The Victorious Garden – Cedar Sanderson

*I should be in Portugal by now.  Keep your fingers crossed I get connected today. – SAH*

The Victorious Garden – Cedar Sanderson

I used to have a book on Victory Gardening. It was published during WWII, and it was intended to help people who had never raised their own vegetables cope with rationing and reduced goods being available in wartime. If you can find a copy, it’s neat, but there are better ways, now.

We aren’t at war. But the cost of food is going up, and wages aren’t so much. I went to the market yesterday and found eggs at a mere $0.69 a dozen, limit 4 dozen. I got 4, and I’ll probably go back again today for more. We use eggs a lot for protein here, as the price of meat keeps going up (especially beef) and I can pickle eggs, fry them, angel them (sort of like devilling…), make them into custards and quiches, and… but this isn’t a post about eggs. Nor is it about keeping chickens. Frankly, by the time you buy chicks, build a predator-resistant (there is no predator-proof) coop and run, and feed the chickens to layer age, you’re paying more for your dozen eggs than you will at the market – even when the price of a dozen eggs approached $3. This isn’t the post where I’m going to talk about the supposed health benefits of grow-your-own versus commercial, either.

No, this one was sparked by Sarah’s comment that she could grow potatoes. This really isn’t an easy feat – you need the right conditions, space, and a bit of know-how. When I talked to her about it, she told me that her grandfather taught her how to plant potatoes. Me? Well, I learned gardening from my parents, and they learned it from… well, Mom learned from her mother and grandmother. Dad learned it from books. Specifically, Dad was a very early disciple of some revolutionary gardening methods and it was those principles I grew up with, and want to recommend to those of you who want to garden but have physical issues, little space, and less time.

Why garden? Well, this summer despite having a tenth of an acre (with the house on part of that) I put in a garden. A tiny garden. I could probably, if I had time and energy, produce all our vegetable needs (and given a year or two, berries!) on the available land here. Yes, I’m quite serious. No, I haven’t got the time to do that. I have books to write, and other stuff. But with planning, even a little land can be coaxed into bounty. And a balcony or sunny window box can produce fresh herbs for the kitchen. I’m going to suggest that you take a look at the prices of produce, and plan your garden accordingly if you are short on space (or time, or whatever). So herbs – a tiny packet of, say, fresh thyme (shoot, I need to get a plant of thyme!) is about $2 at my market. I can buy a pot of it, a perennial, for less than $4 and put it in the ground and pick that summer, and for years after (if you put it in a container, bring it in if you live in zone 6 or colder, I didn’t, which is why I need a new plant). Growing your own herbs just makes good sense.

What about peppers, and tomatoes, and snap peas? All are relatively easy to grow, and expensive to buy. On the other hand, some things are cheap, tedious to grow (I don’t bother with cilantro, for instance. It bolts if you look at it funny.) Plan your garden accordingly. And don’t plant things your family won’t eat. If no one in the family will touch eggplant, don’t grow it! There’s no set rule that all gardens must have… whatever. I don’t plant carrots because they need special growing conditions and they are dirt cheap (Hah!) at the market. I do plant and enjoy cucumbers because I like the smaller pickling cukes which tend to be harder to find and more expensive.

So once you have an idea of what you want to grow, you need to get a feel for the conditions you have to grow in. You’ll probably have to give up some of the things you want to grow… but that’s ok. First, take a look at your local hardiness zone. I have gardened in everything from zone 8 to zone 2. Yes, you can have a good garden in zone 2 – but it’s a challenge. On the other hand, the tropic zones of 8-10 have their own challenges too. Now, take a look at your land. If you have an acre or more, you’re golden. For the more suburban dwellers, like our current house, you’ll have to figure out where the sun is, and work with what you have. Dropping a few trees and making more sun hit the garden might not be possible for most of us. At our house, I have a sunny front and side yard, and a shady back yard. If you don’t have any south aspects with no trees to shade, then you’ll want to consider growing shade lovers like greens.

