The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Build your garden infrastructure

IrrigationIf you're like me, planning is fun but you really want to start eating your own tomatoes ASAP.  My gardening advice for beginning homesteaders is --- think big, start small.

You will be a lot happier in the long run if you spend most of your energy the first year working on garden infrastructure.  Plan permanent paths based on nodes, and make sure that your paths are wide enough.  I've found that paths between garden beds should be about three feet wide to give me room to easily maneuver a wheelbarrow, lawnmower, and garden cart through them.

Think about irrigation from the beginning.  We started planting before we had any way to get water to our crops, so we ended up hauling water in five gallon buckets from the creek.  Don't repeat our mistakes --- check out our irrigation series for more information.

Raised bedsChances are you're going to have to deal with deer or other animals nibbling your crops.  If you have a small garden, go ahead and put in the time up front to build a fence.  If your garden is going to be large, like ours, now's the time to start experimenting with deer deterrants the way Mark has.  There is nothing worse than waking up one morning to find out that your carefully tended garden has been eaten overnight.

When you are ready to plant, I highly recommend building wall-less raised beds.  Or, if you have access to the materials, build no-till raised beds to protect your soil ecology.  Raised beds are very energy intensive at first, but they're good for your garden and will also force you to start small.

You may also be dreaming of fruit trees.  It can't hurt to put in a few your first year, but make sure that you have time to take care of the ones you put in.  It's better to build a really good raised bed for one tree the first year than to hastily throw ten trees in the ground and watch them all die.

This post is part of our Starting Out on the Homestead lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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You are so right about this. Starting out slow can be key. The first year I double dug the bed by hand and had a small "permanent" raised bed for perennial vegetables (my asparagus) and then a 4 x 4 plot for vegetables a la square foot gardening. We've slowly expanded each year from there!

When we move out to the acreage we'll be able to plot out a larger garden area as well as a few acres of crops which will need to be rotated. Thankfully my husband has experience with the practical aspects, while I am good at sketching and planning. :-) Always have a steno notepad at hand!

Angela <><

Comment by Angela England Sun Aug 16 00:22:24 2009
You two sound like me and Mark. I'm always planning away and then he has to help me put my plans into practice. :-)
Comment by anna Sun Aug 16 15:33:10 2009

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