Grit Blogs > City Gal Moves to Oz Land

Learning the Fine Art of Gardening (Again)

A photo of Oz GirlThe subtitle for this post should be: What We WON'T Do in Next Year's Garden.

We decided our first-year garden would be small.  Small space still equals big work.  My husband and I have both gardened in our past lives, but it's been so long ago ... we realized our little garden would be a re-learning experience. The ultimate goal is to enlarge our garden each season so that eventually it will be a garden befitting the 27 acres it sits upon.  Who knows, maybe there are farm markets and CSAs in our future!

I digress with my hopes and dreams, so back to our small garden and our first year results.

Our plot measured only 15 by 16 feet.  We planted corn, cucumbers, green beans, radishes, and several varieties of tomatoes and peppers.  A few renegade marigold plants rounded out the small plot.  We were looking forward to a summertime of grilling and eating our own sweet corn on the cob ... canning every conceivable pickle flavor a person could think of ... fresh green bean salad and extra beans for preserving ... spicy radishes in our salads ... and tomatoes and peppers for our own fresh-from-the-garden spaghetti sauce and salsa.

Our small garden in June

Some of our dreams came true, while others did not.

Sweet corn
Score: Humans - 0, Weather - Home run
The temps in Kansas this summer were scorching.  Despite our best efforts and watering the garden every single morning, the corn just didn't make it.
Our didn't-quite-make-it corn

A definite home run for us.  We've had cucumbers coming out our ears!  I have canned bread 'n butter pickles, dill pickles, refrigerator dills, Christmas Red Pickles, and sweet relish.  We haven't bought a grocery store cucumber since May. And there are still more cukes coming.
Preserved Cucumbers

Green Beans
Nope.  Didn't make it.  I think the zombie bunnies got 'em at night.  We would see small new beans sprouting, but then in a few days, they would disappear.
Baby Green Bean

Lots of radishes.  So many to harvest all at once, I had to take some to work and give to fellow employees.  After all, you can't preserve radishes for future use!

Pepper Plants
Jalapeño, sweet and bell peppers.  Sadly, they are being crowded out by our tomato plants.  Last year I had several pepper plants in pots (serrano and chile) and they did marvelous.  I'm still using some of the frozen peppers from last year's harvest.  This year I have harvested only one jalapeño.

Tomato Plants
Roma, Big Beef and Jetsetter varieties.  They have grown into massive plants and I have staked them every which way, with string running from stake to stake, trying to hold them all up.  I have harvested several small batches and made spaghetti sauce, but we haven't had one large harvest wherein I could preserve tomatoes for future use.  Yet.  There are a lot of green ones out there and I'm hoping they ripen simultaneously.
Tomatoes - ready to harvest soon

Renegade Marigolds
Grew into small bushes.  Huge. Will definitely plant more flower varieties in garden next year.
Bush marigolds

Here are the lessons we have learned and will apply to next year's garden.

1. Give the cukes their own space. They tend to invade anything within 2 feet.  We will plant them separately from everything else in our garden next year.  We will have a separate cucumber garden, with regular cucumber varieties and pickling cukes.

2. Do not fudge on spacing. We wanted to plant so many different things in our small space, we fudged on plant spacing – if it said plant 2 feet apart, we planted 1.5 feet apart.  Don't do it.  If anything, plant further apart than the seed or plant instructions indicate.  Give every single plant adequate space to flourish.

3. Be sure to thin out plants when seedlings are tall enough.  We thinned everything, but again, we fudged.  It is one of the hardest things in the world to pick healthy plants and toss them so the remaining plants have room to grow.  But you MUST do it.  It's imperative so the remaining plants are healthy and the resulting veggies are large enough to eat.

4. Be sure to use tomato cages to help contain your tomato plants.  We neglected to do this, and our tomato plants are all over the garden.  I've been weeding the perimeters of the tomatoes and staking and stringing haphazardly to keep the fruit off the ground.  Also, nip back the side growth to help the plants grow tall in the beginning, then once they've reached the desired height, start nipping them from the top to encourage them to bush out. (I received the nip tip from my son the other day – he's reading The Backyard Homestead.)

5. Fence the garden. Protect it from the bunnies and other wildlife.  We were going to do this, but somehow just didn't find the time.

