Sharing moments and lessons from the garden as we learn to use natural care with all that He has given us.

7 Essential Steps To Grow A Garden Successfully

Anyone else planting a garden this year? The last few years, I’ve been assigning the garden to different children. I was telling my mother this evening that while I saw a lot of character growing, we didn’t get much plant growth. This year, I will be using other sources for character growth and take the garden back into my hands.

I do love to garden.

The beautiful weather here in Kansas has brought out the desire of planting a garden in many of us. Emails and private messages have already started coming in. I always have so much fun getting to know new gardeners and hearing their excitement; it’s contagious. We all have the same question, just asked in different ways, How do I plant and grow a garden successfully? I decided I would take some time to answer that question in a blog post with my 7 essential steps to grow a garden successfully.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional horticulturist by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t even call myself a gardener. “Cultivator” would describe me best. I enjoy playing in the dirt and pulling up weeds. I thrive on the challenges nature presents, humbled by rewards hard work produces, and motivated to learn more all the time. In this blog post, I am sharing resources that have been a genuine help to me. I will also share how I used them or what I learned most from them. The books listed in this blog post are link to my Amazon affiliate program- only click through if you’d like to support the blog. All other links listed in this blog post are not connected to any affiliate program. Well, now that I have that out of the way, let’s get started talking about the 7 essential steps to grow a garden successfully.

7 essential steps to grow a garden successfully

Step 1 Plan My Garden

Spring days are spent planting all the dreams I’ve ambitiously planned throughout the Winter. For my plants to thrive, I must provide them with optimal growing conditions. I’ve learned that plants are as unique as people. While they may be able to survive in less than optimal conditions, they won’t thrive unless I carefully plan my garden. 

Space requirements-Think with the future in mind! When I am planning my garden, I have to consider the space requirements for the plants I want to grow at maturity, not just their current size. You can find plant sizes listed on most nursery tags or by looking the plant up in a reference book such as Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. The Arbor Foundation also lists a handy Tree Guide that is helpful. My father is excellent at this task of planning. He even designs the garden on paper with the size of the plant sketched out for us so we have a visual of what the garden will look like in 5 years from now, not just this spring. 

Sun/shade requirements- A plant will not thrive if it has too much or too little sun/shade. I would suggest you don’t do like I’ve done in the past and ignore the recommendations listed in the gardening reference book or plant tags. I have been able to keep a plant alive, maybe even had a bit of a success, but it was an upstream swim the entire time. I’ve learned no matter how badly I may want a plant in a certain area of the yard; it’s best to place the plant it where it want’s to grow! 

Soil needs- It’s critical for me to not only know what my plants need in the soil but what my soil needs as well. If I am attentive to both needs, the plants and soil will compliment each other beautifully sharing essential elements with one another.I enjoy using raised beds so I can adjust the soil for each raised bed and the plants that call this place home. 

Planting Zone- Know your planting zone. Simply enter your zip code into the USDA planting zone map to find out the planting zone for your area. So what is a “Planting zone”? Well, to answer that question in the simplest of forms, a planting zone tells you what plants will thrive best in those geographic weather conditions. 

2016 Garden Preparation

Step 2 Feed the Soil We talked about planning your garden by knowing the unique soil needs of your plants. To do this, we have first to start with understanding our soil. I like to use soil testing kits to get a good idea of what my soil needs might be. I’ve found that using the county extension for a soil test is always the best for detailed information. Clean air and water will provide my plants with the oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. I also need to consider my soil’s need for macro and micronutrients. Micronutrients are just as important as the macronutrients it’s just that they are needed in smaller quantities.

Macronutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur.

Micronutrients: Iron, Chlorine, Zinc, Molybdenum, Boron, Manganese, Copper, Sodium, Cobalt.

There are books full of information that shares the importance of the nutrients, how to cultivate them into the soil, and the tell-tell signs our plants will display if they are deficient in a particular nutrient.

