• Publishers' Note Spring 2009

    Publishers' Note Spring 2009

    Let’s look at what we Vermonters might eat on a typical day in, say, March. Hot steaming oatmeal with dried apples and maple syrup starts the day. For lunch, we make a soup with root vegetables and barley—and of course we’ll add a slice of multigrain bread. Finally, dinner consists of baked beans, sausage, and sauerkraut. And during the cooking process for all these meals, we would inevitably use salt and oil.

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  • Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    Bartered, Smuggled, and Bought

    When the Upper Valley Localvores took their first 100–mile diet challenge in August 2005, we came upon a serious stumbling block. No local salt! Tomatoes and corn–on–the–cob were abundant, but oh, we needed salt. Fortunately, one of our members had vacationed in Maine and brought back a precious supply of sea salt. It made us wonder what our Upper Valley ancestors had done for salt.

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  • The 9' x 12' Vegetable Garden

    The 9' x 12' Vegetable Garden

    If you’re able to devote 15 minutes a day to gardening and are willing to give up a piece of your lawn roughly the size of the parking space for your car, you can grow a significant amount of good food—food that is organic, food that is tasty, food that is healthy. During World War II, Americans started “victory gardens,” growing up to 40 percent of their fresh produce. In these tough economic times, it again makes sense for us to grow some of our own food.

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  • Vermont’s Newest Grain?

    Vermont’s Newest Grain?

    People are often surprised to hear that rice can be grown in Vermont. After all, this grass is known as a tropical plant. But cultivated rice, first domesticated 6,000 years ago, is divided into two subspecies: O. sativa ‘indica,’ which is the long–grain type (such as jasmine or basmati) grown in tropical southern regions, and O. sativa ‘japonica,’ which is a shorter, rounder grain that is more cold tolerant. Japonica rice has been grown in Japan, of course, but also in more surprising temperate climates, such as the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Romania.

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  • Set the Table with Peasant Food

    Set the Table with Peasant Food

    Many people say they don’t buy into the localvore movement because local food is “elitist.” ?Yet some of the world’s great cuisines—Chinese, Italian, country French, Indian—have their roots among people who had the least to work with: peasants. What can we learn from peasant cultures that can help us eat both economically and locally at the same time?

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  • Who Will This Feed?

    Who Will This Feed?

    Imagine yourself in the future—say the spring of 2016. Farmers and growers in Vermont are planting numerous varieties of grains, as well as oilseed crops. What are they growing? And when it’s time for harvest, who—or what—will these crops feed?

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  • Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Spring

    Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons: Spring

    The 1860s were a tumultuous time for the Robinsons. Rachel Gilpin Robinson, wife of Rowland Thomas Robinson, passed away in 1862, shortly after dismissing longtime housekeeper Naomi Griswold from service. Because Rachel and Rowland’s daughter, Ann Robinson Minturn, was living far from her family in Waterloo, NY, Rachel’s death meant that a large home and farm were left in the hands of an aging father and his two bachelor sons, along with a new, unfamiliar housekeeper and a revolving cast of hired men who sometimes lived on the farm.

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  • Jack Lazor and the Graining of Vermont

    Jack Lazor and the Graining of Vermont

    Jack Lazor is the first to admit he’s got his fingers in a lot of pies. He says so with a chuckle, his gentle eyes sparkling like the bright mid–afternoon sun reflecting off newly fallen snow. Among his “pies” are grain–growing experiments to find varieties that thrive in Vermont, infrastructure development for the processing and storage of staple foods like beans and cooking oils, and a plethora of workshops in which he shares what he’s learned in his 30 years of farming.

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  • The Return of the Root Cellar

    The Return of the Root Cellar

    The globalized food chain that Americans have increasingly relied on for over 50 years has begun to show its weaknesses—and inevitable failure. There are many weak links in the chain, but the weakest are storage and distribution. These aspects of modern food production contribute significantly to energy consumption: fossil fuel is required to ship food from far away, to keep food fresh during long–distance transport, and to store food over a long period of time. How can we opt out of this destructive system?

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  • The Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op

    The Winooski Bean Thresher Co–op

    I moved to Vermont in 1989 with a desire to garden and build a self–sufficient life—values I inherited from my mother. As I began growing food for myself and friends, I naturally started out with the basics, also known as “the three sisters” native to the Americas: corn, beans, and squash. I grew winter squashes, Maine black turtle beans, and sweet corn—or at least tried to. The crows plucked up nearly every corn seed that sprouted from the earth, and the cucumber beetles attacked my squash plants.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Spilling the Beans

    Farmers' Kitchen—Spilling the Beans

    A rustic wooden bin filled with black beans sits on our table at the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. Some delighted customers march right up and serve themselves heaping bags full. Others slowly approach our stand to see what’s in the bin. These folks are either disappointed that we’re not selling what appeared to be roasted coffee beans or, more often, they just stand and contemplate the implications of a purchase. Cooking beans is a new and time–consuming activity for most. But people are often excited to learn that dry beans are being grown in Vermont, and many are surprised to know that it’s even possible in our climate.