6. During the winter, I need to read and research plant diseases and insects more thoroughly.  I'm pretty sure these are nematodes on the roots of my tomato plants (see photo), but that's about all I know.  Why they appear, how they affect your plants (or do they affect the plants? I'm still harvesting tomatoes!) and how you prevent them are unknown to me.

Root Nematodes?

Fall Garden Plans

Since our temps have finally cooled down from the 100s to the 70s and 80s, I'll be cleaning up the garden over the next week.  I hope to plant our fall garden by the middle of next week – lettuce, radishes, and pickling cucumbers.  (I'm determined to preserve even more cucumbers before winter is here.)  I'm going to fortify the soil before I plant the fall garden, and I'm also going to use Sea Magic Organic Growth Activator.  I've read rave customer reviews about this product on Burpee's website.

We also need to determine where the strawberry beds will be and get that area ready for next spring by killing the grass and turning the dirt.  Decision needs to be made – raised bed, or not?

2011 Garden Plans

We'll be planting a strawberry bed in addition to our veggie garden.  We're also going to get serious about building a few good compost piles.  We started a pile last year, using horse manure, but neglected to turn it or add other organic matter to the pile.  Just horse manure alone a good compost pile does not make!

Lavender beds are a must in my 2011 plans, as I would love to dry my own lavender and make my own potpourri and sachets for gift-giving.  If there's enough lavender, I will sell the extra locally or on

Final garden summary: It's been a great re-learning experience for both of us. I think it's safe to say we're looking forward to Gardening 2011 - both the expansion and our renewed efforts to grow a bigger and better harvest!

oz girl
8/27/2010 10:08:59 AM

Hi Dave! I agree with you on the sweet pickles ... I'm not a big fan of them either. I'm a dill pickle fanatic. I grew some dill this year, but I let the black swallowtail caterpillars have at it. Next year, I won't be so wildlife friendly, lol -- had a hard time finding fresh dill when I went to make my dill pickles. Sounds like your cukes went crazy like ours did. And I'm getting plenty of tomatoes, the plants look fine, it's just down by the ground the stems/roots look odd. We watered almost every day during the heat too, so I'm really not sure what it might be! I guess not to worry as long as the plants are doing good, huh? Thanks for coming by, and have a great weekend! :-)

nebraska dave
8/27/2010 8:47:54 AM

Oz Girl, Here in Nebraska it seemed that everything that grew on a vine or a tree produced prolifically. My cucumbers grew huge numbers of cukes and it was difficult to give them away fast enough. I tried to make some Bread and Butter pickles with the Mrs. Bushes pickle mix from the big box store and they turned out OK but I must not be a fan of sweet pickles. Dills rule in my pickle life. Next year I certainly want to grow some dill weed in my garden. It would be for the pickles and just for the smell. Mom plants dill all the time and now it reminds me of life in the garden when I was a young kid. The fruit trees here are bearing so much fruit that the branches have to be supported or they will break. My neighbor’s pear tree had three pears last year but this year it’s loaded with pears. There has to be hundreds of them. My tomatoes were once again great this year when others were struggling with problems. I think the secret to raising good tomatoes is consistency with the watering. I have mine set up on automatic timers mostly because of my travels during the gardening year. Each tomato gets about a gallon of water at the root zone every day during the hot part of the summer. The tomatoes are nice blemish free and juicy when cut open. The race between the tomatoes and the cucumbers to reach the top of the support structure was won by the tomatoes. Have a great garden harvest day.

oz girl
8/27/2010 7:49:39 AM

Hi Cindy, thanks for reading my gardening post, and a big thanks for your suggestion re: our tomato plants. I checked out the link and you could be right... in the beginning, I kept the garden watered. Then, when the mosquitoes were eating me alive, my husband took over watering duties. We tried to water every morning, but missed some mornings. When the heat started climbing into the 100s, we tried to be more diligent about watering... maybe we DID water too much! The one thing different about our tomato plants and the info at the link - our plants aren't withering and dying! On the contrary, they've grown into rather large bushes. Looking back and re-assessing, I guess watering every day doesn't really compensate for 100-degree heat. It is what it is, and the garden can only do the best it can in severe heat. Maybe we can install large fans next year. Haha! At this point, I'm really looking forward to cleaning up the garden and planting a fall harvest. The temps are finally mild and pleasant, 70s and 80s. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping the fall garden does a little better! :-)

