May 23, 2015 · 4 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

My parents’ back yard is no longer a 1,010-square-foot blank slate. In between spending a couple of weeks with a cold that knocked me on my behind, and then moving, and then going through all my things to get rid of as much stuff as I could, I managed to double-dig the back yard, build some planter boxes and get some seedlings in the ground.

This has been exciting and daunting all at the same time — exciting because we have so much space to work with. Daunting because, well, we have so much space.

Our original plan was to plant ALL of it, and then I saw the folly of that. I’m not so concerned about caring for the plants once they’ve gotten going and have formed a lush, giving outdoor grocery store. However, having to double-dig 1,010 square feet of backyard space didn’t seem like a good idea.

A tactic of the Grow BIOINTENSIVE method is to loosen the soil to a depth of two feet, digging out a 1-foot-deep trench, loosening the next foot underneath that, then repeating that all down the area that will become the raised bed. Translated, it would be a metric buttload of work, possibly followed by three solid days full of the inability to move.

Don’t even get me started on the allergy attacks.

Anyway, recognizing the inherent difficulty of that, I decided not to clear the whole back yard. We built planter boxes that have eased us into backyard farming, and instead of 1,010 square feet of digging, I wound up doing 141 square feet of it. It still took me days.

Luckily, there are already some perennial plants back there that will stay and benefit from my love and care.

There’s a rather large and thriving orange tree that the chickens will live next to, when we eventually get them. They’ll get to frolic underneath it while, I’m sure, fertilizing it.

There’s the rosemary that my dog has pooped on, because my dog likes to poop on bushes. My mom has since sequestered that plant from the wayward hound, and he is staying out of the boxes of veggies.

There’s the baby fig, which already has some figs on it.

There’s the reckless raspberry, which pretends to die back every year, but comes back twice as strong. We believe it has grown under the fence into the neighbor’s back yard, because, you know, it’s a bramble. You’re welcome, neighbor.

And then there’s the recalcitrant grape. This grape has been my dad’s pet project, and it has been stingy at best with its fruit. It’s been a puzzle as to why, but this past year, after more than 7 years of trying, it finally gave some grapes that were edible, and really quite yummy. Now that my dad has gotten it functioning, I’ll just reap the rewards and pretend like I had something to do with it. Heh.

So, that’s what was there, and now there’s so much more, and I STILL have space.

About a month ago, I hit up a local plant extravaganza put on by the UC Master Gardeners here in good ol’ San Jose, and while we tried to start a lot of the plants from seeds, we didn’t have the best luck there, so getting some plants already started really made the difference. Plus, the plant sale let me get some interesting, heirloom and hard-to-find varieties that you can’t get when you buy your seeds at Home Depot (organic, non-GMO, but still, pretty run-of-the-mill).

My favorite? A lettuce plant named “Frizzy-headed Drunken Woman.” It’s me, in lettuce form!

So, anyway, the better way to let you know where we are is just to show you in pictures.

colleen and kira

Me and the Munchkin, with a planter box in the background

mom and colleen

My mom and my daughter get to work pulling weeds in the planter boxes so I could dig them


Getting those seedlings going


Plants for sale at the UC Master Gardener annual plant sale.

tomato cages

Multi-colored tomato cages. Pepper plants and basil are also in this box.

baby basil

Baby basil: Isn’t it cute?


Corn in the box. We started corn from seeds.

salad box

The salad box includes the small lettuce starts I bought, plus cucumber and carrot plants we started from seed.


A bounty of lettuce! Our first harvest is a couple salads worth of lettuce. Yum!


Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.