Growing FoodHow-To Projects

Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above…

Ellen, here (AKA Mrs. Go-To Guy!). While we get our photos and thoughts together for posts on the house renovation, I’ve been wanting to tell y’all about the exciting things we’re doing to grow ourselves some fresh food with a backyard garden.

Ever since we decided to move here to Alabama, nearly two years now, I’ve been daydreaming about putting in our very first fresh food garden, and researching different approaches.

My imagination was captured by a statement in Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables, by Fred Hagy, that Americans spend more time, money, and energy on empty land than any other culture in the world. Most Europeans (to say nothing of poorer countries) would be overwhelmed at the size of an average middle-class yard.

To own so much land would be wealth to so many in this world! And what do we grow on it?


Usually, grass that is not even adapted to our local climate and requires large amounts of pumped groundwater, petroleum-based fertilizer, and toxic herbicides in order to maintain a proper appearance. When I read further, in The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Kieth, about how groundwater irrigatation deposits minerals in the soil which will eventually leave it unable to support plant life of any kind, I knew that a standard Southern suburban yard of Zoysia, azaleas, and crepe myrtles was not for us.

On top of that, our local water and sewer system is in a financial crisis that is going to dictate radical price increases. Watering decorative outdoor carpet is just not in our budget.

Don’t get me wrong -  we have little children, and we need open space for them to run and play. I love hydrangeas and forsythia in bloom. But my vision for our yard started to grow into a challenge -  and just like Andy, I LOVE a challenge.

How much of our yard space could become enjoyable, beautiful, and helpful to our family? What is the most productive and least harmful way to garden? I began to research organic gardening techniques: the concept of permaculture (designing self-supporting ecosystems of edible plants), biointensive planting (close spacing of varied plants to promote maximum yield), and urban homesteading (designing a subsistence farm in an urban or suburban yard). I started to fantasize about using creeping thyme as a walkable groundcover, or putting blueberries and strawberries around a foundation instead of redbud and hostas.

When we finally found our OWN house, with our OWN yard, I was overjoyed by its level, wide-open layout. It’s oriented due north/south, and receives 8 or more hours of direct sun in the summer months.


A Fresh Food Gardener’s Paradise

On top of that, the lawns have experienced at least 7 years of benign neglect: nothing more than mowing. The front and back yards are overrun with clover, violets, wild onion, daisies, mock strawberries, and some kind of clumpy thing with yellow flowers that is probably trefoil. When my dad said, “Oh, you’ll have to dig out all those weeds and re-sod,” I replied, “Are you kidding? This is a native, self-composting, perennial polyculture! Can you imagine the gorgeous microbial soil life we’ve got?”


It also happens to be really pretty, has no bald spots or fire ants, and feels nice on bare feet. I am perfectly happy to let the children roll around in it without worrying they’ll wind up with two heads.

So while Andy tells the story of how were doody-ing up (technical term) the interior of our 1958 mid-century jewel box, Ill be telling the story of our sweet little 1/3 acre and how it grows.

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