Homestead gardens are great places for growing fresh vegetables and raising livestock. They also provide a source of income for many families. But there are some things that you need to consider before starting a homestead garden.
What Is A Homestead Garden
A homestead garden is one of greater importance than a hobby garden. A homestead garden is designed to feed the family, and possibly the livestock, on the homestead.
Provides not only the food for the immediate needs of the family, but also enough to preserve for the off season.
In a perfect world, we would all produce 100% of our own food. And in some cases, several homesteaders do just that.
Of course those people have had years of experience and likely knowledge that has been passed down for generations.
In reality, many of us are seeing the writing on the wall. Supply chain issues, ever-rising costs, and feel the urgent need to start raising your own food.
The best time to start a homestead garden was generations ago, with tips, tricks, and even seeds, passed down from parent to child so it became as natural as breathing.
The second best time to plant a homestead garden is now. Grow food now while you have time to enjoy the learning curve instead of waiting to grow food out of desperation because you’ll starve if you don’t.
If you are as green as they come, and you’ve never planted a seed before, we offer step-by-step planning instructions for further reading in Gardening For Beginners- Everything You Need To Know.
How Do You Build a Homestead Garden?
When moving to new land, or if you’re just starting out with wanting to grow your own food, I suggest beginning with plants, trees, shrubs, that will first- take a while to get established, and second- produce year after year.
Examples are of those are
- Fruit and nut trees
- Berry bushes
- Medicinal Trees, bushes, plants. (elderberry, yarrow, plantain, for instance)
Homestead Garden Plans
Next, take a homestead inventory of the foods your family and livestock consume.
Write down all of the food items, including ingredients. For instance, say your family loves dill pickles. Not only write down pickling cucumbers, but also the dill and spices you need to make dill pickles.
Using the tips I’ll share below, map out your property in a garden journal, and visualize a space for items you want to grow to replace what you currently buy at the store.
Start slow and plant one item at a time.
Once you’re successful with that, add the next plant, then the next, until you are well on your way towards self-sufficiency.
How Big Should a Homestead Garden Be?
Obviously, the size of one’s garden is going to be different for everyone. Largely depending on how much land you have to work with, how much time you have to dedicate to gardening, and your physical ability.
As a rule of thumb, a good starting place is 200 square feet of gardening space per person you are feeding.
10 Homestead Garden Mistakes To Avoid
Lots of people can tell you what to do and what worked for them. However, I’ve found I learn best from my mistakes and what NOT to do.
My goal is to share these gardening mistakes with you, because trust me, I’ve done them ALL. In hopes, you will have better success than I have.
What Are Some Common Mistakes When Planting?
Sometimes it’s the brush, not the artist- ya know? Then sometimes it IS the artist.
Although gardening is a science, there is a lot to do with it we have absolutely no control over.
I would say the biggest planting mistake is repeating your mistake.
One, because you failed to keep a gardening journal and just forgot.
Two, because you didn’t learn from your mistake or know what you did wrong.
Either way, the number one homestead gardening mistake, and the most common, to make is #1.
#1 Homestead Garden Mistake~ Giving Up
There are so many factors that can, and will, contribute to failure.
Why do most gardens fail?
- Old seeds that won’t germinate.
- Too much rain.
- Too little rain.
- Wildlife or livestock.
- Chemical runoff.
- Injury or sickness.
I could go on and on. The point is, you can’t give up. If farmers and homesteaders gave up after failure, we wouldn’t have any food.
Too many first time gardeners tried something once, it didn’t work out so they never attempted it again. That’s so sad to me.
It’s like having childbirth. The birthing process is painful, tedious, and sometimes downright horrific.
However, after that baby is born, you forget all about the pain and suffering and look forward to the days ahead. You will make mistakes as a parent, but you won’t give up.
Same thing with gardening. Sow those seeds, plant and plant again. If it fails, take a breath, try to find out what went wrong, dust yourself off, get out your garden journal, and plan nexts season’s crop.
You will have success. Once you do, and you’re sitting at the dinner table watching everyone enjoy something that you grew, you’ll forget all about the hardship.
#2 Planting Your Garden In The Wrong Location
Location is everything in real-estate and with gardens. A garden in the wrong location has little chance for success.
Funny story, when we lived at the beach, our garden season started much earlier than the average. One year I planted our garden right under a huge hickory tree.
Not only did the tree fill out and block 90% of the sun from my garden, the sap dripped and burned holes in all my plants’ leaves.
Yep, location is everything.
Garden Location Planning
Really observe your land. Walk around it at different times of the day and in different seasons. Answer the questions below about possible garden locations. Then pick the best location (s) that meet your needs.
Where does the sun hit and what part of the day does it hit there? The average garden requires 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
Where does the water run off to? Does the area flood?
Accessibility. Is the area you want to plant your garden accessible? Your garden location should be easily accessible by both you and or a vehicle should you need to haul in compost.
Is there a water source nearby? Your garden will need water and hauling water is no easy task.
What is the soil like? Have you gotten a soil test? Not only is soil composition important, it is vital for plant growth. Get a soil test at your local extension agency or garden center.
