Fresh From the DIY Backyard Farm

Surefire Way to Grow Better Produce

Greg CarboneMany experts say keeping a journal is a great way to improve one’s life. You get to recap your days, learn from mistakes and save key experiences. And you can grow better produce.

Edible garden success rates can be improved by doing the exact same thing. Edible gardeners experience many ups and downs throughout the growing season. Some of these experiences are out of our control. After all, you cannot do much about a colder than normal spring filled with heavy rain. However, there are many experiences you can control and learn from. For example, this year we experimented with a few new varieties of heirloom tomatoes here at the DIY Backyard Farm. Some, like the Cherokee Purple and German Queen were spectacular! On the other hand, Mr. Stripey heirlooms did not live up to our expectations.

Do you think we would remember those heirloom tomato experiences in the spring of the following season? Doubtful. The long, cold winter and excitement of a new growing season usually dilute or eliminate such learning moments. This is precisely where gardening journals or notes can save the day. Take a look at the image below. It is a snapshot taken from a real page in the back of the DIY Backyard Farm Edible Garden Planning Guide. Those are the notes we have taken on our 2014 tomato garden. We now have a place to refer to when it comes time to plan our 2015 tomato gardens.  

Tomato Notes Page
2014 notes from the DIY Backyard Farm tomato garden

The children can get involved in this process, too. Our 6-year-old and 8-year-old Backyard Farmers each have their own 4-by-2-foot edible gardens to tend. We encourage them to spend time with us observing and noting the gardens on a regular basis. This is a great way to bring them closer to nature and teach them more about the origins of food. In the image below, our son is signifying that his Sweet 100 tomatoes were a big hit. He preferred them to the Husky Cherry tomatoes that he also grew. He already knows what tomatoes he’s growing next season!

Boy and his tomatoes
Sweet 100 tomatoes were delicious and plentiful in 2014

As the old adage goes, “Do what you have always done; get what you have always gotten.” Taking detailed garden notes allows you to make sure what you have always done is working. Garden notes will also excite you to spend some time over the winter searching for better approaches or more appropriate plants for next season. For us those notes will mean more and better tomatoes for our summer-long BLT fest!

Fall is the perfect time to collect your thoughts, experiences and memories from the growing season. Write them down now while they are still fresh in your mind.

sliced tomato
Sliced organic, heirloom tomato preparing to become a BLT

Adventures in Slow Cooking

Greg CarboneSoup's on!
Soup's on ... or is it?

My family may live in the garden state, but there is not much edible gardening going on in January. Right now our edible gardens are bare except for a few lacinato kale plants that stand tall like guards over sacred grounds. With sunshine so minimal, there is little to draw us outside. Now we know why so many animals hibernate through winter!

Still, we press on by filling our evenings with activities by the fire and our weekends with as much outside time as possible. It is on those weekends that we value our slow cooker more than ever. Our shiny machine quietly goes about its day, turning various mixtures of great ingredients into aromatic pots of amazement. It is our silent sous chef!

Last weekend, we planned a full day outside in what the local weather person called “abundant sunshine.” We knew we needed to slow cook something amazing in order to enjoy our day and avoid coming home “hangry.” There is nothing worse than trying to make a meal when tired and hungry!

So in went some locally-made sausage that we browned in a pan and deglazed with red wine. Not too much meat, but enough to add flavor and satisfying goodness. Next we added 13 different types of beans — hey, 13 is a lucky number in many parts of the world. Then the broth, diced tomatoes, and a multitude of dried herbs from our gardens. The final ingredient would be the aforementioned, backyard-grown kale. We usually throw it in during the last hour of cooking.

What an amazing day of sun and fun! We got much needed fresh air and some natural vitamin D from our friend in the sky. All the while, each of us — youngest to oldest — thought of the aromas that would welcome us upon arrival home. There is nothing like the warm hug those slow-cooker smells give you after a day outside.

As we opened our mudroom door, we took in breaths so deep we thought we would collapse the very walls of our home. Our nostrils were ready to rejoice. One big breath, then another, and another. Wait, where is the aroma? Smaller, quick breaths followed. We all headed to the kitchen, expecting to see that our slow cooker was stolen by hungry thieves or a local bear that refused to hibernate.

