The weather is quickly turning cold and wet now that fall has officially arrived and we lost our garden to a hard frost 2 weeks ago. Now we are in full gear putting the garden to bed for the winter. To help the spring planting run as smooth as possible, there are some things that we try to do every year before the snow starts. It takes us a few weekends of work to accomplish everything however we are happy to have put the work in once spring arrives.
First we do some general clean up; putting away tarps, looking for any lost tools, folding up row covers, and pulling up stakes. We do not remove the dead plants unless they are diseased. Bean roots are fantastic nitrogen fixers; tomato plants get pushed over and then are left to breakdown over the winter; and our ducks help clean up the garden by enjoying a smorgasbord with most of the other plants. We do flame weed any patches that are particularly bad to help kill them off for next year.
Second we sheet mulch the entire garden. This is a huge task and takes quite a bit of time however saves us from many weed issues in the spring. This coming spring we are changing the sizes of our growing beds. We are going from a 4 foot bed width with 4 foot walk ways to 2 ½ foot beds with 2 foot walk ways. This will allow us to have more growing space in the same garden and 2 ½ feet is a standard industry
The clean up crew
size for row covers and equipment. Because of this change, we are laying down a very thick layer of much over the entire garden to kill any weeds that have popped up in the rows and to give us a healthy blank slate to work with next year.
Small-bed backyard gardeners can do the same thing. Lay a good layer of mulch, compost, or leaves over the entire area or just the beds if you do not have a lot of material to work with. It can be quite thick because organic matter breaks down quickly and anything left over in the spring can just be raked to the side.
We are friends with a local tree trimming company and they dump truck loads of wood chips for us to use. If you do not have that much room, try calling a local tree company and see if they would be willing to drop off a half load next time they are near your house. If you see a tree trimming truck in your neighborhood working, stop by and ask if you can have the chips, most companies are happy to help out.
The third fall garden task we do every year is plant garlic. Planting garlic in the fall is fantastic because it over-winters beautifully and takes one thing off of the spring to-do list. We are going to do an entire post on our garlic planting process in a week or two so stay tuned. You need to put garlic in before the ground freezes hard however after the temperature is consistently cold at night, otherwise the plants can sprout early. Fall garden prep can easily be put off after a long harvest season however the effort will make life so much better in the spring.
Every year I look through seed catalogs trying to find the best fruit and vegetable varieties for our climate and needs. One of my favorite vegetables to choose are carrots. There are so many fun varieties and home grown carrots taste absolutely fantastic! There are five basic types of Carrots.
- Chantenay develop stocky roots that become sweeter as the soil cools in the fall.
- Danvers make great juice and the sturdy roots store well.
- Imperator are long and need deep, sandy soil to thrive.
- Iniature have small, shallow roots that are often quite sweet and are good for heavy clay soil.
- Nantes are fast and easy to grow, and adapt to a range of climates and soils.
This spring I am going to plant three different varieties from Baker Creek.
Cosmic Purple – 80 days germination. These Carrots have bright purple skin and flesh that comes in shades of yellow and orange. This is a spicy and sweet-tasting root. These carrots are not only pretty, but purple carrots also are higher in antioxidants than orange carrots and they contain anti-inflammatory properties.
Danver Half Long – 70 days germination. The original Danvers Half Long dates back to the 1870s. This is the old standard American carrot that is adaptable, dependable, and productive. Thick 7” roots have good flavor. I grow this carrot for its smaller size and ability to grow in harder soil.
St. Valery – 70 days germination. The Vilmorins of France mentioned this variety in 1885 and said it had been grown a “long time.”A large carrot with bright red-orange roots that are sweet and tender. St. Valery is smooth, 10”-12” long, and 2”-3” in diameter. This is a rare variety and will be a new Heirloom for us this year. It is a traditional carrot that receives great reviews.
