Garden Planning 2015

Last year was my first real year to have a vegetable garden that was more than simply a collection of pots on the deck.  It was a great experience and I learned a lot of lessons.  I grew a whole lot of food and failed at growing even more.  So looking ahead to 2015 also means looking back.

Last year, my most successful crop was cucumbers.  This was both good and bad.  It was good in the sense that now I have a dozen jars of homemade pickles on my pantry shelves.  But it was bad because I have a dozen jars of homemade pickles and I’m the only one in the family that likes pickles.  I had a total of 10 pickling cucumber plants and they produced with an abundance that I simply could not keep up with.

Lesson 1:  Plant what your family will eat.

Another source of frustration for me were the pest issues I faced.  You might remember the squirrels who dug up all of my garlic last year.  They continue to be a major problem.  My bare, winter garden looks like the face of the moon.  It is full of craters dug by their tiny rodent paws.  To add insult to injury, just after my tomatoes set their fruit, a deer hopped my fence and ate the entire crop of green tomatoes.  The delicious pizza sauce I managed to jar came from store bought tomatoes.  Depressing.  Animal pressure is clearly a major issue for my garden, and I will need to take more aggressive measures this year if I want my tomatoes and all of my other vegetables to survive.

I’ve come up with some plans.  I’d like to make a small frame with chicken wire stretched across it to fit down over each my raised beds.  My hope is that I will be able to plant through the holes in the chicken wire, but the squirrels will not be able to dig in it.  As for the deer, I have a neighbor who has had great success with a motion sensor sprinkler, so I think I will try this.  The trick will be getting the angle just right to keep the deer well away.  I hope that between these two barriers, the deer and squirrels will look for easier places to cavort.

As for 2015, I’m going to narrow my focus on the tomatoes and plant mostly sauce-type tomatoes.  Burpee has a hybrid called Supersauce that promises huge fruit (one tomato to fill a jar!) and great taste.  Considering that my store-bought tomatoes only gave me 4 meagre jars of pizza sauce, the idea of enormous and prolific fruit certainly appeals to me.

I’m also going to plant more hot peppers for my husband who is a capsaicin addict.  We’re going to try Biker Billy, the same Jalapeno as last year, Diabolito, and one called Sweet Heat.  Hopefully that will satisfy my husband’s need to set his mouth on fire!

After the squirrel fiasco, I am not attempting garlic.  This has nothing to do with the fact that I put off ordering it until it was too late to ship.  Nope.  Definitely not.  But I did manage to get some shallots, so I’m giving that a try.

For the kids, I got some Bush Baby watermelon seeds.  I’ve never grown a melon, but it will be fun for the kids to give it a try!

As for my other plans?  I’m not sure.  I’d like to grow some peas and beans, but the rabbits hit them so hard last year that it hardly seems worth it.  Considering the extreme measures I am taking for the deer, I will probably try and hope that it helps, but the loss of the peas was such a bummer that I’m not entirely sure if I have it in me this year.  Broccoli and Cauliflower were also a major disappointment (thanks squirrels) because not only did they just stay thin and reedy, but the bastard squirrels dug them up, too.  I will likely try those again, however, and see if purchasing actual plants from a nursery works out better than attempting to grow from seed.

I’ve sketched out a preliminary plan for my garden.  You can see that there are lots of blank spaces still, but it gives me an idea where the big stuff will go.

2015 garden plan

I’m looking forward to spring.  We’re in the middle of rain and snow today, so sitting down and planning a garden helps me think of greener and warmer days.

Are you doing a garden this year?  What will you be planting?

Finalized 2014 Garden Plan

As promised, here is my 2014 garden plan!  I am very excited  I’ve already got a few seeds in the ground.  For a list of the specific varieties, check out this post: Gardening has Begun!

Seeds that are already in the ground include Super Snappy pea, Fire ‘n Ice radish, red Swiss chard, and Yugoslavian Red lettuce.  I’m staggering my radish and pea plantings, so I will plant a couple more squares of these in the coming weeks.

In the front yard I’ve also planted my (shockingly expensive) Comfrey seeds and my skullcap.  Healing herbs y’all!  Comfrey is going in the front because it is toxic and I don’t want the kids and dogs eating it.  That stuff is for topical application only (bruises, bumps, etc).

Garden Plan

Gardening has Begun!

