As most of you know, we are trying to live off of our land this year–eating only the food and eggs we grow on our land along with other local protein sources (and necessities we can’t grow here, like coffee and spices). Our goal is pretty straightforward: Eat beautiful fresh food; preserve it for winter; spend less money; create a self-sustaining haven here that feeds our family; and have plenty left over to give away to friends, family, and our local food bank.
It’s a bit of a project, as you can imagine. I already have most of the seeds for this year’s planting season. We already have three big hugelkultur garden beds from last year that produced a ton of food. But we needed more garden space to support growing enough food to feed our family for an entire year. So we’re building more beds.
As I’ve mentioned before, we grow our food using a form of permaculture gardening called hugelkultur, a German word that can be broken down to “hugel” (mounds) and “kultur” (gardening)–gardening with mounds. As a form of permaculture, it offers some fantastic benefits including a nutrient-rich soil that supports hefty produce, and a self-sustaining system that can go without water for months at a time. As the basis for our hugelkultur beds, we use wood, sticks, and branches that we have collected from our land, including all of the apple and pear tree branches that we recently pruned, and all of the maple leaves that we raked from our yard in the autumn.
Here is one leaf-covered extension of an existing bed from last year. This is before we added all the poop-covered wood chips from our chicken coop:
We are also adding one huge garden bed that will extend the length of our fence line. For scale, if you look closely, you can see me in that big tangle of branches sort of in the center of the photo, with the chicken coop in the distance:
To try to give you a sense of the size of these beds, here is a landscape photo of the main gardening area. For scale, I am in the photo, a few feet to the left of the tree in the forefront of the photo, to the left of the chicken coop. Each bed is quite large–about 8 feet wide by 15 feet long. The newest bed will be about 25 feet long:
We will organize our plantings in these gardens based on sunlight coverage (which is fairly consistent along these garden beds, with some areas receiving a bit more sun than others), and by appropriate veggie pairings, and also by how the plants will look visually in the middle of our yard. The goal is to have it actually look pretty throughout the growing season, with plenty of edible flowers and tall greens to give the gardens a beauty of their own.
We will also have a corn field, a secret berry garden, a potato patch, a radiant heat tomato garden (fancy name for planting our tomatoes against the hot concrete foundation of our root cellar), and a number of flower gardens.
One thing’s for sure: You can’t rush this stuff. It takes time to layer the sticks and form the beds and pour the soil and plant the seeds. Every step of the way is an investment in our life here. It is an eye-opening experience that gives a sense of why food at the grocery store costs what it does: It’s not a one-step process. It takes plenty of planning and work before the seeds even enter the soil.