I’ve been waiting to write this post for over a year! Every spring break, instead of going on a fabulous vacation, we spend the time getting our backyard garden ready. First we trim and weed, pull out old, dead plants that didn’t get rounded up in the fall clean-out, and fix broken boxes and trellises. We add fresh soil to any boxes that need a little more, and add fertilizer and amendments to all the boxes to get them ready for another growing season.
Last year, I thought it would be fun to write about how our garden is laid out, how we rotate crops, etc, but pictures of boxes full of bare dirt aren’t very fun to look at! So I waited until the beds were full of blooms and lush greenery over the summer and took a ton of pictures, then squirreled them away until today.
This garden has been a work in progress ever since we moved in. Over the past five springs, we’ve tinkered with it little by little, and I think we finally have a workable design. Because the garden and orchard are on a slight hill, we spent the first and second springs plowing and terracing rows. The third spring, we discovered that the rows weren’t going to work because spring here in the Pacific Northwest is super rainy, and rain means mud. The tractor was too heavy and got stuck in the mud, leaving huge, mud-filled ruts wherever it drove. The mower got stuck in the mud too. Even the walk-behind tiller, which is really lightweight, got bound up in all the MUD. As luck would have it, the Christmas right before that third spring, my husband got me all the makings of a cut flower garden. He bought me tons of bulbs and seeds, and ordered raised bed kits and dirt. We had no trouble getting those boxes put together, installed, and planted, even with all the mud and rain. So we decided to transform our long, terraced rows—rows that we spent two springs putting in!—into rows of raised beds. It took us two springs to get all the boxes purchased, put together, and installed. Last year was our first year with a complete garden of raised beds, and it went beautifully!
We have found a few great reasons to love raised beds, even in a garden as big as ours. It’s much easier to stay on top of weeds in a raised bed. I don’t think they get as many weeds in the first place, and then, because they have very definite boundaries and are fairly small areas, it’s pretty easy, mentally speaking, to weed a few boxes at a time. We don’t look at our garden and think, “Ugh, how are we ever going to weed that??!!” Instead, we weed a box or two while we chat, ask each kid to weed a box, etc, and it just magically gets done without feeling like a chore. Raised beds make mowing a breeze. Because they’re a foot higher off the ground, they make planting and harvesting a little easier. And it’s actually proven that you can grow more per square foot in a raised bed than you can in the ground.
Now, here’s how our garden is laid out. There are seven long rows of beds. The top row at the top of the hill is all flower boxes. This row is set up differently than all the others. It’s actually two rows of small boxes laid side by side all the way down the length of the garden, with trellis tunnels running between them. The second row is now mostly strawberries, and the crops don’t rotate. The other five rows are basically divided into 10 sections, and these rotate clockwise every year. So this year, the row just below the strawberries has five boxes for corn, and five boxes of peas, radishes, and lettuce. Next year, the corn will move to the spot that the peas are in right now, and potatoes will move up into the corn’s spot.
Every year, I print up a new blank garden map. I write down what general groups of plants are going where, and then we fill in specific varieties as we plant them. Here’s last year’s map:
This year, we’ve already planted carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, peas, radishes, and lettuce. At the end of May, we’ll plant corn, cucumbers, zucchini and summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, pumpkins, and green beans. What are your favorite things to grow in your garden?