This time last year, I was 10 weeks pregnant with my first child, my daughter Mallory. I was also overzealous and consumed with all my plans and dreams for the first growing season at our new house and homestead that we purchased at the end of summer 2019. I had spent months dreaming of my garden and all the seeds I would start in my new greenhouse that could then be transplanted out once our last chance of frost came and went. At this time, I had also been dreaming of becoming a mother and starting our family – the main drive behind the urgency I felt to learn to grow and raise my own food.
What I didn’t imagine in my dreaming of becoming a mother and gardener simultaneously was that I couldn’t do both at the extent I wanted to at the same time. The first trimester of pregnancy and all its hormones and nausea made it so that I couldn’t tend to my healthy little plants in the heat and humidity of our southern West Virginia summers. By the time I made it out of the first trimester and was feeling more like myself, it was too late. What were once perfect rows of organized and thoughtful planting had become a wild forest of weeds and hidden veggies that were to be enjoyed by the neighborhood bugs and rabbits. I decided that was okay because in the year 2020, during the craziness of a global pandemic, I was blessed with being home to attempt to grow my first garden, but ended up growing my first baby. Last year I grew a handful of strawberry plants, several fruit trees, and the happiest baby in the world, and I was satisfied in knowing there is always next year for the gardener.
And here we are. A new year, a new gardening season, and me, with my seed basket and my perfect 5-month-old baby girl to tote through the aisles of my garden. She doesn’t know this yet of course, but I’m learning to grow all of this food so that one day I can pass that knowledge down to her. I want her to live a slower, simpler life and have a childhood she’ll always cherish where she played barefoot outside in a holler where whippoorwills sing at night and fresh food was always just a short walk away. I dream of the day I can watch her pick a large ripe Black Beauty tomato in the summer heat right off the vine we grew from seed and see her eyes relish in delight of the fruit we bore, a fruit that was grown using organic, natural practices and was allowed to ripen on the vine a stone’s throw from her front porch steps. I’ve always kind of dreamed of these things, even when I was a young girl in high school who spent her free time planting sunflowers and perennial flowers for the bees and hummingbirds like it was my actual job. I just never realized how strongly I wanted my own food garden and a homestead way of life until God gave me my Mallory to share it with.
My wiser, more experienced gardening mentors and friends always say to not plant more than you can handle, and I tried to keep that in mind, especially since this is my first true gardening year growing a substantial amount of food without morning (or all day) sickness to interfere. This year, the only two things I started early inside my home and then transferred to my greenhouse were my heirloom tomatoes and peppers, and even still I felt like I had started them too late. But, this year, we also had a slow start to spring and warm temperatures, so somehow I feel like my delayed planting was better for my pants. It is amazing how something so simple as starting seeds can become such a hard thing to find time to do when you are at home alone caring for a newborn. Yet, between nursing and naps and everything else, we finally got our seeds in the soil and our tomatoes and peppers grew just fine.
They, the tomatoes and peppers, are now in my lower field garden which I call the Annual Garden. Currently, we are tilling and planting directly in our soil down there, but our plan is to start moving toward a no-till garden where we use our chickens and woodchips to make a “Back-to-Eden” style garden that will continue to break down and feed the soil as our plants take the nutrients out every year. When I say “our plans” I mean my plans for my family that my sweet husband, Austin, goes along with. I know he loves my love for the garden, but he isn’t sold himself just yet on this lifestyle of sustainability and simplicity.
The watchful homestead husband.
Neither of use grew up gardening or doing much of any of the “homesteady” things I want for our family, mostly surrounding growing, raising, harvesting, and then preserving our own food, but he loves the work of our homestead and is becoming so skilled at making things for us. He and my dad built the most perfect greenhouse last year out of old windows and lumber, during the pandemic before lumber prices skyrocketed, and I don’t think anyone else could have done a better job. Still, even though he sees the value of this lifestyle, he doesn’t lay awake at 2:30 in the morning, too excited to go back to sleep because the next day we will be planting in the garden. Never did I imagine myself as a girl who would desire mountainous piles of woodchips and chicken poop to have readily available, sitting about her property to make my own compost for my garden, but I am that girl. My husband has embraced it. And, I hope I’m raising up another one to be just like that when she’s older.
In our annual garden for our vining and climbing plants, we are using cattle panels and T-posts for trellising. This is a technique I learned from my favorite gardening show on YouTube from Jess Sowards of Roots and Refuge Farm—YouTube has been an immense resource and inspiration for me in my gardening and homesteading journey. The cattle panels are cost-effective, sturdy, large, and absolutely lovely in the garden. Some we have placed horizontally to make wall-like structures to hold up our plants, like with our heavy heirloom tomatoes. But, other panels we have constructed into arches to support plants like pole beans, cucumbers, summer squash varieties, and even a few melons. The arches provide lots of space for climbing plants to grow while keeping them and their fruit off the ground and out of reach of pests and the soil, which can cause them to be damaged. The plants also get more access to good airflow which is beneficial in fighting disease, as well. And, for the romantic gardener like myself, it will be like walking through an enchanted food forest of aisles and arches with fruits and seeds grown by my family for the nourishment of our bodies and our spirits.