Happy beginning of spring to you! And dang… I can’t believe it’s been nearly 5 months since our last official “Homestead Update”! I had to double and triple-check that timeline… it really feels like that was just a couple months ago. But then again, we’ve accomplished SO much since I last checked in with you all. We’ve essentially finished building the garden of our dreams after all! (I’m so tired 😅) Though there will always be plenty of new projects and modifications to come. So, let me show you what we’ve been up to! I put together an updated garden tour video to share too.
Before we dig into the updates, let’s catch up on where we left off in October. In our last homestead update, I showed you how we prepared the blank slate (aka, an open weedy, sandy field) to become our new garden space – including leveling the area, adding steel edging and landscape rocks to define the borders, and commercial weed barrier fabric as a base for the gravel to come. Check out this post for more details if you missed it. If you’re extra new here, we just moved to this property in July 2021! You can see the story of our property hunt and move here.
Summary of what’s happened since the last update:
- We added gravel to the new garden space… 40 yards of it!
- Built and installed 19 new raised garden beds.
- Filled the beds with bulk soil and compost.
- Installed drip irrigation to the raised beds.
- Added whimsy and flair with arched trellises, outdoor furniture, solar lights, wine barrel planters, pretty pots, and a new fountain – which is also an important feature for wildlife!
- Planted the very first seeds and seedlings in the new garden. Our new grow room is working out amazingly! So much so, we are contemplating not adding a greenhouse to the new homestead at all… but we shall see.
- Created a new pollinator garden near the raised beds, as well as incorporated more pollinator-friendly plants and edibles into the old existing garden space.
- Installed a new central paver patio seating area.
I’ll show you each stage with photos, tips, and more details below! But first, here is the updated tour video I promised.
New Garden Tour Video
When it came time to choose gravel for the new garden, we already knew we wanted to use ⅜” crushed rock like we did at the old homestead. Unlike smoother pea gravel, angular crushed rock locks and stays in place quite well. It doesn’t sink or move as much when you walk or roll a wheelbarrow over it.
Even though it created a little more work, we chose to mix two different colors of gravel we found at a local landscape supply yard: a dark green ⅜” rock plus some gray-gold ⅜” granite. The blend created the perfect natural rustic vibe I was aiming for: not too modern and cool (like our old garden), but not too bright and warm-toned either.
It’s usually recommended to apply gravel about 3 to 4 inches deep. So, to figure out how much we needed, I first calculated the square footage of the garden space (LxW in feet) and then multiplied that by 0.25 (since 3 inches = a quarter of a foot). The math said we’d need just shy of 35 yards, but I wanted extra for wiggle room plus a couple pathways I didn’t account for. So, we had 20 yards of each gravel color delivered in bulk and dumped in our side driveway. We have done far smaller gravel projects with just shovels and wheelbarrows alone, but for this… let’s just say my body is grateful for heavy machinery!
To move the gravel, we rented a small “Dingo” skid-steer front loader thingy for the week. It was the perfect tool to scoop up loads of gravel (in alternating scoops to mix the two colors) and dump it into the back bed of our Kubota UTV. Then we could drive the UTV around back, dump the load, spread the gravel with rakes, jump back in and repeat the process… over and over and over again! We got all that accomplished in November.
Building New Raised Garden Beds
Next we started building all the new redwood raised garden beds: fifteen 4×8’ beds, two smaller 4×6’ for the narrow far end of the garden, and two 3×5’ beds to frame the backside of the center “courtyard”. Yep, that was A LOT to build! We took our sweet time and slowly built a few beds here and there over the course of a couple months (December and January). You can find a detailed tutorial and video of how we build raised garden beds here!
Thanks to our fabulous furry friends (insert eye roll here) the gophers, we made sure to add hardware cloth to the bottom of every bed. We also took some additional steps to seal the beds this time around… since we want this garden to last as long as physically possible! (During this project I kept swearing how I never want to build another garden again… lol). I wrote up this post about the non-toxic sealer and silicone we used, plus other tips to make wood beds last longer.
