We moved to our home just a mere 10 years ago. We had no idea we wanted to be homesteaders then, let alone as self sufficient as we are. We just wanted to raise our family, in a home with a decent sized backyard.
Who knew we would be able to turn that backyard into the ability to raise 75% of our family’s food each year? Certainly not us!
However, we have made so many mistakes along the way. And, as part of our learning, mistakes are AWESOME. They tell us what didn’t work, and give us the ability to try again.
The first mistake we made was we didn’t plan.
That seems to be our biggest mistake in any undertaking, the lack of think through and planning for the final project. We had come across some great books on square foot gardening, and thought “that’s really cool, totally for us”.
So, we put together 2 4×4 beds, and filled it with dirt from the yard. It was dry dirt, lacking any nutrients, and just plain not right for a garden. What did we know back then, though? With 2 4×4 beds, we figured that we had room for 32 plants, taking the square foot gardening very literally.
Did we plant 32 plants? Um, NO! We put over 200 plants and seeds total in those little beds, testing the ground to the fullest. It was actually amazing that we got 6 green beans and 2 carrots that year, given the amount of space those little plants had to grow.
Our next year, we built more beds and tilled up some extra space to expand our garden even more.
Our next big mistake was thinking that we needed to plant all the plants at the same time. I had no idea that some plants needed different temperatures. I tossed broccoli plants in at the same time as pepper and tomato plants, and lovingly planted rows of peas alongside the rows of green bean seeds.
As you can imagine, the broccoli and peas didn’t do very well, because they need cooler weather to thrive, and the tomato plants fared a bit better. We got 20 tomatoes that year.
Did I mention that we didn’t think to water the garden ourselves? We thought that the rainfall was enough… (sigh)
The following year (our 3rd year in the house) we started to wise up.
We researched our seeds a bit better, and understood different planting times. We kept with the 4×4 beds, but added 9 more to our garden to give us more space and make it super easy to weed them.
We remembered to put poles in for the green beans to climb, staked up the tomatoes with cages and our pepper plants loved the times we remembered to water them.
We got a “bumper crop” of veggies that year. I remember bringing in a 16 quart stock pot of tomatoes 3 different times, and the green beans that we harvested was enough for our family to enjoy all summer long. If only we had thought about sunshine exposure for our plants.
See, our garden was on the north side of our yard at the time.
Overlooking our beautiful garden that year were two old oak trees that shaded the garden most of the day after 1PM as well. Sure, the sun didn’t beat down on the plants during the hottest parts of the day, but they were not getting enough light to really do well. At least we remembered to water the garden on a regular basis, right?
Finally, we moved our garden beds to the south side of our yard.
There were also no trees shading the area, so it got full sunlight each day. We remembered to water the plants, daily if needed and remembered to water them well so that they were fully saturated.
Our research and planning had gotten much better, and we felt very confident about starting our own plants from seeds that year. We bought one of those little seed starter kits from our home and garden store, planted some seeds.
Of course, the seedlings had barely grown big enough to handle the outside, but we put the out there anyway when we felt the time was right. We had totally forgotten to harden off the seedlings and give them a fighting chance to survive.
That was an expensive year for us, because not only had we invested in seeds and seed starters, we wound up buying all our plants anyway since the seedlings didn’t survive.
We had to learn each year, from our previous year’s failures.
The thing is, we didn’t give up. No matter what, we had to keep trying. Learning what worked and what didn’t work was the best thing for us. Each year, we took away both successes and failures and made it better the following year.
It really helped us understand the entire process, and gave us the tools we needed to be far more successful.