A Family Builds a Homestead in the Rain

Starting the Garden


Since we won’t be on the property full-time until spring, it’s critical that we time the garden prep right on our visits in order to have a productive summer. To that end, we have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that we already have a triumphant patch of garlic and shallots. My goal for our trip up near the first of the year was to prepare, plant, and mulch garlic to overwinter. This trip up I was thrilled to pull back the leaf mulch and discover two-inch green sprouts!

The bad news is that the soil– particularly in the sunny pasture area where our vegetable garden will be located– is solid red clay, full of rocks, and heavy grass that hasn’t had livestock on it in what I would guess is decades. Fortunately the land is slightly sloped, so I hope this encourages decent drainage. This photo is from up the mountain, but it’s basically what we’re working with:

So we will be importing as much organic matter as we can lay our hands on. The first order of business was cleaning up the leaves from under the white oak, Norway maple and sycamore trees, which greatly improved the neatness of the yard. With our toddler on my back or playing in the leaves, my husband and I raked and hauled a dozen or so trailer-loads of leaf litter to the garden site between the sheep pasture, the cluster of outbuildings, and where the house will be built.

We spread the mulch across the grass, eight or so inches thick. In several weeks, we’ll till them into the soil along with as much compost as possible, then mulch again. In the future, my intention is to avoid tilling at all, but I think the clay would remain a solid, impermeable barrier this year without significant amendment.

In the mean time, I’ll get some lettuce seed and other greens started here to transplant in the early spring. I hope that with enough coordination, effort and soil improvement, we’ll manage to yield a respectable harvest this first year.

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  1. February 6, 2015    

    I hear your pain here. I am in North Texas and we have expansive clay soil that also had rocks in it. I save all my grass and tree litter, organic food matter and even tell neighbors if they want, I’ll take their bagged leaves so they don’t go to the landfill. It takes a long time to “build” soil but you guys are doing everything right that I can see! Great post!

    • February 6, 2015    

      Thank you! I’m sure there are plenty of ways that others might do it– and I’ll be taking suggestions! But all I know is organic matter, organic matter, organic matter… so that’s what I plan to do! 🙂

      • February 6, 2015    

        YOU CAN DO IT! 🙂 Don’t forget poop – pasture/grass fed cow or other livestock poop is great for composting.

      • February 6, 2015    

        Oh trust me, I’m piling up rabbit poop as fast as I can! 🙂

      • February 6, 2015    

        ROFL!!!! you made me laugh out loud!! If rabbits reproduce offspring as quickly as they do, I’m sure the other kind of deliveries will be plentiful and swift also! LOL

  2. February 6, 2015    

    Reblogged this on As I see it and commented:
    This is a great read for those out there who are also attempting a more natural lifestyle. I stumbled on to these sweet folks and am excited to see their adventure in homesteading as it unfolds. Check out their site! 🙂

  3. Dan Dan
    February 6, 2015    

    It’ll be a journey. With all the organic materials you plan to add, I suspect a good one. We had clay soil at our first place. Backbreaking, but it holds nutrients well and can be very productive. Good luck and enjoy the ride!

    • February 6, 2015    

      Thank you Dan!

  4. Linda Bennett Linda Bennett
    February 6, 2015    

    Enjoying your progress reports, Kelly. I’ll be going back to my garden early June to find the soil hard and weeds coming up nicely. It takes me about 5 days, working alone with a hoe and shovel, to seed sowing.

    Be sure to send me your new address.


    “Auntie” Linda

    • February 6, 2015    

      Thank you Linda! I will email you our address. You have pretty much this same situation every year– arriving just as you ought to be planting. I so hope to one day see your beautiful place there. Lots of love!

  5. February 10, 2015    

    And I’ve been worrying about getting a late start in my containers this year because of travel plans:)…You’ve shamed me with your industry.

    • February 11, 2015    

      You’ll get to it! Containers are forgiving 🙂 And travel is often worth it!

  6. February 12, 2015    

    Good call tilling the ground with that much clay. We tried Back to Eden on our clay pasture land, and it did exactly as you predicted. We’re gardening more traditionally for now, and, after, 3 years our soil has improved significantly. 🙂

  7. Amanda Meyers Amanda Meyers
    February 13, 2015    

    We are also dealing with clay here. Even though my family has been here forever, they never really did anything with the land. I have to start pretty much from scratch, especially since our garden failed lat year! I don’t know why, but I never thought to use leaves! Great idea, thanks!

    • February 13, 2015    

      I hope the leaves help you (and us!). The key, I know, is just as much organic matter as you can pull out of your hat. If I have to when the time nears, I’ll buy a truckload of compost but I’m hoping I won’t need to. Good luck to you!

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I'm Kelly. Writer, crafter, forager, country winemaker, cook. Mama of an awesome toddler and married to my best friend. We recently returned to the Pacific Northwest, where we're setting out to grow, make, and learn as much as we can as the future unfolds.

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