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…
…an urban 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, Dalai, and Bodhi Moon.
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. You can find a full video of the property to follow.
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!
Quick overview video tour via Instagram
Full video tour via YouTube
Before and After Photos
*I will work on writing posts about the details of all of these projects, including the steps we took, materials used, and lessons learned!
mary Ellen loomis
I absolutly love your secret garden! The one question I have is, what or how do you save the precious manure left by your chickens in areas where there are no plants? Are they always free roaming? Also as a 64 yr.old with ADD, and too many projects started in my yard, how do you concentrate on one at a time to get the jobs done?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Mary Ellen, when our chickens free range there is no manure to save as it is mixed into the earth by the chickens themselves. The only manure that is possible to save is from their coop or run where they reside once it’s dark. From there you can store the manure in a compost tumbler of sorts but you need to age it for at least 6 months before it is safe to use in the garden or with any other plants. As far as tackling projects, it is best to have a priority list and if they are all a priority, start with one section at a time. That is how we transformed our yard was by working on certain sections, and making sure to complete the job before we started another. Nothing happens overnight and our small homestead transformation spanned at least 5 to 6 years. Hope that helps and good luck!
Oh my goodness!! We are neighbors! I live in AG, and am so excited to have found you as a great resource! Looking forward to learning more from you both! Thanks!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Susie, we are glad you found us as well!
Greetings Deannacat and Aaron,
After months of searching my questions via Google, I was lucky to find your fantastic website!
Your postings are among the best I’ve read: clearly-written and very informative.
My wife and I are “compulsive” gardeners (we can’t stop creating new gardens on our rural Vermont property), and your photos are an inspiration to us.
Doug & Deb
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
That’s amazing to hear Douglas, we had to move to a bigger property as we are “compulsive” gardeners (haha). Glad you found inspiration and helpful information on our site and we hope to see you around here in the future!
Looks amazing. Would love to see pics of “Your Girls”
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Thanks Patrick! Check out this article or this one to see more. Thanks for reading.
You re such an inpiration
Your garden is amazing !!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge !! I want to remake my garden 🤣🤣
Oh, if only I were 40 years younger, I would be copying your entire plan. I am sooo happy for you and your family. The house and yard are about as charming and homey as a place can be. I know that my dear husband would be on board to make such a beautiful refuge for us, kids and now grandkids. May you keep gardening together many, many more years. It is so generous of you to share your ideas with the world. thanks for all you do, and I always look forward to each issue you post. (how the heck do you find time to do it? haha)
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Thank you so much Annie, that all means the world to us. Wish you and your family the best of luck and we hope to hear from you again.
Your garden is an inspiration. I’m just starting to build my mini farm in the PNW. I connected with you via the sour bread recipes. I’ve made both the gf and gluten versions with fabulous results. Side note: I usually make bread with commercial yeast but haven’t for years due to gluten sensitivities. Recently my sister-in-law from Berkeley visited and she just happened to have a starter in her RV (she is amazing). So she shared and a few days later I made my first sour dough bread, thanks to your awesome guidance and recipes! I used a basket I was given in Africa that worked perfectly. BTW, I seem to tolerate sourdough even though the bread was not totally gf (the starter had rye flour) and I added a small amount of gluten flour, just cuz.
Finally, I lived in SLO as a child! My father was a professor at Cal Poly. My brother still lives there, so I visit as much as I can. Pismo beach, sweet memories.
Thanks for keeping it real and beautiful.
Hi Jeane, thanks for sharing and being a part of the community!