Backyard Permaculture, Edible Landscaping, Mini-Orchard or Something Like That.

I’ve been on the fence about where I see myself living in the long term and this year I decided that I’ll probably stay here for a while.   I have a few fruit trees in the ground and some other edible perennials, but I’ve been a little hesitant to put things in the ground just because of the likelihood that I was going to move somewhere else.    There’s a lot of good reasons for me to stay put in this house (for one, I’ll have it paid off by the time I’m 39 at the current rate) and unless I do something like marry Mrs. Duggar, it’ll probably meet every need I’ll have in the future.

Not only was the prospect of moving on my mind, I also told myself that I needed my lawn for my dogs.    This is true, but it dawned on me that the majority of the tree exists in the air and underneath the ground and there’s usually only a small trunk at the surface level.  No shit, Ryan.    Putting in a few trees wouldn’t take hardly anything at all from the dogs.   They might even like having more things to run around, more things to observe and more shady spots in the summer.

I’ve had my order out for plants for quite a while and I’m fine-tuning my plans for where things are going.   I called the utility companies the other day to get them to mark out the lines, so hopefully they get here tomorrow.   Then over the next few daysI’ll put the trees and shrubs in.

I have the following trees coming:  Plum, Crabapple, Sweet Pit Apricot, Cherry, a 5-in-1 Pear and a mini-dwarf apple.    I picked up a few more container-sized trees – two Evereste Crabapples and a Necta Zee nectarine.

I have raspberries, several currants, elderberries, sea buckthorn, gojis, Nanking cherries, kiwi, Rugosa roses, maypop and a few other odds and ends coming too.

The plan this year is to put down the trees and start working on a food forest where I’ll have the trees surrounded by layers of shrubs, herbs, roots and vines.    I’d like to put in a brick path that leads to….somewhere and have this path lined with shrubs and mini-dwarf trees.

My front yard is fairly shady with a few partial-shade spots and a bit of full sun areas.   Right now I have a little bit of catnip, a dwarf peach tree and about a dozen or two strawberry plants here and there but I’d like to get more production out of the front.   Right now I’m thinking of taking a sunny space about 3′ x 20′ on the side of the house and filing it with edible ornamentals as well as putting in crabapple and cherry trees and maybe elderberries.

Another project I’d like to tackle is the issue of my deck.   It’s a nice deck and very big but it’s kind of miserable during the day in the summer just because it’s so damn hot.   I’d like to make the space productive and nice to hang out in, but it’s hard to get things to grow in containers with the sun constantly beating down on it.    It’s really nice at night though.   I’m not sure if I want to build a trellis over part of it but I suppose that’s an option.

I’ve drawn up a rough plan for what I have and have coming and will post pictures and updates as I go as well as some of my thoughts and anything I come across that I feel is worth sharing with the world.    The more I think about it, I have a lot of possibilities with my less than a quarter acre lot and no reason NOT to go wild.   My neighbors probably already think I’m a little weird, I don’t see myself trying to sell the place anytime soon and my dogs will be fine.

The Mini-Orchard Is En Route

After racking up a large shopping cart at Raintree Nursery, I finally pulled the trigger and ordered some trees.   Off the top of my head I ordered the following:


3 mini-dwarf apples –   Jonagold, Enterprise and Honeycrisp variety

5 columnar apples – Scarlet Sentinel –   these are a couple feet wide and 7′-9′ tall when mature.

1 Stella dwarf cherry

2 dwarf Empress peaches

1  Necta Zee dwarf nectarine

1  Centennial semi-dwarf crabapple  –

1  Chicago Fig

1  Russian Tea plant

From a different company I ordered miniature orange, lime, lemon and tangerine trees as well as a miniature pomegranate and a “cold hardy” banana.   These (along with the tea and figs) will have to come inside during the winter.   I plan on putting in the effort to maintain these trees, but to be perfectly honest I’ll consider any produce received from these trees as a blessing.   The price for these plants was low enough to take a chance on them, but I’m a little skeptical.   I know for sure they’re not going to be loaded with fruit like the trees in the picture.   If it does work out, how cool would that be?

All of these trees/plants (with the exception of the crabapple and cherry) can be grown in containers.   This makes sense for me because I would like to not be at my current location in a few years and it would be nice to be able to move the trees within my yard and possibly to a different location if we do move.  The plan right now has us keeping this home as a rental, so if we put in a couple trees we will still more or less have access to them.  Worst case scenario, we’ll have done something nice for the new owners and be out $50 (unless they add to the property value and appeal?).

We won’t get any production this year from the trees, but there’s a chance that we could start seeing fruit next year.    The trees in addition to everything else going on will keep us busy, but it should be a rewarding endeavor.    They should arrive around the middle of April and I’ll have containers and soil waiting for them…

Looking Forward to the 2012 Garden and Looking Back at 2011

Tonight I made a few soil cubes and started some seeds underneath the grow light.   So far we have a dozen cabbage going, 3 cauliflower, 3 romanesco cauliflower, 3 brussel sprouts, 1 collard green, 1 mustard green and one swiss chard plant to get an early jump on things.   Tomorrow I may get a few herbs started.    Although we’re not in the clear yet, the weather has been very spring-like lately and I’m getting anxious to get started.

