Well, last post was about the start of my married life, this post is about the updates to my garden life.
I’ve had gardens for years. You all probably know how I feel about this, but I’ll say it again: if you have a piece of land, you should be growing SOMETHING on it. If you have a terrace or patio or small deck, you can grow some small peppers or patio tomatoes. If you have a window box, you should be growing herbs. There are no excuses! I started growing herbs myself, outdoors on a bigger scale, in “container gardens” in 2008. In 2010, I expanded to create an entire veggie container garden with a few tomato plants, a few pepper plants, and some zucchini, eggplant and cucumber. I really didn’t know what I was doing, to be honest, and while I got one or two paltry cukes, the zucchini didn’t give me anything that year. I later learned that the zucchini wasn’t being pollinated, and I would have to do it myself, which was unsuccessful. I did get some zucchini blossoms out of it, however.
In 2011, I had quite a large setup and everything was doing awesome! I had even gotten some cukes that year! But my nana had passed away in July, and then thats when Hurricane Irene hit us in August. And while she wasn’t as bad as we expected, she was bad enough. She decimated my plants, ripped the growing eggplants off, and ruined a few things. But that year I realized that the best results come from attracting lots of bees!
By 2012, I had learned a thing or two more about how things go, and what should go with what. I planted basil with my tomatoes, and the tomatoes were sweet and juicy, and the peppers were amazing. I wasn’t an expert yet by any means, but I was headed in the right direction. The next year, 2013, I just grew herbs. It was a transitional year for me in a lot of ways and I just didn’t have the heart to have a lot of things to “take care of.”
And last year brought my new raised garden bed! Jay agreed to build it for me and it turned out to be his new hobby/favorite thing ever. And so we really expanded. We ended up with TONS of veggies & herbs… and a few lessons learned the hard way; i.e. cucumbers should be by themselves because they will over take EVERYTHING, and tomatoes and dill should not be planted in the same area! Whoops.
This year we also expanded. We decided to try our hands at baby leaf spinach (above) & arugula as well as broccoli Raab. We also have sage- two types, golden and pineapple- however the pineapple sage was moved to a large pot because it will probably grow as big as four feet tall by four feet wide (!). As well as: Indigo Apple tomatoes, Amish paste tomatoes, Globe tomatoes and Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes. I wanted to try some new heirloom varieties this year, and the Indigo Apple’s promised dark color caught my interest. While we expanded in that sense, we dropped the cauliflower this year for space reasons, and because we wanted to try other things more. Some of our plants were grown from seed, others were purchased. Pineapple sage and mint is unreliable and aren’t widely available as such, so we don’t buy those as seeds. Same for the golden sage. The “Hot ‘n’ Spicy” oregano was also a purchase.
So we made TWO new raised garden beds, both smaller than the original. A slightly smaller one to the left of it (with the broccoli/arugula/2 types of spinach/sage/2 types of oregano/rosemary/sugar snap peas/broccoli raab/dill) and an even smaller one to the right of it (two types of pickling cucumbers and nasturtium). The largest main (original) bed contains 5 kinds of tomatoes/eggplant/3 kinds of basil/6 varieties of peppers/mint/chocolate mint/lemon balm/chives. OH! And our strawberries from last year, which died prematurely, came back.
Nasturtium is great to add to a garden because not only are the leaves and flowers edible, but it’s an excellent companion plant. It also helps cucumbers & other plants get pollinated.
Like I mentioned above, I also expanded my basil this year by one new addition: purple ruffles. It has a vaguely “anise”-like scent to it, very intriguing. I can’t wait to try it! I still have regular Genovese basil and my old favorite cinnamon basil as well. Cinnamon basil is still such a favorite around here- and the purple flowers it grows are just beautiful.
Speaking of purple flowers, the chives (and lemon balm, and the sweet & chocolate mint varieties) all came back to join us this year.
I’m particularly excited about our new pepper addition, Sweet Chocolate, which is starting to bud. This guy promises sweet, deep cola-brown colored peppers.
And of course the heirloom Indigo Apple tomato that grows black and turns red!
We do things a bit different than some. We don’t do a lot of duplicates. We don’t do a whole row of one kind of tomato, or one kind of lettuce. We like to have a variety of things in our gardens, so we usually have a few different kinds of each item. For example, two types of dill, four dill plants total. Why do we have four dill plants? Because Jay picks it right off the plant and eats it while he’s watering, that’s why.
