Oh my, how far she’s come! When we first bought this home back in the summer of 2013, she was a blank slate. A couple of mature trees, a few useless mismatched shrubs in odd locations, a front and back yard full of crabgrass “lawn”, and side yards with bare dirt.
We were essentially blank slates ourselves too. I have an education in sustainability and environmental studies, and we’d casually puttered with a couple small raised garden beds in rental homes in the past, but aside from that – we had little to no knowledge or experience with building, landscaping, or homesteading! I don’t think either of us even knew what that concept was when we started this journey. Nor did we intentionally set out to do it.
Yet with minds full of ideas, (home)bodies that don’t like to sit still, and a passion for being outside, we consequently have poured most of our free time, energy, love, and very modest disposable income in to transforming all of our outdoor spaces, little by little, from lifeless “yards” into flourishing and purposeful edible and medicinal gardens…
…a food forest, I like to call it.
Before we knew it, our home had become a homestead – a living thing that feeds not only our bodies, but our minds and souls too. Here, we grow and preserve about 85% of the produce we consume, raise chickens (as dear friends who happen to also provide eggs!), and pursue sustainable living practices like rain water capture and several methods of composting. We share our indoor space with 33 house plants and 3 kitties – Quincy, Figaro, and Dalai.
We dream, sweat, collaborate, compromise, relax, laugh, and love here. Most times, there is no where we’d rather be. In essence, we have created our own paradise, and it’s a paradise for local wildlife too! In 2018, our property became an official Monarch Waystation as well as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
Located just about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, we reside in a small beach town in San Luis Obispo County on the Central Coast of California. Known as “SLO Cal”, not SoCal. There is big difference between here and there! This area is fairly rural, with a handful of modest-sized towns surrounded by vineyards, beaches, farmland, and open rolling hills.
We are right on the border of USDA gardening zone 9b and 10a. But unlike most similarly-numbered zones, it is very temperate and doesn’t get hot here often. This area is considered a Mediterranean climate, though being only one mile inland from the ocean, our summers are quite foggy. We actually struggle (or don’t even attempt!) to grow certain heat-loving crops like corn, melons, or fat heirloom tomatoes. Frost and freezing is also very rare here. I know, I know… we are spoiled rotten. Though an ideal climate sure does help, it is not necessary to have a thriving garden!
The gardens aren’t the only thing that makes our homestead special. Our town isn’t quite “urban”, and we definitely are not in suburbia, but we are surrounded by neighbors. However, our property is tucked back away from the street, located behind another property and only accessed by a long private driveway – leading to our little secret garden. A decent yard was a MUST when we were house shopping. You can image how absolutely giddy and blessed we felt when we came across this property that virtually had two private yards, the front yard doubling like a second backyard. With a very tight budget in an extremely competitive market, this was a shining diamond in the rough for us! I knew where I wanted the chicken coop right away, and the rest transpired and evolved with time.
Before you go getting too heart-eyed, overwhelmed, or green with envy (please, don’t!) over photos of our garden, remember to keep scrolling and take a peek at the collection of before and after photos at the very bottom of this page also! These are some of my favorite things to share on Instagram; they help people to see how – with a little time, energy, and love – a perfectly average, even boring space can be completely transformed into something magical. Also keep in mind that this did NOT happen overnight! We have tackled one or two large projects per year, over the last five years. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it! If you haven’t yet started creating your dream garden, you may enjoy this read ~ “How to Start a Garden: 101”
If you desire to, you can do this too! I believe in you.
Our property itself is a modest .2 acres – approximately 9,000 square feet – but that number also includes our long driveway. The house itself is fairly small, at just under 1300 square feet, and that’s perfectly okay for us. Less house means more outdoor space! We had never really measured and taken inventory of our individual yard spaces, so we just popped outside to do so! Here is the verdict:
The front yard garden is 2,430 square feet. A couple hundred square feet of planting space was just added here in the fall of 2018, when we removed a portion of the driveway, and a whole mountain of useless pest-infested ice plant, expanding the yard into its place. In terms of edibles, the current residents of the front yard include: two avocado trees, a fuyu persimmon tree, two pineapple guavas, a strawberry and lemon guava, a dwarf weeping mulberry tree, four fig trees, a loquat tree, three passionfruit vines, two blueberry bushes, and various rotating veggie crops amongst the five raised beds and handful of wine barrels used for planting. That doesn’t include the plethora of other perennials, herbs, and annuals – some for medicinal purposes, some for the pollinators, a few simply there for the pretty. A 140-gallon rain barrel is hooked up on the front porch to collect a small portion of our captured rain water, with the monarch enclosure nearby.
The L-shaped backyard garden is 1,780 sq feet. Here resides the patio garden: our concrete patio that is now surrounded by five raised beds, fully enclosed with trellises attached to the yard-side of the beds designed to keep the otherwise free-ranging chickens excluded from this space. The archway leading to the rest of the back yard is covered with evergreen passionfruit vines, creating even more of a verdant courtyard vibe. On the patio, we use dozens of containers to grow everything from cacti to pineapple guava to cannabis and a dwarf Fuji espalier apple tree.
Heading out through the passionfruit arch, you find yourself in the “chicken yard”. Basically, the spoiled-you-know-what chickens get free range of the backyard all day, while instead we strategically fence off and protect certain areas of it, like the stone raised pollinator island. We call it “Stoney Island”.
In this backyard area, we were fortunate enough to have several mature fruit trees in place when we moved in: a Meyer lemon, an Anna apple, a mandarin orange, and a pomelo – like a white grapefruit. We have also added a fig, lime, kumquat, finger lime, and second meyer lemon tree to this space.
Turning left from the pollinator island into the next section of the L-shape backyard, you’ll find what we call the “coop garden” area – four large raised beds near our chicken coop. As you can see, it is also strategically fenced to prevent access from the winged monsters, err… I mean sweet dear beloved chickens. This garden space is along a south-facing wall – maximizing sun exposure along with radiant heat – an ideal orientation for gardening if you live in the Northern Hemisphere like we do.
Beyond the chicken coop to the left is a long, narrow, 550 square foot side yard. This once all-dirt barren space now houses so many productive and important things: the chicken run, a 6×8’ greenhouse in which we start all of our garden seedlings in, a milkweed nursery to support our monarch butterfly fostering passion, a large compost bin that can be used passively or turned into an active hot pile, a massive passionfruit vine that doubles as a privacy screen, and two large 530-gallon slimline rain capture tanks, bringing our total rainwater capacity to 1200 gallons!
On the opposite side of the house, there is another smaller side yard where a few homestead essentials are stored – a couple modest storage sheds, a homemade potting bench, and the small-but-mighty worm bin.
So, as you can probably gather, we try to make good use of every single inch! Every space, no matter how small, holds unlimited potential ~ you just need to look past what is already there and think outside the box.
One day we hope to have a larger property and even more space to grow and play – I want goats, and bees! And a yurt for you all to come visit! A place to hold workshops! – but for now, we are more than fulfilled… and plenty busy!
Welcome to our home!
Video tour via Instagram
Before and Afters
*I will work on writing posts about the details of all of these projects, including the steps we took, materials used, and lessons learned!