start a garden

One bite at a time together: Start a garden (project 36)

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by Jeannett

Jeannett Gibson is a mom to four and wife to one who loves color and believes in story. She loves to tell you hers and wants to hear yours, too...because there is really no sense in wasting our suffering or not sharing in each other's joy. She blogs, fund raises, and sometimes even gets her crafty pants on at Life Rearranged.

My husband and I often wax poetically about someday living in the country.

Nothing fancy or elaborate.  Just a couple of acres where the kids can climb trees, scrape knees, dig holes, and get dirt under their fingernails.  Our dream is to someday build a house in the country.  

We may never actually do it, but it’s a fun dream.  Our tastes have changed over the years, but the constants of this fake dream house always include an open airy kitchen, a deep wrap around porch, and a garden.

I have these romanticized visions of slowly sipped hot coffee on my cozy, perfectly pillowed swing. Listening to the birds chirp as the sun rises over my little patch of land.  A vintage ruffled apron with faded yellow roses on it, as I prune and trim and harvest a bounty of vegetables into my handwoven basket.

It’s all very romantic and simple.  And perfect.  And not real.

Because, for now anyway, we live in the suburbs.  In a tract home that looks like every other house in the neighborhood.  On a cul-de-sac.  On a tiny lot.  It is California, after all.  The sprawling yards I see of the “suburbs” of the Midwest are nothing like the ‘burbs I live in.  My backyard is no more than a 50’x50′ square (which is actually one of the largest in the whole neighborhood!).

My dreams of an apron wearing harvest will have to wait.

That is, until I was inspired by One Bite at a Time to start a garden.  Just like that.  No minimum requirements.  Nothing was too small.  Tsh’s book implored me to start, even if it was just a couple of pots on a tiny urban balcony.

I’ve been working through One Bite all year, and I was inspired.  So I walked out into my (already landscaped) backyard, tilted my head to the side, squinted, and tried to think outside of the box a little…and find a space where I could do some growing.

We had a small area off to the side that used to house kids’ toys, a deck box, and our garden hose.

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It’s a small space.  No more than 10’x4′.  It won’t keep me from having to buy vegetables for my family of 6, but it’s a dirt-under-my-fingernails start.

Every time I see this little ragamuffin space, I’m reminded that I don’t have to wait until things are Just So.  A little rearranging and some elbow grease are all I really need. These creative containers helped, too.

Start a garden - from One Bite at a Time by Tsh Oxenreider on SimpleMom.net

For those of you scared, let me tell you: I know nothing about vegetable gardening.  My tomato plants are looking wild, I think I have some white mold on my squash leaves, and I have no idea when I’m supposed to pick the zucchini that are growing.  But you know what?  I don’t care.  I’ll google it.  I bought this book. I’ll figure it out.

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I even went a step further and got chickens.  Yes, chickens.  Real ones.  That will lay eggs.  Chickens are so trendy.  But I don’t care.  They’re bringing a little bit of country to my decidedly not-country space.

And there are few things I am loving more these days than my itty bitty patch of veggies and my cute little coop.

Looks like I better get me an apron soon.

Do you have a vegetable garden?  Have you been waiting until you have “more space”?  What’s stopping you?

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Comments

  1. I’ve been contemplating a garden this year. We currently live in a one bedroom apartment with absolutely no yard. But I’ve been thinking about getting a container large enough for a tomato plant to put on our patio. Your post is giving me some motivation to actually do it!

  2. We just repatriated back to the US after living in Delhi and Singapore and the ONE thing I was most excited about? Planting a garden!

    We’ve got a small space .. but we’re using it as much as we can. (I’m with you … have no idea what we are really doing, but it’s great to have that dirt under the fingernails!)

  3. avatar
    Gina Comer says:

    Your coop is so cute. What brand/plan is it? Our coop is very shed-like, we need an update! Love the banners.

  4. I think so many are itching to grow something and this is a great push to “just do it!” We took the plunge this year and built a humble garden in our suburban backyard. Like you said, it’s not going to replace all of our vegetable purchases, but it’s an experience that’s getting us closer to our food and the ultimate Provider of it!

    We’re interested in jumping on the chicken bandwagon, and your coop is so spacious (and adorable!). Was it a kit or did you design it yourself?

