What’s Happening in the Garden? June Update

In June, the garden really starts rocking. See what warm weather veggies are taking off and which cool weather vegetable need to be taken out.

Our vegetable garden has really taken off in the last month, and the kids, especially Cricket, have had a ball taking care of it.

We had a few setbacks. Judy Hopps, the rabbit living under our deck, paid our tomatoes a visit one night and snipped off all the leaves.

Rabbit damage to garden Tomatoes

This was a hard blow because I grow paste tomatoes exclusively for canning my homemade pizza sauce at the end of the year, and most big box stores only sell slicing and cherry tomatoes. My husband called all over town to find a nursery that sells paste tomatoes and surprised me with them one afternoon after work. That’s love!

They new tomato plants are growing well. They’re getting tall and all of them have produced flowers.

garden tomato flowers

Some of them already have green tomatoes!

garden green tomatoes

We re-planted the strawberries this year to a different spot in hopes of containing their aggressive spreading a bit more easily. I hope the paper mulch I put down will keep them under better control. They got super invasive the last two years! We’ve already had a delicious round of berries, and we’re hoping the next crop comes in soon.

Spring Square Foot Garden strawberries

Cricket discovered pickled okra this year, so she decided that we had to plant some of that. I’ve never grown okra before, so it should be interesting to see what comes up. I remember as a kid having to avoid the okra in my dad’s garden because of how spiny it is.

Square Foot Garden Okra

 

Check out this huge pepper!

garden pepper sweet sunset

I kid you not, this beauty is 10 inches long! It looks like a hot pepper, but it’s really sweet. It’s almost ready to harvest. Once it blushes, I’ll pick it. I can’t wait to taste it!

We also grew broccoli. Briefly. Until the caterpillars got into it. I have never been able to grow brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.). The worms here are just too bad.

broccoli caterpillars garden pest

I ended up just pulling it out, chopping it up, and composting it. At least it will give back to the garden in that way.

By far, our most exciting crop has been the sweet corn! I had always thought that it was impossible to grow corn in a small space, but I decided that since we had an empty bed due to crop rotation, that we could give it a try.

square foot garden corn

Since I planted it, it has really grown!

square foot garden corn 2

I had some problems with the stalks getting yellow, but a good dose of Miracle Grow vegetable fertilizer seems to have solved that!

I can’t wait to eat fresh, warm from the sun, sweet corn this year! It truly is a family favorite!

Of course, I’ve also included some plants for the butterflies. This is echinacea purpurea, a Missouri native I got last year at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House plant sale.

garden echinacea pollinator

Echinacea (also called Coneflower according to my mother) is not only great for butterflies, but in the winter, the dried seed heads provide an important food source for hungry birds!

I love growing food for my family, and I love teaching the girls where their food comes from. This garden season has been the most fun yet!

 

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Because of the work I do for Monsanto, I got the chance to take home some of the vegetable plants and seeds in my garden. I was not asked to write this post and all opinions are my own.

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A Garden for 2016

I’ve been delaying and delaying on working in my garden this year, and I don’t know why. For some reason, the thought of all the work fills me with dread. Working in the dirt and nurturing the plants always feels so healing but this year, I just can’t seem to motivate myself to get out there.

There’s tons of work that I need to do.

  • Make new soil for the square foot garden
  • Pull out last year’s dead tomatoes
  • Pull out the strawberries which are just completely out of control and taking over both big beds
  • Move the trellises to the other side of the beds to rest the soil
  • Pull out the chives with the really weird leave shape that volunteered last year
  • Put down weed cloth because weeds. Ugh.
  • Decide what (aside from the 6 tomatoes and 3 hot peppers I ordered) I will plant

And on and on and on.

Maybe I’m just overwhelmed. Maybe every time I start to get spring fever, the weather pulls a 180 on me and gets cold again.

Right now, my garden is not the lovely, bountiful vision that I had when I built it. Yeah, I know. It’s still practically winter, but last year it wasn’t so great either. Maybe I’m just fatigued by the whole thing. Maybe it’s that I’m the only one in the family who’s excited about the garden. (Although, I would like to point out that everyone in my family appreciates the tomato sauce I put up in the fall!) Who knows. All I know is that I need to get my rear in gear.

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?

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:

Burpee

  • 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 SquareFootGardening.org!

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!

Resolutions for 2014

The solstice has passed.  The last day of December has gone to bed.  The days are getting longer.  It’s all uphill from here.  Things are full of promise and hope at the start of the new year.

What do I hope for in the new year?  Well, lots of things, I suppose, which is why I’m going to make a resolution or two.

Nonviolent Communication

A post or two back, I mentioned Nonviolent Communication.  I haven’t started the book or the workbook, but they have it set up into a self-study. You read a chapter each week, month, or two weeks, and then work through that segment of the workbook.  I am planning to start that the first week of January, and I may be joined by a friend for a small group study.  I’m still deciding on timing, but I think either a chapter per month or every other week will work for my schedule.  A chapter each week is too ambitious for me, I think.  A chapter each month will give me time to get the reading done, practice, work in the workbook, and, of course, blog about it.

Which brings me to my next resolutions…

Blogging

I really kind of abandoned this blog for a while last year.  And through it all, my core readers stuck around.  For that, I am so grateful.  And I’m sorry.  Because there were so many blog-worthy things that I did.  I learned to bake bread, made kombucha, made sauerkraut (which was amazing by the way), moved across the country, learned all about square foot gardening, built three raised bed gardens, learned to be a stay at home mom, sucked at housework, and about a million other things.  This year, I will be better.  This year, I will share these things with you all.  You can expect to hear about the following this year:

  • the whole Nonviolent Communication thing
  • more bread baking (can’t wait to share with you the awesome technique I learned last year!)
  • Square Foot Gardening
  • Garden planning, including companion planting, which I’ve never done before
  • Cooking, even though I take really terrible food pictures
  • The kids
  • Fermentation
  • And goodness knows what else

So, I will definitely try to be better.  Writing helps heal my soul, so it’s important that I keep it up and keep my mind limber.

And for something more tangible:

Garden

Yes, the garden.  It’s ready to go for spring. I need to decide what to plant and when and how and where.  I’ve got big ideas and plenty of space and I know that you will be hearing more about it soon.  It will include veggies, culinary herbs, healing herbs, and some more surprising items that we don’t usually see here in the midwest, but that I miss so desperately from California.  I will also include space for my kids to run, play, pick and eat what they want, and be outside enjoying nature and learning where our food comes from.

Really, these don’t seem like big resolutions.  I’m not promising to join a gym or lose weight or run a marathon or organize my life or anything like that.  But I do hope that, like last year’s resolutions, these small steps will lead to big changes for the new year for all of us.

Do you have any resolutions this year that you would like to share?

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!