Because we wanted to utilize the UTV to fill the raised beds (much like we moved the gravel), we couldn’t put all the garden beds in place at once. If we did, it would cut off our access for the UTV because the pathways between beds are too narrow for it to fit. So we ended up stacking and storing the empty garden beds in the orchard area until we were ready to start filling them with soil.
Installing and Filling the Beds with Soil
Next it was time to go soil shopping! As you may already know, soil health and quality is one of the MOST important variables in overall plant health! After visiting a few local landscape suppliers to scout out the best-looking bulk soil available, we settled on a premium “performance” potting soil blend from Central Coast Landscape. We were also fortunate enough to coordinate a bulk delivery of certified organic compost from Malibu’s compost. From there, we created our own mix of 65% bulk soil, 30% compost, and 5% ⅜” lava rock for added aeration and drainage. You can find more detailed information about soil composition and how we fill raised garden beds here.
One row at a time, we moved the empty raised garden bed frames into place, measuring and adjusting to get them nice and straight, and then filled them with soil. Before adding the soil, we tucked a PVC riser inside each bed so we wouldn’t have to dig in the irrigation connection later! (See more details on irrigation below).
Just like the gravel project, we rented the “Dingo” skid-steer again to load up alternating scoops of soil and compost into the back of our UTV. With a little finessing, good teamwork and communication, we were able to back the UTV right up to each bed, dump, mix and spread the soil. Each bed took two full UTV loads. Again, this is something we’ve totally done with wheelbarrows and shovels on a smaller scale before. You certainly don’t NEED heavy equipment to create a garden!
Installing Drip Irrigation for the Raised Garden Beds
I never knew irrigation could be so utterly sexy until now. Really though. What isn’t attractive about saving time, energy, money AND water?! Drip irrigation is much more effective and efficient than hand watering or sprinklers, and our plants are totally loving it too!
I won’t go into much detail here because I made a full tutorial and YouTube video on how we installed automated drip irrigation in our raised beds already. Check that out if you’re interested to learn more. Though I will say that I’m dang proud of us! I had some general conceptual knowledge of water systems (thanks to my past career in Environmental Health) but hadn’t actually worked with cutting, gluing and installing pipes myself – until now! It’s not nearly as difficult as you may imagine. You CAN do “hard” and new things!
Personal Touches, Whimsy and Flair
Now for the fun part! 😍 The garden was already looking quite fabulous with the raised beds, borders and gravel, but it was definitely missing some personality and pizzazz. If you tuned in to my recent post on “9 Ways to Add Whimsy and Interest to Your Garden”, then you already know how we spruced up the space. Arched trellises, wine barrel planters, outdoor furniture, solar lights, garden art, and pretty potted plants were among some of the additions.
One of my favorite additions is the new fountain. We created a rock border and bed of various succulents at the base. It really makes the fountain pop visually, and the succulents get passively watered by the inevitable bits of overspray and splashing around it. Double score. We’ve already seen wild birds thoroughly enjoying the fountain, and perching on top of the trellises too. I even spotted a hummingbird bathing in the top of the fountain the other day! So. darn. cute. Learn more about creating a wildlife-friendly garden here. Your yard can even become a certified wildlife habitat – like ours!
Last but not least, we just installed a new paver patio in the center of the garden this weekend. It creates a courtyard vibe and more distinct seating area, and really makes the whole garden pop! We used 2×2 ft concrete pavers, sourced locally from AirVol Block in San Luis Obispo.
The First Plants
Mere hours after installing drip irrigation, I couldn’t wait any longer to sow the very first seeds in the new beds! That process never gets old, but felt exceptionally exciting in this new space. It was still early February so my options were fairly limited. We direct-sowed radishes, turnips, carrots and snap peas first, and beets a couple weeks later. (Learn which crops are best to direct-sow vs start indoors here).
