Our Simple Approach to Starting Our Garden

When people think about homesteading, one of the first things they picture is a big garden. Producing one’s own food is so intrinsically tied to self-sufficiency it’s hard to to have one without the other. However, starting a garden can be really intimidating for a lot of people – but we’re here to tell you it doesn’t have to be.

People think that there are magic secrets to having a successful garden and special tips you need to follow to get anything to sprout. Online searches can be overwhelming because many internet experts delve deeply into obscure techniques that are far beyond the skill sets of beginners. Also, because of all the ‘expert’ information out there, a lot of people give up on their garden dreams before they even gave it a try.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In this post we hope to show you that starting an off grid garden can be a lot more simple than people make it. Hopefully our techniques will give you the confidence to start planting your own produce and feel less overwhelmed.

Our Easy-to-Follow Garden Starting Method

We don’t claim to be garden experts, but we’ve got some techniques that have worked really well for us that doesn’t even involve fancy homesteading tools. Want our secret for starting a garden? You’re going to want to grab your notebooks for this one. Ready?

We got some dirt. We got some seeds. Then we put those seeds in the dirt. We water the dirt (read this post to learn about the off grid water systems we’ve considered). Then, we cross our fingers and hope things grow. It’s just that simple!

Before we moved to our off grid property we were part of a community garden. We still have some of those seeds and decided they were a good starting point for our new off grid garden.

Our community garden plot a couple of years ago. This was our first garden together and we used the same approach!
Our community garden plot a couple of years ago. This was our first garden together and we used the same approach!

Earlier this spring we made a mulch of straw and pine needles that we layered over the garden bed so that when it breaks down the resulting compost will increase the soil’s fertility. This mulch hasn’t broken down much yet and it’s pretty thick. We figured it would prevent some of our seeds from sprouting, so we pulled it back when we were ready to plant.

Next, I simply planted our seeds in the garden bed. I sowed them a quarter inch deep and three inches apart. My technique is to plant two or three seeds in each section because it ensures that a plant will grow in that spot. If all the seeds come up the extra plants are easy to weed out.

We aren’t garden gurus but are willing to take action anyways.

We aren’t garden gurus. We could write books about all the things we still have to learn about organic agriculture. But that didn’t stop us from starting our garden. Gardening is a skill that you can learn as you go and experimentation is completely okay. You don’t have to be an expert before you even begin.

Finally, always remember that if NOTHING grows and your garden is a complete failure, you can most likely still go to the grocery store to get food. Even when living off grid, in most cases there is still SOMEWHERE you can go to get groceries.

Gardening doesn’t have to be the only technique you rely on to get food. Give yourself permission to experiment a bit, maybe even to fail. After all, how else do you expect to learn?

We hope this post has given you the encouragement you needed to start a hobby you’ve been putting off, whether it’s gardening or something else. If it did, feel free to tell us about it! We love hearing from you all.

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

Comments

  1. says

    Two days ago we visited with friends whose garden is so perfect and full of life it nearly made me cry with envy, realizing how far I am from where I’d like to be. They have plenty of vegetables, fruit trees, gorgeous flowers, a fish pond, a beautiful greenhouse, etc. However, like you said, every garden starts with a patch of dirt and some seeds, so today I rolled up my elbows and got some tomato seedlings in the ground. Felt really good about it, too. A small step every day will take you a long way in one season.

    • says

      That’s so awesome Anna! We feel the same way on a frequent basis. Many of our friends and people we meet in the area have it all – a lovely home, a barn, a root cellar, a beautiful garden, solar power, etc. it’s easy to feel overwhelmed but most of those people started where you and I are at. Or, they bought their property fully developed, in which they didn’t do a dang thing! I’m sure our garden looks similar to yours… but we also hope to make progress one day, one season at a time! Feel free to post photos of your new garden on our Facebook page – we’d love to share the excitement with you!

  2. Kat Z says

    HI Alyssa! Just a small word of warning; pine needles can sometimes make soil acidic. That’s why in a pine forest there usually isn’t too much growing on the ground. I’m not sure if it applies to your area but you might want to look it up or test your soil :)

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback Kat! I did do some basic research on pine needles and what I found was that while they are acidic, they don’t have an acidic effect on the soil as they decompose. I haven’t tested this for myself, but we’ll see what grows and what doesn’t!