Another resource that has been helpful to cultivate healthy garden beds is Lasagne Gardening This book helped me think of gardening in a different way. I had always dug up the ground, but my Joe would “double dig” the plot I was planting. Not only was it hard, back-breaking work, but it was also disrupting all the life within the soil. Since 2004, I have been using the principals I’ve learned from this book. My back and Joe’s back has thanked me a million times. In 2014, we did an experiment here on the farm. We planted the same crop in two different plots with two different methods, the traditional way of tilling the ground and lasagne gardening method. The lasagne garden won hands down! It wasn’t’ even close. The area that used the layering method had far fewer weeds, larger plants, and more produce.

Step 3 Plant quality plants and plant next to their companions! 

We will be planting our favorite plant starts from Sarah Starts through Azure Standard. We’ve used Sarah’s Starts ever since we moved to Kansas; I’ve never been disappointed. I use to start my plants from seeds. However, life has been busy enough that having quality plants from Sarah Starts has been a great blessing to the success of our garden. I first started germinating our garden seeds as a family back in 1998. However, for the time being, I had to set aside this late winter/ early spring tradition of starting my plants from seeds. Once life slows down, I just might get back to this activity. 

I have some dear friends who offer quality seeds through their family business, Seeds for GenerationsI just took a moment to visit their site. In a recent visit to their site, I was delighted to see that they have some excellent tools available that I could share with you. I encourage you to head over there and get to know them more. I am confident you’ll be blessed. In fact, if you sign up for their mailing list they will give you their Garden Planning Calculator. There’s also a training video available called, Garden Planning to Grow More Food. Both of these look like great resources. Thank you to the Matyas family! 

Once I have good quality seeds and plants growing I start plotting out what plants I will put together and which plants I will make sure to keep apart. The children can tell you stories of the year all of our cantaloupes tasted like cucumbers because they thought they had a “better” idea. I’ve studied this concept through the years. It’s more than just keeping certain plants away from each other for fear of them tasting like the other. It’s about plants putting certain nutrients into the ground and pulling other nutrients out. It’s about one plant repelling the pests that would want to invade a neighboring plant. I also use this concept to help extend my growing season with cooler crops by placing plants in the shade of a larger plant. I’ve found I can get a good return on the harvest using this fundamental principal when planting. 

One reference book, on the topic of companion gardening that I have especially appreciated, is Carrots love Tomatoes Companion gardening is something I learned to do many years ago with the help of my mother in law.  I continue to encourage others to learn about companion planting as well. This simple technique has provided tremendous benefits for my garden each year.

Planting A Garden

Step 4 Cultivate 

A garden is not a project for me to start and not finish; not unless I want rows of rubbish! My garden is a place to visit on a daily basis.  For me, a garden is meant to be a place where I spend time observing, mulching, watering, observing, tilling the ground, thinning the plants, planting new plants, observing, removing pests, looking for worms, feeding my soil, getting my hands dirty, and did I mention, observing? Having a successful garden depends on a harmonious relationship between the cultivator, plant, and soil. Just like all relationships.. they take time and steady work.

Step 5 Practice Patience

I cringe when I remember my first year to plant a garden.  It was Spring of 1992. I was a young mother with two little ones. My Joe had been listening to my ideas about a beautiful garden surrounded by a white picket fence for quite some time. I sat for hours in our local library looking at gardening books in-between the picture books with the children. I selectively picked the seeds for each row of the garden that Joe carefully plowed for me. The picket fence and gate were picture perfect. Now I had to wait. I watered the ground every day. By day two I was already growing anxious. Day seven and I was beside myself. I couldn’t wait any longer. I decided I would carefully dig up each seed and just check on it. What a mess I was! I remember the excitement when I uncovered the seeds and saw new life and growth. I would carefully pat the dirt back down on each seed I had uncovered. I remember sharing with my mother in law in the evening on one of our weekend phone calls. I can still her sweet voice of encouragement reminding me to be patient, not to grow weary and then her reminder she often gave me over the years saying, 

“Jeanette, take the time to lean on your hoe.” 

