Hello from West Michigan (zone 5)! Self sufficiency is our goal too, and the chickens are helping with that. I’ve gardened for many years; not enough to not have to go to the store, but enough to give us some fresh/canned food year round. This has been a very good year in my garden.

Here is some of what I have learned.

WRITE STUFF DOWN! Next spring when you get all those beautiful catalogs, it is easy to fall into the starry-eyed trap of buying too much. Write down what worked and especially what DIDN’T work. Let’s face it, those catalog pictures are flat out garden porn, and I am easily seduced.

Grow what grows well in your space/climate. Sounds like, um, duh! But some things just don’t do well for me, or well enough to warrant the space. This takes experience in your own garden, which just takes time.

I am organic in my methods, and I have found companion planting to be helpful. Two examples from this summer:

Marigolds deter soldier bugs from tomatoes. Or else there weren’t any soldier bugs this year, but I doubt it. I will definitely plant marigolds again next year. I started them the same time as I started my tomato seeds.

Onions planted in between potatoes deterred potato beetles. Definitely doing that next year too.

Since I want to can tomatoes, I am going to grow determinant varieties next year. I saved seed from one of my tomato varieties this year, but bought seeds for other types for next year. Research online helped me choose varieties for my particular needs, and I found five, four of which I had never heard of.

Chickens, ah, bless their little poopy hearts! Chicken poop has revolutionized my compost. I’m on my fourth batch this season. Three to four weeks to turn kitchen/garden waste into garden black gold. Here’s the catch: it’s a lot of physical labor. Google “berkeley hot composting method” for lots of info. Basically, it’s build your pile, wait four days. Turn it every other day after that for about three-four weeks. (But look it up; there’s more to it.)

Compost, compost, compost… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… I have sandy soil and clay soil, and it helps with both. It smells good. (Ok, I’m weird.) It returns nutrients to the soil, feeding plants which in turn feed me. It has given me some impressive arm muscles from all that turning, but I am easily impressed. Ah, compost!

Ok, I’ve rambled on. Get me talking about gardens or chickens, and I don’t shut up. :)