Friday, May 26, 2006

The Veggie Garden

I've blogged before about my adventures in gardening, a hobby which my husband introduced to me and which I turn out to really ENJOY (surprising; I'm not really an outdoor kind of girl. Or a physical labor kind of girl) and have a bit of a knack for. It's fun because I get to do lots of research - on plant biology, soil chemistry, varieties of plants, genetics, etc. - and I get to do practical stuff with my hands, too. And it results in something pretty. For me, that's like the perfect hobby.

I'm on a crusade against lawns - they're a biologically-dead monoculture inappropriate to the local environment that require major applications of toxic chemicals (that run off into our waterways and seep into our groundwater) and routinely mowing using fossil fuels to keep them looking their best. This, I think, is not only environmentally irresponsible but actively sinful. So we're on a mission to make our yard more environmentally-friendly, by overseeding the grass with clover (better for the environment, bees like it, requires virtually no care, and we don't have to actually rip OUT the grass), by eliminating grass in favor of beds of other plants, and by putting in a vegetable garden.

The other plants we've put in so far include local "weeds" (lilies of the valley!), bulb flowers, prairie grasses and flowers (again, no care, so pretty), and a garden of plants that appeal to native birds and butterflies.

But we took a large section of our yard, where the ground was irritatingly rolling and hard to mow anyway, and where the sun really beats down mercilessly, and we've put in a pretty large vegetable garden. (Around 250 plantable square feet.) Mr. McGee built the raised beds out of untreated 1x6 pine (untreated or arsenic leaches into your food - tasty). Yes, they will rot faster than cedar. But they're a lot cheaper, and most books I read said by the time the pine rots out, you're usually ready to move at least part of your garden anyway - trees grow, shade moves, etc.

Here's an overview of the garden. I couldn't find anywhere to get up above it for a better picture:

(Click to enlarge!)

If you're not interested in plants, skip this paragraph. It's planted with:
Left front: Corn
Left middle: Tomatoes Black from Tula, Early Girl, and Pink Girl; Pumpkin; Melons; and carrots
Left back: Empty so far; too far under the lilac bush. Maybe lettuce in the heat of summer when lettuce needs shade.
Middle front: Onions, bush beans, chives, squash, and four varieties of peppers I can't remember the names of.
Middle middle: Unfinished; intend to plant various herbs and successive plantings of carrots, radishes, etc.
Middle back: Anise, Sugar Snap Peas (so far a failure), Tomatoes Yellow Boy and Grape Hybrid, Pepper "Chocolate Beauty," Eggplants, and Radishes. (plus some empty space)
Right Front: Turnip Greens, Kohlrabi, and some other green I forget the name of.
Right Middle: Broccoli, Slow-Bolt Arugula, and Mizuma Mustard Greens.
Right Back: Four varieties of lettuce: Black-Seeded Simpson, Green Salad Bowl, Red Salad Bowl, and I forget the other one.

Most of what we've planted is organic and of course we're using organic methods in the garden itself. Putting the garden in was a lot of work, but keeping it up doesn't require very much more work than mowing that section. On days it doesn't rain, I spend 10-20 minutes watering (with a watering can, not a hose; all my hoses seem to have holes in them). On weekends, I weed, which takes less time than you'd think and I find relatively pleasant and my husband is out there with me while we work. (As this is a Friday, excuse the rampant weeds, particularly in among the Squash and Bush Beans - the seedlings were really too small to weed around very effectively last week, so the weeds are everywhere in that bed.)

The past four years we've very successfully grown herbs in container gardens on patios and balconies, and it was such a treat to ALWAYS have fresh parsley and not have to spend an arm and a leg for it at the supermarket. This made me much more willing to branch out and try veggies.

What's the deal with the random orange juice container? I poked a hole in the bottom and I fill it with a gallon of water and then it "slow drips" to water the tomatoes so it can get nice and deep in the soil (5 plants, so one each weekday it doesn't rain; tomatoes, my books tell me, like a gallon of water a week). The first week you start in close to the tomato, the next week you back up six inches, so the roots have to reach to get to the water, and you end up with a healthy plant with a deep root system without a whole lot of standing around watering. Up above, it's watering my Yellow Boy.

