Our garden is an important part of our farm. While we are still working on it bringing in an income, it allows us to eat amazing fresh vegetables all summer, and it keeps our freezer and pantry shelves stocked for the winter.
Every garden is different, and every gardener wants something different from their plot of land. Here are eight things that we feel are very important to our garden, and hopefully they will give you some ideas for your own.
We love having our dogs in the garden...but they could be very destructive. To nip any potential problems in the bud, it is important we consider them when we plan our garden. Setting aside places for them to rest, drink, and dig allows our dogs to be comfortable and free while spending time with us in the garden. Also, laying out the garden in a clear way with distinct paths helps the dogs move around the garden without walking over sensitive plants. Of course it takes time to train them where they should and should not go.
Be patient with your dog, and understand their breed characteristics. There is usually a way to incorporate them into your garden routine even if it is just planting extra rows of each vegetable to replace anything they damage.
Having children in the garden is a lot like having dogs. They need places to rest and play, and it takes time to teach them where to walk and where not to dig. And maybe plant an extra row to make up for what they squish and what they eat! Our picky-eater toddler will eat just about anything when she can pick it fresh in the garden.
I don't think it is ever too young for a child to garden (our youngest was napping in the garden since she was a week old), and we let them help as soon as they are able and willing. Sure, they pull up the odd plant while weeding, but how else are they going to learn which is food and which is a weed? And sure, they sometimes get a little carried away when digging and hoeing, but the vegetables lost cannot compare with the experience gained.
#3 Bolting Vegetables
I learned a lot about radishes this year. Not only are the plants larger than I expected, but they have beautiful flowers which attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and they produce edible seed pods (which I actually like better than the radish root). I learned all this because we left our radishes in the ground to bolt and flower. We often think that a plants end purpose is to produce food for us. But when we leave things alone, we discover that our food is a tiny part of a vast and diverse natural world.
We are still learning all the benefits of mulching, but our main reason for mulching is weed control. You can mulch with just about anything: plywood, tarps, old drywall, plastic, landscape fabric, wool, newspaper, cardboard, straw. What you use depends on what you want to achieve, whether it is to choke our weeds (old tarps work great) or add fertility to the soil (plastic might not be the best choice).
Whatever you use, just be sure that it won't leach harmful chemicals into the ground!
#5 Plant Diversity
Mono-cropping causes most of the problems plagued by modern agriculture. Soil depletion and erosion, dependence on pesticides and herbicides, and the loss of heritage seed varieties are some problems that can be mitigated by plant diversity. While these issues are more often found on large commercial farms, even a small garden supporting plant diversity can have a significant positive impact.
Another benefit of plant diversity is that each year, one or two vegetables probably won't yield very well, and planting different vegetables ensures our pantry will still stay stocked for the winter. Last year our peas and zucchini barely produced. This year, our beans struggled to thrive. But we still have more than enough food because the rest of our garden grew beautifully.
#6 Perennials and Annuals
I think permaculture is brilliant idea that should be considered in all aspects of agriculture. While I am definitely not an expert in all the teachings of permaculture, I think its concept of combing annuals and perennials is an invaluable piece that is missing from many gardens. Adding perennials to our garden has not only created a more beautiful environment, but it has also helped with water retention, erosion, weed control, "pest" infestation, beneficial wildlife diversity, soil health, and probably many more things that are unnoticed by my ignorant eye.
Plus, growing edible perennials such as rhubarb, strawberries, and currants has enabled us to be far more self-reliant. Our next goal is to expand into perennial vegetables that are hardy for Zone 2b!
#7 Compost Bins
Our compost bins are a very important part of our farm. They clean up all the excess organic matter that our farm produces and returns it to the soil. We put everything we can in our compost: bedding from the chicken house, horse manure, table scraps, shavings from our pet pig's potty, sheep poop, and any excess plant matter from the garden.
There are two basic types of compost: hot compost where you actively turn the pile and create compost quickly; and cold composting where you simply leave a pile of organic matter to slowly decompose on its own. We do cold composting. It takes about 2 years for the compost to decompose, but the end result is a nutrient rich soil that does wonders for the garden.
#8 Vegetables You Like Eating
Gardening is hard work. So why would we spend all that time and energy growing things we don't like! A garden should be practical, but above all it should be enjoyable, and the best part is enjoying the fruits of your labours at the dinner table.
When I first started gardening, I grew the vegetables that I thought I "should" eat. If a seed would mature in our short growing season...then I planted it. Needless to say, I wasted a lot of food in those first few years, until I realized that my joy of gardening is linked to my joy of eating.
Being vegan, vegetables are an integral part of our diet...but that doesn't mean we have to eat the yucky ones!
There are many aspects to a garden. Not only do we try to keep our garden in balance, but we try to keep our garden in balance with our whole farm. Check out our blog for more articles about what we do on our farm and in our garden.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.