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Making a Garden 2012

For several years this past decade, we lived in rented houses where it was not practical to build a garden – given the expense and issue of altering somebody else’s property. In the fall of 2011, we bought a place on three acres literally on the edge of Greenwich, Washington County, New York, a main street (former) factory village of about 2,500 people. In March of the snowless winter 2011-2012 I began operations to build a garden.

It was something I had done a couple of times before but this was a little more ambitious. The idea was a central formal potager of raised beds, fenced, with some non-raised beds outside the formal square. I laid it out at 48 feet square with the entrance on a direct axis with the front door of the house.


Here is the garden site in late winter (of a snowless season).


The original front yard needed to be squared off. I called in an excavator to remove one big pine tree and a few small hardwoods. The village is about 800 feet through the woods and down the hill.


Carting away all the debris


Building Raised beds from 2 X 10. Boundaries and paths laid out with stakes and mason’s twine.


This was the complete scheme. I filled the raised beds with topsoil and top-dressed them with compost, both purchased and trucked in. 
The soil underneath the lawn is rocky and clayey. It needs help. 
At center is a platform of granite paving stones set in sand and pea gravel. Nothing is cemented, in case it doesn’t work out. The idea is to put a table there under a pergola. I’m excavating what will be a paved path leading up to it down the central axis.


I built a sifter to get rocks out of the excavated soil. Paved path complete.


This is how things were developing by mid-April as seen from an upstairs window.
The two narrow double-heightbeds are already planted with kale.
Chives planted in the four corners of the lower right square bed.


Two-foot wide borders for culinary and medicinal herbs on three sides of potager array.
In background, deer fence under construction. 
A herd of about eight deer were practically living on the porch all winter.

On the other side of the house, I put in 16 fruit trees– apples (2 Northern Spy, 2 Liberty, 2 Honeycrisp, 2 Rhode Island Greenings, 1 Black Oxford, 1 Macoun); 
pears (2 Clapps, 1 Asian, 1 Fameuse); and cherries (1Mesabi, 1 Michigan Sweet).
Also, off to the side, gooseberries and red and black currents. Blueberries off to the right.


Auxilliary side garden for strawberries and squashes.
In background, a big tripod to grow hops vines up.


Early May, the beds have been planted.



Post holes being dug for picket fence around potager.
It is as much a design element as a practical defense against rabbits 
and other varmints who can get through the deer fence.
First lettuce crop ready to eat. Hollyhocks and yarrow in side border.


I decided to plant sunflowers along the rear border this year.
At bottom, a little borage plant.


Strawberry plants in side bed.


The picket fence posts are all in. They are locust wood and will resist rot for 50 years or more.
Posts will be topped off to 4 feet eventually
Mustard greens in near bed ready to eat.


From upstairs window.


Apple and Pears growing up, first year.


This apple is called Liberty


Gooseberry bush with currant bushes behind.

Last of the kohlrabis


Fence finally going up in October. Posts are locust wood, rails cedar, pickets are plain pine lath.

That’s it for 2012. Big Plans for next year.

About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency and the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

34 Responses to “Making a Garden 2012”

  1. Brian McKinlay June 9, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I write from Melbourne Australia…There has always been a tradition of home gardehjning in the suburbs of Australian towns and cities where most of us live on quite large,often wooded blocks iof land
    In my childhood ,during WW2,it was almost a patriotic duty to grown food,and this also included poultry yards
    In recent times there has been a great return to this idea and this is also reflected in a number of TV program on all aspects of home food productton and of a nuumber of excellent magazine(the best in my opinion is a splendid self-help magazine called “Grassroots” which looks at every aspects of this matter

    Many people are also ghrowing some fruit trees in their yards and I have several orange and lemon trees which make great preserves
    Many too are installing large water tanks…here the summers are long and hot and water conservation is a must..my oranges are a wonderful sight in winter..which is here
    The media have woken up to this movement and there bis much comment and information on TV/Radio and newspapers

  2. UnstoppableFarceImmovableAbject June 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    This is a truly beautiful garden, James. What a sight to wake up to in the morning! Great Job.