What about HOAs and annoying neighborhood snobs who would look down at a vegetable garden in the front yard? Well, now I come back to the methods I learned from Dad about gardening. Dad was caught by the concepts of Permaculture, as developed initially by Bill Mollison in Australia. Now, there are tons of books, forums, and even (I think) a magazine devoted to it. But the basic concept is to use perennials, a mixture of edible and decorative plants, and the growing conditions you have to produce the most with the least effort. At my house this summer my vegetables are right out front with all my herbs and flowers. It doesn’t look like a ‘garden’ it looks like a flowerbed. Edible flowers are fun to eat, and look lovely. This is how you get around invasive neighborhoods who don’t want anyone to look different (geeze, talk about intolerance of diversity…)

What about limited mobility? Raised beds. With a raised garden bed you get a lot of bennies, and I recommend it for any family-sized kitchen garden. Market garden becomes less practical although it can be done – but that’s not what this post is about. I have used post and boards, railroad ties (stacked at least two deep), cinderblocks, and other creative methods to create a raised bed. You can build these right over grass if you lay down a layer of weedcloth, then the dirt/compost/manure to build the bed. Weed control is easier in a raised bed. Plan your beds so that you can sit on the edge and reach into the center easily. For most people this means the bed will be about four feet wide, more means you have to stretch and could overbalance. In the paths between beds, you could leave it wide enough to run a garden cart, or lawnmower, down it, or make it narrower and lay a layer of mulch over weedcloth. I like weedcloth! If you have worries about watering, and don’t care what it looks like, planting through a layer of black plastic (don’t use clear! It works like a mini greenhouse for weeds) is a great way to hold moisture in, warm plant roots, and keep the weeds to a bare minimum. Put a layer of mulch on top and it will look more attractive, too.

How about maximizing a small space? I can’t recommend enough Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening. This was my gardening bible, growing up, and I have used his methods for twenty years and more. I’m not going to try and go through it all here. If you can’t afford your own copy, hie thee to your local library. And don’t wait until spring. Start your garden planning now, for next summer’s harvest. Although I think this blog is early enough for more northern climes to still get something this year. Now, one of the things that people balk at is the dirt in their gardens, so… well, here’s the thing. The key to gardening is your dirt. My Dad boasts that not only is he older than dirt, he’s made dirt. So have I. We built on rocky, poor New England soil until we had two feet of rich loam on top. It took several years to do this on a third of an acre… but it was worth it. And most people don’t need that much dirt. We also used bales of peat moss in the high tunnel, but that’s a whole different thing.

If you plan to grow in your own existing soil, you still need to start a compost pile. Or use a barrel, in limited space. I think there are plans to build your own out there for cheap… and there are, including the one I remember from Mother Earth News (from the days when they were actually chock full of useful goodness). The, you need to go play with the dirt. When it’s wet but not mud (the hose will help with this if need be!) grab a fistful and squeeze. When you open your hand, if it all stays in a clump and you can even see your fingerprints… congratulations, you’ve got some lovely clay there, might want to look into a kiln and a throwing wheel. Gardening in that… not easy. If your handful of dirt falls apart and looks sandy, well, potatoes and carrots like that. But it won’t hold moisture well and you’ll have to water more. If it’s somewhere in between, you’re going to have it easy. There are ways to work with clay or sandy soils, but raised beds solve that problem.

Once you have beds, and dirt… plants. I buy my plants right now. I don’t have the space inside, or the time, to start from seed. Flats of seedlings need a lot of care, and a fair amount of trial-and-error to get them off to a healthy start, so the beginner might be frustrated with them. Keep in mind – light, more light, and even more light. Leggy seedlings won’t thrive. Damp will also kill seedlings – as will drying out. If you’re planning a sizeable family garden, it’s a much more economical way to go, but do your reading and plan before you start out with it. For a little garden like mine, buying nursery starts works fine and means I don’t have to find a place for a flat of plants! Also, I have a tendency to overplant and this keeps me from having a half-dozen zucchini plants. I highly recommend Pinetree Seeds for cheap packets of seeds that are more northern friendly (yea, that does matter). If you’re really planning in bulk, Johnny’s Seeds is the way to go. Avoid the oldies like Burpees and Gurneys, they sell poor quality at high prices. If you really are on a budget, you can indeed buy and grow with the ten-cent packets of seed from the dollar store. You may have poor germination rates and limited selection, but it’s a start. And of course for heirloom varieties you’ll want to check out Seed Saver’s Exchange. They aren’t cheap but the variety is amazing.