We live in Zone 6a where carrots can be grown in the spring and fall. Using a greenhouse or hoop house will mean a third crop can be harvested though the winter. To plant, begin sowing seeds directly in the garden three weeks before the last expected frost; plant again every 2 to 3 weeks after that. Most cultivars take 70 to 80 days to mature, so sow the last planting 2 to 3 months before the first expected fall frost. Sow seeds about a quarter inch deep and 2 inches apart, in rows spaced at least 10 inches apart; carrots do well in double or triple rows. Thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart, depending on the variety’s mature size. Carrot seeds are very small so they can take some time to plant. They also take longer to germinate than other vegetables so do not worry if they take awhile to come up.
For Zone 6a, the frost free date is April 14th so you should plant carrot seeds around March 24th.The reality is that in our area, there is usually a frost right before Mother’s Day. I do not put out any of my starts until after Mother’s Day for that reason. However, because carrots are stared from seed and are quite cold hearty, I feel comfortable planting these in late March is ok.
My family really enjoys squash and zucchini; even our 5 year old does not complain when it is brought to the table. I have some problems with growing these vegetables. Squash bore can take out up to ½ of a crop. When the vegetables are ready to pick, keeping up with the harvest can become a challenge. If they are not killed by the squash bore most plants will contract powdery mildew and die before the season is over. Every year I plant over two dozen summer squash and zucchini plants knowing that I need to compensate for the challenges. This year I grew a (new to me) variety of squash that fixes all of the issues!
Tromboncino Squash, also known as Zucchino Rampicante Squash, is an Italian heirloom vining zucchini and winter squash. It is October, the end of the growing season here, and the plants do not have any squash bore damage or mildew. Tromboncino is a sprawling thick-vined plant that curls if left to grow on the ground. Trellising helps the squash grow straighter and if you have a small space, this is one plant you should trellis, (my vines are over 12 feet long!). The curling gives the squash good character however makes it a little harder to prepare in the kitchen.
The squash takes about 70 days to mature to the green stage; at this point the squash can be picked and used as a green zucchini. If left to grow longer, the squash will get up to 3 feet long and be used as a winter squash. There is no way to pick this squash too late; if you miss the green stage, just let it go until you have a winter squash.
The neck of each squash is seedless. This makes preparing it very easy and each squash gives you pounds of seedless flesh to roast, grill, or bake. The bottom bulb of each squash contains the seeds which are very useful. The seeds are easy to scoop out (like you do with a butternut) and can be saved as seeds for next year’s garden or roasted and eaten like pumpkin seeds.When eaten in the green stage, the squash tastes like a cross between a zucchini and mild asparagus.
on the vine
If you let the squash ripen on the vine the flesh turns orange and tastes like a cross between a butternut squash and a sweet potato. Our favorite way to prepare this or any other squash is roasted with a little salt and pepper.
This is from two different stages of maturity, the green zucchini stage and the orange winter squash stage. These where cut from the neck of the squash.
Roasted Squash and Zucchini
6 cups zucchini cut into large chunks
6 cups yellow squash cut into large chunks
2 tbsp olive oil* plus extra for greasing pan
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Grease roasting pan with olive oil
Chop zucchini and yellow squash and put into a large bowl.
Drizzle olive oil over squash. Mix with a large spoon until squash is evenly coated.
Sprinkle salt, and pepper over squash. Mix with a large spoon until squash is evenly coated.
Pour squash onto roasting pan and spread it out until it evenly covers the pan.
Bake 30-45 minutes stirring once until cooked through and lightly brown.
*you can also use coconut oil or avocado oil
We must be very selective when it comes to buying products that we use on the farm. We do not have much expendable income so when we buy something we research products as much as possible. There are a few things that we look for in a product, regardless of what it is.
- Durability – Products must last. We will spend a little bit more on something that will last 10 or 20 years instead of needing replaced every season.
- Cost – Products must be affordable. There are products we would love to try however they just will not fit in the budget. We must find that special mix of quality and affordability.
