Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Compleat Garden

Above you see the complete McGee veggie garden (click to enlarge and see the letters), as viewed from my upstairs bathroom window, which is now stuck in the open position and I really need to get around to calling Andersen Windows because that's just irritating. Anyway, from left to right, front to back, a lettered tour of the garden:

Behind the row of boxwoods, which will grow in over time to provide a living hedge separating the more formal patio area from the veggie garden, starting on the left at A, you see our corn. Really tall. Has ears! I love it! I went out on Saturday and the corn just had silk. On Sunday it had SIX INCH EARS! Perhaps the most amazing thing about the corn is how quickly things happen when they do happen. In the next bed, B are bush beans (purple, white, and yellow ones) that are just now bearing. C is a crookneck squash plant. Between B and C are garlic chives, but they've been shadowed out a bit by the squash. At D are four different types of peppers, from sweet to super-hot. No bell peppers this year - I accidentally killed them all with clumsiness. On either end of the BCD bed are onions grown from sets.

Bed E is home to turnip greens and endives, that are both past their prime and too bitter, but they provide nice greenery and will make a good "green manure" for the bed when we turn it over. Between them are kohlrabi (kohlrabis?), the alien veggie, which are coming along nicely. (The kohlrabi is actually the lighter blue-green foilage the "E" is on top of.)

Back on the left, F are these freakishly huge tomato plants I didn't know were going to grow so big (Black from Tula, Early Pink Girl, and ... Early Boy? Or something?). In about a week we are going to have more tomatoes than we can possibly eat coming ripe all at once.

H are eggplants - I'm not sure if they'll have time to set fruit and ripen in this climate since I started them from seed - and G are melons which I only started a few weeks ago and are already spreading impressively. Bed I features more squash (trombocino and crookneck) and J is arugula and mustard greens, both bolted to seed, but pretty with their white and yellow flowers. More green manure.

K has nothing in it, being almost totally in the shade of L, my lilac bush, but when this brutal heat breaks I'm going to try a planting of summer lettuce and see if it's cool enough under there to grow true sativa in the summer. If not, I'll probably just plant some pretty annuals there in the future. (You can also see my black rolling composter back behind the lilac bush there.) M are two more tomato plants (grape tomato and Yellow something) and a chocolate pepper plant. N are sunflowers! Planted just a few weeks ago and very huge very fast. Behind them are really neat squiggly climbing posts for sugar snap peas and other climbers. We haven't had too much luck with them this year, but I'm looking forward to starting them earlier next year.

O is our lettuce bed with four kinds of lettuce, which are slowly bolting to seed and turning bitter in this heat. We've had a fairly steady supply of fresh, DELICIOUS lettuce. We'll probably turn this under in a couple weeks and then plant a crop of fall lettuce once the weather cools a bit.

P is the pretty fence my husband but in for me, from sectional pieces at Menard's - it was very inexpensive and I like it a lot. Q is a gate we got from A Rustic Garden in Mount Sterling, which my husband spray-painted black and cleverly mounted to the existing fence with U-bolts from the hardware store. I was impressed.

And R(&R) is where we rest in the shade of the neighbor's tree, in our hammock-for-two, with a pillow, after we've worn ourselves out!

Here you can see these cherry/grape tomatoes that bizarrely grew in a little grid of 16, each line of the grid a little riper than the one below. I wished I could flip it over and get a better picture, but I could neither turn it over nor get me and the camera under it without totally destroying the plant.

Finally, take a look at my clover and grass. We haven't watered either at all this summer. (We also haven't mowed in about four weeks now - you may be able to see a few weeds there happy about the lack of mowing, primarily morning glory and Queen Anne's Lace.) I initially planted the clover, you may recall, for several reasons: First, clovers are a nitrogen fixer, which enriches the soil. Second, nature loathes a monoculture (like grass), and grass isn't great for the midwestern environment anyway. Third, White Dutch Clover (aka New Zealand Short Clover, aka the common backyard clover) doesn't grow much taller than 4 inches, so you don't really have to mow it. Fourth, bees like clover, which is good for the other garden plants. If you're afraid of bees, or anyone in your house is allergic to bee stings, you can simply mow the clover with your mower on the highest setting every couple of weeks to prevent the flowers from opening. We have a good friend who goes into anaphylatic shock from bee stings, so we keep a close eye on how MANY bees are busy in our yard so we know not to let her come over when they're out in large numbers, and we really haven't had a problem - just one or two at a time, bumbling through. (The little cage on the clover is for the cats to sit out back - although not in this heat! - and Grey Cat likes to munch on the clover. It's a puppy crate from Farm & Fleet and is maybe the best $30 I have ever spent. Happiest. Cats. Ever.)