I’ve always gardened according to organic principles. Not because I object to pesticides and fertilizers, I don’t. Nor because I planned to sell organic produce – the regulations and red tape involved were prohibitive for a small market gardener. Now, it was simply because we were small scale, using chemicals wasn’t really necessary. There are ‘natural’ alternatives that are easy to use – soapy water for aphids, hand picking for squash bugs. For fertilizer, brewing manure tea from horse manure (ok, manure’s a whole ‘nother topic. Briefly – don’t put raw cat, dog, people, or chicken manure on the garden. Cow and Horse are good. Rabbit is fantastic. Sheep and goat are harder to collect. Moooving on…) is a good way to give the veggie garden a healthy boost. So are shovelfuls of compost at the base of perennials like rhubarb. Asparagus wants like a foot of it every spring. Heavy feeder.

And this is really really long. But hopefully I’ve given you some ideas for growing your own herbs, vegetables, and reducing the food budget a bit. You really can do it, even if you live in the city.

162 responses to “The Victorious Garden – Cedar Sanderson

  1. Down here in zone 9a, if you do an herb garden, make sure you have either a very well shaded spot in the middle of the day, or rig a cover that keeps the worst of it toned down. I have a loose weave burlap cover over mine, about 3 feet above the soil. Which for the herb garden, is exactly what Cedar has used – six old railroad ties, stacked two deep (the fourth side for ours is the fence between our place and the neighbor’s). My jalapeno peppers also will sprout just by burying a pepper about 3 inches deep in the late winter (February or March); that’s how I replace the occasional one that dies off when we get the very rare freeze that I miss covering them.

    Also – with sufficient water (which is not all that expensive even here in the desert, so long as you water at the right times when it won’t all evaporate almost as fast as you apply it) – melons and squash do amazingly well. Although you do need a bit more room for those to spread out.

    • Squash can really take over. Zucchini isn’t too bad, but even that you need to plan 9 square feet for (3×3 patch).

      • I have never had such luck with zucchini. It always failed to thrive while everything else did amazingly well. Everything else did fine so I never bothered trying to figure out what was going wrong, I just let whatever I’d planted next to it take over the spot where it was supposed to be.

        • The first time we lived where we could put in a garden, amongst all the rest, I put in 7 zucchini plants.

          They all survived. Thrived. By the end of the summer, the neighbors were locking their cars, trucks, and screen doors, crossing to the other side of the street to pass us by.

          After that, plant three, if two came through, we had more than enough for us and a couple of friends.

          Want a recipe for mock apple pie?

          • You see that was what we were expecting, instead we got two, maybe three zucchinis total. The fig tree on the other hand is quite happy. Year after year it leaves us wondering why fresh figs are so expensive in stores. Sadly, where I live now a fig tree isn’t an option unless I’m willing to take it in for the winter.

        • Without extensive soil tests, that always seems to happen. I have no idea why my herb garden is the perfect place for basil – but if I don’t keep it chopped back pretty harshly, it will happily take over the whole thing.

      • We traditionally planted squash in hills on 36″ rows. I always staggered so that a hill on one row was situated by a vacant space on the adjacent ones. This in effect gave each plant a 6′ row, and still the bushes could almost lap.

    • Here in 7a, I’m fumbling my way through my first year of home ownership in a new state. The herbs in pots appear to be doing much better under the shade of the tree.

      However, the thai basil doesn’t like lack of water at all. Parsley, thyme, oregano, mint, and rosemary are doing fine, but even the italian basil is struggling.