Nope. We found it sitting on our kitchen counter looking much like we had left it. Once the initial shock wore off, we realized the slow cooker was cooked. At some point it simply stopped working, and our dinner was ruined. Our silent sous chef quit without giving notice! Thankfully, some scrambled eggs and whole grain toast saved the day and allowed us to enjoy a healthy satisfying "breakfast for dinner."

Has your slow cooker ever died without giving notice?

5 Foods You Can Grow to Save the Most Money

Greg CarboneFinancial experts say The Great Recession we experienced a few years back created a new generation of savers. Everywhere you look people are seeking ways to save money while improving their overall qualities of life.

Growing your own food can certainly save you money. Plus, it helps to create a much healthier lifestyle. After all, it is harder to eat unhealthy when you have a farmers market right in your backyard. The popularity of home grown vegetables, fruits and herbs combined with people's desires to live healthier have combined to form an encouraging trend. I created the DIY Backyard Farm to help enable more people to grow their own healthy delicious produce.

When it comes to saving money, not all edible plants are created equal. Here are my Top 5 favorite money saving (and tasty) edible plants to grow:

  • Beets – These amazing plants have a double impact on your “bottom line.” You can eat the beet greens (the leaves and stems) and you can also eat the root portion. Most people are familiar with just eating the root. I like to harvest the greens slowly throughout the season while allowing the beet root to grow. This can be accomplished by removing a few of the outer leaves. Do not pick the center leaves.


  • Kale – Kale has a really long growing season if you care for and harvest it right. We harvest pound after pound of it from May – January here on The DIY Backyard Farm. To ensure a long growing season just harvest the leaves that are away from the center and top of the plant. Usually these are the lower, more mature leaves of the kale plant.


  • Tomatoes – Have you looked at tomato prices lately? They are outrageous! Heirloom tomatoes in particular can set you back $7.99 a pound or more in fancy supermarkets. Not so on the DIY Backyard Farm. We grow hundreds of pounds of tomatoes each season. All our tomatoes are heirloom, non GMO and totally organic. I feel you can't put a price on such quality. However, at an average price of say $5 a pound, we are talking well over $1,000 of “return” on a really small investment.


  • Lettuce – $3.99 on sale for a plastic shell container of organic lettuce. That is a sale price? For us a sale price is nearly free and right in our own yard. We have rows of lettuce in our edible garden and even a few containers of it sitting close to the house for quick picking. Plus, lettuce can be started early and grown all season if done right. The most challenging part is growing it in hot summer weather. Look for varieties that are more heat tolerant and also companion plant lettuce in the shade produced by larger plants (like tomatoes).


  • Berries – last, but certainly not least. Choose any berry you like, they are all expensive at the market. Grow them at home and you are talking serious savings! Our most exotic berry is the golden raspberry. Sweet, delicate and beautiful equals expensive, unless you grow your own. I rarely even see golden raspberries in the store or at farmers markets. However, when I have they are usually $5 to $7 for a half pint! Imagine growing 15 to 20 pints of these berries from just two plants. Now that is some serious savings!

golden raspberries

Virtually any vegetable, fruit or herb grown at home will save you money and probably offer higher nutrients and taste than anything you can find in the store. What edible plants are you growing this season?

What You Need to Know About Local Produce

Greg CarboneCan you really tell the difference between locally grown produce and the store bought stuff? For me the proof is in the soup. In this case, carrot soup!

Youngster with amazing Touchon Carrot

Last summer I had the chance to visit Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. It is an amazing place with oodles of historical things to do and see. One of the highlights of my visit was a tour of the Colonial Garden and Plant Nursery and a chat with its founder, Wesley Greene. Wesley is a wealth of knowledge and has probably forgotten more about plants than most of us will ever know.

Greg and Wesley Greene

During my visit to the area I came across a recipe for carrot soup. Just reading the recipe inspired me to vow to make carrot soup as soon as I returned to the DIY Backyard Farm edible gardens.

Well, a promise is a promise and when I got home I yelled (inside my head of course), “Soup Is On!” I opted to keep my carrot soup really simple by allowing the fantastic ingredients do the talking. For the first pot of soup I used Touchon carrots. The uniform shape and wonderful orange color of this variety of carrot has always captivated me.

A wee bit of preparation and a nice whir in the Vitamix created a velvety textured soup that I could not wait to share with my family. The soup was amazing! Our children wondered aloud, “What is this?” as they used some crusty, whole-grain bread to clean every last bit from their bowls. Even on a warm day carrot soup felt so right.

