a black plastic seed tray with little two-leafed seedlings poking out of their dirt

Backyard Suburban Garden Plan, Year 6 (2024)

It's all about the tomatoes.

The earthy, loamy aroma of good soil hangs in the cool air. The sun, finally awake after a season of hibernation, warms my bare arms. I carefully lift a seedling out of the seed tray, set it in its new home: a larger container, filled hallway with potting soil. I press a handful of dirt around the seedling, set the container aside, and reach for the next seedling.

It's early spring. My seedlings are a few weeks old. The largest are conveniently ready to plant up on one of the first warm days in March. My weather app says it's 50 degrees. In the sun, it feels warmer. Like spring. Like it's time to venture out of our winter caves, spread the picnic blanket in the sun, replenish our stores of vitamin D, see how quickly we can turn our faces pink.

After winter, it is the nicest thing to sit in my front lawn, like a sunflower tracking the sun's rays, my fingernails properly dirty again.

Potting up!
The first pansy to wake up in spring.
Hardening off…

It feels like I just finished canning my tomatoes. And here we are, transplanting tomatoes into the garden again!

Look, flowers already!

Garden weather and spring outlook

Our winter was odd (because of La Nina, say the weathermen). Lots of warmer days above freezing, snow that didn't stick for more than a few days, a week or so of sub-zero temps. Spring felt like it warmed up fast. The first week of April even had nights above freezing! We had violets, the first dandelions, and a couple pansies in the garden from last year blooming on Easter. I was starting to feel like I'd started my seeds too late—even though I started them all around the same time as in prior years! I had to remind myself that April could still have cold snaps (and it did—including snow and hail).

Read about my gardening journey so far:

Gardening goals for this year

I have a couple goals for the garden this year.

First, I'm trying to improve my garden crop rotation, in hopes of increasing soil health. Part of what makes this difficult is that the crops I like best are fruiting plants. So two thirds of my garden tends to be fruiting plants (like tomatoes and peppers). There isn't an even split among the crops to rotate. I also only have tall trellising supports in a subset of beds, which I need for the tomatoes, so I have limited beds to rotate among the tomatoes.

One rotation tip I've seen is that if you don't have space to rotate entire beds, rotate portions of beds. For instance, dedicate a quarter of the bed each year to a different crop, and rotate the same crop through different locations even within the same bed. It doesn't sound ideal (the ideal, I guess, is enough space for proper rotation), but every little bit helps, I guess!

I'm trying to come up with a modified rotation so each bed gets a year or two off, while still ensuring I can grow a ton of tomatoes. I'm also trying out more root and leaf crops to find some I enjoy sufficiently, since they're a key part of rotation.

My second goal this year is to keep better records regarding what I'm growing where, and how it grew. This will help with goal #1. For the first four years, the garden was small enough that I didn't have many places that I could rotate; I had photos of the garden throughout the summer as my documentation. Plus, I generally remembered what I had planted the previous year. With the larger garden now, however, it feels important to track the garden with more than photos and these blog posts. So, I'm drawing a garden map and filling in approximately what is where. I'll add notes on how things did. A garden journal or sorts. I'm all for journals!

(Read: Journaling to Set and Achieve Writing Goals)

My third goal is to decrease the work in the garden this year because I have a three-month-old. To this end, I planted more large tomatoes and paste tomatoes, and fewer small ones, since they take longer to pick, and after a certain amount, they just get sauced and canned too. I planted more peppers, and onions, which don't need much beyond some weeding… generally, I tried to plant fewer things that need a ton of work during the growing season. That said—I still planted a lot, so I'm not sure how close I've gotten to achieving this goal. Fortunately, I do have help from my older kids. My seven-year-old, for instance, loves to water the baby plants, and helped carry the seedlings outside and back in during the hardening off period. All the kids all like planting seeds. They help pull weeds. And even if they ultimately get distracted and switch to collecting dandelions or making mud soup, that's still some weeds that I didn't have to pull! Every little bit helps!

To improve this year

Carrots. I have yet to grow a good crop of carrots. Maybe I have been planting them in areas that are too shady. Last year, I think some small birds ate some or all of my carrot seeds. Maybe they will sprout this year.

Flowers. Namely, the front flower garden. I'd like to infill among the existing plants with more plants, some perennial if I find good ones (e.g., I have columbine seeds), and some annuals just to make it prettier (e.g., sunflowers and my son's giant marigolds). It's already looking better this year than the year before, since I had collected a bunch of new perennials in the fall from a local nursery's end of season clearance sale.

Looking ahead: Future garden plans

Finally, though this isn't a goal so much as a wish, I'd like to improve my seed starting setup. The dedicated shelves and grow lights are great, but having more space, and dedicated space, would improve both my front entryway and the efficiency of starting and hardening off seeds. A small heated greenhouse would be ideal. It could extend my season, be a space for starting and potting up seedlings, and with some ventilation fan, windows or roller sides, it would make the hardening off process a lot simpler. And I could grow a few things in it, possibly in containers, that prefer warm weather, like peppers.