cindy murphy
8/26/2010 11:17:14 PM

Hi, Oz Girl. Great post! I love reading about other people's gardens, and what they've learned; sharing it makes us all better gardeners. I totally agree with your comment to Mountain Woman - sometimes what our gardens produce is completely out of our hands. Stuff we've grown for years that has always been bountiful, will one year barely yield a couple servings. Other things the same year will thrive. This year the bountiful in our garden was green beans; the big disappointment was gourds and squash. I think I can help with your nematode problem on your tomatoes. Actually, I'm almost positive it has nothing to do with nematodes at all. Nematodes are worms - most are microscopic and live in your soil. There are beneficial nematodes, and those that are harmful. The node looking things on the stems of your tomatoes are not harmful to the plant, but may be a sign of excessive water or humidity (which can be harmful to the plant). The plant's response to the excess water is to push out roots - even above ground. Here's a link that explains it way better than I can:

oz girl
8/26/2010 3:11:33 PM

Shannon, the Christmas pickles, or red pickles as I call them, aren't really pickles at all! This is the first time I've made them and tasted them, and they are absolutely delicious. My husband wanted me to make them, as he had good memories of his mom making them when he was young. I found his mom's recipe, and then did a search online through Allrecipes (search for Christmas Red Pickles), and found the exact same recipe there. It's a 3 day process -- you peel and deseed the cukes, cutting them into half-moon shapes the first day and get them soaking in lime and ice overnight. The second day is the labor intensive day of making the red sauce which has red hots and cinnamon sticks. The 3rd day you hot-water process them. When you taste the final product, you would swear you are eating a crispy, cinnamon flavored apple! Delightful, and perfect as a gift for family members.

s.m.r. saia
8/26/2010 2:44:19 PM

Ah, Oz Girl, perhaps it's just been a bad year for corn. We didn't really get any decent ears either. Your pickles and relishes look awesome. You know, I've made relish out of green tomatoes and peppers for a few years now but it never occurred to me to do that with cucumbers! What is a Christmas pickle? Whatever it is, it's pretty! Thanks for sharing what you've learned!

oz girl
8/26/2010 1:13:24 PM

Hi Mountain Woman, thanks for popping by! :-) I have a feeling that even when one becomes an experienced gardener, there will still be seasons when one plant will explode with a huge harvest, while another won't fare as well, due to factors beyond our control, e.g. weather. But it is definitely a learning experience, and a rather enjoyable one I think. I have heard of diluting the horse poo with water and letting it steep... I may have to try that, since we have lots of horse poo, lol. Since my husband's daughter will be moving from WY to TX in autumn, we'll be inheriting her chickens and ducks, so I will soon have chicken droppings to add to the compost! Thinning is definitely difficult to do. I've always had trouble with it, even with houseplants! I discovered that many of our radishes were pencil thin where we did not thin them. The thinned areas did well and produced hearty radishes. I've been to Gardener's Supply website before - I'll have to check it out further for the pest identifier. Your own tomato cages, hmm? We'll have to investigate that option and see if we can do it too. And it will be fun to have a virtual partner in the lavender growing experience!

mountain woman
8/26/2010 12:23:33 PM

Hi Susan, Great article. Like you, I had misses and hits this season and learned a lot. I gardened with beneficial insects this year which was lots of fun and once again made my own compost. I used straight horse poop and added water and then let it steep for days and I kept stirring it up until it became sludge like. That was my only fertilizer. Next year, I'll have the chicken droppings. With the animals you are adding, you'll have great compost for your garden. I had trouble thinning although Mountain Man kept at me to do so. I just can't bear sacrificing any living plant for the good of another and so nothing got thinned. Oh, well. One site I found very helpful was Gardener's Supply because they have a garden pest identifier. I was headed over there every day to see what I was dealing with because my tomatoes gave me problems in the beginning. We made our own tomato cages. Easy to do and saves a fortune. I'm growing lavender too next year and thinking about doing it for commercial purposes. Your adventures sound so similar to mine and I really enjoyed reading about your garden. I know next year it will be even better and it looked great this year.