When we first moved into our house we were so excited to have such a big backyard that one of the first things we did was run to Home Depot to get stuff for a backyard garden. A backyard garden is a great way to get in the sun and dirt and switch up your daily routine. We have been doing a garden for the past few years and I’ve learned a few things along the way that I wanted to share. Granted I could still learn way more, but these are just some things that seemed to stick out over the years of trying to operate a little backyard garden. Most of my help comes from this book which is specific for my area of Southern California. If you’re not in Southern California try to find a guide specific to your area. So whether you already have a garden or would like to start one, here are 7 tips I have for running a mini farm in your backyard.
1. Plant only the things you will actually eat
When we first got our square foot garden going we made 3 boxes. 2 shallow boxes and 1 deep box for root veggies. It was a great learning experience but I soon realized as our crops started to grow that I didn’t really like most of the stuff I was growing. Sure it was nice to experiment growing and eating things that are new, but it’s hard to be devoted to a whole garden if you don’t even like the stuff growing in it. So this year when we got our garden back up and running, I decided to only plant the things that we were going to eat. So we have a whole box for herbs, another box for veggies, and our deep box for roots that was taken over by our daughter so she could plant flowers. The veggie box only has the stuff we eat and is easy enough to grow in the backyard: kale, romaine, summer squash, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, watermelon and pumpkins. Sure there are other veggies we love to eat like cauliflower, but it takes so much time to harvest and it only yields one head of cauliflower – whereas we go through too much cauliflower to try to grow it in the backyard. The crops we did plant are perfect to pick off when you need them and they still keep coming back.
2. Install a drip line
This was a lifesaver for us and our crops. When we first started our garden 3 years ago we were going out there everyday with a watering can or hose and it became very stressful if we missed a few days and our crops would start to suffer. Especially when we went on vacations for a week or more at a time – our crops were destroyed by the time we came back. So I hit up my dad for help to install a drip line and it was super easy to run soaker hoses and a timer. Now our garden is hands free and flourishes even when I fail to give it attention.
3. Check on your garden every day
Now just because you have a drip line doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out your garden everyday. It’s always good just to get outside and get in the sun, especially if you’re stuck in an office all day looking at a computer, but more than that you need to check to see how your crops are doing. There may be snails tearing up your romaine or there can be those scary green worms attacking your tomatoes. You need to be out there everyday killing all those things that aren’t good for your garden. You don’t want to resort to spraying your precious beyond organic crops with something to ward off bugs – so you and your fingers need to be the “pesticide”. Just pinch them and kill them or if you’re a hippie you can collect them and release them in a field or something. I prefer to pull the snails off my romaine and throw them as hard as I can at the wall. I get angry when snails ruin my burger buns or taco shells.
4. Don’t go crazy washing your crops
This one is a little controversial because even if you don’t use pesticides in your backyard garden, your soil or municipal water may contain contaminants. What we’re looking for here is some of the good soil based probiotics to still remain on the crops. So go ahead and wash off the snail juice that’s all over your romaine or bird poop on your squash, but don’t freak out if you can’t get off all the dirt from your crops. You’ll be getting more soil based probiotics which is what we need most. Most probiotics you can get in a pill or from fermented stuff isn’t soil based. The best way to get soil based probiotics is to eat a little soil still left on your crops before you eat them. Just be sure to use the highest quality soil in your square foot gardens and do your own composting.
5. Actually eat it
The whole point of a garden is to grow food that you actually eat. It’s easy to get in a routine of tending to your garden and have it be self sustaining with the drip line and all but the whole point is that you’re growing food to eat for you and your family. So try not to let backyard gardening turn into a drag or a chore – let it be a fun thing and actually eat what you’re spending all your precious time and water growing.
6. Experiment with different recipes
Anyone whose grown zucchini before knows how to experiment with different recipes because once your zucchini starts to take off, you’ll have a hard time keeping up with cooking it all. You’ll also go crazy if all you do is make zucchini noodles for your spaghetti alternatives. Try to use your zucchini (or other veggies) in recipes you’ve never tried before. Feel free to have fun and experiment and if something turns out terrible – well now you know to never try it again.
7. Get your kids involved
Like I said at the beginning of this post, we converted our deep box that was intended for root veggies into a flower garden for our 2yr old. At the beginning of March we went out there and my wife helped our daughter plant a bunch of flower seeds we picked up from the store. So far it’s been really cool to see the flowers grow and for her to get excited about her garden. Our daughter is also really into the raspberries and strawberries we have growing. We pick them right off the plant or vine and we eat them right there on the spot. Getting your kids involved with a backyard garden is a really fun thing to do that gets you outside the house and into the dirt and sun.
Hopefully you found some of these tips helpful and will inspire you to get started on a backyard garden! If you have any tips for growing a backyard garden feel free to share them in the comments below. Thanks for reading!