      • Hmmm. Here in 9a Tucson, as I said, my basil over-flourishes. I’m wondering if raising the ambient humidity might help yours. My burlap over the herb bed certainly keeps the air moister over that section of the yard. I do get some wilt in June before the monsoon comes in; but I hit the burlap with a light spray a couple of times a day – and the plants come roaring back late June or early July.

        • I stuck my plants under the mulberry tree, which provides shade and moderates the occasional thunderstorm downpour. I thought it’d kill them off, because grass doesn’t grow under the tree, but instead, they’re flourishing. (Except the basil. It’s gone from almost-dead to slightly-wilted-but-otherwise-okay. But that’s good progress!) First time in my life that less sun has been good for plants!

          With additional water, we’ll see. If not, then I’m using your burlap trick, good sir!

      • How big are your pots? Thyme, rosemary, etc are all mediterranean plants & can take full sun – but if the soil dries out so fast you have to water every day, the pots are too small. I’m 7a in the mid-atlantic & thyme, greek oregano (italian isn’t winter-hardy here), chives, & sage all grow well as perennials in the ground. I grow mint in pots (buried in the ground during the winter) to keep it from taking over my whole yard. Rosemary is borderline: some kinds can take the cold air temps but the roots can’t take winter in wet clay soil. I’m trying a hardy variety in a raised bed (next to the foundation) with a lot of perlite added for drainage. It made it thru last winter but only time will tell.

  2. I’m allergic to egg yolks, so I make pseudo-deviled eggs. Boil eggs, remove yolks and then substitute diced cooked egg-beater for the yolk part.
    A friend’s neighbor is from Denmark, and she decided on a raised garden in the front yard. At first the other neighbors were a little confused, but they all are O.K. with the idea.

    • I’m sure in many places you can get away with putting the garden wherever – but you should be cautious if you are unlucky enough to have an HOA.

    • If you like okra (yum), note that the flowers look like creme white hibiscus with a maroon center. Well, at least the variety I used to grow, which type I don’t recall.

      • Be also aware that from a distance they can look a little like wacky weed to the uninitiated.

        • some of the better gardening suppliers are aimed at the left handed cigarette growers. I know some folks who hate that the best supplier they have also has a large custom in “Hand Blown Glass” so they have to deal with those types to get their preferred fertilizer.

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    If you have a garden, make sure the weeders know the difference between weeds and young corn plants.

    I didn’t. 😉

  4. Aw, now I gotta plant some of the seeds I’ve been hoarding. My wife wanted a garden last year so I had #2 son till a couple acres… That much room to plant apparently scared her so badly that she’s only worked on the flowers near the house since… But those gardens look amazing!

    It’s my second year of being mostly retired and time for another long term project… With the new (to me) in-laws from her side of the family we’ll be able to supply some of them who have places in the city, especially the ones that do canning and make pickles… OTOH having to hit the farmer’s market on a few weekends to get rid of surplus produce wouldn’t necessarily be a Bad Thing at all.

  5. One point about manures – let rabbit manure sit for a while. Fresh, and it will burn the soil.
    Good post, Cedar. We’ve used square foot techniques for a couple of decades, and have had fair results. The hardest part is the watering – our garden is a bit of a distance from the nearest faucet, and lugging buckets gets old real fast. I’ve tried various work arounds, but none have succeeded. And I’m too cheap to get a submersible pump for the rain barrel.
    Of late, however, with health issues and an over grown garden, I’m not looking at gardening with quite the bucolic pleasure as years past. I just need to get someone in to weed the patch, and maybe I can approach it again with the same pleasure.

    • The method that my mom uses– the bulls and first-calf cows winter in small pastures– is to basically scrape the entire place up and put it in a pile, and let it set for a year to “cook.” This kills off most anything nasty. (It also makes any animal corpses left in it not stink, and have wonderful TV type “we found bones” appearance.)

      I bet if you cycle your compost pile through three stacks, adding a bag of that nasty raw stuff before covering it with black plastic for the winter, you’d get lovely compost.

