Gardening is something of a family tradition for us. My great-grandfather (who we called Opa) made a living as a gardener when he emigrated from Germany around 60 years ago, so there was never a time growing up where I can’t remember Opa having a vegetable garden, or a time where I don’t have memories of helping him out in the garden. The same could be said for my mother. He started her out at an early age, and here’s the evidence: a picture of her with Opa and her mother in 1954, where at a little over 2 years old, she’s right there with him with a miniature hoe of her own.
So gardening is definitely in the blood, although I don’t remember much of those early lessons. Oddly enough, I can still remember the exact placement of all of the vegetables in his garden – isn’t it funny how the mind works? There are fleeting remembrances of cold frames and growing green beans and cucumbers and tomatoes and spinach, and memories of sitting in the yard with Oma snapping the ends off of those beans so that she could make Bohnegemüse which she’d then freeze for preservation so that we could enjoy nature’s bounty during the cold New Jersey winters.
That desire to garden laid pretty much dormant until we built a house of our own in 2004. I started that year with something simple – herbs grown in containers on my porch rail, and some tomatoes grown in the front bed – although not pretty, it was quite bountiful. As the years have passed, we’ve expanded a bit – we have a deck now where we didn’t before, and we have a fence now, so the growing space expanded with the home improvements. Last year we grew tomatoes and peppers in containers on the back deck. This year, we put in an honest-to-goodness permanent garden, which we’ll continue to use year after year.
Please click on through and join me on a tour of how my garden started out. I’ll share my progress month-by-month, including some of my harvest. It’s amazing to see how quickly things have progressed.
The last frost date for our region usually falls around May 15th, so I really don’t put out any plants until then. During the winter, I still like to grow my own herbs, using an Aerogarden. My first foray into growing my own food, it makes the whole thing virtually foolproof.
We’ll start the tour of outside at the front of the house. One of the ways we celebrate spring is by hanging baskets and planting new annuals into the boxes on our porch rail. We did impatiens in the garden boxes, and fuschia (in the middle) and 2 other baskets whose names I can’t remember to hang.
A closer look at the plants on the porch, from a different view.
We have a large variety of perennials in the bed along the front walk. During this point of the season, the clematis and the iris were in full bloom.
As usual, I can’t let a single season pass me by without doing an herb garden of some sort. Since I have an outdoor kitchen set up on the deck, having my herbs within easy reach, also on the deck, is a wonderful thing. I use a tiered container for herbs of which I only need limited quantities.
Herbs which need to be replanted often (because they go to seed, like cilantro), or of which I need bigger quantities, get their own pot.
Here’s some caraway.
I grew the lemon verbena because I loved it’s smell. Still haven’t used it in cooking. But I still rub the leaves as I walk by – it has such a wonderful fragrance to it.
One can NEVER have too much basil, right?
I took my chances with planting tomatoes early. By the beginning of May, the nights were already fairly warm, so I planted my Early Girl Tomatoes in a container, with the understanding that I could cover them with plastic or bring them inside completely if the forecast for the night was too cold. This particular seedling had been transplanted for about 3 weeks at this point.
Unfortunately, this lettuce and arugula I planted in one of the deck containers didn’t really thrive at all, so this is the first and only picture of it. I made the mistake of not adding nutrients or recycling the soil, which I used last year for hot peppers.
After falling in love with Sungold Tomatoes last year, I couldn’t resist planting some of my own.
So much so that I planted 2 containers. Which will probably turn into 5 containers next year.
New this year are grapes that we’re growing in a bed along our deck. There are 2 of a seedless variety (I want to say Reliance?) and 2 Concord. Grapes typically aren’t very productive the first year you plant the vines.
We made a discovery last year (or was it the year before?) that we have a mulberry tree in our backyard. By mid-May, the berries were formed, but still unripe.
We bought a praying mantis nest from the North Market with the hopes that if they survived, the praying mantids would be a natural form of pest control. We twist tied it to a branch of the tree to protect it from the elements (and predators). It managed to stay intact until we moved it into the sun on the fence. But we have seen young mantids here and there, so maybe it was just moved by an animal but managed to hatch anyway?
There’s an area on the south side of our house that gets continuous full sun all day, and we’ve found it nearly impossible to keep grass from dying in that area because of the amount of sun it gets. We decided to turn that area into a garden, as gardens with a southern exposure tend to do wonderfully.
After reading the book All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, we decided to use his methods to do some raised beds of our own. The basic concepts of square foot gardening are simple. You build 6″ high raised boxes of whatever size, and then divide those boxes into 1′ squares which you fill with a soil mixture (recipe is in the book). In each 1′ square you can grow a certain number of things – like 1 pepper plant, or 16 carrots, etc. It allows you to maximize the amount of food you can grow in small spaces, and once that space is done for the season (for example, once you can no longer grow lettuce in a square because of summer heat, you clear the square, enrich the area with compost, and then grow something like radishes there). So, so simple and makes a lot of sense. As you can see, these pictures were taken when the boxes were still mostly unfinished, without anything laid on the ground around it yet. In this first box (if you number the first box #1, and going left to right, from the top row to the bottom row, ending with the rightmost bottom box being #16), I’ve got 1: eggplant, 2 &3: sweet corn from seed, 4: eggplant, 5: Rainbow lights swiss chard, 6&7: bibb lettuce, 8: green beans from seed, 9: turnips from seed, 10: collard greens, 11: kohlrabi (except it turned out it was cabbage instead, thus the incorrect spacing!), 12: spinach from seed, 13: eggplant, 14: carrots from seed, 15: radishes from seed, and 16: eggplant.
The second box are all strawberries, which I’m going to be growing as perennials. There’s a mix of 3 different types – 8 of them are June bearing, another 8 of June and September bearing, and 16 ever-bearing which produce in smaller quantities throughout the growing season. This is when the plants were freshly transplanted.
The third box is a mixture of onions (top row), lettuce and tomatoes. I made the mistake (didn’t realize it of the time) of planting the tomatoes way too close to each other.
The fourth box has summer squash in the top corners, along with some canteloupe, burpless and pickling cucumbers, and various peppers.
The white box in the center is a 3′x3′ box that is a holdover from last year. The tall things on the left are hardneck garlic that I planted last fall, and on the right there are more peppers, poblano in particular. The peppers didn’t last long either. Something chewed the leaves off of them and they stopped growing.
I started composting this year, but I don’t think we’re doing it right. We’re only using non-meat veggie scraps, but when I open it it’s just a bunch of stinking rotting veggies. I think we need to add something else, like dirt, or brown matter, or SOMETHING.
We planted some fruit bushes this year, too. Here’s a blackberry bush.
And a raspberry bush.
And a couple of blueberry bushes that had yet to be planted.
Fruit bushes don’t have a lot of yield when they’re getting established, but should be capable of more output next year.
So that’s where we started from. Keep an eye out to see how things progress.