Ordering Seeds + Garden Goals for the New Year!
Hello! Oh, I am so happy to be talking about gardening. It's going to be another year of learning new things for me... I feel a gardener can say that every year. For me, this will be my second large-scale garden, and I will be expanding almost seven times the size of my last planting space. Wow! When we began last year, our plot was about 1300 square feet, and we didn't even utilize all of it. We planted in specified beds with small paths interwoven amongst them, inspired after colonial style gardens. It was very elegant and beautiful, with special places for all plants. I loved it; it worked perfect for our family of four (technically more like 3 and 1/4 with what Tad eats!). We even planted too much for our family, giving away a lot of what we grew, and when friends became sick of us feeding them, composting the rest. In fact, I learned an invaluable piece of information about Iowa while taking my Master Gardener courses - the food pantries here will take fresh produce! That was amazing, and I wish I had known that sooner. I suppose that just teaches me to reach out and figure those kinds of things out. When we lived in Illinois and Texas, the food pantries would only take dry, packaged foods like canned goods or cereals. It's nice to know that if you have excess produce grown yourself, you can send it off to a family who might need it. I highly suggest looking into this yourself depending on where you live! We will be partaking in that this year for sure. Plus, it counts towards Master Gardener community service hours, though that's just a small perk.
This year, I will be taking on over 8,000 square feet of planting space! I almost cannot believe it. My dad and I measured out our possible garden plots a couple of weeks ago. Truthfully, I was expecting the space to be a bit larger, but I am still extremely grateful that we even have that much room. I am hoping to share an overhead view of our "micro farm" in the next couple of weeks so that you may see the plots for yourself. One of the most fun things about sharing this journey is that we get to inspire others to try out what we're doing, too! I love that. One of our new neighbors, who is in her 80s and the sweetest woman on the planet, made a statement the other day that I thought was just fantastic: "You know, I think we could feed the world with small farms. If everyone could get a shovel in their hands, we would be better off!"
YES! I completely agree. As much as I keep telling myself, we need acres and acres to feed a CSA, we don't. You can grow high intensity crops on small plots of land. Just look at one of our favorite farms to follow, Floret Flowers! For us, it's not all just one big space... it's about three to four different spaces! That means we probably won't be planting in beds per say to get the most out of our plants. We'll be planting in rows, much like the Amish gardens around here, and because of that I am a little intimidated and confused as to how I can make sure all of my crops benefit since companion planting won't be such a big concern this year as it was last year. I am not a farmer! I was never taught to plant in rows or how to interplant them if I can, but I am determined to learn and figure it out! I am hoping this year, we go in as hopefuls and come out as farmers at the end. It will be an honor to try!
I have been searching for seeds for the past few months, making wishlists all over the internet. It's been fun to see where I can find a majority of my seeds produced organically and sold in bulk. That was a big game changer for us. This is no longer a garden where I can buy seed packets willy nilly from the garden center! Some of my favorite seed companies to purchase from are Botanical Interests, Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Floret Flowers! I learned an invaluable piece of information about planting seeds as well: you can sell the produce grown from the seeds of any seed company without any legalities! That things you need to learn when you want to sell produce. I am hoping to share a different post about this down the road!
This year we're going to be planting half cut flowers and half vegetables. We want to keep our options open for areas of revenue from the farm. In this first year, we'll be growing lots of plants, familiar and unfamiliar alike. Here are some of the things that we will be working with:
- Aronia Berries (almost an acre of them!)
- Cut Flowers
Not to mention chickens, ducks, and honeybees! It will be fun to see where we can excel in any of those areas. I am hoping for the best as well as noting that any and all of these things could potentially fail. That is the risk you take as a grower! The hardest part is listening to others warn you of your potentially unavoidable failure. As a human, I definitely take those comments to heart. As a business owner, being told that we could potentially fail at a new area of work just makes me want to prove them wrong 100%. I always take it as a sign that we are heading in the right direction! The soil here is nice and dark, much like back at the Little Homestead, and I am excited to begin digging around in it. We had our big family business meeting over the weekend, discussing what exactly we want to get out of this land over the year. There was much debate back and forth about the aronia berries, meaning if we should keep them or not. I think we are all a little nervous about how to market them, as they are not a very popular fruit for a u-pick. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that we will be keeping them for this year! Another thing I thought I might mention is that since we will not have enough homemade compost ready when the growing season begins, I have been looking into using city compost. Hoping to share more about this after I meet with my fellow Master Gardeners and learn more about the available compost in our area since I know you all might be interested in that.
Looking at the 2018 Old Farmer's Almanac, the predicted last spring frost date for eastern Iowa is April 25th. That means mostly all of our crops need to be in the ground by that date or sooner! I have been working on a spring planting guide, much like our fall planting guide, where I can help you figure out which dates to start your seeds and when to get them in the ground. It's been pretty interesting to see that first and last frost dates can control a similar amount of time for all growers! For me, I'll be starting my early seeds like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and some winter greens 8 weeks before that date. That's around February 28th! Yikes! Time to get a move on ordering my packets.
While I kept a fairly detailed garden journal last year, as well as documenting much of what we did in this space, I somehow failed to write down how much we grew. I have absolutely zero records of our numbers, but it was not something I was concerned with because we were not trying to sell our produce. I am determined this time around to keep very thorough records of all things on the farm to help us track how much money we profited on and how we can continue in years to come. It's going to be absolutely marvelous and equally exhausting. For those reasons, I can hardly stand to wait! Good thing there is lots to be done until March arrives. I bring this up because I really want to create a garden management planner for you all! It's something I am working on creating. Will keep you posted!
What are your garden goals this year? Do you have any questions for me going into the new year? What are your biggest concerns when it comes to starting a garden?