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  • Last Morsel—Robert King

    Last Morsel—Robert King

    Robert King is renowned in southeast Vermont for his vast knowledge of gardening and the many workshops he leads to teach people how to grow their own food. His longtime friend Ron Krupp recently interviewed him about his life. This is a portion of that interview.

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The 9' x 12' Vegetable Garden

Some basics on how to start a plot of your own

Henry Homeyer gardening
Henry Homeyer preparing the garden

Written By

Henry Homeyer

Written on

March 01 , 2009


If you’re able to devote 15 minutes a day to gardening and are willing to give up a piece of your lawn roughly the size of the parking space for your car, you can grow a significant amount of good food—food that is organic, food that is tasty, food that is healthy. During World War II, Americans started “victory gardens,” growing up to 40 percent of their fresh produce. In these tough economic times, it again makes sense for us to grow some of our own food.

First, you will need some tools—at minimum a shovel, a garden fork, a garden rake (the kind with short tines), a hand tool for weeding, and a watering can or hose. You will also need to buy some compost and a bag of organic fertilizer, plus a few plants from your local farmstand or garden center, and some seeds. The second year you will just have to buy the plants (or get some from friends), and perhaps you will need a few more seeds, although most packets have more than enough for several years of small gardens, and most seeds last three years or more.

I recommend getting your soil tested by the UVM Agricultural Testing Lab before you begin. You can download the instructions and a form from the Web at www.uvm.edu/pss/ag_testing/SoilTestQuestVegEtc.pdf. (If you’re not web–connected, you can call them at 802–656–3030.) The test will tell you what minerals your soil has, although it will not tell you about nitrogen, and everybody needs some nitrogen every year. Look carefully at the percentage of organic matter that your test reveals—lawns are generally low, but you need 4 percent or more to do well. Aim for 8 percent. Also get your soil tested for lead and heavy metals, especially if the plot is near an old house that may have been painted with lead paint. You might have to move the garden to a different site if the lead levels are too high.

The hard part of starting a new garden in a lawn is getting rid of the sod. No, you don’t want to rent a rototiller to make it disappear. Chopping up the grass does not get rid of it! Even a scrap of root is enough to start a new grass plant. So you must dig it all out. Starting in April when the lawn dries out, you can slice through the sod with a shovel and cut it into one–foot squares. Pry out each square with a garden fork or weeding tool, shake off any topsoil attached to the roots, and save the sod for your compost pile.

I like a tidy garden so when I make a garden in a lawn, I want the edges parallel and the corners square. You can do this by using string, stakes, a measuring tape, and a carpenter’s framing square. If the sides are equal (and the diagonals are too), your garden is a nice rectangle.

You can then build boxes to contain the soil and your plants, although that is an added investment in time and money. Gardeners Supply Company (www.gardeners.com or 802–660–3500) sells a variety of items for making these sorts of raised beds. Or you can just make a garden that consists of two mounded raised beds of soil with a walkway down the middle.

To make the raised beds you need to loosen the soil that you exposed when you removed the sod. Use a garden fork, plunging it in and pulling back on it to loosen the soil. Then rake the loosened soil into beds. Start by raking the soil away from the edges of the lawn, creating a 6–inch perimeter around the edge of the garden. This will remain a moat that keeps the grass from creeping in. Then create a walkway up the middle of the garden, raking soil toward each of the two beds.

Because lawns generally are on pretty crummy soil, you will need to add compost. Lots of compost. I recommend buying a good grade of composted cow manure such as Moo–Doo, which is made in Middlebury. Moo–Doo comes in 30–qt. bags, and you will need 4 to 5 bags of it for each of your two beds. Dump it on top and mix it into the soil. When you are done, you are almost ready to plant.

The last addition to the soil is some bagged organic fertilizer. Pro–Gro, made in Bradford, is excellent. Unlike chemical fertilizer that only has nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (plus lots of filler), organic fertilizers are made from a variety of natural ingredients such as seaweed, oyster shells, compost, peanut hulls, and alfalfa meal. These ingredients provide the three basic minerals, plus a dozen more—the micronutrients. You will probably have to buy a 25–pound bag, which is more than you need, but you will need some every year. You’re investing in your soil and your garden. Sprinkle about six cups of it on each bed and stir it into the top three inches with a hand tool.

Lastly, mulching the garden, once planted, can be a big time saver. Put down six pages of newspaper and a layer of grass clippings, leaves, or straw. Few weeds will then bother you. It helps conserve water, too.

In one of these little gardens that I created for two elderly women last summer, I planted two tomatoes, some carrots and onions, two broccoli, three peppers, a teepee of pole beans, one zucchini, six Swiss chard plants, and a cucumber plant on a small trellis. We also got eight heads of lettuce early in the summer that grew around the tomatoes. The plants produced well, supplying more than enough for the two women eating the food. So have at it. Start small, and visit the garden daily. Pull a weed, water when the soil is dry, and pick your beans and zucchini—before they get too big! It’s as easy as that.

Photo of Henry Homeyer by John Hession


About the Author

Henry Homeyer

Henry Homeyer

Henry Homeyer is the author of four gardening books and, due in September from Bunker Hill Publishing, a children’s chapter book: a fantasy-adventure called Wobar and the Quest for the Magic Calumet. 

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.


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