Lord knows that’s a hard task for someone, like me, who has trouble slowing down. It’s a conscience decision I must make and one I have never regretted. I have learned much in life, not just in gardening, but by taking the time to lean on my hoe. 

I don’t remember growing much in the garden that year, but I still benefit today from all that grew inside of me. Nature continues to present many lessons in life’s classroom when I take the time to lean on my hoe. 

This year, Danny Boy will join me in the garden. He will learn to cultivate the soil, feed the plants, water, and even kill the bugs (This should be interesting. Danny Boy finds the good in every living thing and argues when I suggest we kill any insects or rodents). 

Buried Treasure

Step 6 Encourage beneficial bugs. 

The idea that there are beneficial bugs was new to me many years ago. Today, I am carefully managing the garden pests with the help of beneficial bugs and organic practices. This means that I have much more time invested in the garden. We have successfully used our homemade recipe to kill wasps. I’ve learned that garden pests tell a story. Once I research the problem I discover that my soil is needing different nutrients. I’ve had great success with applying raw milk to the garden and pastures. It’s something we do on a large scale when we have our milk cow. This year will be our first Kansas garden year without the dairy cow providing this treasure for our garden so I’m not sure what we’ll be doing in that area. In the past, the children would mix old milk to a ratio of 1 part milk to 5 parts water. They would apply this mixture to the pasture, gardens, and yard with a sprayer. The results are visible right away (within a few days). Foliage will be a vibrant green, and you’ll notice the bad bugs will have moved out to find other poor soil and struggling plants to feed on. We’ve also added, Diatomaceous Earth and Kelp to the garden beds as needed. Spending time in the garden with a watchful eye is critical. It’s vital to be proactive when it comes to encouraging beneficial bugs and creating a habitat where they will thrive, and the garden pests will leave.  If you’d like to read more I would suggest getting the book; Good Bug Bad Bug Is an accessible resource guide to helping identify helpful and non-helpful bugs in the garden. Great visuals with color photographs are included with descriptions of both pests and beneficial bugs. This reference book is used every year in my home. The children like to take it out and identify bugs from the garden as well. 

Step 7 Harvest

If you plant in cycles, you can harvest in cycles. It’s helpful not to have the entire garden needing to be collected, prepared and stored all at the same time. If the first cycle of planting had some poor weather or growing conditions, I would have the ability to get a harvest with the second planting. I can do this in a variety of ways. I can double space the area between plants so that I can plant another plant in between two- three weeks after the first planting. I have also planted one raised bed at the beginning of the season and another garden bed two weeks later.

Another way I extend my harvest is by taking clippings instead of harvesting the entire plant. I will keep an eye on the weather in this regards. If it’s heating up and I’m clipping from a cold weather plant, I will harvest the plant instead of just take clippings. However, if I believe I still have plenty of cool days left to get another harvest, I’ll take cuttings as needed and wait to collect the plant next time.

grow a successful garden

Until our next chat,

Mrs. Joseph Wood

Reflections from the Garden


I was talking to a friend today. I said, “I had so much on my mind and thought I just need to sit and pull some weeds.”

I went on to explain how I was weeding the garden of a warehouse we were visiting. No one was there but a handful of employees that were in other parts of the large complex. I had just gotten out of the truck with my Joe, driving over 2000 miles. I needed to get out and stretch my legs and clear my mind yet, as I walked around I realized that what I really needed was to sit in a garden.

Like I said, we had just driven 2000 miles so my garden was not an option. As I looked around I found one lonely flower bed about 8 feet long and 2 feet wide. The plants looked a bit sad. I could tell that someone had tried to plant some color in a few pots but weeds were overtaking everything. The dirt and mulch covering were dry and looked as if they cried out for water. I found a nearby faucet with a hose and began to give water to the plants. I took a deep breath in and smelled the wet dirt.