In 2008 my dog dug up the tomatoes I had going in containers. In 2009 I had a few herbs in containers and killed some tomatoes through overwatering.   In 2010 I grew a few herbs.   In 2011, we put in 4 4×8 beds, put in some berry bushes and kept a ton of containers.   We had some successes and some failures, but we learned a lot and got a lot out of our efforts.

The year started with a failure – we were planning on gardening off-site on some land in the family that was on the market, but no one was biting on.  One day I went out and tilled up a few old beds and planted some early fall crops.   Strangely enough, while I was there planting someone made the first offer in over a year on the property.  I knew this was a possibility, but I didn’t figure it would be that quick!   In fact, we made a loose offer on the land and thought it was going to work out for us.      We then decided that we were going to try to do everything in our backyard.  The initial objection to this was that one of our dogs, Django (recently deceased, RIP little buddy), would have definitely dug up anything we planted.   We solved this problem by making a chicken wire fence that surrounded each bed that still allowed us to reach over.   This worked out well for us.


We made a few other mistakes with timing and like many others, going overboard with what we wanted to plant.   It’s almost always advised to beginning gardeners that you should start small, but I think we took on quite a bit – and to our credit, we kept up with it all and we’re looking for more this year.

As a kid, I always liked the idea of gardening and did it occasionally.  I remember helping my grandmother who lived in a rural area outside the city planting and harvesting her large garden and enthusiastically tackling the small garden we kept at home.   The taste of freshly grown peas and the smell of tomatoes definitely brought back great memories that can’t be purchased at the supermarket.    We could buy our produce from the store.  We could even get it from a CSA or farmer’s market, but there isn’t much more satisfying than tending to and harvesting your own produce from your own patch of land.

I’m going to get “out there” a little bit, but I think I found a bit of a spiritual factor to gardening – I felt more connected to nature and the cycle of life having to take into account things like weather and the relationships between organisms (i.e. pests, beneficial insects, weeds, etc) that would go relatively unnoticed otherwise.   I felt a better connection to my heritage, as we were doing some of the things that my not-so-distant ancestors would’ve done like canning, pickling, dehydrating and so on in conjunction with gardening.   I had something to wake up for and felt a sense of purpose managing it all.   Also, there’s a great deal of satisfaction to knowing that you helped to create something of value through your efforts and achieve some level of self-reliance.

Although we probably didn’t produce more than 5-10% of what we consumed, what we did produce was very significant in the way it influenced our eating – almost every meal during the growing season had fresh herbs or something from the garden in it one way or another.  This makes a significant difference in the quality of your food. Even now, I’m still eating pickles almost daily, using dehydrated squash and occasionally drinking dehydrated herbs as tea.   We still have some tomatoes canned, pickled green tomatoes, frozen green beans and canned chow-chow.

Anyways, on to this year…

We’re planning on going from 4 beds to 7 or 8.    I will purchase the lumber for that project shortly.   We have a better idea about what to plant and when, so I think we’ll have a significant increase in output.   I think I tried to do too much with herbs in containers and ended up with too much of some herbs, too few of others.   I will try to balance this out by making a dedicated herb bed (beneficial insect attractors!) as well as using the containers a little wiser.

We’re going to extend our season through a cold frame (I’m building now, will post about it later) as well as some grow lights and a 6 x 8 greenhouse.

So far I’m pleased with the lights we bought and I think it will help us best utilize the space and time we have.   I’m considering getting another one to double up – I’m sure we will get enough value out of it  Growlights

The greenhouse looks like a great deal, considering Amazon’s free shipping (it weighs a little less than 100lbs).  We’re going to throw that up to harden off some plants and get some things going until we’re in the clear with the weather.  Greenhouse    The reviews on it seem promising, the price is definitely agreeable and I think this is something else that we will get value from.   Also we plan on eventually having a larger greenhouse when we move someday so the experience of dealing with a smaller novice-level one will be beneficial.

We haven’t placed an order for new trees and shrubs, but right now we’re looking at going nuts with mini-dwarf trees and possibly throwing in a few new fruit-producing shrubs.   Last year we had mini-dwarf apples that did well, but a strong wind broke them in half.   I guess they were serious when they said you should keep them staked.

We’re going to do some mushrooming underneath our deck too.

One of my goals for the year is to sell something commercially.   I’ve expressed interest with a local farmer’s market to come and be an occasional vendor peddling some produce and potted herbs.   I have a few ideas and I hope I’m able to make this happen.  That would be a great feeling to be able to produce a lot of our own food AND bring in a little bit of money out of our yard, providing people with a product that I believed in and would give people value.   Hopefully this plan works out – I’m willing to put the effort into it.

I’m kicking around the idea of a small aquaponics system to raise about a dozen tilapia.  Adena doesn’t care for the idea, but we’ll see.

So that’s where we’re at right now as spring seems just around the corner.   I can’t wait to get my hands dirty again.