Category Archives: Kitchen Garden

My Dream Came True!

Back near the beginning of the year, when I put together the plan for my dream garden, I never thought I would wind up installing it this year!  After a lot of planning, research, and cost analysis, I got the OK from my spouse to move forward with my plan.

First, I plotted out the section of yard I wanted.  This wasn’t too hard as I was just expanding and squaring off the section I expanded last year.  Then I removed the existing mulch and pulled the sod and put it aside under plastic to kill it (most of it wasn’t desirable grasses).   While pricing out materials at one of the big box stores, I found some 2x2x8″ bricks on clearance, so I picked up a fair amount of those to use for edging.  I did my best to level the garden area and installed the edging as level as possible.  This proved a little tricky considering the grade slopes ever so gently away from the house, but I managed to make it work.  Weed barrier was laid down and secured and next came the boxes.

Math is not necessarily my strong suit, and I took a fair amount of time to work out how to make the least amount of cuts for my raised beds.  Off to the big box store again for lumber and hardware – corner brackets that cost more than the lumber!  These materials camped out in my garage for a couple of weeks while the weather decided what to do.  I finally had a few good days coming up in the forecast, so I bribed my husband to help me cut the lumber so I could go to work in the garden the next day.  Once again, I spent an hour or so making sure the corners joined in a way to not get something like a parallelogram and I went to work.

Now that the boxes were done and roughly placed, I needed to figure out the best way to fill them and mulch the paths.  Filling came first and I found a local dirt guy who also sold a compost that sounded lovely  – chicken & horse manure, mushroom compost and a few others I can’t remember.  So I ordered a combination of soil and compost and had it delivered.  I started filling the beds and realized that there was no way I was going to be able to complete the job by myself, and rain was predicted for the next day.  That soil HAD to get in.  Luckily, my neighbor and his teenage son took pity on my and using two wheelbarrows, managed to get the rest of the fill in the beds.  The best part, was finding this guy:

This would be Lord Voldewart or, The Toad That Shall Not Be Named.  He hitched a ride on the truck and got unceremoniously dumped on my driveway, then scooped up and dumped out of a wheelbarrow.  He now has his own tank, fresh water, and fresh food.  He’s one happy toad!

About a week later, I scheduled mulch to be delivered and installed in my backyard.  The landscaping in the back is along the entire perimeter of the yard, plus the back of the house and my garden area.  The guys edged my beds and installed the mulch.  I finally had a proper garden!  Since then I have installed grids for square foot gardening (using a vinyl folding “door” that I found at the hardware store, it has narrow slats that I could remove and cut to length – even better, I can write on it with pencil) transplanted my thyme, oregano and parsley, planted my onions and garlic, and sowed everything else directly in the planting beds.  In the past two weeks, I have installed trellises and kept an eye on things.  Nearly everything has sprouted and some things are doing fantastic.  The herbs are VERY happy in their new location and I have radishes that I will be harvesting any day now.  In the two beds I used last year I am planting strawberries and romaine lettuce.  The one I planted lettuce in was an afterthought.  I wasn’t planning on using it, but I needed to do something with extra compost/soil so it got filled, I figured I might as well put it to use.

I’m also impressed that everything I dug up, divided and transplanted is not only surviving, but thriving and doing extremely well.  The daffodils bloomed right on schedule, the geranium looks like it was there all along, and the Ozark blue star is starting to bloom.

Today I spent a fair amount of time weeding.  While the compost was a great find, I have discovered that it was absolutely riddled with seeds.  Some are clover, which I’m tempted to leave as a green mulch, some look like radishes, some look sort of like carrots, and others look like weeds and grass.  I figure if I pull a bunch this year, next year it shouldn’t be as hard.  I’ve left a few that look like something useful just to see what comes out of them.

Speaking of pulling, I completed the first blitz of garlic mustard eradication.  I’m pulling more as I find it, and had a disheartening discovery.  It seems as though it is running rampant in my neighbors yard, and being that he’s elderly, it’s not going away anytime soon.  I’ve considered mentioning it, but honestly, I would wind up getting stuck pulling it all, and I’m just not willing to put in all that extra work for the next few years.  I’ll be happy if I can keep the stuff in my yard under control.  Next time I see the person that does his yardwork, I may mention it.

So this is what my garden looked like when it was finally installed.  Parts of it are much greener already, and nearly every square foot has a sprout (or more) in it.  There are also more trellises along the outside of the longest bed and on the right hand side.