I even have a location in mind. I'm a huge proponent of using my living and working space optimally—we like to fit as much in our suburban house and yard as we can! If we move part of the fence that divides our front and back yards, near the chicken coop, and move a raised bed that I don't really use because it's too shady, there's a spot that's south-facing. It's not perfect, since it's on the opposite end of the yard from the larger section of garden, but I could easily drag a wagon full of seedlings through the yard. We'll see, this may be a late summer project.

(Read: Incremental Organization: How We Made Our Garage Better for Playing, Storing, and Working)

My three-year-old helps plant peas.

Preparing the garden for planting

So far, I've been using a no-till approach. In the fall, I had left some stems and dying flowers, but had cleaned out the bulk of the old plants. We used fallen leaves from around the yard to supplement the mulch on the garden beds. In other years, I've added compost; I didn't get to it yet this year, but it's still on the agenda.

What I'm Growing

I started the slow seeds, namely peppers, tomatoes, and onions, in early March. Flowers and herbs followed mid-March. More flowers, herbs, and squash in the end of March.

Onions are new for me! I don't know how I managed to not plant onions in prior years, given how many we tend to eat. I'm hoping they work well enough that I can braid onions together for storage. I've always wanted to braid onions!

Here is a list of what I'm planting, both the seeds started early indoors, and those directly sown in the ground:

Herbs: Basil, dill, tarragon, cilantro, lemongrass, stevia, (I already have chives, oregano, lemon mint, peppermint, lemon balm, thyme, sage)

Flowers: Snapdragons, marigolds, chamomile, calendula, giant marigolds, zinnia, milkweed, aster, echinacea, bluebell, pansy, alyssum, red sunflowers from a friend, other sunflowers, sunflowers from seeds we saved, red cosmos

Veg: zucchini, carrots, pumpkin, desi squash, spaghetti squash, watermelon, tomatoes (8 varieties: Roma, Amish paste is the new one this year, yellow, black krim, costoluto, cherry, black strawberry, spoon), cucumbers, kale, asparagus, yellow onions, red onions, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, spicy peppers, leeks, peas, corn, potatoes, arugula, swiss chard, lettuce, carrots, purple carrots

Transplanting onions.
Getting everything planted…
Transplanting watermelons!


Violets popped up in my lawn. Pansies from last year survived the winter - I though they were annuals, but as I've recently learned, they are really a short lived perennial. With mild winters (like this one), they can live for several years! Lots of kale popped up in one garden bed where a prior years kale has gone to seed. Lots of calendula and snapdragons from last year's flowers that went to seed.

I carefully dug up and moved some of these volunteers to other parts of the garden, since I don't actually need 50 tiny kale plants or 59 calendula plants in the same 2 square feet of soil.

Volunteer calendula.


The rhubarb popped up early. We harvested the first round in the first week of May, and made several batches of strawberry rhubarb jam and lemon rhubarb jam.

The bulbs are lovely again! Some crocuses are clearly in clumps now, which means the bulbs were healthy enough last year to grow new bulbs, which is fantastic. The spot where the sidewalk was dug up for construction still has some flowers, so they didn't totally destroy my bulbs during construction.

The bloody dock came back. Beautiful green with red veins, tasty in salads and cooked up with garlic, less bitter than the wild dock I've tasted in the woods. The lemon mint is spreading from under the crabapple tree into the lawn; the previous owner of the house didn't realize that you never plant mint in the ground because it spreads. I dug some up and gave it away.

I started asparagus in hopes of getting a perennial asparagus patch going. I planted some in one of my raised beds; the others are in large containers for now.

First rhubarb harvest was May 2!
That's 15lbs of rhubarb. I made jam.
Lemon mint!
More raspberries!

More garden?

I also have the opportunity to plant in my grandmother's garden this year, about 40 minutes north of us. Her growing season is several weeks shorter than mine, but still enough to grow plenty of things, especially if I start them indoors ahead of time! She has been mostly done gardening for several years now. She gifted us various garden supplies in our first year, and still has her garden area fenced off and available. It needs some cleanup. She has volunteered to water it, and we could come out every week or two to check on things. One of our favorite summer beaches is a few minutes down the road from her, so we're out there anyway!

I'm thinking about putting in some potatoes, squash or pumpkins, some flowers, an extra tomato plant or two, and a few of my seven-year-old's watermelons (he started a ton).

The kids liked to walk the fence, smelling each and every flower as they went.

That's the plan! Everything is in the ground as of yesterday. I transplanted and seeded in place over the past two weeks—turns out, I'm not quite as efficient with a three-month-old. Now it's time to weed, water, and watch it grow!

Enjoying the garden, watching it grow…

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