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From the Ground Up - 2024 Garden Plan

A closeup of a seed starter container as happy little green sprouts begin to emerge.
Image by Markus Spiske

Oh, Spring.  Full of potential.  The earth waits patiently for us to tend her soil.  

But first, winter.  I enjoy February.  We’re in the thick of winter, although living in the southeast some days the climate toys with our emotions.  I’ve been around long enough to know that the random bouts of false spring are not the time for planting, they are the time for planning.  

Before I get to what I’m plotting for this year, ha plotting, we’re going to take a trip down memory lane.  Because everything is connected. Yes, everything.  

I attempted my first garden in 2009.  I put a pot on my front porch and attempted to grow carrots in the middle of summer… in Okinawa, Japan.  My seeds sprouted and then the heat promptly fried them.  We moved the following year to a home with an outdoor second story that had an overhead covering. My mind raced with the possibilities.  If we had stayed longer, I probably would have been able to make my rooftop garden dreams flourish.  But, alas, I didn’t have enough hours in the day, or helping hands, to make that dream a reality.  Surviving one moment to the next while homeschooling two small children and birthing a third was the priority of that period in my life.  Mission accomplished, so I give myself some grace for all the unopened seed packets I stuffed into moving boxes.  

Then we moved to the state we’ve called home for more than a decade.  It’s wild to think it’s been that long.  We were only supposed to be here for five years.  Life’s funny like that.  We landed here in February of 2013.  The first year was all about adjusting to life back in the States.  The freedoms my children had living on a safe walkable island country vanished seemingly overnight.  But we had a home on a wooded lot that backed up to a creek and our front yard was the ideal spot for a vegetable garden.  I figured while I couldn’t give them those coveted freedoms back, I could, at the very least, give them a little slice of homestead heaven in the middle of the burbs.  

The second year was all about long-term planning, envisioning, and attempting to work within the confines of our budget.  I planted a peach tree.  We started what was supposed to be the walls of a garden.  Then the following year, in February, I walked away from a 15-year relationship and found myself with the opportunity to start again from the ground up.  I had the opportunity to build a new foundation and envision new long-term plans that didn’t need to have contingencies for an uninterested partner.  A fresh start with new soil I told myself.  

Each February, I sat down and reviewed my plan.  What seeds did I sow last year?  Which ones would I want to continue tending that year and which ones needed to be dug up?  For a couple of years, these were always metaphorical seeds representing relationships, jobs, and the future I wanted for my children and myself.  Over the last four years, though, those plans have included literal seeds as well.   February is a great month for setting the groundwork for short and long-term plans. When I look back on life, February is the month when I move, shake, and plan.  The earth is still cold and quiet, but I can feel the change coming around the corner.  The increased sweetness of the air.  The extra spring in my step as I pull on another layer of warmth.  Change is coming, I can feel it in my bones, but I have to prepare for it so it doesn’t sweep me away with the first rainstorm of the warm season.     

I usually jot my plans down in a notebook or a series of stream-of-consciousness texts with my husband and our dear friend.  This year I figured I’d plant a new seed and put my garden planning thoughts here as well.  

The Lessons Learned -

My mom’s death, and my subsequent absence both physically and mentally from my garden, showcased a few oversights in my garden efforts:  

  1. I need a team of people who can rotate collecting and using the harvest when we aren’t there to do that work.  We don’t usually leave in the summer, but Death doesn’t consult you before he gets to work so we have to plan for the worst-case scenario going forward.  

  2. Our watering system needs an overhaul.  We need something that can withstand increasing temperatures without blowing nozzles, suffering frequent leaks, or leeching chemicals into our food supply. We also need to expand the areas it covers.  While I need a team of humans who can stand in when we can’t be present, I don’t want one of their tasks to be watering.  Our plans for the garden are far too large to expect anyone to stand around in the southern sun watering.  This will also ensure we take advantage of the optimal time for watering that will yield better returns on what we’re growing.     

  3. Not everything needs to be planted in the spring.  My brassicas can absolutely wait until closer to fall before they go into the ground.  Nor should I bother trying to grow everything.  Four years in and I’ve yet to succeed in growing watermelon.  This year I’m not bothering.  I’d rather focus my energy on what has grown, like the cantaloupe, and protecting them from pesky squirrels.  

  4. Critter and pest management needs to be addressed again.  Living in the southeast ensures we have no shortage of mosquitos.  I’ve planted lemongrass and used mosquito dunks in the beds.  This year I’m aiming to attract the bats, birds, and insects that find mosquitos as tasty as they find us.  For the squirrels, as much as the husband would love a BB gun to handle that problem, I’m leaning toward fruit netting and cages.    

What’s Going Right - 

Despite, or in spite, of everything that took place last year there were several wins.  

  1. We claimed a portion of the front yard for gardening and moved all our peppers (sweet and hot), corn, okra, and various herbs to the front.  Our front yard gets a TON of sun over the course of a day, and everything doubled in size and production.  Additionally, the pin cherry we planted the year we moved in attracts a cross-section of bird life that definitely helps to keep pests in check in our front yard.   

  2. Ultizing crop cages to shield tender plants from cabbage moths and rabbits allowed the plants to thrive that traditionally looked more akin to Swiss cheese come early summer instead of delicious vegetation.  The cage we bought was worth the investment, and we plan to add one or two more this growing season.  

  3. Companion planting and using the three sisters method for corn production.  Being conscious of what is planted where allowed us to maximize our space and take advantage of the natural shading and water retention provided by planting the way we did.  I utilized an app that showed which plants should and should not be planted near each other, which saved a lot of time researching.  I’ve already sketched out my 2024 garden plans in the app and have added in the new beds we plan to put down this spring.  

  4. Ultizing seedlings, when possible, instead of direct sowing made laying things out far easier.  This allowed me to skip needing to thin beds -I am not a fan of the “is that my plant or is that grass” dance that comes with thinning, and eliminated the overall hassle direct sowing can be when there are critters or young humans who knock over your markers or rainstorms that make your permanent ink not permanent (like seriously how?!). 

The biggest lesson and win was that I made peace with the state of things at the end of the growing season.  Our garden wasn’t where I had envisioned it would be when I made my plans in February of 2023. But I learned a lot, and I lost a lot.  In the process, I found a way to make peace with what is, what could be, and what will never be again, and that is a lesson I’ll carry throughout my life.      

Copyright(c) 2024 Rayven Holmes

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