Unfortunately, carrot soup requires a lot of carrots. Our new found love of this soup caused me concern that we would exhaust our carrot supply in a week or two. I immediately planted a ton of new seeds for late fall harvest. I also made the next few batches of carrot soup from store-bought carrots.

My store-bought carrot soup contained a few pounds of organic carrots from a popular organic produce producer here in the USA. Did you think the DIY Backyard Farmer was going to buy just any old bulk carrots?

Something was different with this version of the soup. As I stirred and tasted, I was surprised by the bitter, vegetative taste of the soup. My Touchon carrot soup required just a small amount of honey and maybe a teaspoon of salt to achieve a nice flavor balance. The store-bought carrot soup needed a lot more help. I sure hated to add in all the extra sugar from the honey.

Even with the additional honey and quite a bit more salt, I was disappointed. It was like drinking our house wine after being spoiled by some fine Sonoma County pinot noirs or perfectly crafted White Burgundies from France. Not the same at all!

I had seen (and tasted) enough to be reminded that locally grown and recently (as in right before cooking) picked produce is far superior to anything one can buy in the supermarket produce aisle. As I always say, “Everyone should have their own backyard edible garden.”

Purple Dragon carrot

You Know You Are a Farmer When ...

One Family's Vision of a Farm 

Greg CarboneMost folks envision a farm to be a place where large amounts of produce are grown for profit across vast pieces of land. The people who live and work such pieces of land are certainly farmers, but what about the rest of us?

To answer that question one needs to first ponder all the possible meanings of the word "farm." For example, I believe the term “farm” can be applied to a place where food is grown to sustain life and provide benefits to those around it. By that definition, my family and I have a farm! That makes us farmers!

Joy in the Garden

Furthermore, we may not sell our produce, but we sure do reap great benefits from it.

We are part of a large, global movement where more people have decided to take control of their food supplies by growing their own. People are becoming farmers again! This movement is a bit of a throwback to a time when growing your own was either a requirement or a deeply ingrained practice of basic living.

Just Google the terms “backyard farming” or “urban farming.” All across our land people are growing their own healthful, delicious and, in many cases, organic produce. Some are even raising animals for food. Most impressively, these “farmers” are growing their own regardless of available land space.

Farmer GregA quick scan of Pinterest shows urban “farmers” growing edible plants on balconies, container “farmers” coaxing amazing amounts of produce from vessels of all shapes and sizes, and backyard “farmers” like me supplying their families and neighbors with amazing produce. A new “crop” of entrepreneurs are even bringing the grow your own movement to kitchen counters!

Farmers, gardeners, agriculturalists, homesteaders, country people and more all uniting around the common interest and wonderfully sustainable pursuit of growing their own food.

So, are you a farmer?

Greenbacks in The Garden

Greg CarboneMuch of the interest in edible gardening comes from the enthusiasm over growing one's own healthy produce in one's own yard. This backyard farmer and blogger could not agree more. It is wonderful to have your own little (or big) farmers' market right outside your door.

This season, I found another great reason to get excited about backyard edible gardening. It happened on a rare trip to the local organic food store to buy some heirloom tomatoes. We needed some extras for a big salad we were making and the garden did not have enough available. When I got to the store my eyes almost fell out of my head. Organic heirloom tomatoes were “on sale” for $4.99 a pound! They were normally $6.99 a pound! When did this happen? We hardly ever have to buy produce and we never buy tomatoes from the store (almost never). Just a few large tomatoes would have cost over $16! Needless to say, our salad recipe had to be adjusted so it would not require so many tomatoes.

tomato, scale  tomato, scale, heirloom 

All was not lost though. That tomato sticker shock moment intrigued me enough that I began to look around the store some more. How much was organic kale? $2.99 for a small bunch!


As soon as I got home, I started to make rough calculations on certain crops from our backyard edible garden. If organic kale is $2.99 a bunch than we have more green than the Federal Reserve! Our 2014 kale crop alone weighs in with a few hundred dollars of delicious goodness. The heirloom tomato numbers are even more impressive. Our large heirlooms are all nearly 1 pound each. Even at the “on sale” price that is quite a bit of money we are saving.

Next season I plan to keep much closer tabs on the financial output of our crops. We do not grow our own produce for profit, but we certainly enjoy saving money. You do not need a farm grow enough produce to save money either. Small gardens and/or containers can yield impressive amounts of delicious edibles!

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