Today is an outside gardening day!  Remember, I’m doing Square Foot Gardening, so my gardening notes will be specific to that method.  For a quick refresher, check out this post from earlier in the year: Garden Planning for 2014: Square Foot Garden Intro

I bought all of my seeds online this year after consulting local websites to find out which varieties grow best in my area.  Here is what I will be planting and where I purchased it:


  • Artichoke: Lulu – 3 plants
  • Luffa – 1, seeds
  • Tomato: Black Krim, grafted – 3 plants
  • Tomato: Amish Paste – 2 plant, seeds
  • Tomato: Sunchola – 1 plant, seeds
  • Cucumber: Supremo Hybrid – seeds
  • Pea: Super Snappy – seeds
  • Lettuce: Yugoslavian Red – seeds
  • Lettuce: Braveheart – seeds
  • Radish: Fire ‘n Ice – seeds
  • Herb: Parsley, Single Italian Plain – seeds
  • Hot Pepper: Hot Lemon – seeds
  • Hot Pepper: Hot Jalepeno Early Organic – seeds
  • Carrot: Purple Dragon – seeds
  • Herb: Basil, Plenty – seeds, direct sow
  • Flower: Nasturtium, Vesuvius – seeds, direct sow
  • Strawberries: All Season Mix – 16, plants n/a
  • Flowers: Zinia, Queen Red Lime – seeds, direct sow

Seed Savers Exchange

  • Cauliflower: Early Snow – Seeds
  • Broccoli: DeCiccio – seeds
  • Cucumber: Parisian Pickling – seeds

Horizon Herbs

  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • German Chamomile
  • Echinacea Purpurea
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Marshmallow
  • Plantain
  • Skullcap
  • Thyme
  • Valerian
  • Comfrey
  • Feverfew
  • Thyme

According to my calendar, now is the time to plant cold weather crops like sweet peas, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and romanesco), beets, and radishes.

Today, however, in anticipation of a late snow tomorrow, I will hold off on planting and concentrate on getting Mel’s Mix (1/2 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost) into my last 2×6 bed.  I also need to complete the construction of my trellises.

For the trellises, I am following Mel’s directions almost exactly.  I constructed the frame out of 1/2″ electrical conduit that I had the people at Lowe’s cut to size for me.  I fit that over 48″ long rebar that I drove one foot into the ground.  I am tying nylon vegetable netting onto that frame.  Easy!

This is important:

One error I made with my original garden plan was failing to take into account the shadow cast by my trellis.  I had originally planned to put my trellises at the back of the garden beds.  Turns out, that’s the south side.  Bad idea.  So I am switching the trellises to the other side of the garden so they won’t throw as much shade over the plants.  This necessitates changing up my garden plans a bit, so once I get that finished, I will post the final garden plan for you all to see.

Planting too late. But you can see what an SFG looks like with the grid and the Mel's mix in place.
Shade is not my friend in this garden as I learned this fall.

Anyone else excited that gardening season has finally arrived?  How are you celebrating the return of Spring?

GARDEN PLANNING FOR 2014: SFG Design and Companion Planting

Thumbing through seed catalogues is both fun and overwhelming.  It’s got me alternating between pulling my hair out and rubbing my hands together with glee.  It’s hard not to feel in over your head if you’re starting your first real garden in a completely new climate, and you’re not sure what to plant, when and where.

Luckily, square foot gardening (SFG), which I talked about in my previous garden planning post, makes things much easier.  It’s just a matter of mapping out your squares!  And that’s exactly what I have been doing over the last few weeks.

A simple google search found a wonderful online SFG planning tool, which has been easier than graph paper for the time being.  It’s called the SFG Planner, and it allows you to draw your beds  and plug in what you want to plant  It even tells you how many plants per square to put in.

I started making my list of what to plant, and I really did stick with the advice to plant what you will eat.  This coming year, I will be planting:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Cauliflower
  • Radishes
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Romanesco
  • Parsley
  • Marigold
  • Hot peppers
  • Garlic
  • Strawberries
  • Bush beans
  • Carrots
  • Basil
  • Nasturtiums
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce
  • Watermelon

Seems like a whole lot in a very small space, but with the creative use of trellising for the vining crops, we can go vertical and gain lots and lots of space.

You may also notice that the plants I listed above are not all vegetables and fruit.  I’ve included several culinary herbs and a few flowers, but they all have a use.

They are all companion plants!  That is, they will help the other plants by repelling pests and helping to improve the soil.  For example, marigolds drive away any number of pests.  Not only that, but marigolds are… calendula!  Which is a wonderful healing herb with many uses for children.  Nasturtiums also repel pests and the flowers are good in salads.  Radishes repel cucumber beetles, and lettuces and nasturtiums improve their flavor and texture.  Basil makes tomatoes tastier.  And the list goes on!

Having my gardens laid out in squares makes companion gardening easy and allows me to plant friends close and keep enemies (like strawberries and broccoli) separated.

I still haven’t settled on the specific varieties that I will plant, but for the time being, this is a general look at how I will plant my garden in spring:  SFG Planner – Design Square Foot Garden online 

Have any of you started garden planning?  What’s going in your garden next year?  Have you had good luck with companion planting?  I’m eager to hear about your experience!


Garden Planning for 2014: Square Foot Garden Intro

On Monday, the high is supposed to be 3 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  With a low of -4.  And a windchill of Get Me the Hell Out of Here.  I suspect these are not even real numbers and the Weather Channel is having us all on.

Natually, this means I am longing for green things and warm spring days.  Couple this longing with the arrival of several lovely seed catalogs, and well, you see, it’s garden planning time!

