Picks and Shovels and Clay – Turning the Soil

Oh boy this last week has been fun :)

We have been turning over the soil in our garden for the last 10 days.  We’re using shovels for the initial turnover.  We decided that it’d be our exercise program for getting in shape for spring.  Our yard is also not ready for spring so we’re out there raking, trimming, clipping, and burning leaves.  I feel like a proper back-woods guy now.

One thing I should mention…. digging in hard clay is hard work.  REALLY hard work. Secondly, we found out that we REALLY need to amend this soil with more drainage and more loamy materials rich in nitrogen and other nutrients.

Snowy PatchAbout mid-way through the week, a very unusual ice storm hit our area, and covered our (turned once) garden plot into a snowy patch of empty ground!  we were covered with snow for three days.  Note the 1/2 inch of ice at the top of this PVC pipe.  It was COLD and rained ice for probably 10 straight hours.  In case we needed reminder that it was still wintertime!!

Our plan after the ice melts is to get a rototiller, get a bunch of soil amendment materials, and till the good stuff in with the bad stuff.  Then we start building the enclosure for our veggies!!

  • Supplies Purchased to-date:
    • 3 shovels (1 square and 2 round head)
    • 1 hoe
    • 1 order of seeds
  • Total Spent to-date: $150
  • Total Value in Harvested Vegetables:  $0

Backyard Garden: The Beginning

Small tomatoes in Korea


Well, a lot of thinking has led us to finally start working on a backyard garden.  We tried doing some container gardening on our back deck last year (tomatoes, herbs, peppers) and as a result of that, I haven’t bought hot salsa for over 4 months.  And the hot salsa I canned from all of those peppers and tomatoes?  I still have probably 6 cans left :)

Our garden goals are threefold:

  1. Get in better shape by doing something that benefits our health in multiple ways
  2. Eat AND CAN more veggies!
  3. Stop buying most of our veggies from the store and pay for our initial investment in equipment and supplies within 3 years

The ultimate goal I guess would be to never put a vegetable, herb, spice, or fruit in my mouth, without knowing for sure that it came from a reputable gardener (me!)  We also have nearly an acre to work with, so we figured this was a good opportunity to put that land to use.  Let the research begin!

Since we are new to outdoor gardening (I have some experience, but not a ton) we started off our research by figuring out what we COULD grow in our area.  We live in a sub-tropical zone but it still gets well below freezing 7 or 8 times during the winter.  It can be quite wet in the summer and short outbursts of very heavy rain are not uncommon.

After narrowing down the list by what we COULD grow, we wrote down stuff we regularly eat that was viable for our environment.  This research resulted in a list of 16 herbs and veggies that we eat regularly and buy from the store regularly.  Onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, 4 different herbs, lettuce, broccoli, beans, cucumbers, squash, etc… In some cases, multiple varieties of the above.

There were a couple of sites that were extremely helpful in our research, and I’ll call them out here:

Burpee seeds: This is a really fantastic web resource for understanding growing zones, what type of veggies grow best in what environments, what time of year to sow, first and last frost dates by region, etc.  Lots and lots of useful information on this site.  They connect really well to their seed bank e-commerce site too.  Each product description has a tabbed section at the bottom that has a TON of information about growing that particular vegetable, and most have videos explaining the sowing, growing, and harvesting process.  I highly recommend this site for people looking to do gardening research or even to become a customer.

Burpee provided us enough information about how big plants get, how much space they take up, and how much garden space you need for a good harvest.  All of our research on Burpee resulted in us drawing out the following garden map:


This is a 17 foot by 12 foot garden, with a large planting bed in the middle and planting beds completely around the edge of the garden.

Awkwardly, while the Burpee site was helpful, we did not become customers.  There are a few reasons:

  1. I don’t know how much GMO exposure I have with a large seed bank like this
  2. Their seed selection was somewhat general and not really region-specific
  3. Their seed packets were EXTREMELY expensive for someone who had a small amount of garden space
  4. The seed packets in some cases contained ten times more seeds than we needed for our garden plan

We landed on a Southeastern seed exchange site called Southern Exposure Seeds and this site was able to address some of our concerns above.  They had a very strong anti-GMO statement, an extremely southern-focused seed selection, smaller seed packets, and in some cases offered at less than half the cost.  In short:  These guys have their shit together if you are a backyard gardener in the South or Mid-Atlantic area of the US.

We purchased all of our seeds (except the potato chunks) from them.

Lastly, we started on research about growing cycles, harvest cycles, multiple cycle crops, overwintering, and other general information that we needed to know about each individual crop.

For this type of research, we found Old Farmers Almanac to be quite useful.  There is a ton of information on this site about the life-cycles of the plants, common pests and other environmental risks, scientific data on the crop itself, a little bit of history on the crop, etc.

There are also a lot of state universities that have agricultural extensions.  In these cases, they have wikis that contain large volumes of information about planting in your region.  My best suggestion here is to find an .EDU site close to your area that has an agricultural extension, and find out if they have a wiki or an informational site about agriculture.  Here is one from my area: Clemson Home & Garden Information

That’s our first update about the garden.  I’ll try to post at least once a week about it.

I will be keeping track of several things through this blog:

  1. How much we have spent on equipment, seeds, fertilizer, etc
  2. Approximately how much value we’ve gotten in edibles
  3. Improvements in our physical wellness as a result of this project
  4. Which online sites and social media sites were most helpful to us during this adventure
  • Supplies Purchased to-date:
    • 3 shovels (1 square and 2 round head)
    • 1 hoe
    • 1 order of seeds
  • Total Spent to-date: $150
  • Total Value in Harvested Vegetables:  $0