“Pulling weeds when the soil is wet would be a perfect time to easily remove them”, I thought. I sat down and started pulling the weeds one by one. As I pulled them I started talking with the Lord and feeling so much better. It was a blessing to find that small plot of ground that I could care for! I didn’t get anything noteworthy done. Yet, something noteworthy was happening in me. I was breathing nice deep breaths again, my thoughts were no longer anxious, and my body wasn’t near as weary as it was when I had first began.

I think my life is often like that plot of ground. I am growing, and if you look closely you’ll see I’ve tried to plant beauty in my life. Yet sometimes I’m parched. I have to admit it I can get pretty “dry” sometimes. My dear Joe is always such an encouragement to me. He is like that fresh water rushing out of the hose onto thirsty ground. Praying to the Lord and reading the Word is also restoring to my peace as I cast every care to the Lord.

I’m so thankful that the Lord put that garden plot there that day. I’m thankful I found that hose to water the dry ground, and I’m thankful that I could dig my hands deep into the ground as I dug out those unnecessary weeds. For myself, I need to spend some more moments like that! What a great way to relax!

Do you enjoy the garden? I can’t imagine life without the time spent in the garden.

Until our next chat,
Mrs. Joseph Wood

A Moment in M.O.M.’s Garden


The children and I have been busy cleaning out the plants from our first crop. This midwest heat and humidity have been a new experience for the Wood family and yet, we love this place that the Lord has given us. Surely our boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places! The bounty from the first crop has come in from the garden and been eaten or put away for winter days. Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, cucumbers, and even some pumpkins have been brought in and turned into pumpkin pie mix for our Thanksgiving celebration.  We still have watermelon that are getting close to being gathered up. Otherwise the garden is getting quiet. This time of year takes perseverance. The details of harvest can become exhausting and overwhelming.  Yet, life experience tells me that I need to plant again so we can, Lord willing, bring in another harvest before the first frost hits.

The pear trees are drooping with an abundance of fruit that is almost ready to pick and enjoy! One of the details about a large family is the amount of food that we consume. In order to enjoy some fruit and produce in season as well, as put some away for winter takes an enormous amount of trees and plants. The apple trees are almost ready as well. Oh, what sweet treats!

There is a cycle of life on the farm. Planting, growing, harvesting, dying, composting and then back to planting again. It is a cycle that I try to become part of without causing to much disruption. As I work in the garden, my heart is thankful for all the little details as well as the baskets that overflow. I am thankful for the late nights over the hot water baths (not for me but my jars!), the sticky counters that need to be washed after cleaning and preparing produce, and the ‘leftovers’ that we were able to feed to the chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks.

Long, hot summer days filled with much work remind me that we are blessed!

With much love,

Mrs. Joseph Wood

A Moment in M.O.M.’s Garden- Spiritual lessons from the Garden

raised_beds-garden Courtney mentioned something last week that I thought would be good to talk about. On Saturday’s entry I asked, “What keeps you from making bread?” Courtney shared that it is the fear of failure and listed some trials she has had in her garden this year. Ladies, gardening is about a lot more than bringing food into our homes. It’s about spiritual lessons that we learn about ourselves and those we teach to our children who work along side us.

Gardening gives us real life moments to train our children and to examine Biblical principals for ourselves. Here are just a few I have learned through the years.

My first year gardening, nothing grew- I was inpatient and decided to uncover all my seeds to check on them. In my checking, I somehow kept most of them from ever coming up. There was nothing to harvest for the table yet, for my heart I harvested a lesson of patience and trust in God.  The quote by John Quincy Adams became real to me, “Duty is ours- results are God’s”.

A few years later I stopped gardening- Three years after the experience posted above I still had nothing to take from our garden. Why you ask? Because we always moved before the harvest. I became so discouraged that I decided to just stop planting! My mother came to my home and found boxes that I still hadn’t unpacked. I’ll never forget her “scolding” when she told me, “Jeanette. It is your job to bloom where you are planted no matter how long you are there. It is your duty to leave behind you a better place for the next person.”  I came to realize that it didn’t matter if I harvested from the garden or was the one to see the flowers bloom. My service was to the Lord! I have been bought with a price, I am not my own. It was up to Him to decide who would plant and who would harvest!