  3. Brent Eamer June 10, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Amazing work James. The kale looks fantastic. Nice touch with the pumpkins on the fence posts.

  4. Kevin Abbey, Sr. June 10, 2013 at 6:17 pm #

    James, I stopped by to see the progress you’ve made….and it is impressive.

    Here in NE Oklahoma, we battle with a substantially warmer climate than you do in NY……and therefore plant, water, and ‘plead’ accordingly.

    Thanks for posting the pictures….they are encouraging!

  5. Kimberly June 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    How exciting to see your garden take shape! In the first photos, it seems so bleak and then by the last ones, it is looking fantastic. I hope you keep posting on its progress. What huge kohlrabis!

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  6. joomlabliss June 12, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    What a garden! How nice to see it is being developed gradually. But I am wondering why that much space left between the raised beds? Any specific reason? I thought a foot of space to talk in between would be enough…?

  7. Thoren steve June 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Well organized garden ,Jim .
    I have a copy of Crockets book. A BIBLE to me as I have long beena container gardener . BTW : back in Flint ,Michigan – absolutely iconic of post industrialism- there is a small but growing gardening group. The City has carved itself out of existance as before.
    I knew both Flint, Detroit , and Pontiac since childhood there .
    Here in Chicago there is a couple really good sized ‘ youth gardens’ .Under the Chicago Housing Authority . At the end of the Green Line ‘L’ train route is a new urban farming project under developement . Not too soon either as last Summer’s drought dessicated the soils to a depth of 30 inches . Not to worry though as exploding Mexican area /population is ample with many ‘undocumented’ brazzos / braceros ..
    Me ? I have sunny windows. tomatoes ‘spuds and + 80 watts of solar panels in my 8th floor windows . Big storms last night gave Con Ed power a big lesson in modesty .

  8. mCubed June 16, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Gorgeous, Mr. Kunstler. That’s a lot of work, but the way you’ve got it situated…I think you’ve done it right. In your book, “Too Much Magic”, you reference the gardens of Paris of yesteryear, where there are cloches and cold frames and each plot under an acre or two—would that we could do that again in our cities, as you suggest for Detroit or Cleveland. It would give people a purpose, especially the older folks.

    I really admire this layout–if my property were not on a serious slope, I would attempt what you’ve done here, but alas, my whole focus is just trying to keep the good healthy soil I’ve nurtured from eroding down into the woods surrounding my house.

    Climate change and torrential downpours have not been kind to us here in North Carolina in the past few years. It may be time to find a nice quiet job in upstate NY, where the soil is still good, the weather is still somewhat stable–and there are like minded people.

    • Scott June 24, 2013 at 7:10 am #

      @mcubed. Have you considered terraced beds on your slope? I live in NC too and have just purchased some acreage which I will settle in a few years after I depart from suburbia. The soils there are not ideal but can be improved over time with compost. Also take a look at agro-forestry practices as this will give you ideas about how to utilize your land without having to clear all the trees – which of course hold the soil in place. There are pros and cons to working the land in the north and the south. Myself I prefer the climate of the south (especially wintertime) so will find a way to make my land work for us.

  9. Lidia June 16, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    mCubed, look into permaculture, which includes strategies for “making water walk, not run” off your property: terraces, Swales, and Keyline ploughing. Sepp Holzer’s latest book focuses on water.

  10. Azxylon June 17, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Great result Jim. Check out hugelkultur sometime if you are planning to expand your growing area in the future.

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  11. David June 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Word Press helps make another web site beautiful !!!
    Great job.
    Although your garden is the opposite of our unordered one, I do like it and have a few comments.

