For the last decade my family has been growing food on 1/16th of an acre in a quiet rural village located near the beautiful Catskill Mountains. Due to the limited space we have had to be creative in our efforts and though we are flexible to change we have had to develop a long term plan as we progress year after year. I would like to pass along a couple of suggestions that have worked for my family here at Whitaker Gardens, Sidney, New York.
In the beginning, our gardens were very experimental in regards to the items grown. Over the years, our focus narrowed to those items that we ate on a regular basis. Part of the approach was to save money, the other aspect being that our staple items were grown healthy and holistically.
We learned very early on the value of heirloom seeds in regards to cost and taste. Consider the price of a head of lettuce. In my neck of the woods it runs around $2 a head whereas a packet of lettuce seed cost around $3 for an heirloom variety. You can easily grow a few hundred heads of lettuce from seed if you have the room or desire. The math is rather obvious; by growing from seed you can grow plants for pennies on the dollar. This holds true on all crops – beans, tomatoes and corn just to name a few. Heirlooms tend to offer produce that have unique flavors and appearances, in turn making meals more interesting. In my opinion, one of the most cost-effective aspects of heirloom seeds is that you can save your own seed at the end of each season thus eradicating the cost of seed altogether if done properly.
With that said some plants may make more sense to buy from a greenhouse depending on your zone's growing conditions and length. For example some winter squash cut it awfully close to the first frost date here in Sidney so my family tends to buy winter squash starter plants rather than starting seed directly in hills.
Another section of our garden is for more established long-term growth. Items such as berry bushes and bramble, fruit trees and asparagus grow successfully in this section of our property. We have five blueberry bushes, a massive raspberry patch, blackberry bramble tucked along our property's boundary and close to 200 strawberry plants. We also have a peach tree and two apple trees. We will be adding more apple trees this spring thanks to a wonderful gift from our neighbors to celebrate the birth of our fourth child.
Raised beds are instrumental to our success as well. It provides us with a clearly defined growing area, which is important with pets and children. It also allows me to focus on particular patches of soil, thus feeding the dirt with compost and manure and not wasting any of the precious material. Personally, I find it easier to stay on top of crop rotation when it is mapped out with borders. Our corner of the world is very rocky, though the soil is lush and full of life. Rather than break my back and haul all the stones away I have decided to turn the stones into raised beds thus saving time and money. Plus I just like the way that they look.
Among all the vegetables, trees and bramble we also have patches of herbs for culinary purposes and for the bees. We grow flowers heavy in pollen among the beds to lure pollinators in among the edibles. We also leave indigenous plants year round to provide food and shelter for beneficial insects, which help the garden stay healthy and productive.