As homesteaders passing year five, we’ve had many wins and losses. In terms of homesteading skills, we tend to excel at building projects and livestock. We were proud to have our DIY solar generator trailer recently published in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. After that, we felt like we could finally raise our status to that of legit homesteaders. But then came our gardening season and a bunch of huge failures — and we feel officially downgraded back to rookie city slickers playing homestead.
We’ve made many mistakes and we are the first to admit it. We are rookies learning as we go. But with all that said, we want to also say that gardening is hard! You might wonder, what could be so hard about it? You plant some seeds, water them, pick some weeds — easy right? Wrong!
You have to deal with poor soil conditions, drought, insects and pests, disease. Despite optimal conditions, some things just don’t take well in certain areas. You could end up working for months and months and a little pest could destroy your entire garden. It can take years of trial and error to get to a thriving garden.
Our Grocery-Dependent Society
With the uncertainty of Covid-19, a ton of people decided to start gardening this year. Seeds were getting sold out with demand ever increasing. In 2020, everyone was starting a garden. With grocery store shelves going empty and overall uncertainty, many people decided to start a garden because they felt how unstable the world really is.
Not to pat ourselves on the back, but we’ve felt this instability long before Covid-19. In fact, instability in the world is the main reason we made it our goal in life to purchase our property and become homesteaders. The simple fact that absent a grocery store or drive-through restaurant, most people would be starving in a couple weeks should make people think harder about feeding themselves. Personally, in this day and age, I feel pathetic that absent a grocery store. I am not sure I could feed my family and eventually we’d starve.
Going Big and Failing
So naturally growing our own food is a huge part of our homesteading world. We’ve had some success over the years. Last year, we grew a nice crop of tomatoes and cucumbers. But we’ve had many more failures. This year we went BIG. We started a second garden. We planted corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, carrots, lettuce, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers. We started seedlings in our dining room and babied them from day one. We watched them progress for months as we moved them out to our greenhouse and later into the ground. We picked weeds and watered diligently.
After months and months of hard work, we have almost nothing to show for it. Our second garden failed. The watermelon and cantaloupe started to grow and then stunted growth at about the size of a baseball. Our goats broke through the fencing and into our primary garden and ate about half of our initial plantings. We were devastated. Our tomatoes were spared, because our tomatoes did so well last year we planted a ton of them this year. They flowered, they grew to a normal size and then they just stayed green, we waited and waited and they are still green and they have yet to turn red!
All in all- our garden is a huge failure this year. If the world shut down and we had to feed our family from our garden, we would be done for. Failing is hard, but we can learn from it and more importantly we can help others who are starting out to not make the same mistakes we did.
Here is what we would do differently, when we started homesteading five years ago:
- We should have met our neighbors earlier and networked with them and asked them about their gardens. This one is SO important. We’ve learned so much over the last five years of failure but we could have learned much of the same in a five minute conversation with a neighbor who gardens this area. They could tell us what crops do well in our soil and climate, what vegetables to avoid, how to treat our particular soil and so much more. Instead we’ve spent years of trial and error trying to hone in on the ideal garden when others around us have the answers we spent so much time to learn
- The garden would be our #1 priority. We first built a chicken coop. The garden came later, but should have come first. We should have tested the soil on day one and started composting on day 1 and treating the soil on day 1. We should have been all in on our garden from day one and focused on chickens, goats and building projects later.
- Composting. This one is huge. We have composted but we haven’t been consistent or 100%. If we leveraged 100% of our compostable waste into our garden we would have had much more success much earlier. It is so crazy how much food is wasted in our world. What is even crazier is that we take that compostable waste and instead of returning it to nature, we seal it up into an airtight garbage bag and bury it into a landfill. So much wasted food, but in addition wasted food that could have at the very least been turned into compost.
- Garden groups. There are a ton of great garden groups on Facebook, communities on Reddit and resources and blogs and Mother Earth News. We would have spent more time in these groups and asked more questions.
In conclusion, gardening is hard! We plan to work smarter at it next year. We will consult with our neighbor gardeners, compost and treat our soil more seriously, and we are also going to try raised garden beds next year. If you want to see how bad we failed, we did a video version of this blog you can watch above.
Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and Instructables.com, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest, Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here
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