Before moving to Vermont, we had a small townhouse in Delaware which didn’t really have any space for a garden. I recall planting our first small crop of radishes, and a few other veggies along the back of our deck where there was about 1ft of mulch running around it ( we couldn’t dig holes in the yard, etc.. ). We got married that summer, and for some reason remember coming back from our honeymoon with the veggies ready to be picked, what a treat. Over the years I like to believe that our diet has become better, and growing your own veggies has been a great way to facilitate that. After getting a house on a small 1/3 acre plot in Vermont, I quickly got to work on the garden and over the past few years it has grown to a fairly diverse plot of land.
Now I’d imagine most would scoff at my assertion that what I have is something of a ‘Farm’, though putting ‘Backyard’ in front of any word typically would evoke a good sense of it’s scale. I had thought of calling it a ‘Micro Farm’ but it occurred to me that ‘Micro’ could potentially still represent something much bigger than what I have in my yard, so I’ll stick with ‘Backyard Farm’ for now. If I only had a few raised beds I would be glad to simply call it a garden, but at this point we have Fruit Trees, Chickens, Grape Vines, etc… which to me makes it a bit more than just a ‘Garden’ in my mind.
I’ve never had a green thumb, most indoor plants we purchased prior to getting into growing things outside would die from lack of care within a few weeks / months. I have tried to become a better caretaker over the years, though it has been probably a steeper learning curve for me. It could be that I have tried to follow ‘square foot gardening’ practices, and possibly planted too many things in the small space I have.
For some reason I don’t have any photos of the garden in 2007, or 2008, so I’ll start at 2009. The first season we moved in I planted a variety of berry plants in front of the back deck. The blackberries failed, but the raspberries prospered quite well ( soil conditions must have been perfect for them ). Due to the limited space, I decided to try out the ‘square foot gardening’ method, and built 3 raised beds out of 4×4 cedar posts. I have two 4×7 beds, and one 4×10 – for a total of 96 square feet of garden space.
In 2009 we planted beets, lettuce, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, brocolli, carrots, potatoes and onions. We planted strawberries in one of the beds and dedicated the space to them for a few years, however the critters ate all the berries and they became unproductive.
We had some issues with critters eating the beet and carrot tops so I built some modular fence sections out of cedar. I can only imagine that it didn’t work well, as the fence was only used this one year.
Our 2009 yields were low, though the snap peas, beets, carrots and lettuce did well. It must not have occured to me that I was planting too dense until 2011, because I felt that my inconsistent water was an issue.
In 2010 I decided that I was going to automate the watering of the garden, and purchased some soaker hoses and programmable valve timer. The fence was out, and instead decided to build some PVC hoops for the beds such that I could keep the critters out, and possibly cover them with plastic the following year to get a jump on the growing season. I ended up only setting this up on one of the beds with bird netting to try and keep the critters out of the strawberries and carrots. To my suprise one day I found a rabbit inside the hoop setup, and when it saw me it frantically tried to escape by running into the bird netting over and over again until it busted through. I couldn’t figure out how it got in, tunneled in maybe? That was the end of the hoop setup, as I had no desire to fix the netting, and hadn’t really gotten to outfitting the other beds with hoops either.
In 2010 the raspberries behind our deck were taking over and I decided they needed a new home in the ‘official’ garden area. I built two simple trellises to help support them as they grew bigger ( as they would slump to the ground behind the deck ). Wire was tied from each end of the cross sections to contain the plants as they got taller.
We planted some fruit trees in 2010 which I don’t have any photos of, however we have a McIntosh Apple Tree, a Flowering Crab Apple to help pollinate the McIntosh, and a Pear Tree.
We also planted some grape vines in 2010 of the Kay Gray, Edelwise, and Frontenac varieties. I do have the hopes of someday using the grapes to try and make my own wine, for fun of course. If all else fails our son Rowan loves grapes, and I believe these also taste pretty good when eaten as is ( though they aren’t seedless ).
Our 2010 yields still came in low, and the soaker hoses ended up blowing out in spots which was a problem. I ended up just removing the whole setup at the end of the season and have not installed anything automated since…
In 2011 I decided that we just had bad soil and our raised beds were not tall enough ( only 3.5″ high ). So the plan was to go from 3.5″ to 10.5″, and bring in all new garden soil. I also had some notion that my plants were too close together, however instead of less plants, I decided to try and grow everything I could vertically on twine based trellises. We also installed a smaller set of raised beds for our son to plant his own garden in.