I’m off to research chemical free ways to eradicate massive anthills.  I may have mentioned before that our entire neighborhood seems to have been built on an established carpenter ant population.  Unfortunately, they like to make their hills near my edibles.  Every year there is one near, or in, my raspberry patch, and this year I have a bonus one adjacent to one of my planting beds.  It’s quite fun watching them carry mulch to their home, they are amazingly strong little guys.  I’ve heard some judiciously applied boiling water may do the trick, but whatever I do, I have to be careful not to splash or otherwise harm my tomatoes.  If anybody has any viable solutions, I’m all ears.

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Raspberries (Round 2)

Raspberry2
Of the many things we were fortunate to inherit with the purchase of our house three years ago, one of my favorites is the raspberry patch in the back yard.  When we moved in that first spring, our neighbors informed us that there were rasberries at the back of our property.  The back was so overgrown that I had a difficult time distinguishing the raspberry plants from the weeds.  The berries had yet to even flower, so I looked for the tell-tale “thorny” stems and cleared out the patch.  The first year we didn’t get too many, considering they hadn’t been taken care of for quite some time, and I also wanted a season of observation so I could figure out what we had and where.  Between researching raspberries, and my observations throughout the summer, I determined that we had an everbearing variety.  What luck!

The beauty of everbearing raspberries is that there are two distinct “seasons” in which you can harvest.  The first harvest develops on the canes that are entering their second year.  I do my pruning in the spring, when it is easiest to tell what are old canes and what are second year canes.  Old canes have more of a grey, dried wood look to them and should be pruned down to the ground, they will not bear fruit.  Second year canes, which will give you berries sometime in early to mid-July, will have a reddish-brown color to them, and they have stuck around from the previous year.

Second Year CaneNote the reddish-brown color of the cane.  This is indicative of a second year cane.

Second Year Cane (dying off)Notice how the end is turning gray?  By next spring the entire cane will be gray and ready to be pruned down.  It is done producing fruit.

First year canes will be the new canes that start growing in the spring.  I find that after a few good harvests in July, there is about a month or so of downtime until the first year canes start producing fruit.  Today was the first day I was able to pick a few ripe raspberries.  Depending on the weather and sun conditions, I should have a decent harvest in about a week or so.  There is a good amount of fruit on the canes and I imagine that I’ll have 2-3 big harvests before they start fading into the fall.

First Year CaneA first year cane with ripening fruit.  Notice the green color on the cane.  Leaf damage by Japanese beetles is evident.

In my opinion, the best choice for raspberries are the everbearing, especially if you have a houseful of berry lovers.  I suppose the main reason for planting and keeping single-bearing plants would be to try different varieties.  If you haven’t grown raspberries, and you have a nice sized, sunny patch that could use some plants, I would suggest you try some type of berry.  Since I don’t grow them, I can’t comment on blueberries or blackberries, but if they are anything like raspberries, they are easy to grow and tend to, and every year it seems the patch grows a bit and gives us more berries to enjoy.

As a final note, many people strongly suggest trellising your berries in some way.  Mine never were (they are not planted in any kind of orderly fashion) and I have had no major issues with them.  Some of the plants toward the middle of the patch can be a bit challenging to reach, but they are definitely worth the effort.  I have had no problem with disease, however my biggest issue is with Japanese beetles.  If left unchecked, they can decimate a patch in an amazingly short time (which I discovered that first summer).  Last year I went out every morning and evening with a bowl of soapy water and removed as many as I could by hand.  This year I don’t have as many (possibly due to my work last year), but I anticipate more next year considering my laissez-faire attitude about removing them this year.

Tomato Tomahto

Many people who don’t do a full blown vegetable garden still plant one vegetable that is best home grown.

Tomatoes.

Garden Bounty

I have found that tomatoes are easy to grow and the reward is fantastic.  Ask anybody who has grown tomatoes and they will tell you that what you buy at grocery store pales dramatically in comparison to what you get out of the garden.  The taste of home grown tomatoes has no equal.