We never grow more than one of the same exact thing, unless it’s broccoli/spinach/cauliflower/etc or something we use a lot of (like dill!). And we do that because, well, like I said.. we use a lot of those. I would get really bored with 6 plants of the same pepper; especially because how many freakin’ red Bell peppers can you eat? Okay. I can eat a lot, cause they’re delicious. But I get a LOT of peppers each year. I don’t want 500 of the same color and kind of pepper. I want a bunch of different ones!
One year I was stuck with 100 habaneros, and no one wanted them. I had to make pineapple-habanero jelly, habanero pickles, habanero jelly & habanero hot sauce by the pound. And then it turned out to be too hot for anyone but me. I learned that year that I should vary my peppers, and expect/prepare for large quantities of them.
So our new garden bed plans look like this:
They were all built the same exact way last years’ bed was built, just sized to accommodate the space. Still made of 100% cedar- you do NOT want treated wood chemicals leeching into your food. To the immediate left of the green bed in the above diagram is a small tree and then our fence, which runs on the property line all around the yard. To the immediate rear of all three beds is our rear fence, and to the right of the mustard colored bed is a large Pin Oak tree with Hostas and many, many Daylilies at the base of it (the tree which you can see in the above photo, behind the trellis). So we made them to fit our space as we needed to. Like said above, that drawing is definitely not to scale!
In case you don’t remember how to make it and you’re too lazy to click through to last years’ post, here’s a refresher for what you need:
- One 6-ft long cedar 4-by-4
- Six 8-ft long cedar 1-by-6’s
- 32 3″ wood screws
The construction of these are very basic & simple. If you can measure and cut wood, you’re gonna be fine. The building took Jay less than ONE hour to do, and the subsequent two beds took actually less time to cut/build/assemble/place than the first. Using the wood screws, attach the long cedar pieces to the 1 x 6’s, one above the other. Ta-da! Place it, dig the holes for the posts, and then re-bury them. Then you’ll need some soil to fill it:
Determine the volume of your planter box by multiplying the width by the length by the depth. For example, if you have a length of 5 feet, a width of 4 feet and a depth of 2 feet, the volume would be 40 cubic feet (5 x 4 x 2 = 40). This is the amount of dirt you will need to fill your raised planter box. This would equal 20 bags of soil sold in bags containing 2 cubic feet of dirt each.
And this seems to be the recommended percentage:
- 60% topsoil
- 30% compost
- 10% non-soil growing mix with vermiculite/perlite, etc
If you choose to use a garden mix/potting mix instead of topsoil as we did, you most likely don’t need to use the other two since most potting mixes have those things incorporated in them already. You can do that because technically a raised bed is a “container” garden, so potting soil is perfectly acceptable to use. You’re gonna want to mix 2-3″ of your new soil with your native soil. Thoroughly mix it in, using a spade or shovel if need be. Then continue filling it; after emptying each bag, smooth it out and rake it into an even level. After that, you’re done! Fill it up with veggies & herbs & plants, oh my! And as far as that goes, here’s one of my favorite Companion Planting charts. Know it, love it, live by it, memorize it.
Oh, yeah, Indy loves the garden. He lays in front of it, and “protects it.”
We also laid some paving stones in front of the two new, smaller beds so it was easier to walk on than the mulch that was there (this was a flower bed border around the yard before we began using it for the veggie gardens). It’s also nicer when you’re watering to not stand on a muddy surface. The original bed came out right up to the grass line, so no need for stones.
Last year we used Vigoro Organic potting soil and the Dr. Earth Tomato, Vegetable and Herb Fertilizer, and we had no complaints. However while our plants grew large and strong, we didn’t get as much of a bounty as we expected. Not many tomatoes at all. Which, like I said, could’ve been our fault as far as planting things in the same area that shouldn’t be together. However…
This year? Wow.
So this year we used a combination of Espoma Organic Potting mix, Dr. Earth Pot Of Gold potting soil and Dr. Earth Homegrown Vegetable Garden Mix, as well as mixing the Dr. Earth fertilizer in. We highly recommend the Espoma & Dr. Earth products. The Dr. Earth fertilizers are amazing! People would think you were using some kind of synthetic product or chemical, but you’re not. That’s how amazing the results are. Side note: I use both the Espoma Holly-Tone on my acid loving shrubs (hydrangeas/azaleas/holly/etc) and Rose-Tone as well, and my grandfather used to use it back in the day. Anyway, we mix the powder version of the Dr. Earth fertilizer into our raised garden beds while adding the soil, before planting, according to the size of the bed. We also supplement later on in the season, and I use Espoma Blood Meal & Nature’s Care Organic bone meal as well; as both an extra boost of phosphorus and also to repel squirrels. The Dr. Earth fertilizer is also awesome for regular plants & flowers! I sprinkle some in the dirt of all my annuals, too.
