I’ve been thinking the last week or two about how my food gardening is evolving with each year that passes and wondering what people here are learning in their backyard gardening efforts. I’d love to read about how others are refining their growing as they get deeper into it.
I have somewhere upwards of 1,000 s/f of raised beds and about 75 feet of raspberries and six fruit trees. (Oh, and six chickens. I guess that counts as gardening!) Everyone who comes over thinks I have a ridiculous/amazing garden (depending on their level of food gardening interest) but I can see now that it’s still a fraction of what I’d need to feed us. I have a little more room to expand, maybe a couple hundred more square feet next year, and I’m considering offering on our neighborhood email ring to build raised beds in other people’s backyards and tend them for a 70/30 split of the crops. I do’n’t know if I”ll get any takers, but it seems worth a shot.
I’m refining my planting choices, based on what bears heavily per square foot and what we actually eat as a family. I’m experimenting with different ways of growing, homemade earthboxes being the most exotic experimentation this year. (I like them because I can place them in areas with great sun but crappy soil, and for their conservation of water — last month’s water bill was $75 and I know it’s only going to get worse — but the use of plastic bins makes them seem unsustainable, though we were able to get a half-dozen good bins on craiglist for free.) I do love my sheet composted raised beds, for the miminal weed intrusion and the richness of the beds which translates into really wonderful yields. I especially like that they just about eliminate the need to compost, as I have yet to master compost pile management and it takes me about two years to get from raw compost materials to something that looks like soil. I like that I can layer in my compost ingredients, water well, keep it moist and plant in it within six weeks. Much quicker result!
This year, in zone 5 (or 4b, according to the local botanical gardens, though I refuse to believe them!) on Colorado’s front range, my broccoli has done fantastic. I planted it in part shade in a new sheet-composed bed. It doesn’t get direct sun until noon or a little later, and that seems to have helped it bear a sizeable second crop this late into the summer. Beds and beds of strawberries produced well for us this year, so well that the kids got sick of them! But I like the minimal work of perennial plantings so I’ll keep up with them. I got 3 dozen jars of jam and 10-20 pounds of frozen berries, which the kids will eat in smoothies or just as a frozen treat.
It seems I will get a good crop of cauliflower, though the plants are so huge I wonder if they are worth the garden space. Greens, as always were overwhelmingly productive (I seeded about 75 square feet of one raised bed that we cover with plastic on hoops in mixed greens in February, because I was itching to start gardening. I’ll have to restrain myself next year.)
After failing with melons last year, I planted them in a new sheet-composted raised bed topped with a light soil/compost mix I trucked in and covered the bed with black weed cloth to help warm it. That 4×8 bed is doing well, with a half-dozen cantaloupes and 3 (melon-sized “personal”) watermelon so far. We love melons, but if I don’t get more than that out of that sized bed, I don’t think I’ll dedicate a bed to melons next year. I am growing the same cantaloupe and melons in my corn patches, substituted as the squash component of the 3 sisters planting. They are just starting to set some fruit, but they’re also not monopolizing a whole bed.
When I look at any given crop, such as strawberries, cucumbers, broccoli, basil or paste tomatoes, I think that I’m not getting much of my daily caloric needs out of it, and I wonder if I should just be planting grains and beans and potatoes. I am growing hopi blue corn for grinding this year in a test patch, and a small planting of beans for drying. I imagine I’ll expand those plantings significantly next year. I suppose I need to find ways to cook and like winter squash, I have yet to experiment much there.
A bit rambly, but it’s where I’m at in my gardening musings at this point in the summer. I’d love to hear what others are discovering/planning in their own gardens.