This year, I will have a real, honest to goodness garden!  No pots (unless I want them), no containers.  Just down in the dirt digging and turning gardening.  For the past year, I’ve been studying the Square Foot Garden method developed by Mel Bartholomew.  I’ve been obsessively reading and rereading his book, All New Square Foot Gardening, and I have to say that I am so glad I got it on Kindle.  Otherwise the pages would be falling out by now!

In a nutshell, Square Foot Gardening (SFG) is a way to grow more food in less space with less work.  It is what my dad would refer to as intensive gardening, meaning you plant as much as you can in the space you have.  Mel instructs SFGers to use simple raised beds divided into square foot segments.  Into each segment goes his very specific soil mixture, called Mel’s Mix, which is really more of a rich growing medium: 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite.  Into that go your plants, which are laid out carefully, each within a square foot of space.  Spotting an SFG garden from a distance is easy.  You will see the bed divided into 1′ by 1′ squared, each square containing one type of vegetable, herb, or flower.

I was initially attracted to SFG because of the promise of growing a lot of food in a small space.  After reading Mel’s book, I was hooked by the ease at which SFGers can manage their gardens.  As Mel says, gardening in rows is well suited to large scale vegetable farming, but how many people are able to plant full rows of squash or carrots?  Most of us want a few squash plants, some tomatoes, a patch or two of carrots, and so forth.  Mel breaks down for his readers spacing, nutritional needs, and timing for growing a full-scale, but tightly packed garden in a four foot by four foot raised bed.  I really encourage anyone interesting in getting started with gardening or anyone interested in trying a new gardening technique to pick up a copy of this book and give it a read.  It’s an easy read, and his enthusiasm and passion are just so engaging.  He believes wholeheartedly in his gardening method and loves sharing the good news!

For a quick how-to (and yes, it really is this simple) on getting started with SFG, check out!

So this year, I am giving it a try.  I will have two 4′ by 4′ raised beds and one 2′ by 6′ raised bed, giving me the chance to plant 44 different squares of… well, whatever I want!  And this is in addition to empty beds the previous owners left us that will be reserved for a medicinal and culinary herb garden.

The beds were so simple to make.  Just 2 x 6 boards that I had the hardware store cut to length for me.  In my case, I also had them cut additional 1 foot lengths to make carrot risers which allow you to grow root crops that are deeper than 6 inches.

The Grasshopper and the lumber, down in the basement, ready for construction.
The Grasshopper and the lumber, down in the basement, ready for construction.

I just pre-drilled and screwed them together one weekday while Cricket was napping. It took me maybe 30 minutes, and that was following Mel’s instructions in the book to the letter.

A completed SFG 4x4 bed, ready for transport to the yard above.
A completed SFG 4×4 bed, ready for transport to the yard above.

Then, all that was left was to determine where I should put the beds in my yard and staple ground cloth in to keep the weeds out.  I followed Mel’s advice and put them right outside my back door where I will see them every day.  SFG gardens are pretty!  And when you hide your garden away at the back of the yard, it’s so much easier to forget it.

Right outside my backdoor, ready for Mel's Mix!
Right outside my backdoor, ready for Mel’s Mix!

I did make an attempt to get some fall crops in, and filled and planted one bed with various fall items.  But I was planting in mid-September, which is really too late.  I got a few cuttings of mesclun (baby lettuce) and a couple of radishes that I failed to ferment correctly and lost to mold, but other than that, it didn’t really produce anything.

square foot garden

Then the freezes started coming and I gave it up as a loss, deciding instead to concentrate on the spring.  With that in mind, I dropped in a couple of squares of garlic (more on that in a later post) which have to overwinter in the garden, and called it a season.

Snow filled my square after the wind blew my frost cover off. The bags of soil and things that were supposed to weigh it down didn't. The wind and cold were too much for it.
Snow filled my square after the wind blew my frost cover off. The bags of soil and things that were supposed to weigh it down didn’t. The wind and cold were too much for it.

So now, the big choices.  What do I put into my squares this spring?

It can be so easy to get caught up in all of the beautiful pictures and delicious descriptions of the seed catalogs.  But it’s important not to get carried away.  Plant what you will eat.  If you and your family aren’t big on tomatoes, don’t plant them.  If you know the kids simply will not eat turnips, skip it.  Plant what you eat.  That said, the beauty of SFG is that you can dedicate a square or two to trying new things.  Because it’s only one square, you don’t have to commit to an entire row.

For us, that means lots and lots of tomatoes, hot peppers, a few sweet peppers, green beans, lettuce, strawberries, and asparagus.  Unfortunately, the others in my family are a little more limited than I am in what kinds of veggies they like to eat. Hmph.  But like I said above, I can still give myself a square or two of the things I love, like Swiss chard and beets for smoothie-making.  And when the plant on one square is played out, well, it’s easy!  You pull it out, mix in a spadeful of compost, and pop in your next crop!

I can’t wait to try out this method!

Are any of you thinking of starting a garden this year?  Any experienced gardeners or SFGers out there?  Tell me about your experience or your big plans for the new year!