  5. I have a similar ‘one day…’ dream, a bit of land in the countryside, with a veggie patch and garden, however my dream also includes a couple of donkeys! I currently have no garden, just a small paved area outside my front door with a few humble pots. However, I’m going to get my thinking cap on and try to bring a bit of the country to my front door… minus the donkeys! Oh, and I LOVE that your chickens have their very own bunting!

  6. We’re doing a gardening experiment this year, too! We’ve built raised beds in an unused part of our driveway. We’ve followed the square foot garden method, too. It’s working so well! The plants are already enormous!

    The best part: the kids are trying veggies they wouldn’t let pass their lips before. Spinach is a new favourite. Yeah, baby! Worth every penny and minute we’ve put into it.

    Love your chicken coop, Jeannett! A little envious, we’d love chickens, but Canadian winters mean a fall slaughter. By then we’d have named them, love them and we’d have to move them into the guest room when the snow comes. :)

    • Oh yeah…there’s no way.
      My son walked into the kitchen one day holding Snow White (the all black chicken…of course) while I was cooking…chicken. For dinner.
      It was awkward and I sent him back outside in a flash. Ha!

  7. This year we are finally living in a space where there is no HOA to prevent us from having a garden. We started small – with a 4×4 box based on the Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew. We had never gardened before. Like you, we still have to buy vegetables, and not everything we planted is doing well. However, we have more space, and this fall we plan to expand. I would recommend everyone try some sort of growing. Worse that can happen is you fail and decide its not for you. Best that can happen is you find a new passion as we did!

  8. Ahh, I too dream about a space in the country! I live in a small townhouse in Ontario, Canada where our growing seasons are very short.

    My goal this year was to grow as much food as I can in the space I have. My 6×8 square foot garden has grown to include veggies among the flowers, 4-1 apple tree shading my patio, herbs in containers and blueberries as a hedge.

    There is something satisfying about providing food for your family that you have grown yourself. And yes, it’s teaching me patience and how to work with Mother Nature.

    Love your chickens and their coop! Enjoy your harvest.

  9. We turned our whole side yard into a garden! We were gardening at a community garden but they raised their prices so we started considering other options, including our own yard! We have a long narrow lot but we have room for quite a few plants! My husband is the primary gardener though, while I’m the primary cook and food-putter-upper. :)

  10. Good for you! Postponing dreams and plans until things are “Just So” is a big one for me, so this is very inspiring. Thank you!

  11. I can’t believe the neighborhood you described in California allows chickens! That’s so cool!
    We moved out of southern California 8 years ago. We have 3 acres in Georgia which is lovely, but still no garden and the neighborhood does not allow chickens!
    I agree that dreams are awesome (not sure we’ll ever build our screened in porch but I like to think about it, but I do plan to plant a garden next year). But the reason for my comment is to encourage people to find the beauty in the place they are now, much like you are encouraging gardening no matter how small. When I go back to California on annual trips, I see such incredible beauty. I noticed the big things when I lived there, like the ocean, but not the little things, like the open sky, the style of the buildings and the native plants. Right now I have the sound of the gentle rain outside my window watering my dense green woodland yard, and it’s beautiful. So is the walk in the morning that a city dweller can take to a coffee shop, or the way the sun is rising over a bug free desert oasis. You don’t need to move to the country or across the country to make your dreams come true.
    You have encouraged me to get Tsh’s book soon. I think the projects sound like fun, and a good way to add value to what we already have.

  12. I LOVE that you started a garden!

    I live in a mobile home, and the ground is contaminated from a nearby military area. My garden is a containerized garden atop my brand-new 8’x16′ deck. People say to me all the time, “Oh, I wish I had the space for a garden!” I laugh, because within my tiny space I’m growing: beans, pumpkins, squash, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots… and enough herbs to share!

    Tsh’s books are wonderful. I started following her blog via her first book, Organized Simplicity… and found YOUR blog that way too! Thanks for all of your wonderful tips & stories; they truly help, when we’re feeling overwhelmed!

  13. You’re allowed to have chickens? Wow, somehow your suburban neighborhood is cooler than my small town one!
    I’ve tried a couple times to garden, and then a couple weeks go by and I’ve totally forgotten that I planted something and it’s now dead.
    Thank God my children are loud or they too would probably have died long ago.

    • Yup. Chickens are okay, but no roosters. You might check with your local Planning Department. Many cities are changing their regulations to allow chickens in suburban neighborhoods. Honestly, they are SILENT. My dogs and kids make way more racket!