- Availability – Shipping can be a problem with farm equipment and we do not live in an area that carries some of the specialty equipment that we need. Sometime we must buy online and when we do, it needs to be from a company that will work with us if the product breaks or does not work the way we need it to. We buy local whenever possible and buy from family owned businesses when we can.
- Function – We rarely buy something that only serves one function. Our equipment needs to perform multiple functions or it had better be a darn good product.
- Comfort – Products must be durable and useful. Overalls need to fit well; gloves cannot give blisters, handles need to comfortably fit into our hands, and seats should not make our rear-end fall asleep.
There are a few things we use on a daily bases the we love, some products that work very well with some modifications, and others that (even with a lot of research) have ended up as duds. We are going to be posting reviews of things that we love, like, and even the ones that did not work out for us. When you have a limited budget, knowing what works well and how to make something work well with a few tweaks can be invaluable. Stay tuned for our reviews!
Here is the breakdown of what was in each bed. This was quite a few years ago however I thought it might help someone visualize lay out options. Each bed is divided into 12” squares. Running strings to set-up a grid makes the process easy. Some beds will not add up to 16, I had some blank squares to add herbs in later.
Bed 1 (4’x4’x6″)
• Four squares of peas – 6 plants per square (started from seeds, these did well)
• Three squares of broccoli – 1 plant per square (bought plants from garden store, all of these bolted before they got big enough to pick)
• Nine squares of cabbage – 1 plant per square (bought plants from garden store, I got 2 good cabbages however had some issues with slugs)
Bed 2 (4’x4’x12″)[This bed is deeper because root vegetables need deeper soil]
• Four squares of white onion starts – 16 per square (the kind that have green tops and bundled together, these did well)
• Four squares of white onion bulb starts – 16 per square (come in a bag of 84 bulbs, these did well)
• Three squares of sweet mini carrots – 16 per square (started from seeds, these tasted good however did not grow straight)
• Three squares of heirloom touchon carrots – 16 per square (started from seeds, these grew well and tasted great)
• Two squares of brussel sprouts (bought plants from garden store, these grew really well however I needed to harvest them more often)
Bed 3 (4’x4’x6″)
• Three squares of cucumbers – 2 per square (started from seeds, these did fantastic I had a lot of cucumbers to pickle)
• One square of green beans – 6 per square (started from seeds, these grew well however I needed to plant more of them)
• Four squares of cabbage – 1 per square (bought plants from garden store, these bolted and never really did much)
• Eight empty
Bed 4 (4’x4’x6″)
• Two squares of Roma tomatoes 1 per square (started from seeds, did now grow well)
• One square of super sweet cherry tomatoes – 1 per square (bought plants from garden store, grew very well)
• Four squares of Rutgers tomatoes – 1 per square (bought plants from garden store, grew well)
• Four squares of green bell peppers – 1 per square (bought plants from garden store, grew well)
• One square of red bell peppers – 1 per square (bought plant from garden store, never turned red)
• One square of hot peppers – 1 per square (started from seeds, never turned red)
• One square of jalapeno peppers – 1 per square (bought plants from garden store, grew very well)
Most things grew well however I did have some issues. Broccoli and Cabbage are hard to grow in our area. I did not have luck with them my first year and I have not had much luck since then. They also take up quite a bit of room with not much return. If you have a small space to work with, I suggest passing on these two. The Brussel sprouts were fun to grow and did yield quite a bit however they take a long time to produce so if you want a fast return, skip this one. Two of the peppers I picked did not ripen, I am in zone 5 (some say 6 however it is a cold 6). I have learned to plant northern varieties and have had better luck however some years peppers still do not make it. If this is your first garden, plant a lot of different things; even if they do not grow well for you they will still teach you something!
When I first started gardening, we had a small yard and I had no idea what I was doing. I had very little experience with growing anything and I had just become a mom for the first time. I needed a method of gardening that was easy to understand and relatively low maintenance. Because we had a small yard and I wanted to try and grow a lot in a small space, I went with the Square Foot Method. The first thing I did was read “All New Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew. This book is fantastic! It gives very easy instructions for building the boxes, mixing the soil, building cages to keep the critters out, and what to plant when.
