new raspberry leaves, vibrant and lush

Backyard Gardening, Year 4: Spring Planning, Planting, and Improvements

Flowers, vegetables, and herbs, oh my!

Goals for this year's garden

This year is Year 4 for our garden! I have a list of garden skills that I would like to level up:

  • Companion planting, such as the three sisters (corn, squash, beans)
  • Mulching after planting
  • Remembering to add fertilizer/compost/etc
  • Watering on a better schedule. I'm considering making a drip watering system. Our yard had sprinklers for the lawn and some shrubs when we bought it, but they only reach some of the garden beds—and thus we spend lots of quality time with our hose. The kids can do some watering, but they're at an age where the garden will only get a couple minutes of water before someone twists the hose nozzle to the "jet" setting and sends a fountain into the sky.

(Read about year 1, year 2, and year 3!)

tomato starts a couple inches high lined up in plastic cups
Tomato starts!

Preparing the garden beds

In the fall, we had mulched the garden beds with leaves and grass clippings. In late spring, I pulled out weeds and spread a layer of compost, which we got from a local landscaping supply store. (I was originally planning on adding the compost sooner—maybe even in the fall so it could really get incorporated before spring—but not everything goes according to plan.)

After a couple days of rain, and several weeks waiting for the weather to warm up, it was time to plant my seedlings.

two kids standing on plastic chairs at a deck table, using spoons to scoop dirt into plastic seed starting trays
My helpers filling the seed starting tray.

Starting seeds

I started the first batch of seeds in early March: tomatoes, peppers, and some of the slower herbs and flowers. Then, I started more seeds every few weeks when I remembered to get around to it.

My starts include:

  • Tomatoes: beefsteak, Black Krim, Costoluto Genovese, yellow heirloom, cherry, Roma
  • Herbs: basil, purple basil, rosemary, tarragon, marjoram
  • Flowers: alyssum, marigold, nasturtium, snapdragon, bluebell
  • Vegetables: Kale, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, onions, green onions, cabbage, lettuce

Perennials already growing include:

  • Rhubarb, thyme, oregano, peppermint, lemon balm, sage, lavender, raspberries, blueberries, plums

Annuals that have helpfully receded themselves include:

  • Kale, lettuce, dill, chamomile, cilantro, parsley

I may have started seeds too early this year. But how was I to know that our spring would be long and cold? My pictures from last year show our magnolia and lilacs in bloom 2-3 weeks earlier than this year. On the bright side, the rhubarb has loved the weather and we have already harvested the first round of stalks. Strawberry rhubarb pie is a favorite around here!

I've been doing less planning for the garden. The first year, I made a map of the garden beds and marked where I would put everything—complete with spreadsheets! Now, I start a bunch of seeds—at least 30 tomatoes since I have 24 excellent tomato spots and it's good to have a few extra (and I might give some away); more flowers than last year—and I figure the rest out when the ground is ready. Perhaps that's the result of some familiarity with what fits in my yard; perhaps, also, the three munchkins who keep me busy…

a crowd of tiny kale sprouts clustered near the edge of a raised garden bed
Baby kale!
pepper plants a few inches high, in two rows of four plants in a raised garden bed
Baby pepper plants!
rhubarb stalks lying in a pile on the ground with leaves still attached
Our first rhubarb harvest of the year.
long thin branches of a plum tree decked out in blossoms, reaching into a clear sky
The plum tree inviting the bees to visit.

New Fence

One of the new things this year is our front fence. Two years ago, we removed the ugly evergreen trees and bushes that formed a barrier between our front lawn and the sidewalk. They were not ugly because of their greenness; they were ugly because of how they had been trimmed so as to not block the sidewalk. Think rows of sticks down low, green branches bulging above. A neighbor down the road trimmed his similar bushes along the edge of the street, and spray painted the sticks green. They also shaded the lawn---there was moss everywhere---and completely blocked the front of the house.

Randy cut down the trees. We removed the first four stumps by hand, then realized a shovel was not the right tool for the job, and got a friend with a small tractor to pull the remaining seventeen.

Last fall, we had a black aluminum fence put in, in the style of wrought iron but without the threat of rust. It's four feet high. It deters the children from running into the street, and adds to our house's curb appeal. We had wanted the fence sooner, but everything related to construction is in such high demand right now that there was a waitlist.

New fence equals new landscaping and gardening opportunities! I'm lining the fence with flowers, sugar snap peas, and a few other edible things like kale. I transplanted a couple lavender and sage bushes that I'd grown from seed, which had been hanging out in 5-gallon containers waiting for their moment. We moved rocks and added a curved stone bench.

a small lavender bush in nice brown soil beside a metal fence
Transplanted lavender.
a curved stone bench beside a four-foot high metal fence in our front yard
The bench, beside the fence.


This April, we had the good fortune of knowing a friend who knew a farmer who was replacing their blueberries with hazelnuts. We obtained four mature liberty blueberry bushes at a great price. We planted them in the front yard along the new side fence. Now, we have a hedge of blueberries, a fence, and a hedge of lilacs.

The new bushes bring our blueberry bush total from the two small bushes in the backyard to six. We were told these bushes should yield 10-15 lbs of fruit per year, which is amazing. Last summer, we went blueberry picking at a local farm 3 or 4 times, each time coming home with around 10 lbs of berries, which were always consumed within a week. We will definitely eat these berries!

four spindly blueberry bushes in dirt along a metal fence, with a stump in the foreground
Our new blueberry bushes! (Ignore the half-removed stump.)
Blueberry bushes along a metal fence, with lilac bushes lining the opposite side of the fence
They look nicer once everything starts growing leaves!


Our other new addition this year is chickens. We will be starting to make our own compost this year! I've heard that chickens can be helpful for stirring compost, and of course their manure is a great addition to the compost heap, so we're keeping our new compost heap in their run, in the corner near the crabapple tree.

a crowd of six week old pullets standing on pine shavings in their new coop
Exploring their new coop.
six week old pullets assembled under some evergreen hedges
Venturing outdoors!

Community garden

Finally, with our forest school co-op, the kids are sharing two 4x8 beds in the community garden. We will be planting those soon! It'll be fun to do some gardening with our friends in addition to growing food in our backyard.

More updates as the season progresses!

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We're Jacqueline and Randy, a blogging duo with backgrounds in tech, robots, art, and writing, now raising our family in northern Idaho.

Our goal is to encourage deliberate choices, individual responsibility, and lifelong curiosity by sharing stories about our adventures in living, loving, and learning.

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