Then towards the end of February it was time to transplant out the cool-season seedlings we started in the grow room back in January. That included broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choy, mustards and collard greens, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, lettuce, cauliflower, and more. Many of those we typically grow during our fall-winter garden, so it’s a bit of an experiment this year! Check out the full list of what we’re growing this spring and summer in this post, including specific varieties and descriptions.
As you can tell from the photos, many of the beds are still empty right now. Over the next month or two we’ll be transplanting out all of the remaining summer crops, including squash, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, melon, and cucumber along with more annual flowers and herbs. We’ll also direct-sow pole and bush green beans. The plan for the arched trellises includes pole beans, vining squash, and cucamelons – along with the peas that are already growing up one of them now.
Seeing the new garden come to life with plants has been SO rewarding! The very first harvest of radishes and greens was even better…. and I can’t begin to imagine how it’s all going to look and feel in the height of summer!
New Pollinator Garden
We celebrated the recent spring equinox by installing a new pollinator flower bed near the entrance to the raised bed garden. I honestly can’t believe what a HUGE difference this one change made! It really ties everything together, and I can’t wait to see it mature and bloom. Especially with the fountain so close by, I think it’s going to be the new hummingbird hotspot!
The new flower border is full of 40 nectar and pollen-rich plants including lavender, hummingbird sage, other various salvias, yarrow, milkweed, California fuchsia, chamomile, agastache (aka anise hyssop), lupine, scabiosa, lantana, and trailing rosemary. See this list of the best 23 plants for pollinators for even more ideas! I also threw a couple of artichokes in there too… because why not?
The plants we selected for this space are all petite and low-growing varieties – mostly 1×1′ or 2×2′, a few up to 3 ft. That way they won’t block the view of the rest of the garden once it all fills in. Plus, we already have larger pollinator shrubs along the back fence. Stepping stones will be added soon to break up the large bed into three sections, making it more manageable and providing access for maintenance, pruning, and harvests.
This area is watered with an automated drip irrigation system we connected to a nearby spigot. Learn how to create a simple DIY drip system to a hose bibb here!
Other Changes and Updates
Last but not least, we’ve given the existing gardens plenty of love too!
In the last Homestead Update I shared that we removed the catmint border that previously lined the brick pathway. (It was too high maintenance and got really infested with leaf hoppers). So to add some interest, color and pollinator flowers back into the space, we planted about 25 new plants a couple weeks ago. Going for a Mediterranean garden vibe, I chose several large spineless agave attenuata as the focal points with a cluster of low-growing plants all around them – including blue fescue, trailing lantana, echinacea, petite salvia and lavender varieties, and African daisies.
We also converted two of the three existing metal raised garden beds into perennial beds. The one closest to the house is now full of herbs: several varieties of sage, oregano, thyme, lemon verbena, and dill. We planted 4 semi-dwarf blueberry bushes in the middle bed, with strawberries tucked in between. “Sunshine Blue” is our go-to blueberry variety since it requires so few chill hours, perfect for our temperate climate. They’re also self-fruitful! The 3rd and final existing bed will be used for overflow plants from the main garden for now – likely hard winter squash this year.
Out in the orchard, we’ve added two lemon guava shrubs, a couple of fig trees, and a fuyu persimmon. I plan to train the lemon guavas espalier-style along one of the black fences (and will likely add some horizontal wires behind them for additional support). I still want to find a spot for pears, plums, and more!
Just a few more photos…
That’s it for today’s update!
Holy moly friends. Everyone keeps teasing me: where does the “chill” part of Homestead and Chill come in?! I’ll be the first to admit that the R&R has been seriously lacking lately. But now that we have the vast majority of our dream garden built, I think it’s finally time to sit back and relax a bit more. And I think I know just the spot!
In all seriousness, thank you so much for coming along for the tour. We are so excited about our new space, and are honored that you take time out of your busy schedules to follow along with our journey. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below, or simply say hello! See you next time.