Small wins from a farmer turned gardener

Since you can read all the details on how and why to grow a fall garden in the other post, for this post I’m going to get personal and share a few of this season’s wins and losses in my garden and what I’m doing differently this year.

By all accounts, it’s been a strange season.  And just as it seems like we are in the middle of the deep summer- it’s actually time to think about planting your fall garden (luckily I did a thorough post about this last year- you’re welcome!)  Seriously though, cruise on over to that post because it’s got all the good resources and practical information to help you understand the how and why of side season planting.  In short- when the sunflowers are blooming it’s time to get your fall garden going.

It feels like a cruel trick that as soon as the real summer abundance kicks in, it’s time to wrap your head around getting fall crops in the ground and ready for the cooler weather.  But hey, that’s one more reason to value how amazing it is that farmers can feed us year round!

As you may or may not know, with the help of Living Lands Agrarian Network (now Sierra Harvest) I started the Food Love Farm back in 2010 and was heavily involved in small scale market style gardening and community education there till I got pregnant in 2016 and stepped away from the project.  Additionally, my husband has a 16 acre organic production farm (called Super Tuber Farm) which we lease from the Bierwagen Family in Chicago Park.  So this is all to say, when I started gardening at my home with a baby in tow, it was a big shift in scale, understanding, and efficiency. (As it turns out, babies are not efficient- nor do they like hanging out in the hot sun!)

Now, 3 seasons later, I feel like I’m finally getting my chops as a gardener, homesteader, and mom.  Gardening is really so different than farming!  Currently, we have a few rows of perennials (asparagus, artichokes, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, flowers and various medicinal herbs) and a few rows of annual veggies.  We also have some fruit trees and shrubs and are slowly building out the hedgerow areas.  Additionally, we have a flock of 12 laying hens and are slowly getting their pasture the way we want it (a mix of annual and perennial grasses and clovers).  Eventually, we’d like to add a few seasonal lambs to the mix but we’re not there yet..


Writing it out like that certainly sounds idyllic, but really it’s just been a gradual process of planting and maintaining when I can, and slowly adding perennials when they are on sale or when one of our farmer friends has extra to get rid of.  I’m hopeful that in the coming years as all these plants mature, this hard work will pay off!

At Food Love, we would strive to grow a little bit of everything.  At one point we had something like 70 varieties of different edibles.  Over the last few years, I have learned to practice more discernment around this in our personal garden.  I realized I don’t need to plant one example of every vegetable possible!  It was really hard to break the habit of needing to plant a couple of everything, but I’ve finally done it.  For instance, I realized after last year that we don’t actually eat winter squash!  So I didn’t plant any!

It seems silly but just planting what we like to eat and what makes sense to grow in the garden for our family has been extremely liberating. 

Last year, (still in farming mindset) I planted 25 tomato plants– then my kid got sick and it was so smoky out and the trellising broke…it was a mess!  I didn’t get a very good harvest, and every time I looked at it I just felt like a total failure.  The weeds were huge, my kid was teething, it was hot, and I was overwhelmed.

This year, I decided to go small and easy (well- my version of small and easy).  I wanted the garden to be a place of refuge, and not just one more to-do on my never ending mom list.  So, I planted 6 tomato plants and I bought cages!  (don’t tell my farmer friends!).  I decided to be gentle and easy and plant less than I know I can handle, and it’s been awesome.  I planted lots and lots of flowers, and some seed pumpkins and sweet corn, some successions of summer greens and herbs.  My cucumbers and peppers have been all but destroyed by a wily deer.   I have an excessive amount of zucchini.  My irrigation filter gets clogged all the time.  I feel like a real gardener.

A few practical things I have been doing this year that feel like wins:

  • I’m using cardboard in the garden.  It’s excellent weed suppression and surprisingly gratifying to do.  As someone who is not naturally very tidy, it’s an easy way to feel a small measure of control- and then you don’t have to weed nearly as often.  In a future post, I’ll talk all about the magic of sheet mulching.
  • After I let my chickens bedding (ie poop and straw) sit for a while, I’ve been spreading it as mulch on future sections of the garden and on things like the soil around the seed pumpkins (we will only eat the seeds inside the pumpkins so there’s no risk of contamination).  Note- I wouldn’t do this with a lot of annuals but long season plants that the food is not in any direct contact with the mulch are fine.


  • I have an herb drying rack set up in my laundry room.  As I’m up in the garden I will pick a little of whatever I want to dry and put it in the drying rack when I get back to the house.  This little bit at a time method has allowed me to stock up on herbal teas for the winter and is also effective because I don’t always have a lot of time in the garden.  Using this method, I have quarts  and half gallons of dried herbs ready now for the cold season ahead!
  • Getting my child involved in the garden is of course a no brainer!  She loves planting seeds, picking chamomile, moving the chickens, weeding, finding bugs.  It’s really special.
  • I left a few plants from last year to go to seed for the bees and it’s been incredible!  I had a celery plant that ended up being 6 feet tall buzzing with so many diverse pollinators that I was shocked.  If you end up with a plant that went past its prime, consider leaving it to grow for its full life cycle.  It’s rare to see plants grow all the way till seed, and it’s great for our insects as well.  And I’m planning on making some really yummy celery seed salt from this experiment.

So this year, in my season of being easy, I’m going to buy some kale and broccoli starts and plant them in the garden in a few weeks.  I’ll seed some more salad greens.  I’m definitely planning on growing a glorious bed of garlic this year as well.  And just because I’m so proud, I’m going to share my first passionflower bloom with you.  I’m going to celebrate these small victories and miracles!  Join me.

IMG_0309 How are you making your garden easier this season?