Other secrets: I sprinkle crushed eggshells and pistachio shells around. The eggshells provide calcium (great for tomatoes) as well as being a slug/snail barrier. The pistachio shells are pretty much just a barrier. If you have a really big slug problem, you can also buy copper tape at a hardware store and trim your raised beds with it. The copper gives off an electric charge that the slugs can’t cross! Same thing goes for pennies… but you’d need a lot of them. I also use Epsom salts to provide magnesium.
Here’s the full list of what edibles we’re a-growin’ this season (and a brief description):
- Globe tomatoes– Similar to, and likely a selection of, ‘Livingston’s Globe‘. The plants are heavy yielding, vigorous vines, with globular, smooth and very solid, pink fruits; good quality. Released in 1936 by the W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company and was an “All-America Selection®” winner that same year. Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds. (source)
- Indigo Apple tomatoes- Immature fruits show deep purple, almost black coloration, which is caused by high anthocyanin (an anti-oxidant). The 2- to 4-ounce, cherry-type fruit turn red when ripe, have a good, complex yet sweet tomato flavor. A descendant of the famed OSU Blue Fruit tomato. The pendant clusters of immature black fruit present a striking appearance in the garden! Resists sun-scald and cracking, lasting long into cool autumn weather when others have quit. Shows disease tolerance and great shelf-life. (source)
- Amish Paste tomatoes- First listed in the 1987 SSE Yearbook by Thane Earle of Whitewater, Wisconsin. Commercialized by Tom Hauch of Heirloom Seeds, who acquired it from the Amish near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Bright red 8-12 ounce fruits vary in shape from oxheart to rounded plum. Delicious flesh is juicy and meaty, excellent for sauce or fresh eating. One of Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste varieties. (source)
- Cosmonaut Volkov tomatoes- A smooth and attractive, medium-large red tomato that has a full, rich flavor. The productive vines yield well even in hot weather; perfect for canning or slicing. This variety is from Dniepropetrousk, Ukraine, and was named after the first Russian Cosmonaut. (source)
- Supersweet 100 tomatoes- Supersweet 100 is a reliable cherry tomato with prolific yields of great tasting, 15-20 gm. fruits produced in large clusters. (source)
- Genovese basil- The classic large-leaved Italian sweet basil prized for its spicy flavor and wonderful aroma. Fragrant plants grow 18-24″. This is the variety of choice for pesto. (source)
- Purple ruffles basil- Also great in containers or garden beds as an ornamental. Small percentage of plants are green. 3″ long leaves. Use the edible flowers in any recipe that calls for basil, or to garnish drinks, salads, soups, pasta, and desserts. Flavor is of intense basil. (source)
- Cinnamon basil- This basil gets its name because it contains the same ingredient as cinnamon: methyl cinnamate. But it also retains its traditional basil flavor, so the result is a spicy-sweet combination that works as well in basked goods as it does in pastas and salads. If you make your own jams, oils, or vinegars, be sure to grow some just for flavoring! (source)
- Lemon balm- Sweet lemon-mint scent. Fresh leaves for tea and salads. Easy to grow in moist, well-drained fertile soil. Medicinal: Aerial parts in tea for colds, flu, depression, headache, and indigestion. (source)
- Staro chives- Best for markets demanding a thicker leaf for freezing, drying, or fresh use. Pull the florets apart and sprinkle on salads, dips, sauces, soups, stir-fries, and pizza. Great as an addition to potato salad. Flavor is of mild, sweet onion. (source)
- Sweet mint- Mint does not grow true-to-type from seed, it’s some variety of sweet mint, not peppermint!
- Chocolate mint- Again, same as above… however this one is chocolate-mint scented. Amazing, smells like a Girl Scout cookie!