Clint helped me (he did a lot of the work…) build four boxes 4’x4′. Three of the boxes were 6 inches deep and one box was 12 inches deep. Most plants can grow in 6 inches of soil however I wanted to grow carrots and onions which need a bit more room. We built cages to sit on top of the boxs until the plants were big enough to keep out evil squirrels(our squirrels were possessed!!). They would do things just to mess with me, like dig up my plants and lay them next to the bed, hide things in my pots, and then they would sit on my deck looking in the windows to see my frustration.
I started by planting cabbage, broccoli, peas, and onions. Hindsight being 20/20 those might not have been the best first plants for me to choose but they did teach me a lot. Then later in the season, I planted carrots, brussel sprouts, peppers,
tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, more cabbage, and herbs. The Square foot method was perfect for me because of the grid it uses. Each 4 x 4 box is broken up into 1 foot squares and each square could be planted with something different. Mel’s book does a great job of explaining how much of each thing to plant in the square and if you are new to gardening I recommend you read his full book. This is a basic explanation of how much can go in each 1’ x 1’ block.
cleversurvivalist made this image
By using raised beds, there was very little weeding and the soil was just right because we filled each box with a special mix called Mel’s Mix. I will do another blog that talks about mixing the soil for the boxes. I think this really is the perfect growing method to use for a first time gardener and it gave me a lot of confidence my first year. Many first time gardeners can get very discouraged by weeds and hard-to-work-with soil. Raised beds and a simple grid can fix many of those problems! This is also a way for someone who has no usable soil to grow their own food. Raised beds can be set on a deck, made to fit right next to a driveway, worked into a corner of a tiny yard or placed in a front yard if that’s where the sun is. I still use some aspects of square foot gardening in our huge market garden.
Welcome to Woodhaven Place Homestead and Gardens. Our journey began Christmas week 2012 after spending three years reading about homesteading, practicing in our small urban back yard, and learning everything possible before actually moving forward. Our vision was a small farm out in the country that fit our budget and location needs however a very different path was in store for our little homestead.
I grew up in a metropolitan area that still has some undeveloped land. One weekend, we attended an open house for a farm that I had driven past most of my life and the house turned out to be very run down and kind of frightening. During the open house, we began talking to another person walking around who was not actually looking for a farm, just curious to see the inside of the old farm house. We told her what kind of property we were looking for and to our surprise, she told us to follow her home! Her neighbor was going to list their 5 ½ acre property in the next few weeks.
This was the falling down barn we started out with. This was after we had taken down 8 dead trees around it.
Woodhaven Place is 5 ½ acres in the middle of the suburbs. Driving up to our home you would never know a working homestead is in the back. The property backs up to farm land on one side, suburban homes on three sides, and is hidden by a thick perimeter woods all around. After much work clearing overgrown brush and dead trees, we have approximately 3 acres in the middle for a garden. With huge evergreen and hardwood trees protecting our little homestead on all sides, it feels like being out in the middle of the country, however we are only 5 minutes away from the theater, shopping malls, all the city conveniences. We are so blessed to have found our dream property right in the middle of our family and friends.
The start of our recycled pallet fence.
Because we really are “urban homesteaders” we have a fantastic opportunity to expose farming, bee keeping, food preservation, and many other homestead skills to the surrounding community. We believe that we have been placed in the perfect position to do what we have always wanted, live a more self reliant life and show others how to do the same. Woodhaven Place has two main goals: provide the surrounding area with healthily local products and teach people why knowing their “farmer” is important. Woodhaven Place strives to help preserve a very special food heritage and teach lost farming skills to urban people. The property we live on was once used as a hobby farm, apple trees, wild red and black berries, overgrown grape arbors, and mulberry trees have all been uncovered and are being nursed back to productive health. We will love and care for Woodhaven Place with the goal of making a productive homestead that future generations can be proud to call their own.