      Rule of thumb my mom uses for if it’s “cooked” enough is that it doesn’t stink like poop anymore. (Some folks find most “organic” scents to be a stink, so I’m trying to be clear at the cost to eloquence.)

      • Thanks for the reminder — local riding/boarding stables often sell composted horse manure to anybody willing to haul it, usually on a “you load” basis. In my experience you can either buy by the bag, in which you load plastic trash bags, or by the truckbed. The stable we used to custom mixed their manure with cedar sawdust, reducing the stench somewhat while enhancing the compost friability.

        For a raised bed, if you excavate a couple feet into the earth (locally, after about a quarter inch, into the clay — meaning the beds are essentially large clay pots) and put the compost at the bottom, about a foot deep, it will help warm the bed, allowing earlier planting. (The soil atop the compost helps avoid burning the plant roots.) It also encourages lots of fat earthworms to ply their trade in your bed.

        Obvious problems attend this practice, but nobody here should be unaccustomed to shoveling horse manure.

        • To underline it for anybody just getting involved:
          MAKE SURE THE POOP IS COMPOSTED.

          This will likely make it more expensive– but in this case, you’ll be able to tell because when you pull up to shovel your load, there will be various piles. On one side will be Obviously Fresh Horse Apples, and waaaay down on your end will be stuff you’re getting.

          You can and will get new and interesting weeds in raw horse manure; I vaguely remember some people getting around this by building raised beds, putting down a layer of uncomposted stable shoveling, and covering it with what amounts to everything it needs to compost right there. (Do not pack it in, rotting organic matter CAN catch fire if it’s tight enough to get really hot.)

          This emphasis brought to you by my mom spending half of her time on the weed board explaining it to new “organic” people who don’t understand why they have such wonderful weed beds, and why they have a state agent banging on their door? (…unpaid, and it’s actually just knocking, but they do have authority to act EVENTUALLY)

          • Oooh, your local version of this might be good, too:
            http://directory.kingcounty.gov/GroupDetail.asp?GroupID=13650

            Weed board. Usually have an office. You can sometimes walk in and find someone who knows their tail from a hole in the ground, and they’ll be able to point you at good places for composted compost.

            Some areas have free to cheap fertilizer where the only problem is a tendency to sprout tomatoes at random…. it’s from the waste treatment facilities, and composting doesn’t do anything to kill tomato seeds….

          • This non-composter has heard that organic matter can really consume nitrogen as it breaks down, while manures can add it. So should plant matter be combined with raw manure for best composting?

            • I don’t know the science of it– I just know that horse manure+ chicken manure usually equals pretty decent stuff you can use in one year; cow manure will eat up less than half of its own size in stuff like grass clippings or scrap hay and leaves, stove ashes are pretty neutral.

              • Stove ash should add pot ash. Don’t know about the inclusion of carbon. Like I said, I’m not a composter.

                Something from a very hazy memory: The issue of heavy metals and manures. Something through the haze was that, prior to chemical fertilizers, there was concern about the accumulation of heavy metals in fields through trace heavy metals in manure. If the memory isn’t completely wrong, something about just a pile of manure usually wouldn’t have dangers levels of heavy metals, but over years of use it could collect in the soil. And I remember nothing more about it than this. The development of chemical fertilizers made it drop off radar, but something organic growers might look into.

                • If the plants were going to pick up the heavy metals (the only reason they would really be a problem) I would think they would leach them out each year at the below danger levels. So unless you fertilized a field for years without growing anything on it (very difficult) it wouldn’t be a problem.

            • Mike McGrath (you bet your garden WHYY NPR radio show & podcast) is big on composting & says compost should be mostly ‘brown’: shredded dry leaves, with only a little ‘green’ added: grass clippings, pulled weeds, kitchen scraps, manure, coffee grounds, etc. I like the lazy man’s composting: I rake my leaves into a pile on my driveway every fall & run the mulching mower over them. I spread a layer of the leaves over all my garden/perennial beds & keep the rest in strategic piles around the yard for additional layers in the spring & early summer. By fall they’ve disappeared from the beds & I’m ready for the next crop of leaves. The soil in my beds is nice & dark & full of worms. McGrath is into worm-bins for those who want to ‘compost’ a whole bunch of kitchen scraps & stuff like that. Put too much of that in your yard & all you get is a garbage pile attracting rats.

