Tales of a Tract Home: The Vegetable Garden

One of my earliest memories includes being on my Great Grandmother's farm. My Grandmother and my mother also grew up farming so I have lots of experience planting potatoes, picking blackberries, and eating very green apples. It was a wonderful place to visit, and one of my favorite spots was the barn early in the morning when my uncles would milk the cows. I remember them squirting milk into the plethora of kittens Grandma always had on the farm. It was a beautiful way to spend my summers (and likely where my hay and horse allergies developed).

My husband and I have been married for 20 years now. And for nearly 20 years we've talked about having a vegetable garden. But for nearly 20 years it hasn't quite worked out. For the first few years we lived in a rental that had about a five foot area of grass. Our first home was just getting that "lived in feeling" when my husband lots his job and we had to move across the country to attend school and find a new job. Our home in Savannah, Georgia was also a rental, and we couldn't tear up the grass for a garden. And then finally we moved here to this home.

For a couple of years we simply concentrated on both living in our home and trying to get the main yard in, but we finally decided to conquer the garden in the spring of 2010. We had planned all along to have a garden area, and you can see it here in this photo. We selected an area of our yard that receives as much sun as possible. The back of our yard is on the southwest side of our home and there is nothing to obscure the sunshine from helping our plants to grow for the majority of the day.

First Brett brought in some topsoil from a turkey farm so it was full of fertilizer. This way we didn't have to mix in our own. We had it dumped in front of our house and then wheeled it back to the garden area. Thank goodness for big, strong men who took pity on our rather large dirt pile and came to help us move the dirt one evening.

Then Brett tilled it with his Dad's tiller (remember farming background) to make the dirt nice and soft for planting. Then the kids helped us rake the dirt (Notice James is using a leaf rake for raking and wearing snow boots for heavy duty yard work--typical gardening gear for little boys, right?!).

Then without much planning we took one of our Monday night Family Home Evenings and planted onions, peas, potatoes, zucchini and squash. I should have known then that we needed to think things through a little more (and you'll see why later); but when you're first starting the process you don't quite know what to ask or even about what to wonder. I was surprised to see how much Katelyn and James really enjoyed this part of the process. Having detested my own hours spent weeding and planting, I was thrilled at their willing responses to help.

Then we started watering the garden with an open drip system. You can see from these pictures that because the garden had a slope we didn't get even watering. No amount of moving dirt, shoring up the rows, or any other attempt we made to level the area solved this issue.  Some items got soaked and others went dry. We lost a lot of plants that year including a fruit tree my sweet father-in-law had taken such good care of. It was rough and very disappointing.

Even though we didn't know what we were doing, we did actually have a small harvest that year. There is something so beautiful and tasty about fruit and veggies from your very own garden. The colors alone just delighted me. And talk about savory. We were so happy about our minor success, however minimal, that we knew we wanted to try again.

We actually skipped a garden in 2011 and 2012. We just couldn't figure a way to make things work, and we needed some time off from all that unsuccessful effort to decide how we were going to fix the drainage issue. Gardening is a process and learning how to make your area work for you takes some time, research, money, and lots of trial and error.

At the end of 2012, Brett decided we were going to go with Garden Boxes. We did some research online to see what other people had done, and based on their recommendations we decided to go with pressure treated wood and boxes filled with well-fertilized dirt. Brett built nine 4' X 4' boxes and then leveled them on the original garden dirt. We then covered the surrounding ground with plastic and landscaping rocks. We made sure the space between each box would allow a person with a wheelbarrow to pass through so we could easily move throughout the garden as needed. Brett also designed the boxes tall enough that a person can sit on the edge and easily weed each box.

For watering, Brett drilled a hole through the bottom of each box and added a drip line system from a main line of our sprinkler system to each box. He can easily switch a box's drip line on and off if a certain fruit or vegetable needs a different watering schedule.

We have yet to see how well our little garden will produce this fall, but I can tell you already that weeding takes about five minutes and the watering is pretty much done automatically via our sprinkler system. Those two items alone makes us so happy. The garden box project included wood, nails, dirt, landscaping fabric, and landscaping rocks and of course labor by my handsome husband. The entire project took several hundred dollars. But the initial investment has helped us save hours and hours of work and for two very busy people, that's definitely worth it. We're looking forward to a delicious harvest as we watch our plants grow each week.

Watch for my Living Room Redo coming soon. Here's a little sneak peek at the $50 trunk I shared earlier this week:


  1. Your garden looks great!! Sometimes a little trial and error is what you need to find what works for you.

    Can you please talk to my husband about adding a drip line system to our garden?? LOL I have to drag the hose back there. It is in an area that really isn't ours, so it has to be temporary. If they ever decide to put the next phase of this development in, it will be gone and we will be using boxes like you. I have an 80ft. x about 12ft. deep area. Onions, corn, tomatoes (about 8 plants), chives, basil, peppers, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cukes and pumpkin fill our garden. I think this is our 4th year?? Ben is like James and is out there helping. He loves to help plant it. The last few summers, he has taken his battery powered tractor (it has a trailer on the back) and helped pick and then haul it all up to the house. :)

    Hope you are having a good weekend. Ok.. off to go screw in cedar decking boards.. stripped down the deck the other night. Got rid of the green treat decking and railing and adding cedar. Talk about trial and error. LOL

  2. Hey Jen,

    Loving these posts, btw.

    Can you please tell me how your fruit and veg survive your harsh winters? What do you do to protect them from the endless frost and snow?

    Please and thank you :-)

  3. Ali,

    We don't have plants in the winter. They just freeze and die. So we take them out each year and plant new items. This is our first year with strawberries and herbs so we'll see how they survive. I'll have to do some research on how to help them through the winter. During spring frost, we simply cover them with a blanket to keep them warm during the night or plant after the frost.

  4. Jen, This is great. My grandfathers garden was the talk of the town while I grew up. Everyone said he grew the best fruits and veggies. I have always wanted to have a garden and hopefully learning from people like you we will have one soon :)

  5. Jen, I grew up gardening also. Living in Oregon and Idaho, we pretty much lived a sustainable lifestyle. Like you, I detested working in the garden. In those days we had no drip system. My parents and grandparents knew what to do. There is nothing so sweet as a tomato grown from your own garden. I ate green apples too from the "little green apple tree" and got into a lot of trouble for that, especially when I sent my younger siblings to go get the apples :) I am really enjoying your posts. Your yard is lovely and those boxes would be the way I would go if I ever decided to garden. Miracle Grow works wonders.

  6. JLBOhio9:20 PM

    Jen, thanks for sharing these stories. My hubby jokes that he builds me gardens every year but we've had limited success most years (the last 7 were too shady but we are in a different house now). I'm glad to hear that others keep trying too!

    Can't wait to see the living room!


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