This year I have a total of 8 tomato plants.  Two ‘Brandywine’, two ‘Early Girl’, two ‘SuperSweet 100’ cherry tomatoes, one ‘Arkansas Traveler’ and one ‘Mr. Stripey’.  So far the yield I have gotten from the ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Early Girl’ has far exceeded my expectations.  The plants are so heavy with fruit that picking can be a challenge when the fruit are jammed together in their supports.  In fact, one of my ‘Early Girl’ plants is threatening to bring down the stake and spiral cage that supports it.  I am using the Veggie Cage spiral tomatoe cages.  You just connect them to a stake (I have six foot stakes in the ground) and gently guide the tomato plants through the center of them.  As the plants grow, you guide the shoots through the sides to give them support.  Not only do they work exactly as advertised, with no tying of the plants, but they are attractive as well.  Four of my plants are in my Square Foot Garden.  My ‘SuperSweet 100’ cherry tomatoes are doing very well trellesed up with a nylon trellis, and I haven’t had to tie them or their neighbors up as well.  As the plants grow I gently weave them in and out of the trellis and they seem to be appropriately supported.

In the past, I had planted fairly standard varieties of tomatoes, usually ‘Big Boy’ or ‘Better Boy’ and that was the extent of my tomato experience.  This year I chose ‘Brandywine’ because all over the internet, I have read that they are possibly the best tasting tomatoes.  They certainly don’t disappoint.  Not only are they meaty with a rich flavor, but they can grow to fairly enormous size.  I have had two tomatoes that have weighed over a pound, and 4-5 more that hover around 14 ounces.

August16Harvest

The ‘Early Girl’ variety was a result of me possibly channeling the spirt of my grandfather.  Apparently he used to grow tomatoes all the time and the variety he planted most often were ‘Early Girl’.  These look much more like supermarket tomatoes.  They are almost perfectly round and red, not irregular and pinkish like the ‘Brandywine’.  They are not as meaty, but still have a good tomato flavor, just not quite as sweet.

Early Girl

My ‘SuperSweet 100’ are my husband’s favorite.  He has always loved cherry tomatoes, but we were shocked at how sweet these are.  They are truly like garden candy.

I have to say that the yield on ‘Arkansas Traveler’ and ‘Mr. Stripey’ is downright disappointing.  I suspect it has something to do with being in my Square Foot Garden (when the ‘Brandywine’ and ‘Early Girl’ are in the potager).  It could also be that I did some direct composting early in the season around the plants in the potager, but not in my SFG.  Next year, I will definitely put all of my tomato plants in the potager and probably direct compost early in the spring again.  I think I might plant one or two more ‘Brandywine’ and try a few other varieties as well.  I’d like a Roma tomato, maybe a yellow grape tomato, and something more exotic, like a ‘Black Krim’.  It all depends on what I can get at the nursery.  I’m not sure if I’ll start seeds again next year.  While I enjoyed raising my “babies”, I am horribly impatient and hate the hardening off process.  While that seemed to go well this year, most of my starts didn’t make it.  I may have started seeds to early.  We’ll see how the winter goes.  If it’s another tough one, I’ll probably start seeds again, just so I can have something green to look at when it’s still cold outside.

Bumper Crop

About a week ago, I caught my youngest daughter picking raspberries and popping them in her mouth.  She was enjoying them and we only had a few ripe at the time.  This morning I looked out the kitchen window and saw a bunch of red dotting my raspberry bushes.  I grabbed a container and headed out to pick.  On the way, I was distracted by the peas and realized I hadn’t harvested any in a few days.
Peas

After picking a small container full I reversed course and went back into the house to grab another container for the berries.  When I approached my raspberry patch I was amazed at what I saw.  More ripe berries than I had ever seen in the 3 1/2 years we have lived in this house.  I started picking, swatting at the japanese beetles that would occasionally buzz my head trying to protect their turf (they haven’t actually been bad this year, might be because I killed HUNDREDS of grubs when setting up my kitchen garden – a thought that still causes me to retch when thinking about it).  Soon I fill my container and head in to give them to my husband to rinse (there were a lot of fat happy bugs all over and around the berry bushes).  I dump the berries in the colander and head back out.  Soon my container is full again and my husband and I are totally amazed at how many we managed to get in one harvest.  I really should have weighed them, but I was already drooling over the plump red fruits.  My guesstimate is that I picked about 2 pounds of raspberries this morning, give or take a few ounces.  It totally filled one of my bigger plastic containers.
Raspberries

The best part is that there are still a lot of mostly ripe berries out there that I will be able to pick in a few days.  I’m not sure I’ll get quite as many as I got today, but I’m hopeful that we’ll come close.