Today I thought I’d give you a visual tour of my little garden and discuss what is working, what is not, and make a few guesses as to why.
My biggest problem has been battling the bugs; a warmer than normal winter has left us with battalions of bugs and I’m trying to find non-chemical solutions that don’t kill the plants as well. I've experimented with hot pepper sprays, Fels Naptha soap spray and Eco-Smart spray.
I’ve also been busy building the rest of the fence boxes and planting the last of my crops.
I have two boxes of tomatoes: 9 plants per box. Cherry tomatoes (though they look more like grape tomatoes to me at this point) a bunch of Romas, some Best Boy (red) and a few Black Kren. No yellow tomatoes this year; I still have a freezer full of yellow tomatoes that never got used for anything. Somehow yellow tomato sauce just doesn’t fly. As you can see the bushes are bearing heavily. The Krens are starting to take on some color, I expect they’ll be the first to ripen, but the others may come from behind for an upset at the finish line. When they do start to ripen, we’ll have lots and lots of tomatoes to deal with. The Romas are more meaty, less fluid, they should be better for canning.
I just recently got my black beans in the ground. The delay was caused by lack of funding to buy the soil materials and PVC for the fence. Once that was done I planted the beans, but forgot to soak them overnight first. I worried that perhaps I’d messed up because it went a couple of weeks and I saw no sign of activity at all. But I kept the box wet, watering each day. One morning I came out and where there was just bare soil the night before was now a forest of little cotyledons. In a couple of days their secondary leaves began to spread out and I eased back on the watering. A few were a bit late in coming up, but it looks like all but two or three did germinate.
I planted four Zucchini vines in one box and a pair of summer squash and a pair of patti-pan in another. All of these have come up and are doing well. Some have flowered and we will soon be shoving excess squash off on our neighbors – or maybe taking it to the Farmers Market.
My cucumbers are doing phenomenally: look at all those blooms! We will soon be eyeball deep in cucumbers! I’ve harvested a few already. Too bad there isn’t any way to preserve them. What we can’t eat, sell or give away will end up in the compost bin.
I tried some sugar snap peas this year (in the back, climbing the trellis) and they are doing well. I stagger planted them so the first round would get tall enough to start up the trellis before the second round got going. They can then climb up the first round and all will be supported off the ground. They’ve begun producing and I’ve gotten a handful of tender, sweet pods each morning for the past few days. Marie is planning on using these in her stir-fry this Friday. They will also be good raw in salads or steamed as a side dish.
In the foreground are my Roma II bush beans. I stagger planted two rows; the back row is big enough to be blooming, the front row is just getting going.
My first round of beets are doing much better now. They were under heavy attack from some unknown insect that was decimating their leaves. I tried insecticidal soap, but that was no-soap. Then I tried Eco-Smart’s insecticide and that took care of the problem. We’ve been harvesting beet greens for our salads for several weeks now and I’m seeing beet bulbs forming in the ground. I’ll plant my second round tomorrow. I was going to get that done today, but NBC came out to do an interview with Marie and I for a special they’re running on July 2nd.
Also in this box are 4 eggplants. one is doing well and has several blooms and one small fruit on it. The other three are kind of runty, though one has started to bloom.
My box of Mesclun lettuce was another troublesome box because of insect damage. This was brought under control not through my efforts but because a momma garden spider hatched a brood of bitty spiders in one corner of the box. They seem to now have whatever was munching the lettuce leaves under control, so I’ve avoided any treatment at all here. I am careful to shake the leaves as I snip them to dislodge any spiders and keep them in their home not mine.
I was very late getting my corn in. Same excuse as the beans: being cash poor. The corn in the fields is already 18” or so high. I actually had soil in the box for a while but dared not plant until I have a fence around it because Dolly thinks baby corn is the sweetest, most tasty grass there is and would chew the tops off my entire crop if it was not guarded.
My sweet potatoes got off to a slow start because Dolly discovered a liking for the baby sweets as well and chewed off several before I discovered it and strung chicken wire over the top pending building a proper fence box. Now my biggest problem is keeping the vines IN the box. Every morning I find the vines have poked through the wire mesh and are several inches outside, straining for freedom. I worry about depth. My reading says they need 12” minimum depth, but in the garden boxes they have only 6” to start with. I’m adding mulch as I can make it, but now that the vines are starting to shoot all over, working the mulch in below them to build depth is getting harder to do without damaging the plants. Hopefully, if they can’t go down, they’ll go sideways.
I’ve got Yukon Gold taters as my Early Crop and I’ve been harvesting 6 to 8 egg sized spuds each week for the past couple of weeks. That's enough to accompany a meal for Marie and I with some left over for fried taters with omeletts on Saturday morning. I’m trying to keep the plant stalks upright so I don’t damage them by moving them around while poking around in the mulch looking for taters.
Yellow Finn potatoes were my choice as a Main Crop this year. They too seem to be doing well, but I’m leaving them alone. I’ll harvest the crop of full sized potatoes later in the year and hope to store them for at least part of the winter. I don’t have a root cellar, but in the winter my workshop stays pretty chilly. If I close them up in a box of wood chips they keep pretty well for a couple of months. Storing them in rice is recommended, but I haven’t been able to locate a 50 pound bag of rice.
