Adventures in Gardening

My family and I just moved to our ‘soon to be’ hobby farm last fall.

We moved so we could do things like raise livestock and grow a great big garden. When we lived in a neighborhood, we always turned a little earth and plopped a few garden center veggie seedlings in the ground around mid May.  That never yielded much success… …….as soon as my squash would start to flower and it would look like our patience was about to pay off, a grub would come along and hollow out the stalk of my little plant, or when the green tomatoes were just starting to turn a beautiful shade of red, I’d forget to water them, then to make up for the self-inflicted drought, I’d water the heck out of them and cause them all to split.

Sob stories of my unsuccessful gardening like these are many!  I joke about having a black thumb, but that was really just my excuse not to learn the art of organic gardening.Rhode Island Red

When we moved to the country,  we knew that it was time to get serious about developing a supply of food that our family could depend on. Last fall we started out with chickens!  (That’s been a learning curve!  But perhaps a good story for another post……)

And all winter long, we’ve been dreaming of spring! Reading every gardening book I can get my hands on, mapping out my veggie plot, and pouring over seed catalogs, waiting for the moment that first little green leaf would poke itself through the earth and sing promises of summer abundance!

We began in early February…  My husband built this set up in our furnace room.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Within a few days, our tomato plants of varying variety began to emerge!!  Followed shortly by the cabbage.  And after giving up on the pepper plants (notice them stacked up on top of each other at the back.  I didn’t water them for WEEKS), about 6 weeks after planting them, they began to sprout!

We figure that half(or less) of our seedlings won’t make it to maturity.  So we’ve planted enough to give us some replacements when the inevitable happens.

After further reading, I’m not convinced that starting seeds early is going to be worth the trouble.  Sounds like you really have to baby the transplants.  I learned new vocabulary like ‘hardening off’ which is the process of getting little seedlings used to being outdoors a few hours at a time.  Sounds like a lot of work to me!  Transplanted seedlings are the vegetable equivalent of a Mama’s Boy……..  Maybe the extra attention will pay off and I’ll end up with the Bill Gates of tomato plants, but I’m wondering if all this hand holding and coddling with be worth my time {shrug} Time will tell!

So, while the jury is still out on the topic of starting seedlings indoors, I found a few plants that I can actually plant outside now!  Here in West Michigan, our avg date of last frost is around mid May.  (Find last frost dates)

When to Plant

Plants are classified as very hardy, frost tolerant, tender, and hot weather.  Very hardy plants can be seeded directly in the ground 4-6 weeks before avg date of last frost and frost tolerant plants can go in 2-3 weeks before last frost date.  Tender plants go in the ground right around the last frost, and hot weather plants 2-3 weeks later.  Knowing what veggies to plant when will allow you to get started earlier than you thought, and also protect vulnerable plants from the colder weather.

I found a wonderful resource from Mother Earth News.  They have garden planning software that will tailor a planting calendar to your area.  And then it will even e-mail you when it’s time to plant or harvest something!  I’ve had a lot of fun playing with my 30 day free trial.  After that it’s only $25/yr, a steal for all the helpful tools that it has!!

Success with Succession Gardening

I also found a great book, ‘Starter Vegetable Gardens’ that includes plans for gardens of all sizes.   One thing I love about this book is, it gives you ideas of what to plant after your cool weather crops are finished.  That way there will never be an unproductive empty spot in my garden!

The idea behind succession gardening is that once a plant has been harvested for the season, you can plant something in it’s place that won’t need the same nutrients that the first plant has already depleted from the soil.  It’s a give and take relationship between the 2 plants!

Another form of succession gardening is crop rotation.  The idea is simple, by changing things up, pest and disease won’t have a chance to set in!  No need for nasty chemicals. Also, certain plants will deposit nutrients into the soil and you can follow it up with a plant that will need that nutrient.  No need for artificial fertilizer.

