The 5 Most Important Things You Will Learn After You Turn Your Front Yard Into a Farm
I accomplished a lifelong goal this year of starting a farm in my front yard. I felt like I was conducting a months-long science experiment most of the time, but it was an empowering feeling to accomplish a goal you’ve always had in the back of your mind.
After many successes and numerous failures this season, I grew a healthy crop of tomatoes, beans, corn, spinach and basil. This past weekend, I enjoyed the fruits of my labor with a homemade caprese salad. I didn’t realize how transformative starting a garden was going to be for me. I learned so many new things about myself and Mother Earth from this experience, and thought I’d pass along some pearls of wisdom I picked up while digging around in the dirt over the past few months:
1. Every living being needs strong support.
Tomatoes grow long, wild and free vines that need to be supported. Because of this, you need to do everything you can to keep them off of the ground. Big box stores will try to sell you expensive and flimsy tomato cages, but you can make your own low-cost support system by using what you have laying around your home. At my house, we spent three weeks ripping out our back deck and ended up with an abundance of old lumber. Instead of sending it off to a landfill, we made our own stakes with the left over wood and secured our vines with some velcro ties we found in our basement. We even used the handle of an old red wagon to keep our tomato vines from laying on the ground. In my grandfather’s garden, we experimented with drilling holes into the bottom of multi-gallon paint buckets and used those as planters. It’s much more rewarding to use what you have to make your garden an extension of yourself instead of buying what a chain store says you should have to create the world’s most perfect garden.
2. Make sustainability your first choice.
Along the same lines, I have found that when starting plants from seed, I much prefer growing seedlings in homemade, 100% biodegradable containers. Many gardeners prefer using plastic seedling trays, but I find them to be cumbersome and costly. When it comes time to transfer seedlings from trays into pots and then your gardening plot, you can run the risk of snapping stems. Using biodegradable materials like egg shells, lemon peels and newspaper as planters is less wasteful and also way easier. I can plant my seedlings straight into the ground without having to scoop them out one at a time. For a beginning gardener that likes to work fast, this was the perfect solution for me. Also, these sustainable alternatives eventually turn into compost in your soil once they’ve been planted, which makes your soil rich with nutrients for years to come.
At first, I was too afraid to be myself when I was gardening. I wanted the garden to live up to all of my expectations. I thought I had to plant everything a certain way or else I was going to fail. But after hating every single Martha Stewart gardening tip I read online, I decided to cast my fate to the wind and just wing it. Letting myself let things grow (and go) was so freeing. My first improvisation came with turning my soil. Instead of throwing money towards fancy ingredients to provide my soil with nutrients, I just threw in a few tablespoons of Epsom salt instead. From talking with friends, I learned adding a little Epsom salt into your soil is indeed an old gardening trick of the trade. The salt helps ease the transition from pot to outdoor soil while also preventing your tomato plants from bolting too early in the season. Another low cost ingredient that will turn your soil into gold are egg shells. All spring, I made everyone in my house save their eggshells in a container in the fridge so by summertime, I had a great supply for my soil. Sprinkling eggshells into your soil is an inexpensive way to give your soil more nutrients. When gardening, play to your strengths and trust yourself. You’ll figure it out.
4. You gotta have friends.
I love gardening and farming because it shows you some of the fundamental truths of life on a very basic level. One of these truths is that nearly every living being needs a support system and plants are no exception. Companion planting gives your plants numerous benefits including better soil and better flavor. For my tomatoes, I planted basil and rosemary next to each plant, and the flavor of my tomatoes was incredible. In between my rows, I also put in some marigolds to act as a decoy to repel rabbits, who hate the sight and smell of the flowers. It was amazing to observe these plants working with each other for mutual benefit.
5. It’s okay to fail.
Out of the 12 tomato plants I put into the ground at the start of the growing season, only half survived. From rabbits having the best buffet of their lives (before I planted marigolds) to planting my corn way too close to my tomatoes (corn devours all nutrients, especially in my garden), I found out through trial and error how to grow food. You’re not going to get things right on the first go around, and that’s okay. I’m so glad I made mistakes in my garden plot because I’m going to be so much wiser with my garden next time.
If anything, the most important thing to remember about gardening or urban farming is this: the fact that you are trying to grow something in this world is enough of a victory, so just keep on growing!