Spring into the 2023 garden
We can all rejoice: It's that time again!
By Lisa Brunette
After an overall mild but strangely prolonged winter, we’re finally looking spring squarely in the buds. And that means it’s time to put the past three months of dreaming and planning into action.
Here’s what’s happening on our little ‘homestead habitat,’ covering all bases—from our native plant infrastructure to an exciting new homestead project: chickens!
We started with native plants back in 2018 with recommendations from the St. Louis Audubon Society’s Bring Conservation Home program, which inspired us to earn a platinum award by 2021. Natives create a natural ecosystem to support the farm side; they ensure biodiversity and attract the pollinators we need to grow food.
But once we snagged that platinum award, folks asked, “What’s next?” It’s a good question, but anyone who gardens knows your work is never done:
In late fall, I added two Campsis radicans (trumpet vines) to the base of the pergola, as the passionflower vine doesn’t grow long and robust enough to cover the top and provide shade in a yard that could really use it.
We’re experimenting with keeping natives like persimmon and paw paw as orchard trees for fruit, and that means pruning them. I’ve consulted with Seed St. Louis and Forest Keeling, and they both say it’s safe to trim back even large trees like persimmon to harvestable height. Still, I’m a little worried I got too aggressive with our persimmon.
The flowers and grasses have filled in any blank spaces where we’ve removed turf, and the look is what I would call “naturalized.” At this point, we’re deciding how much to control: Goldenrod, aster, and evening primrose like to self-seed and spread, which is not a bad thing at all. How manicured should our fenced-in, back garden look?
Last is the front yard, which we’ve only chipped away at, leaving a smallish patch of turf grass we still mow, plus a shade bed full of ornamental azaleas. Will we tackle these in 2023?
We grow four plants that give us food every year through very little effort on our part:
After losing a very productive rhubarb plant I’d grown from the root, I purchased three starter plants from Seed St. Louis, and two came back up this spring, hurrah!
Note: Dean Gunderson at Seed St. Louis says they’re more robust if you plant them as starts, as opposed to bare-root; these sometimes go belly-up in hot, humid climates.
That reminds me, I will make a note to share my rhubarb bread recipe later this year.
Our well-loved asparagus bed provides a delicious vegetable that tastes a million times better than what you can buy from the store. Really looking forward to this spring’s crop, and I’m also hoping to expand the bed this year.
We grow a perennial onion that “multiplies,” or grows new bulbs off the main each year, and the ones we planted last fall are sprouting promisingly.
Annual Food Fund
That brings me to our annual beds, which change on a rotational schedule year to year. It’s taken me a while to work out the best method for this, but I think I’ve got it now, and I’d like to share that with you paying subscribers as a bonus. I’ll paste a link at the end of this post, below the paywall, so you can share in my spreadsheet joy.
Upgrade now to get the geeky garden spreadsheet!
One of the many marvelous aspects of life in Missouri is a long growing season. Earlier, I bragged about our April-to-December harvests in 2022, and I’m also happy to report we’re just now eating the last of our winter stores: one jar of dried Swiss chard and a bag of frozen pesto cubes.
Now we did supplement with groceries; let’s not go crazy thinking Anthony and I are anywhere close to living “offa the fat o’ the land.” But we’ve reduced our supermarket bill a good deal, and we have greater health and wellbeing to show for it.
Here’s what’s on deck for the “cool season” spring plantings, which we’ll direct-sow this week, weather permitting:
Greens: kale, lettuce, and Swiss chard
Peas (Erin Hanson of The Suburb Farm says it’s good luck to sow these on St. Patrick’s Day, but it was 20°F on Friday)
A “Greenhouse,” of Sorts
If you’ve stuck with us a while now, you know we’ve been hampered by an inability to start seeds indoors, thanks to the star of this Substack, Chaco. He’ll dig up any seedling, and we have no place to put them where he can’t get to them.
We’re on a limited budget and couldn’t afford the greenhouse of our dreams, so I waited until late fall when no one else was thinking about greenhouses and purchased a mostly plastic one for a hundred bucks. Oh, I was pretty excited to put it up and plant seeds I’d collected from those perennial onions, which apparently rarely go to seed, though mine have twice. The plants you grow from seed will produce even bigger bulbs, so you can imagine my anticipation.
Of course, you get what you pay for, and just one week after we put the thing up, it blew over, scattering the onion seeds hither and yon. Wah-wah…
Still, we managed to salvage the greenhouse. I repaired the starters, and some are sprouting. Hope springs eternal. I’m also planning to use the greenhouse (assuming it remains standing) to get a jump-start on:
Tomatoes… and possibly others.
No One Here But Us…
Chickens. Yeah, we’re diving into animal husbandry with a flock of layers. I’ll share more details about this soon, but for now let me answer the big questions:
Our suburban satellite town here on the outskirts of St. Louis only allows us six chickens, and all of them must be hens, no roosters.
We’ve ordered five of the breed speckled Sussex, which are supposed to be friendly to the point where they rush over to you when you show up, which is how Chaco behaves, so that seems right for us.
They will be free-range within designated, rotating fenced areas, but they will also enjoy something called a “Chickshaw” as a shelter retreat. Here’s a sneak peek for those who missed my chat invitation on the subject.
Speaking of Substack’s Chat function, that’s now available on the web as well, so you don’t have to download the app to participate. While I personally love the app for my own Substack reading, I know many of you prefer your computers. Now you can take part in our chats, too!
For Paid Subscribers Only
Now onto the spreadsheets! What you’ll find below this paywall is a link to my master gardening charts, going back to when I began the record-keeping in earnest in 2020. You’ll see both successes and failures (especially early on), as well as notes on what sort of soil amendments, companion planting, and other variables worked.
The “row flow” sheets are my newest method for getting the successions and rotations plotted out correctly. While some people prefer to wing it, and I would, too, if I had copious land to play with, we’re gardening on just 1/4-acre, so space is limited and needs to be planned out carefully, or you lose an opportunity for a whole key crop, as has happened to me in the past.