In 2011 we grew Lettuce, Beans, Snap Peas, Cucumbers, Squash, Zucchini, Tomatoes, Beets, Carrots, Asparagus ( a perennial which is nice ). You’ll also notice the water barrel setup that I added in the photos. There wasn’t enough pressure coming out of the barrel to do much more than fill up a watering can, which became quite annoying after a while. I had a broken pressure washer lying around ( motor not broken ) that I rigged up with garden hoses, and used that to get pressure out of the barrel. The pressure washer was rather noisy ( not too eco friendly having to run electricity to water the garden either ) and by the end of the year decided to scrap the whole thing for now.
In 2011 we added a ‘Dwarf Cherry’ tree to our fruit tree collection. The tree is smaller, but produces delicious cherries and is of the self pollinating variety so we only needed one.
The grape vines definitely started filling out the double cordon trellis that I setup for them. If you set something up like this be sure to get the proper strength and gauge wire for use with the wire strainers ( used to keep the lines tight ). I started out with the strongest wire I could find on the shelves at the local tractor supply that ended up snapping in front of me as I was tightening it – a fairly scary experience at first ( they have the high tensile stuff on their website, I probably should have asked a clerk at the store ). Definitely get the best wire you can, high tensile, 12-1/2 gauge, high psi ( 200k ).
We didn’t get any grapes in 2011, but it’s probably for the best as we wanted more vine growth this year.
The raspberries definitely grew well this year. I think I had both early and late berry varieties as we were picking berries from late spring to fall on most days.
We also decided to get some chickens in 2011. We eat a lot of eggs, and thought it would be a great addition to our little backyard farm. We also thought it would be a great learning experience for Rowan, and a possible chore for him when he gets older. We ended up picking cold hardy varieties from a hatchery that sold on the internet. It was quite the experience picking the baby chicks up at the post office. I could hear them peep peep peeping in the back area where all the packages are kept. They ship them same day, but I’ll probably try and get any additional birds from a local supplier next time as one of the chicks didn’t make it.
Well, it was getting to the point where the young chickens were ready to move out of the house ( it was starting to smell a bit like a barn in the house ). I decided to build them an A-Frame Tractor which could be moved around the yard all summer long to help fertilize the grass naturally. The design is fairly common, but I mainly built it off of pictures of other coops of a similar design online. The coop is made out of western cedar. I didn’t want to paint it or stain it considering it was going to house an animal that would be producing food for us to eat. We have had the coop for a little over a year now ( through one winter ) and it has held up quite well unfinished.
Carrying the coop around was impractical for one person, so I added wheels to one end that could be kicked under the coop. One the wheels were in the ‘under the coop’ position, you could move the coop around like you would a wheelbarrow – it was pretty effective.
We finally got our first egg maybe 4-5 months after getting the girls – I don’t remember now, but it was pretty awesome checking the nesting box and seeing a perfect little egg sitting there. Once they all started laying, they haven’t stopped and we get about 3-4 eggs a day.
By the end of the year the chickens were pretty big and starting to dig holes in the yard. It became apparent that a ‘chicken tractor’ was not really what we wanted, especially if they were going to ruin the front yard. We have a fenced in dog area in the backyard ( closer to the garden ) which is where we moved the coop permanently. I ended up sectioning off the dog area to provide the dogs and chickens their own private spaces. The coop was also retrofitted with clear tuftex plastic panels to to enclose the bottom area for the winter. I updated the mesh door with some Acrylic sheet for windows and setup a smaller door flap with curtains to help keep the snow / wind out of the coop. Overall it was a mild winter but the girls held up quite well, and if the snow wasn’t too deep I would always find them outside the coop walking around in it. They surely are cold hardy birds!
This year ( 2012 ) has been fairly successful so far, and ironically I spent the least amount of time on it due to our new baby being born, and letting our son Rowan help plant all of the beds, etc…
This year we planted zucchini, squash, cucumbers, snap peas, beets, lettuce, carrots, pumpkins, tomatoes ( cherry and slicing ), and actually harvested some asparagus.
I’m not sure if it has been the weather, or the better spacing but things are growing really well this year, though I haven’t kept up with the weeding or watering as much as I would have liked.
The grapes are growing great, and we have quite a few bunches of grapes on the vines this year. The main issue has been the japanese beetles! They have been eating the leaves like crazy, and I do my best to get out there at least once a day to collect them in a bucket of water for our chickens to eat – they love them.
The fruit trees are doing good this year, though we didn’t get any cherries like last year. The cherry tree is definitely getting bigger though, so at least it hasn’t died. The McIntosh apple tree is doing well, and we have some apples growing. Our pear tree has not produce anything for a few years and I think I’ll have to plant another variety if I want any pears…
The raspberries started off really well, but the lack of rain we recently experienced has taken it’s tole a bit. Also, this year the critters seemed to have just discovered that raspberries taste good, and have been eating most of the berries before we could get to them.