Gardening · Travel

Building Never Free, Or Rather, A Garden

Every time I open up one of my backwoods, rural living, and/or gardening magazines, there is often some hobby farm being talked about. The “farms” always have eye rolling names like “Ever~Free” or “Petunia Hills“. Or something that makes me want to blech a bit. No farm or garden is free in the literal sense. You’ll give a lot of sweat, time, blood, broken nails and probably money, to get it where you want. Just don’t me started on the meme floating out on Facebook of “Growing your own food is like printing your own money“. Yeah. Not. Don’t get me wrong, you WILL eat better with the hard work and time put in, but it won’t be easy. You will, though, sleep soundly ๐Ÿ˜‰ You probably won’t be tending your garden in a clean, billowy cotton dress, with perfect mother earth curls in your hair. You might even fall repeatedly into blackberry brambles, trying to snag a last berry, with a rotting board against your chest to keep the stabs down.

So Never~Free was born. Guarded over by a clacking and talkative murder of crows, the farm, er, garden, will one day soon produce a bounty even better than this first rushed growing season! There will be weeding, digging, hoeing, watering but when the berries are ripe, I won’t want to be anywhere else. And seriously, I love my crows that hang out in the tall trees along the trail behind our house.


So where did this crazy idea come from? Remember me mentioning the class that changed me at IFBC?

Cooking Backwards: The Art and Science of Local and Seasonal Cooking (The Oxbow Box Project)


When I go to blogger conferences I know at some point an inspiration will happen in my mind. I never know what it will be, but every single conference has taken my life in a new direction. When I sat down for the talk, I had little idea I would walk out so inspired I wanted to go home immediately and start creating. It hit me in a way I haven’t felt in years. I didn’t want to connect with my local farmers anymore, I wanted to be my local farmer! As in, my own personal farmer, raising the majority of our food. Dropping $20-50 a week at farmers markets is easy to do. What if instead I put that into my gardens? Along with a lot of sweat equity.

Audra Mulkern speaking:


But back to my toiling ๐Ÿ˜‰

I was intrigued to see how many landscaping stones I had. When we moved into the house in April, I became the happy owner of many of them – they had been used around some very sad looking “contractor special” trees that went early (as in went into the yard waste bin…..). I wasn’t sure what I wanted. So I left the stones and waited.

This is the back yard, against the fence that backs up to the rail to trail we live on. The trail is protected so there isn’t anyone spraying pesticides or putting up houses right on us……the pots on the fence are the berry canes with blueberries between them.


Well, Kirk surprised me with a Sun Joe TJ601E Tiller Joe 9-Amp Electric Garden Tiller/Cultivatorย this past week, since he knew that the only way to get good garden beds was to break up the Cascade Concrete out back. Our yard is a prime example of “strip the top soil off clean and leave the crappy hard soil with glacial rocks behind”. ย The little tiller does an amazing job though and with a 100 foot long extension cord, we can reach the whole yard. Seriously, this thing is AMAZING. I have tilled way too many gardens in my life with my hands, back and a shovel/hoe/rake combo. If I have an affordable tool, I want it! At least we aren’t off the grid, and Kirk has put a yoke around my neck and having me be the


Although moving retaining wall stones is not exactly “fun” and is more like a workout ๐Ÿ˜‰ And with the freakish warm October weather we are having, a sweaty workout. It has been in the upper 70’s! (which finally has cooled off to normal and is raining today!)


All but one stone left to put in!


The first bed finished, with winter spinach planted in it:


Spinach is a great crop for this area – and will be nice when all I crave are greens!

The other fall crops I needed to get in were garlic and shallots – which are bulbs and do best in many areas if planted now, by mid-fall. Need growing guides? Here (printable PDF!) and here.


And a bitty bed for Walker (which is now filled in):


On the right side of the fence, is a very long section of yard that had been covered with a thick layer of bark mulch when we bought the house. Over a few days, I worked on raking it back into piles. Let it sit, dry it out for a few hours in the sun, then rake another level off. Repeat at least 3-4 times, till you hit dirt below.


Once uncovered, Kirk and I tilled up the land, picked out a bazillion rocks (of which there are a bazillion more waiting for me) and worked on Kirk’s prototype raised bed.


I had found 16″x8″ solid bricks at Home Depot for $1.09 each, sold in the masonry section. While cinder blocks are often used, they can cost up to twice as much per brick. They are also considerably wider. This means you spend more, and take up more space. This bed takes 5 bricks on each long side and 2 on top and bottom – for a cost of around $16 or so. A bargain! They are heavy, but the work goes fast.

Once the land was tilled, smoothed out and de-rocked, Kirk dug a trench out and settled in the bricks on their sides, so that about 6″ sits above the ground. Then after I moved the bark mulch back in place. Kirk is going to work on his ideas for a vertical growing system on these beds. Vertical Vegetable Gardeningย has been a great resource getting us going.


A cheap and easy raised bed is the kid swimming pool, of which I had two in use this past summer. I decided where I wanted them to go this coming summer, and a third one joined in. A neighbor had one for free. I am sure they didn’t realize I’d be drilling holes into it and doing this, but hey….. A small raised bed this way run $8 to 20, depending on where you buy and what size. Most kiddie pools are made in the USA as well! Remember to drill drain holes, and put in a layer of rocks at the bottom. I usually use a mix of top soil and potting soil to keep the soil lighter. The beds work well for root vegetables like carrots and for squash plants. Next year I plan on our pumpkins and squashes going into these.


The three beds filled – why so early? Then they are insulated for winter and won’t blow away ๐Ÿ˜‰


On an impulse I bought this for $30 (Similar on Amazon: 4-Tier Mini Greenhouse). I wanted a way to maybe keep my basil plants going. Not only does it work, if it warms up sun-wise, it is good to vent it during the day! Stuck my hand in a few days ago and woah, it was 30ยฐ warmer! I did tie it to the fence, using the D-rings on the back. And it made it through the first storm fine this week.


As I worked on the yard, I realized I wanted a quiet place in the front yard, tucked away. I can see out, but you can’t see it from the road – perfect!


And best of all? My little Lingonberry plants have put on berries this year ๐Ÿ™‚


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