- Diamond eggplant- Slender, attractive dark purple 6-8″ fruit hang in clusters for easy picking. Fruit has mild flavor with no bitterness and a fine, creamy texture. (source)
- Sweet chocolate pepper- Love the flavor of this rich, chocolate-brown pepper. The flesh is cola-red color; very sweet and delicious. The medium-sized, semi-bell shaped fruit ripen very early, making this variety perfect for the north (or anyone who likes peppers). Great in salads. (source)
- Iko Iko pepper- Spectacular array of colors in a high yielding bell pepper. Purple and yellow peppers ripen to tangerine and red streaked with purple. Immature fruits are dark purple, lavender, pale yellow, and occassionally lime green. (source)
- Yankee Bell pepper- Plant produces good yields of medium size sweet bell peppers. Peppers turn from green to red when mature. Plants have strong branches than other varieties. (source)
- California Wonder pepper- These peppers are thick-walled and blocky, about 4 inches tall and wide, with a crisp, mild flavor and terrific sweetness. They mature from green to red on the plant, and are ideal for stuffing, slicing into rings for dips and salad toppings, and chopping into crisp bite-sized nibbles. Expect a big harvest from these vigorous plants, which reach 28 to 30 inches high. (source)
- Ring of Fire pepper- “And it burns, burns, burns,” just like Johnny Cash said. This is a hot, hot pepper, an improvement over our Red Cayenne, which it replaces. Ring-O-Fire matures earlier and has a glossy sheen with a fire engine red color. Prolific and dependable. (source)
- Jalapeno pepper- Spicy jalapeños are used in everything from Mexican cuisine to nachos to pizza. Upright plants yield loads of smooth, green conical fruits that get hotter as they mature to a deep red. When dried and mesquite-smoked, they are known as ‘chipotle’ chiles. (source)
- Garden salsa pepper- Just the right amount of heat (3,000 Scovilles) for the Mexican sauces and fresh salsa you love! This chili pepper grows to 8 or 9 inches, with glossy green skin that will turn red if left on the plant (but is best picked green for salsa). (source)
- Baby Leaf Catalina spinach- Exclusive Tender, flat, deep green oval leaves with a delicate flavor perfect for spinach salads. Fast growing, heat tolerant and extremely disease resistant. (source)
- Shelby spinach- Large oval medium green leaves with strong Downy Mildew resistance, ideal for transition seasons. High quality, uniformly sized leaves are reliable, offering great babyleaf consistency when growers need it most. Tolerant of wide temperature swings. (source)
- Golden sage- A form of culinary sage grown more for its wonderful color than its mild flavor. Very similar to ‘Tricolor’ but with a different color scheme. The bright colored leaves have a lime green center and are edged in golden yellow. Milder in flavor than the standard…but talk about plate appeal! Grow this strictly for ornamental purposes as well. Golden Sage makes a great border plant, and will bring its year round bright colors to your Mediterranean themed garden. This pretty little sage will grow to about 18″ high at maturity. (source)
- Pineapple sage- The pineapple sage plant is found in gardens to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The crushed plant leaves smell like pineapple, hence comes the common name of the pineapple sage plant. The easy care of pineapple sage is one more reason to have it in the garden. The fragrance may lead one to wonder is pineapple sage edible? Indeed it is. Leaves of the pineapple sage plant may be steeped for teas and the minty-tasting blossoms can be used as an attractive garnish for salads and deserts. Leaves are best used fresh. Pineapple sage flowers may also be used in jelly and jam concoctions, potpourri, and other uses limited only by the imagination. Pineapple sage has long been used as a medicinal herb, with antibacterial and antioxidant properties. (source)
- Barbeque rosemary- The stems are sturdy enough to be used as skewers for shish kabob, and while cooking, your grilled items are infused with the particularly appealing rosemary flavor of this variety. Rosemary Barbeque quickly grows to form an upright evergreen plant with aromatic needle-like foliage. It produces clear blue flowers that soon cover the plant and contrast nicely with the dark green foliage. (source)
- Hot ‘n’ spicy (Greek) oregano- As the name suggest, this pungent oregano has the bold flavors that are the building blocks of Mexican dishes. Also a good substitute for recipes calling for common oregano, though reduce amount by half of what the recipe calls for. (source)
- Italian oregano- Pungently aromatic, Italian Oregano is one of the most important herbs of Italian, Greek, and Mexican cooking. Mainly used dry (the flavor is much more intense when the leaves are dried), Oregano pairs perfectly with bold flavors like tomatoes, onion, garlic, and beef. (And interestingly, the oil is often an ingredient in men’s colognes! Who knew?) Oregano is at the heart of all the great spaghetti sauces, lasagnes, and other Neapolitan dishes you prepare, so why not have it in the border, herb garden, and patio containers? (source)
