Tula Mae Homestead

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Tula Mae Gardens

I began gardening our first summer in our house 6 years ago.  Growing up, my dad always had vegetable gardens and would grow the most amazing tomatoes and huge trellises of pole beans.  My mom has somewhat of a black thumb that has turned greener over the years.  She’s the flower lady–always has fresh flowers in the house, has multiple gorgeous gardens at home, and her deck is a hanging plant oasis.  I’m not a great flower person.  Honestly, their function is still a mystery to me.  Yes, they’re pretty.  But, I can’t eat them and have only been able to keep very few alive.

Vegetable gardens, however, are another story.  I really love the ability to be able to grow food for my family and to share with friends.  There is some strange satisfaction I get when I know that more of my meal came from our land than from the store.  For someone who killed expensive hanging baskets her husband bought in less than 12 hours (curse you, freak May frost!) I am actually quite adept at growing vegetables.  My gardens grow and evolve every year as I delve into growing a larger, more diverse harvest for us to eat year-round.

Where it all began…

The before and after of the OG gardens.  I literally have ZERO pictures of them during growing season.  In the first picture, the garden in the back right is our original one.  A beautiful garden my husband built out of lumber left here by the previous owners.  We rocked that garden for two years until I decided I needed a bigger one.  That’s where the closest right-hand garden came in.  Again, we rocked those two for a year until I decided I needed a bigger one.  Hubs went all out and built the long garden on the left.  That was an amazing addition and worked well for our family for two more years.  Now, at this point we are 5 years into my garden growing and I got the itch to expand.  Again.

I think it was my increased interest in becoming more self-sufficient, coupled with surrounding myself with an amazing community of homesteaders on Instagram.  The inspiration I had was incredible.  I asked questions, picked brains, and sought advice from those gardening on a larger scale than us.  I still, to this day, continue to do that.

2018 Garden Expansion

We live on almost 4 acres in Vermont.  The spot where the 3 gardens are is literally one of 2 spots we have that gets enough sun and is flat(ish).  We have a field that we hadn’t really been using…which is were our next garden comes in.

This is what we lovingly refer to as the “lower garden.”  I know, we’re extremely witty!  It was a flat spot in the field and one day I asked hubs to till a huge patch.  Amazingly enough, he agreed.  The first picture is our potato patch from this year.   We grew Norland Reds, Adirondack Blues, and a Russet variety and had an ASTOUNDING harvest! There is a HUGE rock separating the two plots, which we intend to remove soon.

The right hand picture is where our vining plants are. I planted watermelon, cantaloupe, crookneck squash, zucchini, yellow zucchini, three pumpkin varieties, and cucumbers.  Unfortunately, I forgot to mark the plants.  Some of them died off quickly and I thought it was my squash, so I planted more.  Turns out it was my watermelon and two varieties of pumpkins.  We have given away A LOT of squash!  The reason I wanted to put vining plants down here was because they take up SO much space–space I wanted in my upper garden for more rows of beans, carrots, lettuce, and peas.

Tomatoes and Herbs

I adore fresh herbs.  There is zero comparison to the taste of fresh vs dried.  I find them easy to grow and a treat to have.  Tomatoes…well…I really don’t like them.  I will eat them as a sauce, but I do not gobble them up fresh.  My husband and kiddos eat them straight off the vine, so I grow them.

  

This first garden was a flower garden when the previous owners lived here.  Clearly, I have turned it into a herb/tomato garden.  What you can’t see (and what I forgot to take pictures of) are the 7 5-gallon buckets and 32-gallon tote with my other tomatoes.  Tomatoes are like vining plants, they like to spread and take over no matter how much pruning you do.  Growing them in buckets gave them space and freed up another plot for me.  They flourished this year more than they ever have!