    Having created raised beds with pine, I can assure you that you will be replacing boards fairly often. We have a lumber mill down the road so we can get rough cut fairly cheap. Start shopping now because you have about 3-4 years before the bottoms crumble.
    I assume there is some fine mesh screen on the inside of the 4′ fence to keep out critters.
    We have given up on strawberries due to chipmunks undeterred by fences.
    Best Regards,

  12. Dan June 22, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Jim. Where are your chickens?

  13. ccm989 June 24, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Can’t wait to see the 2013 pictures of your veggie garden! Here at the Jersey Shore, I had to spend a LOT OF TIME cleaning up the mess Superstorm Sandy left us. The arbor with the gate that protects my veggie garden was crushed. Replaced it with a more substantial model and had to modify the bottom so the groundhogs won’t get in (there was a gap between the bottom of the gate and the ground that was just wide enough for a hungry chuck to squeeze in). The top of the wire fence is strung with twine to keep deer from leaping in. So far so good. The lettuce/strawberries/peas have been producing bumper crops of food. Tomatoes, cukes and zukes look like they will follow suit. Also our 3 pet hens have been busy laying eggs. Lots of omelettes and quiche in our table! Keep us posted on your garden’s progress! Always fun to compare!

  14. Andy M. July 1, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

    Your 2012 garden looked great! Mine got eaten by the local deer. I’ve put up a fence, and it’s looking much better for 2013.

    How about some pics? Screw finance and politics! How’s the small scale agriculture doing?

    Here’s to a future worth living!

  15. Lars July 4, 2013 at 10:55 am #

    The garden looks nice. Given the cost of construction, you -like me – will probably be harvesting tomatoes worth about $500 apiece, but with amortization, you may someday only be paying $5.00 apiece.
    Ah, but what price gardening! It is cheaper than therapy.

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    • anti dod August 4, 2013 at 1:21 am #

      I thought the same thing, when I saw the heavy earth moving equipment.

  16. Snowdenisahero July 5, 2013 at 5:54 am #

    James – I put off reading The Long Emergency for a long time mainly because I thought it would repeating was is already obvious – that we have hit peak oil and that we are mining the expensive dregs….

    But I did order and read it a few months ago – and it spurred me to take action.

    I work in Asia but am originally from Canada – I traveled to BC to find a hobby farm – just closed off on a 20acre spot in the mountains in the kootenays.

    When things go badly that is where my family and I will go. Hopefully they do not go too badly and everyone else goes there too.

  17. BROOMSGOAT July 5, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    Very nice. Ideas abound.

  18. slhreimer August 6, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Please post pics of 2013 garden!

  19. barbisbest August 15, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    Very nice garden James. Please post pictures of this year’s garden.
    And let us know how the fruit trees are doing. Better than ours, I hope.

  20. Max Bacon September 23, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    Fantastic garden. Well done. Nothing like eating you home grown veg.

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  21. ffkling September 30, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    Why have the tree that was taken down trucked off site? I would have left it in the woods to provide cover for the wildlife and naturally decompose.

  22. ejhr December 4, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    I had an award winning garden in Sydney which was based on natives and grasses. I now live in a flat.
    I also built timber terraces to give raised beds but I used treated pine sleepers [200x75mm] Drilling down through the middle of these boards one can drive in a length of reo to hold them in place. Or you can use star posts and notch out the ends to conceal them. This works for stacking the sleepers to get greater heights.
    They will last for many years.
    If this site takes photos I can put one or two up to show it.

  23. tallyhill September 14, 2016 at 5:24 pm #

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, Mr. Jim, PLEASE repost the photos in this old entry. The, apparently lovely, photos that illustrate your first attempts at Eden are sadly just a scatter of those impudent little blue ‘?’ boxes we all love.

    I doubt it is operator error, so fond am I of believing the technocratic fantasy of Mac perfection, but still.

    Garden p0rn without proper photos is just sad.

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  26. jameswarner54 February 11, 2021 at 6:36 am #

    I loved the tutorial. Thanks for sharing!
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  27. madmardigan August 5, 2021 at 8:42 am #

    I really admire this layout–if my property were not on a serious slope, I would attempt what you’ve done here, but alas, my whole focus is just trying to keep the good healthy soil I’ve nurtured from eroding down into the woods surrounding my house.

    Madison | San Antonio Tile Installation

  28. depthworld September 14, 2021 at 12:00 pm #

    I really enjoy reading your article, I also have a dream of Garden. Thanks for sharing.


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