Growing the Garden Footprint

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
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My first years of homesteading here in Maine have to a large degree been about expanding the footprint of the gardens, so much that it become synonymous with the spring prep. This year is the first season I have the whole garden dug and ready no stumps to pull, no fence to build. Boy, it’s easy to plant a garden when the garden is already there.

When I first came here there was only a small garden in front of the house. Well, it didn’t seem small back then, but in May that spring when we dug another space just as big in front of the Hostel house, it seemed to dwarf the old patch. That year we had help, so it was four of us digging, shoveling, raking and putting up a fence.

The second spring I doubled that garden, alone. I can’t remember when the decision for further expansion was made or how daunting of a task I expected it to be when I first began but I clearly remember how early in the morning I had to start and how late into the evening I was out there working to have it all ready to be planted by the 1st of June. When I started that garden the ground was covered with stumps, rocks, brambles and weeds. We hired a guy to pull the stumps for us but had to haul them away ourselves. Then I spent about 10 days pick-axing my way through the whole God-forgotten mess before I could spend another day or so shuffling dirt from high points to low points. I dug ditches; I dug so many ditches someone suggested I start counting them in miles instead of numbers. I laid the 16 feet logs to make the raised beds and I went out in the woods to find material for the fence. I’d rather not think about how it was digging the fence-post holes; it was like digging to China, through clay. But I do like to think about how it felt walking down the main path through the first garden and it was like that path suddenly stretched forever, now when it was twice as long.

The following spring it was time again. Somewhere along the way we said we’d expand the garden one more time but at least this time we had pigs to run in the area in the fall so the mess wasn’t quite as God-forgotten as last time. This time I set out to more than double the existing size, but got held up by the rainiest May we can remember, so at the end I only had a week to do it. I pick-axed out a patch big enough for the tomatoes and quickly raked up the worst mess, dug some holes to throw seaweed in and planted the squash right there on what had been the forest floor until about a minute ago. My sister came to visit in early June and at this point I had gone off the deep end while building the over 130 feet stretch of fence so she and her friend had to finish it off. In October, I finally came around to make proper beds and in April I pick-axed my way through the part that was neither finished nor cultivated the year before, I put up the last stretch of chicken wire and the two gates I never got to. For a while it seemed as if it’d be hard to fill all this with something, but I worried in vain. The space was being claimed; 1,200 garlics, 1,000 onions and potatoes for a small army of Hostelers. Soon I had to start searching for empty pockets to stick the tomatoes, the cabbage and the corn in. Same thing this year, so much space, so little spare room. But if I will expand the gardens soon again? This time, for sure –  no.

To learn more about Anneli’s and Dennis’ homesteading hostel — and to schedule a visit — go to the Deer Isle Hostel website.