  14. Be glad you live in a tract neighborhood where the wild animals are non-existent. I live in one of the many canyons in Los Angeles in a hillside home with zero driveway and no front yard. For the last 5 years, I have tied to garden just to have everything eaten by gophers, rabbits, deer and birds. I have tried fencing and bird netting over everthing. Last year, I took a pick axe to my soil and spent 2 months digging out a flower so i could put gopher proof wiring at he bottom of the flower box. Didn’t work! I wii have an entire tomato plant disappear in one night. I finally started planting strawberries and lettuce in pots in the yard (which I already owned so it didn’t cost me any extra money). The pots,covered with bird netting, are actually working out. I’m getting some lovely strawberries this summer. It’s just weird that I have an entire backyard I could use for gardening but then it just gets eaten up.

    I also can’t believe that your neighborhood allows chickens. Don’t you have a homeowners association? I’m surprised that there hasn’t been a complaint.

    • Oh yeah…it is nice. Although ironically, my chickens are wreaking havoc on my garden! We just had to fence it because they were eating my tomatoes! Ha!

      No HOA here. And the city we live in allows chickens, but not roosters. Many cities are re-vamping zoning ordinances to allow chickens in recent years. As for complaints, I don’t even know how anyone would know they were there except for hearing my kids talk about them. They don’t make any noise and we rake out the coop every weekend, so there’s no smell.

  15. I love this concept!! I love making your dreams come true RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE.

    I’m doing mostly container gardening right now. It’s been awesome going out and picking tomatoes off the plant on my porch.

  16. I LOVE the idea of gardening and providing at least a few fresh, home-grown foods for my family. However, I am a plant serial killer. I never manage to keep anything alive for more than a few weeks. Maybe I could do chickens – I have better luck with animals. Not sure if they’re allowed in our strict HOA though!

  17. avatar
    Elizabeth says:

    I love gardening…so glad you are enjoying it. We had to call off the garden this year because we just moved, my husband just started a new job (farming for a company), we just had a litter of puppies that just barely left to their new homes, I have 3 littles and am pregnant with #4, we don’t have grass yet just a lot of dirt and we were going to kill ourselves trying to get a later planted garden. I am so excited to get back to it next year though because it is fun, kids learn so much, and we do live in the country and have plenty of space. My fingers are itching reading this post.

  18. We have a little garden too this year, and have already been taught lessons from it. :) I am amazes that you’re allowed chickens. We are not allowed chickens in our small hamlet, I believe they have to be so far away from other homes (?) My husband and kids would love to have them though! Check with your by-law officer before getting chickens.

  19. We have the same coop you do and we love it. We used it when our chicks were babies, then for a portable chicken tractor when their feathers all came in & we could move them outside. We just recently moved them into our 1880’s barn coop and they’re loving it there. So far raising these guys has been a blast!

    Gardening is near & dear to my heart as well and we’ve been able to grow quite a bit in our little raised-bed garden. I think I was born to have my hands in the dirt so not having a garden would be torture to me. LOL

    ~Taylor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

  20. It sounds like you could use that apron! ;)

    We have the same So Cal backyard situation, except ours is totally shaded by trees. No sun. Nothing garden-like will grow! It finally occurred to me this year to try planting containers on our second-story balcony, where there is plenty of sun. So far, so good! It won’t feed my family (6 kiddos), but it’s still a good start. Now for some chickens, right? :)

  21. I have the space but have felt like I lack the knowledge and time (3yo and infant at home) to start a garden. Oh, and I have a terribly black thumb with anything I’ve ever tried to grow indoors. My husband and I have talked about it though, and I’d like to start small and take some baby steps toward having a garden. One question comes to mind as we’ve had 8-10 inches of rain here in the FL panhandle the last few days, with a terribly flooded yard: what happens to my garden in rain like this? Is it all washed away? Might raised beds protect things in that much water?

  22. I live in a cul de sac too but have the added issue that majority if our backyard is covered in concrete. I did however start a garden this year and have fallen in love with gardening. I planted everything in containers and have tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. I am obsessed and have learned so much these pase few months about how to grow things well. I have fallen so in love with it that our backyard renovations may happen faster so I can get a raised bed next year. :)

  23. Doing something as simple as buying a a few small planters to plant herbs is a great way to start some family gardening. Fresh herbs add so some much more flavor than dried.

