Preparing the garden

Chickens love plain Greek yogurt

The ladies love plain Greek yogurt as a treat.

Frustrated with our short growing season, I’ve been combing piles of seed catalogs and trolling Google in search of specific cold-hardy, early fruiting vegetable and fruit plants that will… if not thrive up here in windy East Idaho, at least produce something before winter rears its ugly head in like, SEPTEMBER. I’m also really interested in extending the growing season by choosing veggies that will overwinter well, do well in a greenhouse, or grow in cold frames (or without winter protection). I’m also looking at a lot of foods we’ve ignored in the past that will keep well in cold storage or in a root cellar… or even under the snow without protection.

Here is the latest garden plan, illustrated rather barrenly in Photoshop by yours truly. Plans are mostly to scale. The illustration is a snapshot of the back northwest corner of our 1 acre lot.

You can click to embiggen if you'd like.

You might notice we’ve moved some things around since the last time I posted a garden plan picture.

The greenhouse is being built as I type, though everybody is freezing in the process (I think snow is in the air). It is a simple 2×4 construction (treated wood at the base) and will have a vented roof and three doors. 6 mil plastic will make up the outside, though we will likely have to replace it each year, if not throughout the year, as our high winds shred it to ribbons.

Greenhouse in progress

Inside the greenhouse, I am planning on some cold-frame type beds for lettuces and other winter-hardy veggies along with some seed tables for sproutlings. New lettuces we’re trying this year are Brown Goldring, Paris Island Cos, and Marvel of Four Seasons (also called Merveille Des Quatre Saisons Lettuce) which are all supposed to do well in our cold, short growing season and winter over well. My goal is fresh lettuce in December. I’ve been reading Fast Grow the Weeds for the past year and am pinning all my greenhouse hopes and dreams on what I’ve seen El do with theirs. Just kidding, I think she’s in zone 6, but I’m still hopeful.

Drilling holes

This year in the corn patch we are trying Stowell’s Evergreen Sweet Corn. At the end of the summer season, the plants can be pulled up by their roots and hung upside down somewhere dark and cool. The ears are supposed to last throughout the fall, I suppose we shall see.

Here’s what we plan on planting in the garden beds (8 and 9 will be new this year). All our seeds are open pollinated (non-hybrid) as I really want to master the art of Seed Saving. Most of the seeds we’re trying this year are brand new to us. I’m super nervous, but can’t wait to see if all my research will pay off.

  1. Blue Lake Pole Beans and Little Marvel Peas.
  2. Tomatoes all trained up strings or netting. I have a cherry and beefsteak variety already growing in seed trays, but we’ve also ordered Long Keeper Tomato seeds as well. We’ve always purchased tomato plants from a nursery, so this ‘from-seed’ stuff is new for us this year.
  3. California Wonder Red peppers (73 days, fingers crossed!), Casper Eggplant, and Waltham Butternut Winter Squash — all trained up strings or netting.
  4. Minnesota midget melon, Petite Yellow Watermelon, Blacktail Mountain Watermelon, Golden Midget watermelon. The year of the melons. We’re determined to try all these early, cold hardy varieties in box 4 and see if any will do well in our area as the seed packets promise.
  5. Red Russian Kale, Snowball Y Improved Cauliflower, Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Di Cicco Broccoli, and Pak Choi (I think I want to get Baby Pak Choi to try for the greenhouse).
  6. Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach, Fordhook Giant Chard, Ground Cherry (anyone tried these?), and some of the lettuces we’ll try in the greenhouse (or all of them if we don’t get the greenhouse done).
  7. Egyptian Walking Onions, Harris Model Parsnip, Little Fingers Carrot (maybe Danvers too), and American Flag Leeks. I’d like to try a purple carrot and possibly garlic if I can.
  8. Potatoes!
  9. More Potatoes!

The boxes with question marks in the illustration are boxes I’m hoping to get built soon. The smaller one I’d like for Early Glow Junebearing Strawberries and the larger one I’d like to devote to herbs. I’ve uprooted the oregano that was growing in box 7 and would like to transplant it there. There are lots of herbs I’d like to try growing besides just oregano and basil, but I won’t bore you (further) with the list.