What is above and around your proposed homestead garden area? Are there electric lines? Big trees? Heavy roots? Is it close to the road where car exhaust may be an issue?
How far away is it from your walking path? If you’re garden is too far away or it’s not easily accessible, you’re not going to pay attention to it like you should
#3 Planting Your Homestead Garden Too Early or Too Late
Plants require different amounts of sunlight, so you should plant them according to how much light they will receive. Also, some plants prefer cooler temperatures while others thrive at warmer temperatures. Make sure you choose the right plants for your climate.
Find Your Planting Zone
What is a planting zone? A planting zone or hardiness zone is a standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. When you know your hardiness zone you can learn about what plants will do best in your area. In addition to learning your planting zone, you also need to learn when the first and last frost dates are for your area.
You also need to consider where you’ll store your produce. If you live in a cold area, you might want to consider growing root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. These crops do well in colder climates because they store better than other vegetables.
#4 Watering- Too Much or Too Little
You’ll need to water your plants regularly to keep them healthy. If you forget to water them, you could end up having a lot of dead plants.
It’s also important to make sure that you use the right type of soil for your plants See above.
Most garden plants are heavy drinkers when they start to really produce.
Use mulch around your plants to help reduce moisture loss in your garden.
In addition to mulch, make sure the ground stays moist (not soaking wet) at least 1″ down below the surface.
try to water at the base of the plant so you’re not wasting water on the leaves. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are ideal if that’s a viable option for you.
#5 Don’t Plant Too Many At Once
If you plan to grow vegetables, make sure you only plant one type of vegetable per square foot. This will ensure that each plant gets enough water and nutrients.
You should also consider how much space each vegetable needs to grow before planting.
For instance, tomatoes need lots of room to grow, so you shouldn’t plant them until you’ve cleared enough space for them. You can also grow tomatoes vertically and plant next to a fence or trellis.
On the other hand, lettuce only requires a few inches of soil, so you can plant it right away.
#6 Protect Your Garden From Livestock and Wildlife
One of our biggest mistakes was thinking my chickens wouldn’t bother my garden because it was a raised bed. Boy was I wrong. Not to mention my dogs would go after them and then they would trample my garden vegetables!
Protect your garden from unwater guests
- How to Build A Wattle Fence by Homestead Lady
- How to Keep Deer (and other pest) Out Of Your Garden by My Homestead Life
#7 Forgetting To Plant For Pollinators
Plants need pollinators for reproduction. Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have food.
This is the main reason why we became beekeepers.
When we lived in South Carolina and first started planting our homestead garden, we had all of these huge plants with tons of flowers but no fruit?
Zucchini vines as far as the eye could see, but not one zucchini.
I started really observing our garden and realized it was greatly lacking any form of pollinators.
I did my research and got out my tiny paintbrush and started hand pollinating what plants that were still flowering in hopes to salvage what was left of the growing season. Boy that can get old fast.
Not only do our bees enjoy and pollinate our herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables, but we get the added bonus of honey too!
Make sure to include plants in your homestead garden design that specifically attracts pollinators.
#8 Poor Time Management
To be honest, I can’t say I have mastered time management. As a matter of fact, I’m certain I haven’t.
When you plant a garden, it takes time. While you may feel the hard part is the preparation and the planting, the harvest is what keeps you on your toes.
When vegetables and fruits are ready, they aren’t going to wait for you to have a day off. They are going to keep on growing and ripening.
Preserving The Homestead Garden Harvest
Harvest time is the busiest time of the year for most farmers and homesteaders, the garden waits for no man.
When it’s harvest time, not only do you need to free your calendar for the harvest, but you need to free days up for preserving the harvest.
This means no family vacations or long fishing trips during harvest season.
Harvest season will be filled with days of canning, freezing, and otherwise preserving your harvest for the winter months and food for years to come.
#9 Planting What You Don’t Eat- And Not Planting What You Do
I have to chuckle with this gardening mistake because it brings back many memories.
One year I planted rows of eggplants and hot peppers. Not sure why really, other than the fact I really wanted to grow as much as I could without thinking of what I was going to do with what I grew.
As luck would have it, most of my garden was a failure that year with the exception of two varieties.
You guessed it. Eggplant and hot peppers.
Evidentially I have a green thumb for growing eggplant and hot peppers.
Unfortunately, my family doesn’t eat eggplant or hot peppers. And we had an abundance of both.
In short, plant things your family eats and not an abundance of what your family doesn’t.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try new things, by all means do. But maybe stick to one or two plants and not an entire row.
#10 Avoiding Your Garden
Last but not least, avoiding your garden. Homestead gardens are a ‘set it and forget it’ kind of hobby.
They take care, nurturing and observation.
The best way to observe your garden daily is to plant it by your daily route, as I mentioned earlier about location.
Visit your garden daily. Put your fingers in the soil to check for moisture. Look under the leaves to see signs of bug eggs or pests.
Most importantly, check for produce that is ready to be picked.
Finally, if you are gardened out, is there such a thing? Offer to let some friends come and glean your fields.
Don’t let anything go to waste, there is always someone that would love and appreciate fresh produce.