My girlfriend and I moved into our first house, a charming rambler overlooking the interstate, in July of 2021. After a decade spent living in huts and crashing on couches, I was excited to break ground on a big list of cozy domestic projects and take full advantage of the rooted lifestyle. The first thing to do was grow some food.
As I have been wont to do since my turn internetward, I overdid the research phase until I was prepared enough to not look stupid in front of anyone with good country sense. A Turing test of life experience and handyness--I passed it, joke's on them.
This website, a charming knowledge base for the National Gardening Association, was the most useful of all the sources I visited. They have a page where you can enter your zip code and it'll tell you what you should grow, and when.
Our backyard is surrounded by giant old oak trees, so I further filtered out anything that needed all-day sunlight. That left us with mostly kale, other lettuces, and herbs, though I heard enough good things about onions, garlic, and brocc that I figured we'd try them out too.
I started the garden around the time that lumber prices were soaring, so I opted for "back pain legos" instead of wood. There are some real benefits to this approach, though: you can plant little herbs in the squares of the cinderblocks, they won't degrade over time, and you can more easily disassemble them when you move out of a leased property.
'Fortunate Son' plays, as the rogue dandelion off-screen eyes the basil plant with suspicion.
From left to right: onion bulbs, garlic bulbs, little kale, red Russian kale, two broccoli plants and about six swiss chard.
By November we'd added mirrors, since the sun's winter path was blocked by trees for ~70% of the day. Since this is our first garden, I have no idea if this made any difference, but mirrors outdoors, reflecting all that green, are beautiful. Below you see them faceplanted on the cinderblocks from the wind, where they stayed for most of the season.
Sadly I did not get pictures of this, but: during the one big snow of the winter, the plants were nearly covered, but they bounced right back and I'm very proud of them. Unfortunately, more trouble was right around the corner.
This was one of the last pictures taken in the before times, when all was lush and bountiful. Before the visitors. Before the scourge.
Knock knock, who is it?
These little gremlins ate our stuff.
We lost half the garden to the squirrels, who discovered they liked how the plants tasted sometime around February. I bought some coyote pee off the internet thinking it'd scare them off, but most of the damage was already done.
I think this was a side effect of our uniquely tree-filled ecosystem--next time, will I make a hoop house or install chicken wire? Probably not. They say the squee's can dig under fencing too, so you need to have some underground security measures as well. What a pain!
Still, this side of the garden has done quite well. The garlic in particular is going insane. And the red kale in the center is putting out like crazy.
As we rounded the corner into spring, the plants have bolted but the kale is still producing plentiful leaves.
This was all a pretty great experience. The main lesson I've learned, similar to what I hear people say about kids and other big responsibilities, is how surprising it is that life takes care of itself without your micromanagement. Even the gnawed on broccoli put up a fight, its little stump still sprouting spring flowers. None of it is as hard as it might look!
That said, in terms of edible food we pretty much only got the red kale out of it. The onions and garlic are looking pretty shrimpy. Turns out, plants like sunlight, so if you're in a dappled sunlight environment you should only grow leafy greens, which are happy with way less sun than other vegetables. If next year's backyard is equally shady we shall have to subsist on lettuce.