Vegetable Oasis

My original garden plan evolved, and I wanted to make a note of the final beautiful product so I can prepare to rotate crops next year.

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I’ve been, as usual, surprised by how well everything has come along. From this…

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To this…

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Everything has come along beautifully. By fall we’re hoping to start killed off the grass inside the garden “grid, filling it in with mulch for now and then perhaps someday a pea gravel to give it the Old World look that Chris so admires. For now, mulch will be easier to maintain then having to pull out the push mower after mowing the rest of the yard, and the stone border will help maintain a tidy edge and tie into the rest of the yard.

We’ve been steaming snap peas for dinner at least once a week, and they are just as good off the vine as I remember from my childhood. We’ve also had plenty of huge salads from the few small lettuce leaves with which we started, and somehow it just tastes better when plucked straight from the garden.

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Snap peas, lettuce and carrots blossomed quickly in the cool May.

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Red onions and Big Boy tomatoes are divided by cheery marigolds.

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Bush beans grow among Brupee’s new hybrid container corn.

The Finished Wall

The wall has turned out beautifully. After construction was finished,I went through and stained both sides of the untreated wood, hoping to provide a little added protection from weathering.

Next, Chis drilled an upward-angled hole in the bottom slat every five feet and inserted a small length of copper tubing to promote drainage. Inside, we filled the bottom foot all the way across with gravel for the same purpose. Finally, we added a lining of landscape fabric to keep too much dirt from filling in that gravel, while still allowing the water through.

The last step has been the most difficult: filling the 2×20 foot bed with dirt. I’ve been taking a couple wheelbarrow loads here and there from our compost pile in the front, but have emptied about as much as I can without disturbing what has suddenly turned into an unexpected pumpkin patch (my favorite type of surprise).

I’m aiming to finish the bed up shortly so that I can transplant my remaining sweet potato vines, letting them drift beautifully over the edges of the wall, as well as a host of trailing herbs ready to go wild.

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Our garden “room,”

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Future plans call for decorating this side with a collage of colorful tealight holders.

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The next step will be to add a small storage bench on this side of the garden wall.

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When looking off the porch, it’s a delight to have one corner of the yard that seems almost “finished.”

How to Build a 20-Foot Veggie Wall

At the end of last year, I had finally built the last two raised veggie beds for my vegetable garden, and they sat empty, unfinished and uneven for the rest of the winter, the pale thorn in my side. So the first warm day of March found us all outside, adding landscaping fabric and mesh to the bottom of the beds to keep out rodents, leveling the sod so the beds would sit evenly and adding a couple of coats of stain to protect against further weathering.

SONY DSCWith that all easily accomplished in an afternoon, I was a bit surprised that Chris agreed to immediately tackle the one remaining raised bed we had discussed.

There are two reasons I figure he jumped all in to this project:

  1. It’s using the last of the wood from our homemade dance floor from four years ago.
  2. Chris can’t resist a good wall.

I can’t remember who first suggested it, but we had fallen in love with the idea of sectioning off the vegetable garden from the rest of the yard with a tall raised bed that would act essentially as a wall, creating a vegetable “room.” Gardeners far more experienced than I will tell you that the best gardens entice you to move forward to discover what’s just around the bend. In my mind each corner of the yard will someday offer its own secret room, a sectioned off area where visitors will find a private world with its own scented secrets.

The wall in question measures 20 feet long by 2 feet wide and roughly 30 inches tall. The plan was to use 4×4 lumber for the corners and vertical supports, but we didn’t want to use pressure-treated wood, with chemicals that could potentially leach into the soil and roots. That pushed us to 2×4 kiln-treated wood that Chris considered fastening into 4×4 bundles, but then we had to be concerned with rot and replacement. Ultimately he found 4- and 8-foot-long metal L-shaped pieces at Lowe’s that were corrosion-resistant and could be easily driven into the ground, the perfect solution.

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With a sledgehammer and a level, we placed the longer Ls in each corner, then Chris fastened a series of the shorter pieces together to create Ts, and we place four of those in the middle for supports at 5-foot intervals. Chris strung a line level to ensure the tops of his posts were all even, since we’re working on a small grade.

While Chris leveled, I stained the wood we had on hand. Once it had dried, we began cutting wood to size.

By the end of the night, we had two boards up, and a narrow trench dug fairly deep where the ground is higher so that we can slip the next boards in level. Once the bottom row goes in, it should be fairly simple to build up from there.

How to Build a Raised Vegetable Bed

Cure for the Common Cold

It’s spring as far as I’m concerned and nothing, not even a head-cold and the occasional bout of axis-tipping dizziness, is going to keep me from enjoying it.

The signs have been everywhere that spring is here:

  • This week warmed up to the 60s!
  • The thick, sludgy snow by the mailbox has finally melted!
  • The first yellow crocus was joined within minutes by four of its siblings!
  • My seeds have arrived!