But here's the totally unexpected bonus: My clover is the greenest "grass" on the block, watered or unwatered, fertilized or unfertilized. You can see that our unwatered grass has basically turned to straw (it pokes and scratches if you walk barefoot on it!). Our unwatered, unfertilized, unmowed clover is BRIGHT GREEN with no care whatsoever. We have neighbors who are diligent about lawn-watering, and our clover is greener than their lawns. We're SO delighted with the absolute and total lack of care the clover has required AND how green it is even in this horrible heat and lack-of-rain that I'm seriously going to kill more spots of lawn on purpose to overseed them with clover!

The clover is also my favorite spot for resting in the "grass," and it's been remarkably resilient to any blankets, butts, books, and munching cats we put on it.

So yeah - plant clover and end lawn care as you know it!


Anonymous said...

I will be interested to see how much polination (and thusly, kernels per ear) you get with so little corn.

We dug 4 hills of red potatoes Monday. My 6 year old son and 3 year old daughter helped. They were so pround. Mommy told son to wash the potatoes - he took 45 minutes and washed them - cleanest potatoes you ever saw. They were delish! Was going to dig the rest of the reds tonight, but the Typhoon that hit prevented that. The white taters won't be ready for another 3 weeks or so.

Sometime very soon, we will have about 1 jillion tomatoes. Shortly after that, we will have lots and lots of fresh salsa!

Meanwhile, the thing that is going berzerk in my grandma's garden are the watermelons I planted.

I am having to face the reality that I don't know how to grow a simple freaking onion.

Anon E. Mouse

Eyebrows McGee said...

Me too. We tried a few techniques suggested for small corn plantings - the block is 4x4 of corn, and each plant was actually two stalks planted together (so theoretically 32 stalks of corn, but in reality probably 20ish came up). Allegedly as long as the block is 3x3, the corn will pollinate, and planting two together is supposed to help even more.

They're also entirely spaced for the by-plant spacing ... no "between rows" spacing (which is largely for ease of tending and harvest in a large commercial planting). That is also supposed to help.

But we'll see! It's an experimental year.

If not, I'm going to test the sunniness of the far side of my garage, where I have just about 4 feet of space between my garage and my neighbor's fence, and try them there in nice long rows!

Anonymous said...

we plant juliet grape tomatoes and celebrity tomatoes almost every year. They cross polinate making the large celebrity tomatoes very sweet and lower in acid and the grape tomatoes are about twice as large as normal ones, but retain that delicious flavor. Also planted Black Russian Heirlooms this year from the botanical gardens. These tomatoes are black and mahogny on the outside and red on the inside. They have less of the green gel surrounding the seed and are rather low acid. Quite frankly the uglies yet best tasting tomato I've ever had. Our garden is much less OCD, but gets the job done.

Leslie said...

Great to see the full layout of this year's garden. It is near perfection. I take it you have no racoons waiting in the wings for your corn. Enjoy!

Eyebrows McGee said...


Which I know won't defeat a determined raccoon, but so far (and knock on wood!) they seem to have been finding enough stuff elsewhere and leaving my garden alone.

Anonymous said...

A few comments:

1. That photo of the grape tomatoes (or a slightly better version of it) would make a great piece of art. It is cool.

2. Planting various types of tomatoes next to each other should not affect the size/taste of them, should it? Wouldn't the cross-pollination affect the seed and not the fruit? (I feel the need to throw in the name 'Gregor Mendel' just to show the year I spent in biology class was, while miserable, not completely wasted.)

3. Trust your corn to prayer, crystals, or moon phases, but do not trust in chicken wire. Grandma finally surrounded her garden with a hotwire fence 4" off the ground.

4. I planted my corn WAY late. It was an afterthought. Some of it is popcorn, though. I think the deer, coons, and possums don't bother it so much. That is doing well and I think the kids will have fun with it.

Anon E. Mouse