When we moved back to Wisconsin in early May 2016 we did not plan on starting a garden on our land. Southeastern Wisconsin falls into the zone 5 planting category, which means certain seedlings need to be started as early as April. However, we knew that we wanted to grow some of our own food.
We decided on using our SIPs (sub-irrigation planters) that we already had stored in the shed on our property. We had built them ourselves years ago, and they worked out well for growing lettuces, herbs, kale, and small tomato plants.
That was our plan anyway…
Then, one random Saturday we were over at the land and this happened…
The skid loader was used to basically remove the grass and dig a shallow hole that would eventually be turned into a garden. This is not how you start a garden! I know we were in a hurry and changed our minds about the whole garden thing, but trust me, do NOT do this.
I was left with a shallow hole that needed to be filled with soil. My daughters and I had to remove the soil as best as we could from the chunks of grass that were in a pile and add it back to the hole. This took several days. Once this step was finished, we were left with clumpy soil, which is not ideal for planting seeds. Thankfully, my father lent me a rototiller that I used on average about three times a day over a three-day period. This allowed my daughters and I to remove stones, roots, and other debris from the soil and get it to a point where it was the right consistency to plant seeds.
During this stage, the garden had to be covered with a huge tarp to protect it from any rain. Otherwise, we would be back to square one with clumpy, non-garden friendly soil.
Once I got the soil to a consistency I was comfortable with, I needed to form slightly raised beds of approximately the same width. We devised a measuring system with string and formed each bed approximately 18 inches wide by using hoes and rakes. Each walk way was then measured to be approximately 21 inches wide. This resulted in 18 separate raised beds.
Next came laying mulch in the walkways. I found a local farmer that was selling old straw bales, which was used to eventually heavily mulch the entire garden. Once this step was completed I dumped old composted horse manure (again, from another farmer) on the raised beds and then worked the composted manure into the soil by hand with a garden claw.
Now that my garden was prepared, I quickly rushed to map out my garden and on June 9, 2016, my daughters and I spent the entire day planting seeds.
I will be honest, I did not expect to get a lot from our first garden considering how late we planted (and from seed versus seedlings) and I had no idea what are soil quality was like.
Overall, I was amazed at our yield:
- Salad greens all summer long
- Carrots (two crops)
- Radishes (three crops)
- Big tomatoes (which were eaten fresh or used to make tomato sauce and froze)
- Little tomatoes (a ton)
- Kale (from summer though first frost)
- Basil, dill, and cilantro (eaten fresh all summer and extras were frozen)
- Beets (a few)
- Bell peppers (a few)
- Acorn squash (a few)
- Asparagus grew, but is not harvested for first few years
What didn’t produce?
- Celery seeds never germinated
- Onions did not have enough growing time
- Butternut squash was lost to squash bugs
- All the cucumber and melon plants were destroyed by cucumber beetles
- Cauliflower did not have enough growing time
- Watercress bolted too soon
- Sweet potatoes did not grow well (too small)
- Brussel sprouts did not have enough growing time
- Sweet peppers did not produce
If I could do it again, I would NOT start my first garden this way. I know we were in a hurry and needed to get the seeds in the ground, but I am not a “fly by the seat of your pants” type of girl. I like to research projects thoroughly and plan them out before I start them.
At least the hard part of creating the garden is behind us…
I am looking forward to a more enjoyable and productive gardening experience this summer!