Appalachia Gardening

Small Scale Gardening


small scale gardening

The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English offers the following definition for patch farming:

1972 Graham County 50 With the first stages of early clearing, the farmer did “patch” farming near the cabin. Many farmers today still speak of a “patch” of corn or other crops. The farmer gradually and systematically extended the patches into wider fields by each year extending his farming into a new area known as a “new ground.”

Back in the day when I first started gardening I read all sorts of books and magazines on the subject. I was fascinated by the articles which showed how much food could be produced in small raised beds. Typically the gardens profiled were in urban settings where there is less square footage to go around for gardening purposes.

In those days, we had even less flat land around our house than we do now so I thought my narrow little bank tops would be perfect for raised beds. I remember telling Pap about what I had been reading and he got this smile on his face. I said “What?” He said “Why Tip people around here have been growing gardens like that since I was a boy, only nobody called them raised beds. But every wife would have her a little garden patch right close to the house where it’d be handy for her to tend it and for them to eat from it too.”

Then Pap showed me, you don’t have to break the bank to build those little garden patches aka raised beds.

We found some 2-to 3 foot length tree branches The Deer Hunter had cut and thrown in the woods and used them for the sides. Pap showed me how to fill the bottom portion of the new patch with leaves and then dig a few buckets full of dark loamy soil from the edge of the woods to put on top.

In the years since Pap first showed me how to form little garden patches I’ve made them all over the yard-one here and one there gradually increasing their size and building up the soil all at the same time.

I’ve used all sorts of boards, logs, branches, and rocks to form the sides. Basically I used anything I could find that was handy. And I’ve discovered: if you’re able to fill the patch with 12 inches of good lose dark rich soil like the gardening books tell you to-GREAT. But if you’re like me and you’re really doing good to end up with 3 or 4 inches of so so soil it still works better than trying to grow vegetables on top of hard packed dirt. And if you’re short on gardening space those little patches here and there and can boost your vegetable production in an amazing way.


*Source Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English and Pap.


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  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    March 23, 2017 at 12:14 am

    My better half got the raised beds (patches) cleaned several weeks ago, while his RA was a bit calm…
    He debugged this week…We intend to add some more good loamy soil this year and work in with the old soil…My Mom would add her compost from scraps in her beds and dig in the spring…Since we live in the country we keep our compost heap quite away from the patches…we have critters that occasionally love to get in and dig up old peelings when the winter gets tough for them…I don’t mind too much a critter has to eat too…I just don’t want my patch turned over until the time is right! ha
    Great post, beautiful picture, wish we still had our big greenhouse…since it is just the two of us nowadays we have cut back on large gardens. Our raised beds have supplied us a lot of veggies thru the years….Well, last year we had the heat and drought and most all gardens of any type suffered!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    March 22, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Oh Tipper: I wish I was close enoughTO WALK to hear the girls’ performance! ENMW

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 22, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Not only do your raised beds allow you to grow your veggies, they provide a perfect home for a variety of worms and other critters that dig holes down in the ground underneath and carry organic material down into the poorer soil underneath. Stump dirt is the best soil amendment in the world.
    Even a big garden plot is just a conglomeration of contiguous patches. Having the patches separated allows easy access for planting, weeding and hopefully harvesting.
    It was 85° here yesterday. I stayed outside until after midnight. This morning it is chilly and breezy. It’s almost 1:00 PM and I ain’t been out of the house yet.

  • Reply
    March 22, 2017 at 11:49 am

    All those raised beds look so nice around the Greenhouse. That’s a lot of work, but so rewarding after it’s all done. Anyway, when it’s layed out and planned carefully, you can have everything a big garden has. Nice views. …Ken

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    March 22, 2017 at 9:26 am

    OH TIPPER! Your post this morning just made me more eager to get out and get to digging! “UNFORTUNATELY” I have to go to a lovely luncheon with a BUNCH OF LADIES who all graduated from Oliver Springs HIGH SCHOOL – just minutes from where I live! You could not find a finer group of friends – if you looked all over the State.
    My only ‘claim to fame’ with these fine ladies is THAT I WAS ONCE A PHYSICS TEACHER AT THEIR WONDERFUL OLIVER SPRINGS HIGH SCHOOL – long after they had graduated! But once in a while they ‘allow’ me to join them for lunch, and it is one of my favorite ‘social events’ ever!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    March 22, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Good morning, Tipper and Gang! As a child in a large family, we had a huge garden – it seemed like acres of maters and taters alone! Now, at almost 60 years of age, all I can reasonably manage is a small plot of vegetables and marigolds to keep the bugs away. I can grow enough to feed me and several of my neighbors, so that is fine by me.
    Much love from the riverbank in Marshall!

  • Reply
    March 22, 2017 at 9:18 am

    I am going to start a straw bale garden at my new home. As the bales decompose it will turn into raised bed gardens for next year. An economical way to start a garden 🙂

  • Reply
    March 22, 2017 at 9:02 am

    What a great idea! This is a more affordable way to do the same kind of gardening my parents did when I was growing up.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 22, 2017 at 8:21 am

    You did it again. I don’t recall the last time I heard ‘patch’ but it is like putting on a pair of my old faded jeans. Makes me think to of a ‘patch’ quilt and the patches I wore on my knees as a kid because, as Grandma said, I would “tear up ironworks”.
    I got my garden patch limed, fertilized and dug in before the wild thunderstorms last night. I wish I could order seeds through your link but I have root knot nematode in the garden and have to hunt for resistant varieties of plants. For the most part, they are not easy to find or seemingly don’t exist.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    March 22, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Tipper–The photo is a perfect example of one meaning of the word patchwork. As for building up or expanding patches year after year, Daddy did that with his main garden patch for some six decades. I can’t conceive of how many hundreds of bushels of leaves (mostly from massive white oaks nearby) went into that soil, along with ashes and a lot of other things, but the end result was fertile, easily tillable soil that goes deep enough to bury a tiller. Don continues Daddy’s approach and the little patch is still amazingly productive. Maybe he’ll share a photo of his Jack in the Beanstalk beans (actually Nantahala runner beans courtesy of Ken Roper) running to the top of canes to the point where you couldn’t even reach them on a step ladder.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 22, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Tip, I’ve been amazed at how much you grow in those kitchen garden patches of yours. You feed your family, can tomatoes, and still have enough to share with me. That is also the best place for sunlight.
    I’ll be there for the singing. It’s within walking distance from my house.

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