- Wild Surrey Arugula- Fast growing, with deep lobes and upright habit. It looks like a cross between Astro and Wild Arugula, taking the best of each. Rich, spicy flavor. (source)
- Sugar Snap peas- Sugar Snap has become a household name in the U.S. since its 1979 introduction. The vines are tall, growing about 6′ or more, and need support. Pods are about 3″ long, 1/2″ across, and bear over a long picking period. Both peas and pods are sweet. Yields well in both hot and cold weather. Remove string from pods before cooking. (source)
- Belstar broccoli F1- Compact plants have round domes, small to medium beads and short flowering stems with a thick main stalk. Domes span 6-8” at maturity averaging 1.5 lbs. Ideal for shortstemmed crown cuts or florets. Heat-tolerant. (source)
- Broccoli Raab- Matures very quickly from seed. Green shoots have a captivating flavor. Cut 6″ pieces when the “broccolis” are the size of a quarter. You’ll love it lightly sauteed with garlic and olive oil, fresh in salads and boiled soups. (source)
- Superdukat dill- Plant produces very flavorful leaves and seeds. This variety has more foliage than other varieties. Seeds are used as a pickling spice and leaves are used in omelettes, fish dishes, and salads. Also used as a garnishes. Leaves can be dried for later use. (source)
- Fernleaf dill- If you love the tangy flavor of fresh Dillweed with fish and vegetable dishes, Fernleaf Dill is the variety you MUST grow! Just 18 inches high, this dwarf is perfect for the kitchen windowsill or the sunny garden. Its feathery leaves are so lush and tasty that this hardworking little plant won a 1992 All-America Selection. Easy to grow and delicious! Fernleaf Dill blooms from midsummer into fall, with flattopped blooms that may remind you of Fennel. You don’t have to wait to harvest the leaves, however — snip them with nail or kitchen scissors as soon as the plant has a few branches to spare, and enjoy them fresh for months on end! Fernleaf Dill is very slow to set seed, so if you want to harvest Dill seeds, grow full-size Dill as well. (source)
- Pickler’s Hybrid cucumber- Burpee Pickler is an early maturing, black-spined cucumber, on full-sized vines. Large plants mean heavier yields over a long period. Medium-green, 3½-5″ fruits have blunt tips. Excellent in all sizes. Tolerates cucumber mosaic virus. Burpee Bred. Proven tops for performance, flavor and wide adaptability. (source)
- Pickle Barrel Hybrid cucumber- Compact choice for small gardens or containers! Bears early, white-spined, 5-in. cukes in half the space needed by most vines. Cool, mild flavor. (source)
- Nasturtium (Jewel mix)- These bright, 2″ blooms of red, pink, orange, and yellow are held above light green foliage. Use the leaves, pods, and flowers in salads or as garnishes, or stuff the flowers with soft cheese. The flowers can be minced and added to butters and the immature seed heads can be pickled. Nasturtiums are a popular choice for adding color to salad mix. Also known as garden nasturtium and Indian cress. (source)
- Alpine strawberries- The jewel-like fruits of Alpine strawberries (Fragaria Vesca Sempervirens) are a special delicacy you can enjoy every summer. To me their flavor combines the essence of strawberries, roses and pineapples. Also known by their romantic French name, Fraises des Bois, these charming and well-behaved perennial plants yield continuous harvests of tiny, 3/4 inch berries with an intensely concentrated flavor I can only describe as truly ambrosial. (source)
As far as furry creature repellent goes, I prefer to use natural methods. I not only have a dog that likes to go in the yard and lay near the garden, but I just enjoy the wildlife. I won’t use any chemicals or anything that will injure or harm any living creature. We’re also growing a 100% organic garden, so I won’t use anything non-organic, and I won’t buy pre-made repellent because you’re actually paying more for natural things you can buy/do yourself. For deer, plant a border of Salvia and add lavender to your gardens; those plants naturally repel deer. So does Irish Spring soap. For squirrels, like I said above, blood meal & bone meal are not only great fertilizers, but also have a smell that’s naturally repugnant to them. If you have a persistent squirrel problem, and you don’t want to cover your garden (which I personally find aesthetically unpleasing & inconvenient), buy or make a squirrel feeder and hang it on the other side of the yard from your garden. It will both distract them and provide them with food. For possums, add Tobasco sauce and water mixed together to a spray bottle and spray it around the plants and garden. They hate spicy anything! That would probably work for rabbits and squirrels too.
We don’t have moles here, so I can’t offer any advice on them. But Google is your friend!
As per usual, I’ll be updating this as the season goes on. In the meantime, I have to go… I must meditate in the garden with my #1 hoe.
I’m no expert, but if you have any questions I’d totally be willing to attempt to answer them. So feel free to comment! And If you have a garden, or a container garden, or a window box…
I want to know: what are YOU growing this year?