  3. Kelsie Nichols says

    This came at such the right time!! I started my seedlings for tomatoes in the house and followed ALL the instructions to harden them off/what to put in the hole before planting/spacing, etc. and they just look pitiful! We have had a ton of rain (or so it seems to me) so far this year and I was just getting discouraged. This reminded that perfection isn’t necessary, but action is, so I will patiently wait until it is a little warmer to put out my other seedlings and try to nurse along the ones already in the ground. (Worst case, I pull them up and go get new ones from the garden center or, like you said, just go to the grocery store!)

  4. Rob Thompson says

    Hi Alyssa… Interested in your comments about the use of surplus seeds left over from your previous efforts. Many seeds lose their viability over time and can result in a poor strike if left for too long. To ensure a good result, it generally pays to use up as much of your fresh seed as possible at each planting. On the question of the acidification of your freshly composed soil I suggest you sprinkle in agricultural lime at a rate of around 1 oz / sq ft as you layer in successive quantities of plant material. This helps to sweeten the soil by raising it’s pH level. It has an effect on soil chemistry, favouring bacterial activity and enhancing decomposition of organic material.

    • says

      Hey Rob! Thanks for the tip on adding lime! I don’t know much about that but it’s good to know if we feel our pH level is suffering. As far as seeds losing viability over time… there does seem to be a correlation with this and the lack of sprouts we have coming up. The first season we used these seeds, almost every one sprouted. This time around, less than 50% are sprouting. We may supplement with new seeds in a few weeks or pick up some plants that are already well on their way – we’ll see. This is great to keep in mind for the future. The nice thing is that seeds are cheap so if a packet isn’t used you’re only out a buck or two, but great to know for future garden planning!

  5. says

    We entertained doing a garden on our property this year, but ultimately just decided to container garden at our temporary residence instead. Part of it is that we’ll be having machinery coming through the property all summer long with the build and we didn’t want to chance the garden being somewhere that a concrete mixer ultimately needed to go! Another part is knowing from our experiences last summer that we will use every waking moment on the build. And another part is knowing that after having our topsoil scraped for our septic last year, good soil will need to be built back up. I saw you had a post about clay soil and we have a very similar mix of clay and rocks (mostly limestone), so I can relate! It’s definitely a dream of ours to have a bountiful garden on our property some day! We just need to be patient. In the meantime, I wish your garden and homestead the best of luck!

  6. says

    Hi Alyssa & Jesse,

    I found that you can test seeds by placing them in moist paper towel to pre-sprout before planting which might help?

    We had a bunch of old seeds which we’ve been sowing thickly in the gardens and some have come up better than the new seeds we bought without checking for germination.

    Gardening somewhere new is mostly experimentation with plants in your microclimate, sun, water and a whole lot of luck!

  7. Yany says

    Hello Alyssa,

    Have you considered starting a compost bin? You can mostly likely make it out of pallets if you have any, or pieces of wood (let you imagination run). I have a bin that some neighbors threw away and somehow my mother dragged that to our house (still can’t figure out how she did it since it’s pretty big and a couple of minutes away). But anyway, at first I didn’t know what to do with it, but then decided for a compost bin. Since you and Jesse like coffee, you can throw coffee grounds there, leaves, vegetable and fruits peelings, etc. I just kept throwing stuff in there until full, then let it sit over winter. I was amazed this Spring when I used this compost in my front yard, it smelled great and as a bonus, I ended up with all sort of vegetables and fruits growing too: Lettuce, tomatoes and even citrus (which I won’t be able to grow in my area, but still moved those seedlings to pots just to see what happens). I call them volunteers since I never intended to plant them there, but they just wanted to make themselves at home.

    By the way, I really love your blog. My dream is to one day escape from this desk job and move to the country with my family. It’s very difficult at the moment due to our circumstances and well, my family doesn’t buy it yet (family of five, including two small children and a senior), but you know, I am planning for it. I am slowing convincing them. Need to start saving and continue to read blogs as helpful as yours. Thanks!