Found this neat chart while researching companion planting:


credit to


Can’t we all just get along?- Companion Planting

While a ‘Spaghetti Sauce’ garden sounds cute, it doesn’t work well.  Suggestions to plant tomatoes and oregano together aren’t based on anything scientific.  Tomatoes and Oregano both need the same nutrients from the soil at the same time.  Neither one will be happy in a bed together.   Instead plant carrots with your tomatoes and watch how each plant thrives!

(Seeds of Change has a great chart that lists companions and their benefits)

A fun example of a companion garden is an ancient combination that was discovered by Native Americans called the ‘3 Sisters Garden’; corns, beans, and squash.

Corn becomes a natural trellis for the beans to climb.  Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall soil fertility by providing nitrogen that the corn will need in years to come.  The bean vines also help support the corn plants, making them less likely to fall over in a gust of strong wind.  Shallow-rooted squash vines become the ultimate organic mulch, choking out would be weeds and keeping the soil cool and moist. Spiny squash plants also help discourage insects from attacking your corn and beans.  At the end of the season, the left over stalks and vines can be turned into the soil to replenish lost nutrients and improve the overall quality of the turf.

Corn, beans and squash also work well together in your body!  Corn is great source of carbohydrates, the dried beans provide the protein, balancing the  corns lack of important amino acids.  Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds

And here’s one of those beautiful natural teachable moments!  With a little research online, you’ll come up with a treasure trove of ideas to dig a little deeper into this technique with your kids; a great segway into Native American history.  Your kids will love to grow an Indian Garden.  And then (maybe…..fingers crossed…) they’ll enjoy eating the beans and squash they grew.

photot credit: Mother Earth News


Feeling overwhelmed?  K.I.S.S.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed by all the gardening lingo and the millions of different things to consider!  But I think there’s really no such thing as failure in gardening. Any flop is a lesson learned. The important thing is that you dig in and learn a little something about providing something fresh and healthy for your family!  A great place to start is with something as simple as a “bag garden“.  Mother Earth News site has a simple plan to get you started.  All you’ll need is a few bags of organic topsoil and some seed packets!

My Mom has done this with great success for a few years in a row.  She works full time and would rather spend her free time chasing horses and Grandkids than pulling weeds.  And this works for her.

Here we go!

So, we’re off to a good start over here…  My seeds are sprouting (well, most of them).  And my garden tools are gathered up and ready to roll.  As soon as we get an afternoon with some sun, my 5 little monkeys and I will begin turning up the dirt!  We’ll start out with some very hardy seeds like broccoli, kale, lettuce, potatoes, and onions.  And gradually as the weather warms, we’ll add things to out plot one by one.  One thing is for certain, I’m going to learn A LOT more about gardening this summer and I’ll be certain to fill you in on what flops and what flourishes.

Now get off the computer and GET OUT AND GO PLAY IN THE DIRT!!







  1. Oh I love this information!!!! I put up a greenhouse last year and have yet to figure out how to use it right!! I also have some seedlings growing right now, I love the thought of growing my own food, but I kinda suck at it!!! I am totally getting that 30 free trial you were talking about….THANKS

  2. Oh, this is a really great and informative post! Thank you for sharing! I love gardening – right now we have a half acre of nothingness in our backyard (well, I did put in some trees last year, but they’re still babies) and I plan to at least start some vegetable beds this year – nothing like home grown, fresh veggies.

    Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Great information, Shannon! We, too, moved out to our own little ‘hobby farm’ a little over a year ago, and YES, it is a learning curve! We have a large garden (we’ve been gardening organically for 9 years), and every year I learn something new! That’s the beauty of working the land – you never stop learning!
    Thanks for the helpful links in your article!

  4. Great post, Shannon! Thanks for the resources!

  5. Dzia Dzia says:

    Dear Shannon; one item you should add to your garden is potatoes. They require little to no care; and will provide a very tasty bounty when you harvest. I have both planted and harvested my ‘Yukon Golds’ and ‘Pontiac Reds’ with the help of four little monkeys from up the street. Between planting and harvest: No bugs to deal with, and no watering. Enjoyed your blog.