Here you see our bed with the Beans, Squash, Weeds, Onions, Peppers, and Chives. The peppers are seriously suffering for nitrogen; fortunately, my neighbor works at the ag lab and diagnosed the problem instantly upon seeing them when he came over for a drink the other day. I've fed them dried pigs blood, and they're greening up. (Although the nitrogen may retard the bulb growth of the onions by favoring their leaves! I love these little puzzles!) The boxwoods you can see on the left will eventually form a sort of "living fence" between the patio and "formal" part of the garden with more formal flowerbeds, and the vegetable garden.

These three beds are basically all greens, plus broccoli and kohlrabi. (If you've never had kohlrabi, it looks like something aliens would eat and it's REALLY GOOD. I met it last year for the first time and woah, mama!) The kohlrabi is the two rows in the front center there; the broccoli is the two thin-looking rows in the middle bed. Both take much longer to grow than lettuce and so look quite scrawny right now. We've also had a few problems with rabbits in the greens; we may be putting chicken wire up this weekend.

Last night we had company for dinner and served a salad of young Mizuma Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, and baby Arugula. Oh my GOD do greens fresh from the garden taste like HEAVEN. I could happily convert my entire yard to nothing but lettuce and just eat my way through it all.

As for the newspaper you can see on the path between - newspaper is an easy, inexpensive, environmentally-friendly way to kill grass. It smothers the grass and then composts into a fairly rich soil-additive. We've been putting sand and gravel left over from our patio-laying project of last summer down as the paths for now; eventually we'll probably put something prettier, but it does the job for now. We haven't quite finished with the paths, as we didn't get the last two beds in until recently, so in parts of the garden you can see the newspapers sticking out, or even grass where we haven't covered the grass at all.

Finally, this is my Black from Tula tomato, an heirloom variety that I picked up at the Luthy Botanical Gardens spring plant sale, so it's way ahead of my other tomatos; you can see it's already set fruit. I'm super-psyched; these are REALLY TASTY tomatoes. I hope I manage to get at least one. Since it's my first year with veggies, my goals are modest.

Two books I have found ridiculously useful during this process have been On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen for its biological and chemical and evolutionary information about various fruits and vegetables, and Square Foot Gardening. We did not slavishly square-foot our garden (as you can tell), but we used a lot of his techniques and ideas.

Now everybody can stop bugging me for pictures of my garden, about which I brag constantly so my distant relatives and friends are curious to see it! And if you're very, very nice to me, I might let you eat my veggies!


Lyricfox said...

Oh VERY nice, Koi.

Glad you got that Sq. Foot Gardening book, too. We're going to be using a lot of ideas from there once we start our veggie garden.


dewayne said...

I have a question about the newspapers for killing weeds.
I have a garden spot in my front yard - I try to keep grass free unsucessfully. I have grass growing out around some rose bushes. If I put newspaper down over the grass will it impact my roses negatively?
If not, I guess I'll have to get some more mulch to cover it up otherwise the city inspections gal in our area will cite me fior litter.
Keep up the gardening posts. I appreciate them.

Mahkno said...

Mulch is bad for roses... so I have read. Mulch harbors bugs and fungi.

We put alyssum around our roses. Looks nice and seems to help.

Eyebrows McGee said...

We put weedblocking fabric around our roses, got at at Menard's. The trouble with your situation is that if you don't plant something there as soon as the newspaper mulches in, you'll just grew new weeds.

We also use cypress mulch around the roses (over the weedblocking fabric which is ugly on its own) because Roses for Dummies said cypress mulch was okay.

I personally hate my roses, though, so I'm not the best person to ask, lol.

Anonymous said...

Dear 'brows,

Love the garden.
Love your blog.

Potatoes I am good at. My wife makes decent salsa out of what I can grow. I have had minimal success with pumpkins (and we live around Morton, I am so ashamed!)
Can't grow carrots to save my soul.

Anon E. Mouse