Early garden planning 2021

This year it's time to put in a proper garden at the house.

We've already prepared the west side, installing a little sidewalk around the garage with some place to plant flowers and maybe some vegetables. The backyard, though, is where the real work will happen.

The project to flatten the backyard—installing a retaining wall behind the deck and some steps down from the garage back door— is getting... well, it is less unfinished than it was a few weeks ago. The wall is in good shape, but the steps need more time. And there is still a huge pile of dirt ("dirt"... more like clay) from the excavation piled up in the yard. That all needs to be pulled sideways to being leveling the lower side of the sloped yard, and some of the high side of the yard still needs to be dug out to bring it to level. Hopefully that will all be finished in a few weeks, before spring arrives

Let's consider finishing the hardscaping as Project 0—finishing the shape and size of the garden.

Speaking of the pile of dirt/clay: that needs to be fixed to grow anything well, even grass. It's awful. We planted a few potatoes last year, and the only one that grew only made it to about 2 in x 3 in (5 cm x 7 cm). That's it. That's as far as it could push the dirt around it to grow. Some of the other plants grew with ridiculously small root systems. That's it. That's as far as they could push the dirt.

So that's Project 1: fix the dirt. Probably that means raised beds for growing, at least in the short term. Long term, something should be done to build a good layer of dirt on top of the clay.

Project 2 is the most interesting for me: plant interesting seeds. I'm looking for old varieties—heirloom seeds and Missouri natives, plants that are the very definition of the place. I'm not against the modern hybrids, it's just that I can buy those at any grocery store, so they're not as interesting. (And they don't taste as good.)

Project 3: optimize placement. How do I keep fruit and flowers going in multiple seasons? How do I keep tall things from blocking small things? How do I mix plants to keep them from attracting pests? How do I get bees to come and help pollinate things?

Project 4: introduce automated monitoring and controlling. It's not necessary, it's just interesting. Why not teach the garden to decide when it needs water—and then water itself. How can I take data about which areas of the backyard get sun at which times on which days? Where does the rain fall, and where does it get blocked by the trees overhead? Which spots get hotter and cooler, more and less humid. How can you sense the health of a plant—size, color, chemical properties in the soil—and have it call for help? Can I power everything with solar panels? Can I store rainwater and use it instead of watering everything from the tap?

Left to my own devices, I would probably turn the entire backyard into some weird jungle garden. Fortunately I live with someone who has taste (and a degree in biology), so we might be able to turn it into something good.

Some resources I've found so far to answer a few of these questions:

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