    • says

      Hey Yany, yes we have a compost bin! Glad to hear you had success with yours after letting it sit all winter… our winters can be cold and I know there needs to be some degree on heat to keep up the composting, but I think with some insulation we should be fine. This all starts as a dream, so maybe your family will see the simplicity of this lifestyle or, you’ll find something else that suits the entire family. Glad you like the blog and thanks for saying hello!

  8. Ariana M says

    Just found this blog and really enjoying your posts. Congrats on getting the garden started. I’m suburban east coast but also on septic. I can’t tell the exact placement if your garden in relation to the septic but did you have to make adjustments due to leach field at all? (I’m still container gardening while I figure this factor here at my home.) regardless of where (urban, suburban, rural) we all live, I really enjoy the theme of self sufficiency and look forward to reading more posts this year. Take care,

    • says

      I did take into consideration where the leach field was when planning the garden. I think our septic inspector suggested that the garden be at least 50 feet away from the leach field but maybe make it 100 to be safe. Luckily, we have a large enough property that there are many places to put the garden that won’t put it at risk of contamination. You might do a little research to figure out what the safety zone is :-) And glad you’re enjoying the blog! Good luck with your container garden this year!

      • Freedom Hill (Peter) says

        This is a stupid question I am sure……did the same thing about quick, easy, little, do other things this year. My question is why is putting a garden over a leach field a bad idea?

        • says

          I think the fear is that the effluent may not be fully broken down and you may not want that bacteria in your veggie garden! I would probably do more in depth research on this if you want to put a garden over a leach field. It may be paranoia, I’m not really sure, or it really may be a wise idea. In either case, we aren’t limited on space so we put the garden elsewhere just to be safe :-)

  9. randall Perry says

    You are right. I have been seriously gardening for about 5 years and learn something new that I try every year.

  10. says

    I enjoy surfing the web for tips on organic growing and self building, that’s how I came across your videos on YouTube.

    An interesting method I just found out about is “swales”. Here’s a link where a hairy american man explains what it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3mBhQDsZ_U

    It could be that your hill is a blessing in disguise. Maybe it would work to put your raised beds as close to the hill as possible so that the hill would work as a water collection device for you?

    Our own ever expanding kitchen garden is placed in a slope where the paths between the beds might contribute to water collection and the beds work as berms. The beds higher up are always drier, the lower ones are more fertile.

    This method is used for re-vegetation in Ethiopia and even in Saudi Arabia, so it could be and idea for you too since you have little rainfall.

    Keep up the good work and your enthusiasm

    Best wishes

    Jens from Sweden

    Click at my name and you will be redirected to my wife’s Instagram page. Photos of cats, dogs, winter, autumn leaves, knitting and our newly dug up potatoes.

  11. Suzanne says

    I know this is one of your older posts, but I thought this would be the best place to comment…
    As you are having to fill your large water tank uphill, these might help you water your garden strategically during drought/dry spells. I use these watering spikes. If you do not during pop, I’m sure you will be able to obtain some free 2 liter pop bottles from each someone. Remove the lid, cut a largish hole in the bottom of the bottle, which becomes the top, once you have screwed on a watering spike. It dispenses water directly to the root system without surface evaporation.

    https://www.amazon.com/Master-Craft-Plant-Watering-Spikes/dp/B0037OEK0M/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1470406422&sr=8-3&keywords=Watering+spikes

    I use them in our veggie patch for tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, cabbage. By using the spikes, it promotes good root growth. Any plant that has a large root really, although you could also spread them out in rows of beets, carrots, beans etc.

    I’m totally enjoying reading your blogs and following you on Instagram, although I’m not signed up there……

  12. Suzanne says

    I read your instagram posts and your blog. As I don’t have a Facebook or instagram account, I figured this would be the best place to comment on your leaf collecting exploits…..
    In the fall I rake all my leaves together and when the trees are bare, I take our push mower with the catch bag attached. I chop up the leaves and put them directly on my veggie raised beds, sometimes folding them into the soil with a shovel…..it seems to work well for me here in north west Ohio. My neighbor just collects his and distributes them on his large vegetable garden, which is right beside our two large raised beds. (We seem to be the only chemical free spots in our part of the village!!!)
    I also burn the dead bean, pea vines directly on the raised beds. I figure if one can bypass some steps, why not?

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