Four years into my gardening experience and after many thoughts of throwing in the towel, we had a beautiful harvest! Flowers were blooming, birds visited the garden daily, neighbors stopped to compliment the sight that offered refreshment to many sore eyes. I was delighted each day to work in the garden, I sat at night, after the long days with my Bible and read with the mist of the sprinkle system and the shade from the trees. I began having tea time with God each morning out in the garden. There was so much thanksgiving in my heart for what I was given by His mighty hand. So many lessons for the children on weeds/sin, seeds that fall on rocky soil, the fool that won’t harvest in summer, and the list could go on!

Years after that our garden attempts grew. We continued to learn through books and others that had been gardening more than ourselves. The children learned the value of “bending down thine ear to hear wisdom.” The older generation has so much to offer us if we will only stop to listen!  We’ve learned about companion planting, using nature to fight pests, keeping predators out of the garden by learning how God created them to think and by being diligent to keep on doing what we know to do!

Last year our beautiful garden that I spent over 250.00 to plant was washed away in a single night by flood waters. Failure? Oh, quite the contrary!  Again, it was another lesson for the Wood family. The Lord gives the Lord takes away but I will say blessed be the name of the Lord! As a family we stood in awe as a man we didn’t know, drove down our drive way to tell us how he planted a 2 acre garden just to keep busy and didn’t want it. He wanted to know if we would like to have all the produce from the garden?!  We visited, set times to go work and then did so faithfully! Each day we picked the harvest we would try and leave them some yet rarely would they accept it. They were just so excited to have our family there, working and using those blessings! There hasn’t been a conversation since that one of the children, Joe, or myself haven’t talked about the time our garden flooded but God gave us a garden we never planted.

This year, all is well in the garden. The children and I continue to learn both practical skills and Spiritual Truths as well. So, what year do you think was our greatest failure? Each year there were funds invested, time invested, and dreams invested! As I ponder each year, I am confident that not one has ever been a failure! Oh, maybe I had nothing to put on the table but I always had something to carry in my heart. I saw God in a new way, I realized how fragile life was, how vain my best efforts are, and how great and faithful our God is!

Courtney, my heart is truly filled with love for you. I am so thankful the Lord has let our paths cross! There is not one moment that we have ever talked or prayed for you and not been filled with thanksgiving for your life testimony! Sweet Sister, you have not failed! You have learned! You now know what doesn’t work, what does need to be done and I am sure there are things you’ve learned that I am not even aware of! Keep trying! Keep learning! You and your family will be blessed for it!

With much love,

Mrs. Joseph Wood

A Moment in M.O.M.’s Garden- Tomato Blight

I’ve received a handful of emails about gardening. How exciting to see others start this adventure of growing wholesome foods for your family! I pray that the Lord blesses each of you for your efforts to provide healthy food for your family. Nothing tastes as good as homegrown food. There are so many lessons from the garden to learn as we work the ground and be a part of what God is growing!

Saturday, the four youngest children and I took a joyous walk through the garden.  Each child squealed with excitement, calling me to take a look at the next veggie growing. At each peak under & around plants Sammy would clap & exclaim, "Ohhhh! Yay! Thank you God, thank you!" Seeing their hearts filled with thanksgiving for all that God had given us made my heart rejoice! What a precious walk in the garden it was.

Today, I took another walk through the garden. It is good to be in the garden often even if it is just for observation. You will notice the small weeds sprouting up and can pull them quickly. They always remind me of a comment my mother made saying, “Keep small accounts with God. Don’t let things go too long.” It’s the same way with gardening or farm life in general, if you take care of the small things you don’t have too many big things that can overwhelm you or even destroy your efforts. At any rate, today’s walk in the garden proved helpful indeed. The tomato plants that all looked strong and healthy on Saturday are showing the first signs of Tomato blight. Actually it’s just one plant, that’s good news for me. Good news because I can act quickly and fix the problem!