Hen house

I always hoped to get red siding on the chicken coop, but alas, other things have always been more important. Hilariously, waterproof diaper fabric protects the egg hutch lid.

I’m also trying a few berry bushes this year (shipping later). I’d really love to plant the big ugly wall of the shop that faces our backyard with lilac bushes and tons of berry bushes: elderberry, gooseberry, red currants, and more. But since I’m not sure if we’re staying here long term, or not, I’ll satisfy myself by planting some berries along the chain link fence. I’ve ordered berry plants that will supposedly work well in zones 3 – 7, and fruit early: Patriot Blueberries and Autumn Bliss Raspberries that are supposed to give us a crop midsummer and in the fall. I also have Garden Huckleberry seeds coming, but there are two nervous making reviews, so I’m not sure how they’ll do or if we’ll like them.

New chicken fence

New chicken fence going up.

I would really, really like to order Somerset Seedless Grapes, but think that might need to wait until we move. If we move. Augh. If we stay here, I’ll be so mad I didn’t plant them this year. Hmm.

We haven’t had good luck with pumpkins having enough time to mature, but I do have a packet of Heirloom Jack-o-Lanterns and some white pumpkins along with some summer squash. I’m not sure where I’ll put either yet. Possibly in box 3.

Homemade chicken feed

Homemade chicken feed.

As most of you green thumbs know, we’ve been using the Mittleider method. We are still using grow boxes, obviously, and will still plant things close together, and train even large stuff like pumpkins up strings to maximize space. But! Instead of using the mineral fertilizers that really do a fantastic job, we’re going to try to feed our plants with organic matter this year. Not organic as in ‘certified organic’ but in stuff we compost or stuff our animals make.

Spreading compost

Spreading compost in the boxes to get tilled in

We’re tilling in chicken poop, and heaps of rotten grass clippings that have miraculously turned into what looks just like manure. We’ve got some soil testing kits and may end up fertilizing anyway, but I want to try to garden without relying on stuff we’d have to purchase from a store. Self sufficiency and all of that.


Holy weeds. If you read all that, you deserve a cookie. Unfortunately I don’t have one. I’ve been burning weeds in the yard all day and think I sunburned my lips. In March! In Idaho! I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole!


  1. says

    I love looking at all this and knowing I HAVE BEEN THERE!

    BTW: What are y’all going to do with the shop???

    • says

      Blarg, I don’t know! It’s one reason we want to move, whatever we do next, we don’t need a shop that big. Right now it has storage stuff, all of Eric’s tools and wood working stuff, and J’s pitching machine biz. And a whole lot of empty Very Baby shelves, woot, woot!!

  2. Lora says

    Wow, what an impressive start for the garden! I hope you will tell us about the herbs in another post.

    I’ve grown kale that did better in cold weather (even peaking through light snow) than hot weather (cabbage worms).

    Off topic — you wrote a post some time ago (verymom or kerflop era?) about facial cleansing with an oil (olive oil?). Could you put up a link to that post?

    • says

      I will, I haven’t had much luck with some herbs I’ve tried, so I’m trying to figure out which ones will grow here. I have basil started and mature oregano. I’m researching garlic and celery root and am interested in a whole host of others!

      Yes, my kale went nuts before and was this huge bush (I can’t remember which variety) but got moth eaten all summer long and was really bitter. It was good in the cold months though and seemed to survive the snowstorms with aplomb!

      Oh the olive oil post is here, the post has a crappy title though so I think people have a hard time finding it. Here you go: (I still do this & love it!)

  3. says

    I think it is really impressive and really interesting, so thanks for sharing. It was interesting to think about the challenge of planing where you live. You’re brave to try melons, I don’t do those here in Indiana! Please do an update in the fall, if those work for you we’ll have to try them as well, my kids would be thrilled. You make me realize we should move towards non-hybrid seeds. And I love to see how impressive your garden is, it makes ours look so small (and our friends think ours is crazy big) :)

    • says

      Thank you! I’m really hopeful the melons will do well. We tried the kind my parents grew previously and that was hilarious, the season turned cold and we had these tiny baby melons on the vine without a hope in the world.

