In the Garden with Christen!
As I got older, I realized she was in a league of her own,
but I can proudly say I think I possess a few of the positive Martha-esque qualities now.
Enter: March, the start of a pandemic, the need to quarantine and spend endless amounts of time at home with two little humans. What better time than to build a massive garden and learn how to grow food? In hindsight, I could have tried to relax a bit and attempt to read the 34 books stacked on my bedside table but, the chance to be Martha was calling and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
It has turned out to be the best adventure and with all the enjoyment the kids and I are getting out of it now, I would
do it 10x over. We have learned a TON so far and I hope I can pass along a few things with the encouragement to give it a try next year! Regardless of whether you have space for a large bed or one pot, there is nothing quite like the thrill of successfully growing something from seed and sharing it with your family and friends. It has also served as the most amazing way to get my kids to try all sorts of new veggies and herbs right out of the garden. I let them choose the seed varieties based on the pictures online. It got them involved and excited from the word GO.
Luke now begs to go for ‘Garden Walks’ every morning before camp to check on everything and he has become so invested. It really is more than I could have hoped for and I look forward to doing it for years to come.
Building Your Garden
Initially, I planned a small greenhouse, but the project quickly ballooned into 4 garden beds and a small pumpkin patch. I mean, if you’ve got the space, why not use it right!? From the research I did, I concluded that cedar was the best bet for building garden beds because of its natural anti-fungal and anti-rot qualities, but it's super expensive. The second best is pressure-treated wood, more affordable than cedar and should last years before breaking down and rotting away due to the elements.
I confirmed that no chemicals would leach into the soil and ultimately decided on this. Each garden bed was determined by the size of our spot and the precut lumber sizes available.
Neither Dave nor I are particularly handy, so I wanted to keep the cuts (and waste) to a minimum. I ended up doing 3’x10’ garden beds, using 2x8x10’ lumber. I used 4x4s in the corners to keep the construction simple and stapled chicken wire to the bottom of each box to prevent critters from digging up through the bottom.
We caged in 2 of the 4 boxes with 2x2s and bird netting (the grid is roughly ½” x ½” square), further critter-izing the garden. The side of each cage is on hinges and flips up for easy access to the plants. Jokes on me though, now that we are more than halfway through the Summer, my tomatoes have become a jungle!
Clearly I have never successfully grown tomatoes before because I assumed our 6’ tall cage would be plenty of room for the tomato plants to stretch out. We now have plants easily over 10’ tall and the majority of the tomatoes are on the outside. I truly find this hysterical now, and I will have to really think through how I plant everything next year.
As you can also see from the image, I got VERY excited about my successful seedlings and could not bear the thought of not planting the majority of them. It turns out the package directions for spacing is not just a suggestion. Thus, a hugely overpopulated garden bed, but hey, you live and you learn right!?
Choosing What to Grow
I grew everything from heirloom seeds and we started a bit late, in April, inside with the help of jiffy greenhouses. From the research I did, I came across 2 main ways to start (or sow) seeds.
The first was in jiffy pellets and the second, small pots filled with soil and then seeded. Everything about the jiffy setup (which can be reused year after year with pellet refills) felt much more convenient, kid-friendly and time efficient so I went with this. This worked out to be a great decision for me, the only issue I had was the sheer volume of transplanting I should have done.
My seedlings did well but got a bit leggy (too tall from looking for light) and they would have benefitted from earlier transplanting to larger containers and exposure to more sun.
This year I have successfully grown 9 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes (big and small), heirloom peppers, kale, basil, dill, chives, parsley, cilantro, mint, snap peas, yellow and green zucchini and 2 types of cucumbers.
I have a few plants that are in the garden still growing, but we are yet to harvest anything from them: watermelon, pumpkin, rounde de nice squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts, red cabbage, and heirloom carrots.
I have varying opinions on why each of these either didn’t work out or are yet to bear fruit and if you are interested, I am happy to share in a future post… but this is getting long!
Oh, the critters! Cucumber Beetles have been the bane of my existence this year. After posting about my woes on Instagram, you beautiful people let me know that they have been particularly bad this year so I got a bit of comfort from that.
These beetles target the blossoms and leaves of squash, pumpkins and cucumbers, eating and spreading bacterial wilt, effectively killing the bloom and any chance it has of bearing fruit with it. I tried plant soap first and they didn’t even notice, I’m sure they even enjoyed the bath, eating away, spiting me.
With some advice from our amazing community, and a little research, I tried Diatomaceous Earth, which is also a natural option effectively killing the beetles. I learned that this needed to be used with caution, not too much, but somewhat regularly to keep them in check. I never completely removed them from the garden, but it seemed to control the problem somewhat while still allowing some plants to have a fighting chance.
I lost the battle on my cucumber vines, but the pumpkins and zucchini have proven to be heartier. I also struggled with Flea Beetles early in the summer, which almost killed my eggplant seedlings. They ended up leaving on their own and the plants recovered for the most part.
Our latest critter adventure has been with the dreaded Red Squirrel. We have a bazillion in our area and they are crafty. The cages are doing a pretty good job, but obviously haven’t completely solved the problem and I have come to accept that nothing really will- short of building a bubble around the garden which I don’t think Dave will go for… Its all part of the adventure of gardening and this little club I have become apart of with fellow planters and growers.
As this season starts to slowly wind down for us, I am starting to reflect on what I have learned. It truly is the beauty of gardening- taking what you have learned from one year to the next.
I’m looking forward to simplifying, spacing out plants and planting to prevent pests as well. While this summers gardening hasn’t been particularly hard, I would appreciate not feeling like I should sleep beside my plants to flick off insects next year!
If you have enjoyed learning about my gardening adventures, please let me know! I would be happy to write more about them. There is so much more I could talk about, but I have a feeling this one has already gotten a tad overwhelming, so I will leave you with one thought: you can grow it.
Until next time,