02949f05 If you’re not familiar with Tomato blight I have included a photo for your reference. Make sure you take notice of your tomato plants; when you start having hot temperatures this fungus can present a problem. Make sure you trim back the leaves at the bottom of the plant so they are not touching the ground. Also, make sure the plants have plenty of circulation (this is probably the cause of my problem as my plants in this specific area are two times larger than any others and invading the space) circulation for your plants is critical and trimming can help. Just make sure you don’t trim to much or they can actually get a sun burn. Heavy watering is also a problem. With all the rain we have had in KS this year I really don’t have control over the “over irrigation” so I have to move onto what I do have control over! I will be treating my soil with some kelp to see if there is any improvement. I find that healthy soil means healthy plants so any issue with my plants can typically be improved if I improve my soil. If you have an terrible problem with Tomato blight make sure you rotate your crops next year and plant something else in this spot. Not just any plant though… I wouldn’t plant anything that was in the same family as tomatoes to ensure health to the area.

Keep your plants healthy by frequent walks through the garden and while you’re at it, keep your spiritual life healthy too by frequent talks with God!

With much love,

Mrs. Joseph Wood

A Moment in M.O.M.’s Garden- Organic Garden Ponderings…

MOM's Garden

Good Morning Friends!
Actually, it’s almost noon here in my house. We’ve had a busy start to our day. Up at 4:30, off to get grain (1 and 1/2 Hour drive), milking and feeding done. Gathered a good dozen or more eggs, breakfast is done and cleaned up (scrambled farm eggs with sprouted English muffins), the chain saw has been humming as Joe and the boys cleaned out a new picnic area for our family to enjoy. Oh, there has been so much more activity  today and yet, we have much more to accomplish. I love to work! I feel useful, productive and alive when I work! Some days I might need an extra cup of coffee to keep me going and other days I may feel like not much was accomplished for all the effort I put out. However, all in all, it works out and eventually I get done what I am trying to accomplish… eventually!

This week, I am going to focus on our Garden. I am so excited we have sunshine so I can get out there and make a reality to these plans we have worked on through the cold winter months. Joe was on the road and picked up a farm magazine that spoke at great lengths about the “organic movement” that is becoming a “force to be reckoned with”. Anyone that knows me knows I am not a fanatic however, I am passionate and gravely concerned about the food that is being fed to our children. I care about what I feed to my animals and plants because I know it is going to go into the bodies of my precious children and husband. However, I didn’t grow up this way! I grew up with the traditional American diet enjoying all it’s delicacies. I was in my mid twenties before I learned that you can make a cake without Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker (and no, that is not an exaggeration!). I was probably in my early 30’s before I learned that whole wheat flour and unbleached flour were not just different brands or companies. I am still a work in progress! I am learning, growing, and developing self control on a daily basis. I am constantly battling with choosing what is right and  not what is simply easy or fast. I know that I am not where I want to be yet, I am certainly not where I use to be!  Let my life be an example that  If I can do this so can you!

I have included a link I found with just a few simple organic tips for your garden. There is a wealth of information available. Don’t be deceived in believing that healthy food is too expensive. If you’re having a hard time with this. Let’s talk and I’ll share with you how I feed my family economically and healthy at the same time!

With much love,
Mrs. Joseph Wood

Site you might enjoy:
Informative clip you may enjoy watching:


A Moment in M.O.M.’s Garden- Path to Freedom Chickens in the City

We absolutely love our chickens and fresh eggs! We do have roosters however, we are out in the country where they don’t bother the neighbors. Watching the chickens can give you such entertainment. Their antics are simply hilarious at times! It’s not uncommon to see several Wood family children gathered around watching the children as they ‘talk’ for them and elaborate on what they think the children are thinking. Not too long ago, Bekah and I were observing the chickens and talking for them. Sarah was with us and with complete excitement exclaimed, “Don’t we just have the funniest chickens?” We all burst out laughing because we had gotten so involved in our ‘chicken conversation’ we forgot they weren’t really talking at all… it was us! Fun memories!