Fifteen years ago — pre-goats, pre-Colorado, and pre-children — my husband and I planted our first small garden, welcomed our first few chickens, and built our first miniature compost pile.
In 1999, I sowed the seeds of tomatoes, radishes, beans, peas, spinach and carrots in a 15-foot-by-15-foot patch of rustically fenced black gold in our Tacoma, Washington
, yard where EVERYTHING grows. There was no way that patch of green could fail, despite the fact that we knew nearly nothing.
Rain, humidity, free compost and a good dose of Miracle-Gro
(forgive me, it was before I knew about organic gardening) ensured a mother lode of carrots, tomatoes and even a few strawberries. Having never canned before, and Pre-YouTube
, I read books to learn the best practices and the top recipes for tomato salsa. I put up a grand total of seven jars.
These days brought my introduction to chicken ownership, and a new fear of roosters. Most notably, an aggressive, pitch black Australorp
that launched at me, talons bared, each time I attempted to enter the chicken pen; the one that slyly killed and buried the precious gray Bantam
rooster that intimidated nothing but the earth worms.
That first year was also when I read The Rodale Book of Composting
cover to cover, and became a self-proclaimed composting expert. I felt confident that the book knew best and I should follow the instructions. We layered greens and browns, kept it moist, and turned it with a pitchfork about every week. That was when I had my first inkling that compost just might change the world.
Maybe you're in a similar place in your life now, newly fueled with curiosity and desire. If so, here’s some advice:
1. Just start.
Don’t be intimidated by anyone else’s garden prowess. Start. Plant a few seeds. Water them. Some will grow, some won’t. But this year, you’ll learn something you’ll apply next year.
2. Do Not Use Chemical Fertilizers or Pesticides!
Our garden grows beautifully and prolifically every year nowadays, and all we use is manure, dirt, an occasional dusting of diatomaceous earth for flea beetles and a good starter drench of liquid seaweed.
3. It’s OK to plant bulbs or transplant potted plants straight into fresh chicken (or goat, or rabbit, or horse) manure
. They’ll stunt a little at the beginning, but they’ll recover and take off! The best daylilies I ever had were planted into manure I had scraped out of the chicken coop 15 minutes earlier.
4. You don’t have to follow the rule book on composting
. Just throw a bunch of kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, manure (I don’t use dog or cat manure) into a pile where you want a garden next year. It’ll become compost by then!
Now, my garden is 100-foot-by-30-foot, I live for manure — which in my world, is synonymous with compost — and I can, dry, and freeze as much from my garden as I can get my hands on. Yet still, I’m still learning new things every day.
How has your garden grown? Where are you on the gardening continuum?
Lindsey is a city girl turned urban farm girl. She and her family are the proud stewards of a few milking goats, a lot of working chickens, an organic garden and a budding orchard. Just around the corner is the city. But she, and her farm, are hidden by the rocks. Follow her on Twitter (@goatcheeselady) and FaceBook (The Goat Cheese Lady) or visit her website (thegoatcheeselady.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Lindsey at: firstname.lastname@example.org.