Did I forget to mention the seeds? Funny, I’ve started the blog about the exotic allure of online seed-buying at least three times over the years, and then always talk myself out of hitting the buy button. Not this year! I picked out exactly the cucumbers and peas I wanted, threw in a fun packet of Burpee’s hybrid corn and decided to try my hand at sweet potatoes (why not?) as well.

At any rate, given this clear cut case for spring, yesterday Chris and I finished the last two raised veggie beds: he added the wire and landscape fabric to keep all variety of pests at bay and I slapped on a coat of stain to slow the effects of the weather. By the end of painting, I’d more or less forgotten I was sick.

It’s been cheering to be accomplishing so much so early in the season, so I think I’m ready to put out another to-do list, a little challenge to myself to keep moving. So without further ado, the 2015 To-Dos:

  1. Plant all six veggie beds
  2. Fertilize the lawn (finally)
  3. Cut down the front holly (sob – much more on that later)
  4. Plant the boxwoods in front of the house and extend the front bed
  5. Edge the garden near the veggies with stone
  6. Plant at least one shrub in the corner near the baby’s swing
  7. Complete my rain barrel making project (more on that as soon as my galvanized drum cover arrives in the mail)
  8. Build the long veggie bed (would love to plant it but am trying to rein in my enthusiasm before my garden partner rips out his hair on one project to many)

That’s not so bad, right? I didn’t say one word about building the baby a hobbit house for her birthday or putting in an entire dry creek bed! See, I know my limits!



Countdown to the Last Frost

I used to have pretty bleak thoughts about January and February. Bare trees, hard ground, dull and muted colors. What a tough time to be a gardener, I thought, my face pressed to the window pane.

Experience has taught me patience, and now I realize the crucial need for winter planning. This is the time to take out paper and pencils and begin making plans for spring and summer.

The latest sketches are all part of my square series, I suppose. This year I’m doubling my veggie garden, expanding my experiments and upping my ambition. Rather than going in blind (last year being only “practice,” I had assured myself), I’ve come up with a rough plan.

garden planWith a (constantly evolving) plan in hand, I am beginning to look at specifics. Last year I got a late start and my planting options were pretty slim. This year I’ve been dog-earing the pages of the Burpee catalog as I daydream.

Yes, there may still be 3 inches of snow and slush on the ground, but I have a handful of seed packets on my kitchen counter that assure me their contents can be in the ground by the end of March. Sowing time – spring – summer! – is practically around the corner.

Arbor Brightening Project

I’m so thrilled that my arbor garden is finally turning into, well, a garden! Earlier this summer I had been gifted a few small Acuba from my mom’s garden. I thought the yellow lines running through the broad green leaves would brighten up that otherwise rather dark corner.

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I’ve decided to use that color combination as the basis for the rest of my planting. In the back behind the arbor we finally decided on a Janed Gold Arborvitae – I wanted an evergreen to keep that area soft all year long, and to hide the fence. I liked not only the yellow coloring in the edges of this one, but the fact that it averages out around 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide – perfect for that tucked away space.

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In front of the Acuba I’ve added Golden Mop False Cypress, two on each side. I wanted to repeat the texture found in the Arborvitae with a low shrub that hopefully will spread out along that area. Now, these have the potential to get big, but I figure their slow growing habits will keep them easy to control with pruning. And I’m so glad already that I opted for these additions – already these shaggy gold bushes brighten up that entire corner of the yard.

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The pictures really don’t do the new plants justice. This corner of the yard has been so dreary for so long and now I can hardly look away. We recently had a party and I had an excuse to light all of the lanterns with battery-operated tealights so that my little nook glowed all day and night long. I’m truly excited for spring to make a few more additions to this future retreat – including an outdoor rug and some flowy curtains.

Singing the Bulbs to Sleep

It has been a perfect fall so far, full of crisp apples and cider, pumpkin muffins, and of course lots to do in the garden.

For vegetables, I planted Romaine and Bibb lettuce in early September, along with radish and spinach seeds. All but the spinach are thriving and the tomatoes are still going strong. My peppers have also finally hit their stride in the cool days and chilly nights; there are four big Bells at last count and three Anaheims getting started: chili weather is here!

I’ve also been working on bulbs. I did a row of Allium along the back of the pond garden; I thought my little helpers would enjoy (picking the petals off) the big purple balls in the summertime. I added a semi-circle of red-and-yellow tulips, planted with rodent-resistant daffodils, around my little white bench. My little Rose has been helping me tuck the remaining daffodil bulbs around all of our decorative trees.

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Rose has been a bit confused by the process. She likes the bulbs and their papery skins, and she likes the game of hiding them in the dirt, but she then once they’re covered she’s ready to dig them out like any good game of peekaboo. I’ve had to explain to her that the bulbs are sleeping now, all through the winter, and they won’t wake up until spring when they’ll turn into beautiful flowers. She wasn’t crazy about that explanation until we sang them all lullabies, patting the dirt where the bulbs sleep. I’m hoping that extra effort will guarantee a full garden come spring.

Meanwhile, the daisies, now interspersed with a flaming red seedum, have just begun to open their white petals for one of my favorite sights of fall.

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