I recently visited the home of Kit and John Miles and the term avid gardener does not fit them. I would call them excited garden crusaders. They call themselves 'Yard Farmers.'
Kit and her mother created the first garden by the driveway in front of the house and surrounded it with field rocks. This is a flower garden with an English garden look. It is filled with Verbena bonariensis, Monarda (Beebalm), Coneflowers and many other colorful flowers. It was alive with bees, which is important to Kit as she grew up with the idea that the eco-system is important. Flowers bloom early attracting bees which pollinate later maturing vegetables.
Kit and John like the taste of fresh vegetables, but didn't think that they had enough room on their property for vegetable gardening so they investigated a CSA (community supported agriculture). In a CSA, customers buy local seasonal food directly from a farmer. Farmers offer certain numbers of 'shares' to the public and typically supply each customer with a box of produce each week. This assures a market and payment early in the season for the farmer while both he and the consumer share the risk.
After weighing the pros and cons of the CSA the Miles decided to try growing vegetables themselves. They had added two kidney shaped flower beds like the one in front on the back corners of their yard. Three years ago they began 'yard farming' with an 8 X 10 foot plot directly behind the house, and as with the flower beds, edged it in rocks. They added some city compost to fill the beds, and claim this is the reason they have had such good luck with their produce. Two more 4 X 10 foot boxes along the sides of the property are surrounded with cedar. John is hoping to build a 7 X14 foot garden at the rear of the lot.
This is a relatively small back yard as the whole plot including the house is 1/8 acre. Kit feels that the addition of the gardens gives perspective and makes the lot seem bigger. She compares it to a room with furniture versus one with no furniture. They and their guests can enjoy the garden view from the deck above.
Kit follows the practices put forth in the book 'Carrots Love Tomatoes' by Louise Riotte. This involves good rotation, inter-planting and companion planting. She sows radishes with carrots and once the radishes are pulled the carrots have room. The lettuce and spinach were fantastic this year because of the cool weather and now that they are gone there is room for the beets to fill out. Colorful sweet peas climb the same trellis as green peas.
Kit maps out everything totally in the spring before she plants. In addition, she keeps a journal recording dates of planting and harvest, when and how long the flowers bloomed, what did well, how much was produced and any problems.
The gardens contain romaine, basil, parsley, dill, 'delebrity' and cherry tomatoes, five kinds of peppers, cucumbers, yellow and green beans, fantastic Swiss chard, strawberries and onions. Kit grows asparagus in one of the boxed gardens because it spreads, but she still has room there for celery. All of the vegetable gardens are surrounded with rabbit fencing.
Since beginning the vegetable gardens Kit has employed two 'earth boxes.' These are large black tubs with a tube to fill the bottom reservoir with water. They are never watered from the top. Soil sits on a grate above the water and a cover goes over the top. In one box pepper plants are laden with peppers and in the other box tomatoes flourish. Earth Boxes are available on line or at Scheels.
The Miles have been 'yard farming' for three years now, and learn something every year. They produce enough for themselves and this year they have been providing a box a week to one customer. They are one of the few gardeners in their area, but they encourage everyone to try it. Their advice is learning by trial and error, start with the easier vegetables, and don't try to be a perfectionist.