Back to the first garden–in it currently are:  sage, rosemary, basil, dill, Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, and jalapeno.  Next year, there will be no peppers or tomatoes–the tomatoes took over and I’d rather do all buckets.  I want to plant more peppers, so they will most likely end up in one of the raised beds.  Because I ran out of space, I utilized a rack from our greenhouse the wind destroyed.  On it are:  oregano, thyme, parsley, celery, chives, and the one potted flower I can keep alive.  Climbing up the trellis are surprise morning glories that came up late!

Fruit

We have six mature blueberry bushes, the varieties I have long since forgotten.  They are amazing producers and provide us with plenty of fresh fruit for our bellies, freezer, mason jars, and friends.  We forgot to prune them last winter and they still produced almost 3 gallons of fruit.  That’s with me letting the birds have the last of it to be nice!

For a class field trip, my daughter went to a local nursery.  They let each kid pick out a plant and she got a strawberry plant.  It sat in its pot on my herb shelves for a couple of weeks, until it started producing fruit!  She was SO excited and I’m a sucker for my kids when they get excited about gardening.  We had some old split-rail fencing that was left behind and I built a little garden bed for the strawberry plant.  This thing has TAKEN OVER!  It started as a small plant and now has daughters and granddaughters–probably even great-granddaughters!  It’s my daughter’s task to care for it, which she does and adores! 

Our grapevine is part of our “take back our land” mission we started this year.  This poor thing hadn’t been touched since we moved in 6 years ago until this past April.  I reached out on how to save it and ended up cutting it back to the original vine.  Thinking I had killed it, I didn’t have high hopes for this year.  Incredibly, the plant took off like wildfire and this is where it is today.  We plan on building a larger, more solid structure for it after cutting it back before the snow falls.  There is no fruit on it this summer, but we’re hopeful for next year!

 

In addition to the grapes, the four Macintosh apple trees are being taken back.  They are still producing a lot of fruit, but need a good pruning.  My kids (and dog) love that they can pick apples in their backyard.  My nephew has dubbed this the “apple orchard” and can usually be found gorging himself on apples.

Future plans

This summer taught me a lot about what I want out of my gardens and what needs to be done to achieve those goals.  This was my first year growing pumpkins and I didn’t realize how much they expand.  Reminds me of my 2-year old sleeping in my bed with me–how can something so small take up so much space??  For the pumpkins, we’ve picked out a spot on the hill they will go next year:

This is to the right of the lower garden, on a slight hill.  We are trying to use as much of the land for our benefit as we can, so this makes perfect sense to us.  My kids, niece, and nephews are super excited to come pumpkin picking at our place this year–next year should be even more epic!

We also intend on tilling another garden on the other side of the potato patch/vining garden.  We really want to plant garlic and want to be able to designate a space for it because you need to plant in the fall.  While we’re doing that, we are going to remove the rock from the middle and till in some nutrients to the lower garden.  Because it was such a whim to start, we didn’t till in any added nutrients.  This is why I think a lot of the plants died initially.  I ended up mixing in Miracle-Gro to the hills and everything flourished after.

Why so many?

As food becomes more expensive, and the ingredients become more questionable, it becomes more important to myself and my husband to provide more for our family.  Yes, it’s easier to go to the grocery store, grab a bag of potatoes, and come home.  There’s no tilling, no watering, no fertilizing, and no harvesting.  But…it also is seeming like there’s no connection to the food.  Eliminating the middle man (grocery store) connects my family to the food we eat.  My girls get really excited when I tell them to go to the garden and pick carrots for dinner.  There’s nothing like cracking open a jar of homemade pasta sauce in February to bring back a taste of summer.  Growing enough food to eat in the moment, and put up for later, is our ultimate goal.  The less we have to rely on grocery stores for food, the better.

That’s not to say I don’t buy veggies at all during the summer.  There are just some that I either choose not to grow or haven’t had good luck growing.  For those, I go to the Farmer’s Market and support other local farmers in my community.  I enjoy picking their brains about how their harvest did so well while mine lacked.  And I’ll tell you, they LOVE sharing!  We usually end up staying longer than intended because I am too busy chatting with other farmers.

I can’t wait to share next year’s progress with y’all!!

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