            • I’ve been told a lot of folks add a few cups of high nitrogen fertilizer to a mature poop compost to make it better.

    • to reduce the need for watering, you might want to experiment with hugelculture. http://cedarwrites.com/hugelculture/

      • Installing a soaker hose system under the mulch can


        facilitate frugal watering.

        • Another great thing, especially if you are going to be out of town for a while (or are absent-minded for one reason or another) is a water gel packet.

          Fair note – I used to work for this company, but not now, and have no connection whatsoever with them any longer. But I tested these when they first came out, and they worked like a charm. They don’t end up putting silica in the soil, either, like the “water beads” you can find – the gel is completely biodegradable.

          http://www.cqwater.com.au/files/rain_bird.pdf

      • This really does work. I tried it one year with tomatoes and peppers and mulching around the hills. IIRC, that year I made a shallow bowl out of the soil around the hills to help hold water. That said, my little garden would require about 32 cubic yards of mulch spread 3″ thick.

    • We’re in Colorado and even with the soil that my husband makes for his raised beds, getting the water ALL the way down is tough..til I ran across a blog called Camp Wander…she gardens in WY and takes an wide irrigation hose (3″?) and buries it beside the plant (tomatoes especially). Make sure it is the perforated hose. Anyway, pour the water down that..it gets to the roots and water leaks out the perforations also. Put them between each set of plants that need deep waters and it is a LOT easier and gets the water where it needs to go. We use this method for our ‘maters, cukes, peppers, etc.

  6. I need to thin out the trees south of my garden. Trash trees, chinese tallow and box elder sprouting in the fence line between yard and pasture. But I’ll leave enough for that afternoon shade Reality Observer mentioned. It really helps get the plants through the worst part of summer.

    It’s a tiny garden, I started it just for the experience, in case I ever really needed to feed us. Right now it’s not much work for a few bragging rights.

    • I’ve cut back to the herb garden, myself, for the maintenance time. That still saves us probably between five and ten dollars a week (I use a lot of herbs and peppers), and a bit less in the winter when we go mostly to our own dried herbs. But at least I know where certain things did do well in the past.

  7. Sara the Red

    I grew up with square foot gardening and companion planting, and if/when I’m in a position to have a garden, I plan to get my own copies of those books!

    A bit of advice for eggs: if you coat them in mineral oil, they will keep for a long, long time (up to a year, if I recall right) in a cool storage space. 🙂

  8. 1. All gardening is local. VERY local. If you have a local university gardening extension, that’s awesome… but most places have an online “planting calendar” now. Do a search for that term plus your zip code and you may get lucky. This helps, because what grows well in one hardiness zone will not grow well in another.

    2. Plants available at your local hardware store are no indication of “time to plant.” They have tomatoes at the store in February here. Yes, it’s warm here. It’s not that warm.

    3. Clay soil! I know clay soil! It’s actually SUPER EASY to amend clay soil, and I discovered this trick by mistake. You dig out your bed, put a straw bale in there (any kind, actually, as long as it’s straw and not hay (which still has seeds in it.)) Pop the strings, cover with the clay and some compost or steer manure, and plant right in it. Your plants will grow and by the next summer, you have some pretty nice soil.

    4. Get your plant supports in place before they get big. Around here, “tomato cages” are a joke and the plants will topple them by sheer weight & height. The local gardening guru suggests getting a sheet of concrete reinforcement grid and bending it into circles to support tomatoes; my dad used to use a fishing net to trellis cucumbers and melons. (The latter he would put into mesh bags and tie the bags to the frame. That way, when the cantaloupes got ripe and dropped off the stem, they didn’t smash on the ground and “bagged themselves.”)