      I will definitely report. We’re filling a whole box with them so I hope they work out!

  4. says

    that was supposed to be PLANTING. (or “planning for” would work, but I do know how to spell it correctly. Sorry I didn’t proof read until AFTER I hit post.)

  5. says

    Are all of the rectangles grow boxes? The corn patch too?

    I’ve grown blueberries here in Montana but it was trick-face. They ended up doing best in a container where I could baby the dirt.

    • says

      Yes, but not the corn patch, that’s just native soil with some top soil brought in and chicken poop tilled in. I think the corn would just tip over in the soft soil of the grow boxes.

      Trick-face, can I steal that phrase? Love it. I was just talking to a friend who took a gardening class up at Ricks… er, BYU-I from some folks that ran a nursery here for many years. They say blueberries here is impossible but I have hope. I’ve got soil testing kits and may very well end up putting the blueberry plants I got into a box where I can, as you say, baby the soil. Our rocky native dirt might be too hard to tweak.

  6. Karen S. says

    I was going to ask if you’d seen, but saw it pinned in your sidebar (look at me avoiding that unsolicited advice you hate!) I just signed up so I’m not sure how fabulous it is, have you tried it?

    I really like your diaper fabric enhanced chicken coop, did you keep some remnants for yourselves or will you actually have to purchase PUL at some point now that the biz-nezz has sold?

    Also, I love all of this. I really want a report on the blueberries too.

    • says

      I’m playing with it now, I’m a little frustrated with a few things but that might just be because I’m new and don’t know my way around yet. I’d like to be able to ‘copy and paste’ mass amounts of plants instead of one at a time (filling my corn box is taking an age). And I seem to be missing plants I added and can’t find them… still figuring it out. It also doesn’t want to automatically update my zone information, but maybe that’s because I’m in a remote-ish area?


      Har har, I think we do have some remnants but I’m sure when the PUL wears out my husband will put actual shingles on the hutch. I don’t ever want to buy diaper fabric again in my life :o)

  7. Katie says

    This is amazingly impressive.

    I would say plant what you want, and if you stay you’ll be glad you did, and if not, maybe the next people will be!

    • says

      Yeah but do I want to invest in a spendy plant I won’t be around to enjoy? It’s a selfish question :o)

  8. says

    Just to let you know, I am totally envious.

    Sitting here in our one bedroom in Brooklyn and we are not allowed even a window box for herbs. Your plans look amazing – thank you so much for sharing all of the hard work! :)

    • says

      Aw, but you’ve got good ethnic foods probably just a walk away, right? Oh how I miss good Indian cuisine.

      Thank you! I was just reading about indoor tomato plants… maybe in the corner of your living room? :o)

  9. says

    Hey, were you going shopping in my seed bin? I’ve tried/gotten many of those fun seeds you mentioned. Have you already tried Winter Density lettuce? Actually does fairly well in cool (but not snowing) weather.
    Fwiw, Tribute Strawberries rock my socks – they’re everbearing (so, if you want to do 5 batches of jam in a week, they’re not your berry), but huge and yummy and keep producing until it frosts.
    Berries (and grapes!) – do you have giant pots available? When I thought we were moving, I bought my pear trees and purple asparagus anyway, and planted/transplanted a bunch of stuff into giant 5-10 gallon pots (I also used a giant bag of perlite to help lighten the pot’s weight, an acquaintance used foam peanuts and I just wanted to be able to dump out the dirt into the garden if I wanted). Takes extra watering, but not a huge deal-breaker. We didn’t move, and bonus, I have more stuff already planted!

    Oooh, what’s in your homemade chicken feed? Color me curious. Not to mention, you’re super brave to try melons. Only way I’m *thinking* of trying them is in the greenhouse, but I’m lame like that. Easier for folks to grow those down by the river where the temperature’s a bit more tempered.

    • says

      I haven’t! I’ll search for it along with the Tribute berries, sounds good to me.

      I *love* the pot idea. Oooh… I’m going to go make plans. I love that idea.

