We had a country house growing up, and we had a little garden there that my parents would plant and harvest from in the summers. I’ll be honest and say that they definitely weren’t experts, however! LOL. We mostly grew zucchini and tomatoes, though they were delicious!
A really positive memory I have from my childhood was that we would keep a salt shaker in the glove compartment of our station wagon, and before we drove to camp or home to the city in the summer months, we’d grab tomatoes from the garden and eat them in the car like apples– sprinkling salt with the salt shaker between bites! As a Mom now, I really wanted my kids to get a sense of where food comes from and how it’s grown, and for them to have some appreciation for the process. Also, living with a Chef, it’s nice to have our own source of produce that is totally organic to create recipes with! Nothing beats homegrown tomatoes, in my personal opinion.
I first started looking into putting a garden in a couple of years ago, and having one built ended up being out of my budget. I decided to save up for it for a year, and then by the time I wanted to put one in this spring, the cost of everything had gone up so much because of inflation that it was out of reach again. It was really disappointing. My Stepdad actually decided he wanted to help us with the garden as a family Christmas gift, which was SO sweet! Otherwise, we would not have been able to swing it! He loves gardening and had great memories of us gardening together when I was growing up, so it was a really meaningful, full circle kind of moment for us. He and Ian loved planning everything out and he comes and checks on the garden now from time to time when he’s in town!
I ended up hiring Back To Nature to build the garden, and they did a wonderful job and it was very quick to build! I will say that building a garden like this is definitely VERY pricey, though I consider it to be a great investment for families like ours who plan to really put a lot of energy into it over the years. We also ended up having to level out the land where we installed the garden, and take out some bushes that were there– and that added to the cost. If I did it again, I probably would opt for the 1-foot deep beds as opposed to the 2-foot deep ones we chose. The idea is that we can plant foods with deeper roots as our garden matures, but I don’t think it’s totally necessary. We also opted not to paint the wood in order to save on cost. I am looking forward to watching how the wood changes as it weathers! Today, I wanted to share some lessons we learned in our first season of gardening that might be able to help others! I also wanted to officially thank our dear friend Anel, AKA Botanical Bosnian, who helped us plan out our plants, gave us lots of tips, and answered a few Facetime calls when things went south! It definitely is a plus to have a friend a phone call away who knows more about gardening than you do! Follow Anel on Instagram if you are a newbie gardener because he gives wonderful insight. If you are a seasoned gardener and you have any great tips to add to this post, please share them in the comments below!
Protect It From Scavengers
Our garden has organic soil, and is protected from predators by fencing that extends underneath the enclosure as well! They put in wire fencing underneath the entire structure underground so groundhogs can’t dig up! We also have a latching gate. We ended up getting some plastic coverings for our strawberry beds, but other than that the garden has very much stayed protected. We haven’t had any creatures munching our produce! It was a great investment to have the extra protections put in place.
Create Nutrient-Rich Soil
Our garden got off to a rocky start, when our plants sprouted up, and then promptly turned bright yellow! A text to my friend Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm revealed that our garden beds were probably nitrogen and nutrient deficient from the heavy rainfall, and the fact that they were new without seasons of use. She suggested “Chicken Poop Tea”, which we picked up at our local nursery. Ian and I mixed up a big batch (Yes, this was as yucky as it sounds LOL), and would sprinkle it at the base of our plants every two weeks to restore nitrogen. It worked AMAZING and totally turned our garden around! We also started a compost to mix in with the soil. I look forward to our garden beds getting more and more nutrient dense with each passing season.
We put in an irrigation system in our garden, which I highly recommend! The system goes from our water supply to underneath the garden beds, and makes it much easier and more hands-off to water our plants! It’s not completely hands-off, as we do need to set timers and reminders to turn the system off and on, but we don’t have to stand out there with a hose every day! It’s also been great for this unreasonably HOT summer we’ve been having!
Pay Attention To Where You Plant What
After planting our veggies and herbs, we noticed that one section of the garden was totally thriving, while another section was struggling more. We realized that the area that was thriving all had plants that were good with full sun, while we had planted others in an area that would have done better with more shade during the day. We plan on reconfiguring where we plant our lettuces and certain veggies next year. We also noticed that some of the veggies we tried, such as corn, really aren’t going to cut it in a garden of our size. Others, like our eggplant and watermelon, just totally failed and we don’t even know why. LOL. It’s clear that gardening is so much about trial and error and learning from mistakes over the seasons!
One of the errors we made was not timing the planting of flowers surrounding our garden correctly! Food plants need bees to pollinate the flowers to make everything flourish, and there aren’t any flowers in our garden area! It used to be pretty wooded before we cleared it to build. We tried to scatter wildflowers around the garden at the same time we planted the veggies, but by then it was too late in the year! We’re going to lay seeds this Fall so that hopefully we can have a nice little flower garden outside the fencing for next summer.
Don’t Let The Plants “Bolt”
We let the cilantro in our garden grow flowers, and that is referred to as “bolting”! It then started to produce seeds and basically wasn’t edible in the same way anymore. We should’ve cut them sooner! Ditto with our lettuces. We did not know to really pay attention to when the things in our garden needed to be cut in order to have the best possible version of the produce.
Overall, I’ll say that having a home garden has been way more work than I expected it to be, but I think it’s been amazing for our family overall. The kids LOVE helping in the garden, planting, and weeding, and it’s encouraged them to try more fruits and vegetables. Major, who is my pickiest eater, even ate raw green beans off the stalk since he “grew them himself”, and I consider that a huge win in itself! I love that this is a wholesome activity we can do as a family that doesn’t involve going anywhere, buying anything flashy or screens in general. It’s so nice to work on something together that is rewarding and also nourishes our bodies as well as our minds. I look forward to seeing how we can improve our skills next season!
Bamboo Garden Gloves
These are the gardening gloves I use and I love them! The coating makes it so I don’t get pricked.
Kids' Gardening Gloves
I got these cute gardening gloves for the kids, which are easy to toss in the wash since they always get totally covered in dirt and mud!
Vitamix FC-50 2-Liter Food Cycler Composter
My Mom got us this composter as a gift, and it’s a game changer! It makes composting so much easier and mess-free.
Pine + Maple Garden Carry-All
We use this basket to collect our produce and I’m in love with it. So functional and beautiful to look at.
Canvas Garden Belt
This garden belt is perfect for keeping clippers, trowels, and other tools at hand.
I bought this little table and chairs for our garden and I LOVE how it creates a space to sit and enjoy the space. I will sometimes go out to sit there with a glass of wine and it’s so peaceful and relaxing!