My pepper patch is pitiful. PITTIIIIIFUUUL! I planted 4 varieties of sweet peppers, 12 plants per variety. All were started from good quality seed I’d purchased from a nursery. But starting them in peat pellets made them get leggy, and they didn’t take well to being set out, the tops fell over and the leaves rotted from laying in the dirt. Planting the seed in the dirt has done better, but cut worms chewed the roots off of about half of them: nearly all of the Sweet Banana Peppers. I picked out the cut worms and replanted seed. Most are doing better now. The Cajun Belle peppers (this end) will be a scant patch because I used all the seed I had and still only got 5 of the 12 spots to produce viable plants. The others I still have seed and am getting seedlings going.
Most of my herb bed is doing quite well: thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, and sage are all growing nicely and I’ve snipped sprigs off many times for use fresh and for drying. I just added a Stevia plant for sweetening things without sugar. My parsley is finally starting to grow. I have 16 fists of garlic that were planted last fall and are almost ready to harvest. Green onions are doing OK, chives are coming along slowly. It will be next year at least before we can expect to cut any of these. My Cilantro and Dill have been major disappointments. I’ve planted both three times, the dill has finally put up a shoot or two, nothing at all on the cilantro.
I have one box that is onions and carrots. Here I put in white, yellow, and red onion sets. A few are getting large enough to harvest. I have a few sets left, so I’ll put them in as I pull their predecessors. I’ll store the onions in Marie’s discarded nylons, with a string tie between each. This allows air all around but prevents them touching. Hang the stockings in the barn for a week or so to toughen their skins, then I can move them to the food storage room in the workshop until needed at home. Snip the stocking below a tie to remove the onion for use. I’m supposed to braid the stems of the onions, and that might work OK if you’ve got a dozen onions or more coming out at once, but trying to braid two or three together than add two or three more each week doesn’t work out. I’ll compost the greens, dry the bulbs in nylons and we’ll all get along fine.
I’ve found that I very much like chopped carrot tops in my scrambled eggs, the two flavors work together wonderfully, try it!
I had Mesclun lettuce and radishes in this box. The Cherry Bell Radishes (foreground) have been doing pretty well; they don’t get very large but taste great, and I snip some of the greens for use in cooking. These are not good in salads, but when sautéed up in a dish they add a nice peppery flavor. A couple of the radish plants shot up and produced flowers but no bulb. Odd. Just for giggles I’m letting those two stay and see if they’ll produce seed. As I pull the radishes, I pop another seed in the vacated spot so I always have a mix of mature plants and sprouts to deal with. This may not be the best way to go. I stagger planted; one square each two weeks, thinking that I’d harvest an entire square and replant that square, but the bug battle messed that plan up.
As the mesclun runs its course I’m replanting with Green Ice Leaf Lettuce (middle rows). We’ll have plenty of mesclun from the mesclun box.
The back row are large white radishes. They take longer to mature and I've stagger planted them: more mature plants on the right and seedlings on the left.
In this box I have turnips and spinach, two rows of each, alternating. The turnips I stared in peat also got leggy. After transplanting them, most survived but the “bulb” of the turnips are developing above ground. I’m snipping greens as they become available: I’m not sure how many I can take without endangering the rest of the plant, so I’m being conservative, but I want to get a “mess” of greens harvested and set aside before it gets hot and they turn bitter. We’ll get some more in the fall when the temps cool off again.
My spinach did the weirdest thing! The plants didn’t get more than 6 or 7 inches tall and developed only baby leaves before they bolted. Unlike lettuce, spinach can be harvested and eaten after flowering, but needs to be done quickly because the leaves will degrade rapidly after flowers form. I suspect the soil is too rich. I’m disappointed, but I’ve replanted and hope for a better crop the second time around. Marie is fine with this, she likes baby spinach for her Race Day Pizza.
Only about half of the asparagus crowns I planted put up shoots this year. I’m disappointed in that, but am told that it doesn’t mean the others died, they may shoot next year. I may be able to harvest a few spears next year, but more likely will have to let them go again, snipping the ferns off in the fall for composting as I allow the plants to develop a good root system.
I recently harvested our batch of blueberries and the strawberries have completed their first run of the season. Being Everbearing, they’ll go again later on. I can now pull the bird mesh and convert the little hoop houses into this big hoop house that encompasses the grape trellis as well as the blueberry and strawberry beds. Today I pinned down weed barrier, added 2x4 borders and laid on some pine needles as a mulch/path. I think I’ll end up moving the needles into the berry beds and covering the floor with shredded pine bark mulch; it will pack down better and not be as slick on these slopes.
If we ever get to where we can afford a chipper shredder we’d be able to make all the mulch we want, I have a giant brush pile assembled that just gets bigger each week. But chippers are quite expensive. I'll make good use of it though because eventually I want to replace the grass (or bare dirt) between all of the boxes with the weed barrier and mulch to keep grass and weeds out and reduce the amount of labor needed to keep the area mowed and trimmed up.
The next step will be to acquire a piece of bird netting that will go up the front, across the top and down the back of this structure. Then I’ll build a door and frame and add netting to the ends. That should exclude our feathered friends and keep the luscious berries for ourselves when the next batch comes on.
I’ve begun planning flowers around the outside of the garden area. I’m focusing on those that will attract beneficial bugs like lacewings, big-eyed bugs, and lady bugs to control the bad bug population. I have seen several very small praying mantises, but so far they have not helped much. Of course ANY form of insecticide – organic or otherwise – will tend to kill the good bugs as well as the bad bugs. I want to get away from that all together. But I can’t be putting all this labor and expense into a garden that only feeds the insects.
And there you have it, a quick tour and a look at what’s what in our mountain side mini-farm.