      Chicken feed is so easy, I can’t believe I haven’t done it this whole time! I mix up the older grains in my food storage — they’re still fit for human consumption I’m just not rotating through them as fast as I’d like — this batch includes: triticale, kamut, spelt, flax seed (gives your eggs omega 3!), rolled oats, brown rice flour, and millet. I didn’t crush or crack any of them and they gobbled them all right up. I tried Teff too but they didn’t seem to like it, too small I guess.

      The catalog promises that these melons will grow in the frozen north, fingers crossed! They’re smaller than regular melons so here’s hoping. I think I’m still going to start them inside.

      • says

        Hmm…. that’s a really good idea to rotate through food storage, especially if we switch things up to more Paleo around here… At least for me, not so much for my friend that has 75-80 chickens. Teehee.

        For the pots, check around to your local tree nurseries. That’s how we made it work – $.60-$1.00/pot was more my speed than $20-$30 (at Costco/Target/Fred Meyer/whatever). I may even make them look super cute this year and spray paint the outsides of the pots for the kids.

  10. Natalie says

    WOW! I am so impressed! We just put our garden in (California… LONG growing season ;-) and I just love to water it and admire it. Please post more about yours, I would love to see it progress.

    Chicken feed: what is your recipe? Looks interesting.

    Also, have you heard of Mary Jane’s Farm? She lives up in the northern area of Idaho. Similar growing season? I have her book and love it for the beautiful photos and inspiration.

    Loved the post!

    • says

      Jealous of your growing season! Oh the grapes I would grow….

      I posted the chicken feed in the comment reply just above. It’s really just whatever is in our grain storage that I’m not rotating fast enough through. They’ve loved everything except Teff. I haven’t tried buckwheat yet though.

      No, I’ll go look her up, thanks!

    • says

      Mary Jane’s outside of Moscow, Idaho. Cute little town with a hippie vibe. :)

  11. trena says

    I’m so envious–since we’re moving mid-summer I’m not planting a blessed thing–maybe next summer.

    Re: the melons–my grandma grew cantaloupe and watermelon in her (amazing) garden in IF a few times. As I recall neither got huge (read: normal sized that you’d buy in the grocery store), but the cantaloupe did fairly well. Watermelon (even during the warmest summers) never seemed to be able to grow past large fist-sized. Good luck and post pictures so I can live vicariously through your wonderful garden!!

    • says

      I know, we’ve tried them before too. It was always so sad to get to the end of the season and watch those baby melons freeze to death. The strains I’ve picked this year are super early and also much smaller than regular melon varieties. The Black Mountain watermelon was developed by an Idaho guy who lived in a colder area than me, so here’s hoping!

  12. Deann says

    PUL!! I would have done the same! Luckily I found extra shingles hidden in a corner of the garage attic when we built our coop, so the PUL is still all for me.

    That is a fabulous garden area. Perhaps Murphy’s Law of Homeselling and Gardening will come into play for you. (you get an offer right before harvest time!)

  13. Michelle says

    One of those photos shows a lot of other roofs outside your privacy fence – do you live in a suburban neighborhood? I only ask because a lot of my friends here in the Midwest actually live in neighborhoods that ban gardens! Your plans would get them kicked out or sued faster than you can say “seed savers exchange.” Just wondering if you ran into zoning issues or whatnot.
    There is nothing better than home-grown melon. My (country-living) friend grew muskmelons, and they were so good and so prolific. One of my kids’ favorite memories is the night we had only newly picked sweet corn and melon for dinner!

    • says

      It is sort of suburbanish but more rural. We’re all on one acre lots outside the city limits. No, my neighborhood doesn’t have any ordinances, covenants, and we’re all zoned for rural agriculture. We could have goats or sheep, or probably even a small cow if we wanted.

      So sad that people ban gardens, that is the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard of. Absolutely ridiculous that people can’t grow their own food. I’d move faster than fast if I lived in a place like that. Our neighbors moved here from California and made sure when they were signing their papers to buy their house that there were explicit lines in there stating that they had no prohibitions on what they could and couldn’t do on their property.

      Our subdivision did have some covenants in the beginning that said things about needing to have non-chain link fences and planting so many trees a year, but the neighborhood got together and voted them down. The one neighbor down the street a ways that was mad at some folks for keeping sheep ended up moving. :o)


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