  24. Hi, it’s lovely to hear about your garden. I’m from England but living in the tropics in Australia, and have been gardening here for a couple of years…a lot of trial and error finding the plants that will survive this climate!! It’s good to start small, especially if you’re hand watering!
    Best wishes

  25. I live in an apartment building with nearly no green space at all. I have some friends who own a house in a nearby suburb, and I’m seriously considering farming out their backyard next summer (raised beds, if I can scrape up the money). Veggies for me, less lawn to mow for them; its a win-win! :)

  26. We grow a few things, but tomatoes have eluded me. This year, I planted a few tomato plants, including a small grape one at the suggestion of a gardener friend. He said they’re great for kids because of how easy to grow they are. He was right, and it’s been so fun to actually get a ‘harvest’ of little tomatoes. My kids keep track of when the tomatoes are getting red and need to get plucked, and it’s been so fun!

  27. I have your same dream. If it weren’t for the need to commute to the job in the city…

    This year we upgraded from pots of tomatoes and herbs on the deck to the real deal (at least in the suburbs) – two raised bed planters. My plants are going crazy and I LOVE IT. Watering my garden is total zen for me. Sure, not everything is going to turn out delicious, but walking outside to pick lettuce and herbs for a salad is soooo good for my soul. Off to pick my first crop of beans now! =) =) =)

  28. You go girl! I absolutely love your space and I love that fact that you got yourself some chickens. What a great way to make use of the room that you have!

  29. I LOVE your chicken coup! I have been gardening for a couple of years now and I find it incredibly therapeutic. Do you find the chicken coup get’s extremely filthy in a small space? I’d love to see a post on how you maintain it. Beautiful blog – I’m a newbie here :)

  30. I love gardening! Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do so since I’m in the Air Force. We move around a lot and are usually renting places and don’t want to spend the time and effort to put in a garden that we will only enjoy for a few summers. I found this AWESOME thing called a Tower Garden. We love it. It can move with us and we can bring it inside in the winter. It doesn’t take up much space at all and we get our own fruits and veggies from it!

  31. I can relate! Last year we lived with a tiny suburb yard, and I managed to convert the unused south side yard into a raised bed garden (our home was on bedrock). Dispite the tiny size (10×4) I got a bountiful harvest of peas, beans and zucchini year after year, just rotating their locations around the plot and dumping a couple bags manure on top every fall with the leaves. I also had some patio tomatoes in large pots that were the envy of my neighbours and raspberry canes planted against a fence. Herbs in pots too. There is something incredibly satisfying about eating something that comes from the work of your own two hands! It was good for my young kids to see where food comes from too.

    We have moved since then to a place with a much bigger yard and enough soil to actually put plants in the ground (!) It is a lot more work and just not quite the same sense of intimacy with the plants. There is not enough time to coo at the lush leaves as I prune and pick, and the garden is more than 30 feet from the back door meaning I can’t toddle out in my slippers with my tea to sit on the edge of the raised beds admiring my handiwork like before.

    I’m not complaining ;~)

    I’m just saying the little bit of soil (no matter how small) to grow things is a very rewarding thing indeed.

    The best part is, In this new place we have chickens too! A life long dream to have them, and I don’t regret the work one bit! We adopted some “mature”, hand-raised hens, the eggs are not as regular as with young ones, but their extremely friendly personalities more than make up for that. They help with the garden (I let them free range in the garden plot all winter) and help me weed and pest control now that my veggie plants are bigger. Sure they help themselves to the brocoli heads and the occassional lettuce plant, but I don’t mind sharing because I know there are eggs in the works too!

  32. I love your chicken coop! I know chickens are trending as you said but I’ve wanted son for a looong time. My hubby – not so much. So I convinced my parents instead. :-)
    As for vegetables or any thing that grows in the ground I have had no luck. Maybe I’ll give it another try next year!

  33. I love how you dream for the future but also live part of that dream now! I love gardening – it’s like free therapy. We grow raspberries, blueberries, strawberries as well as three raised beds. We just rototilled up another large bed in preparation for next season. Grow what you can where you are. You are an inspiration to many would be apron wearers : )

  34. I like your advice on garden planning. It was very informative and gave me inspiration to get out and do a garden myself. I especially liked the item on vegie gardening and have decided to start my own and look forward to the results. I am also a blogger on debt free living in Australia and don’t wish to go against any policy of advertising on your site, but would be blessed if you would add my site to your blog reading list.
    Hope to give you an update on my vegies in the next few months.

  35. I’ve been trying to get the courage to start a garden. I’m thinking about taking a gardening class. Thanks for the encouragement! I can do it!

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