I started this garden in 2015 on what was formerly our front lawn. Every year, it’s been improved and expanded; here’s a chronicle of its progress.
I originally created two 4’x20′ beds by layering cardboard, loam, compost, and newspaper directly on top of the lawn. Pictured above are the two original beds, a newly planted cherry tree, both beds at full growth, and a typical midseason harvest. As you can see, even a relatively small plot produces a fair amount of food!
In 2016, I expanded the garden space by cooking off the old lawn by putting down black plastic and leaving it in place for a few months. I then tilled the dead grass under. The local wildlife quickly found my unprotected garden and ended up doing a lot of damage. The following year, I built a rabbit proof fence to keep these pests out. Even so, the garden produced a respectable allium harvest and a steady supply of vegetables this year.
By 2017, pictured above, all of the usable garden space was protected from rabbits. I now had nine beds, roughly 4’x20′ each. The fruit trees I’d planted a few years earlier were starting to flower, but I didn’t anticipate much fruit yet (it typically takes about 5 years for them to really start bearing). The raspberries and currants had grown large enough to produce several pounds of fruit each this year. My final cleanout of the season left me with plenty of root vegetables, too.
The fruit trees starting producing meaningful amounts in 2018 with the first apple harvests. By this time, the soil ecosystem was clearly changing to support more vegetables and trees instead of just grasses, and I established a crop rotation system to improve yields and control insect pests and disease. I also installed drip irrigation (more clearly pictured in the 2019 photos below) to optimize water use.
In 2019, I tilled the entire front lawn to remove most of the remaining invasive tree roots. This is the last year I’d till; it’s less work and healthier for the soil to cultivate and plant cover crops in careful rotations. By midseason, the garden was producing more food than we could eat during harvest season. What you see pictured above was about the amount I typically picked every other day from about mid-July through the end of September.
In 2020, above, the fruit trees were routinely producing well. We were getting a LOT of food — enough so that we didn’t need to buy fresh vegetables or herbs for more than half the year. I preserved what I could, and gave the excess away, including extra seedlings, greens from thinned plants, and edible perennials. There’s less than 800 square feet of garden space, total, and this is producing about a quarter of the food to feed a family of three. At this point, this is less of a garden and more of a suburban farm. Crop rotation systems have been established, the soil ecosystem is maturing and supporting loads of life, diseases and insect pests are largely controlled, and wildlife pests are mostly under control (squirrels continue to plague my tomatoes).
In 2021, I started using soil blocks to start seeds instead of individual plastic cells. This is a faster way to get plants going because it eliminates transplant shock. I also doubled down on my use of row covers, which had a dramatic impact on the garden’s productivity. The apple tree tops have grown up to and past the roof of the house. The peach tree produced a good 20-25 pounds of peaches and everything is growing really well. Almost every meal we cook at home, year-round, contains some significant amount of food directly produced from the garden. The growing system, while still being tweaked, is well established with consistently good results, no use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and only targeted, specific, mild interventions to ensure that pests and disease don’t get out of control.