Learning the Fine Art of Gardening (Again)

By Oz Girl

The 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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!

  • Published on Aug 25, 2010
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