    5. As with all plants, water deeply and infrequently. That doesn’t mean let them dry out; it means don’t water them every day unless you have a heat wave. If you water slowly and to the maximum depth you can, the roots get long and strong. If you water every day, the roots stay shallow and the plant is more prone to disease.

  9. BREAKING NEWS:Portugal says screw it and declares itself to be an Islamic People’s Democratic Republic. All tourists/emigrants are declared traitors to the faith/revolution/that guy over there and subject to summary arrest on arrival.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Reports are coming in that Very Large Enraged Dragons and Other Dangerous Critters have been seen destroying Portuguese Government Personal and Locations. 👿

    • I don’t believe it. Pull the other one, I’m limping.

      According to the Portugal News the big headline is Ecofin follows Eurogroup recommendations to apply sanctions against Portugal. According to the New York Times it is Portugal 1, France O – At Euro 2016 Final, Portugal Loses Ronaldo but Defeats France.

      Hmmmm. NYT has never been that big on sports. I wonder what it means that they think this is the more important news item.

      Anyway, Posner remains a moron.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        BBC is running clips of Green Acres whenever they talk about how nothing is happening in Portugal.

  10. “What about HOAs and annoying neighborhood snobs who would look down at a vegetable garden in the front yard?”

    I have to deal with an HoA. I am firmly convinced that they are the spawn of Lucifer. They charge you money so they can tell you what you can do on your own property. Then they take that money and hire lowest bidder trash to do the work.

    I figured I’d try my hand with flower and stuff before I tried anything edible. (even herbs) Nothing fancy, tulips and some iris, stuff to add color. I’ve had our landscraper company damage my flowers twice this year. They cut my tulips with a weed-whacker before they could bloom and then dumped mulch on top of my just planted iris. -sigh- It’s enough to make me reconsider trying.

    — sorry, mini rant there —

    • Can you sell and get a place that’s not in an HOA? I would rather live in a box under a bridge and be free than live in one of those places!

      Is your landscaping company mandated by the HOA? Or could you change? If you are allowed to change companies, you might ask around for a smaller operator who is more in sympathy with what you want to do in your yard.

      • At this current point in time, we’re stuck here.

        Unfortunately, the landscrapers are contracted by the HoA. Most of what they do, we could do ourselves. Front yard is a postage stamp that could be done with a weed-whacker (how do you think my tulips got sliced up) and trimming the holly is a once a year job. But dang-nabit, if I pay good money for something, I should get that service, so we keep fighting them.

        Which is why, despite my belief that HoA are the spawn of Lucifer, we are on the board. If ya can’t find em from the outside, invade and fight from within.

  11. Used to have a row of holly bushes along the front of my house. Had them removed about six years ago. Not a trivial task as the root system is a booger. Planted five year old blueberry bushes in their place. This year I have consistently picked a pint every two to three days since late June and should continue to do so at least until mid July.

    • Awesome! We got some mixed bunch of ornamental bushes along the front of the house, and I’ve been eyeing them with the intent to follow in your footsteps. (Not necessarily blueberry, though. Have to figure out what works well, here, first.

      Of course, getting the yard from cracked and barren bits interspersed with weeds and grass clumps to look more like a proper lawn has been higher on the priority list. And right before libertycon, a 10-foot section of gutter decided to depart the house.

      Maybe next year I’ll put in some lemons, and keep them low so they grow into bushes instead of trees. Or maybe I’ll fix / replace all the gutters, and put in a water capture tank, which will be a lot more useful for watering the eventual garden. One thing at a time!

      • Given your location a water barrel just makes good sense.
        Now that Peter is feeling better and has all those future books to write you will have the resources to do all those little things that turn a house into a home.
        Lawns can be difficult. Sod usually works, but is pricey. Serious fertilizing and overseeding will eventually make an improvement, but make sure you research the best grass variant for your location. Complete tilling of the whole yard working in nutrients and leaving bare ground ready for seed makes an immediate mess, but eventually a better lawn. Timing is critical for that approach or the grass seed will bake, freeze, or get eaten.
        Your county extension agent should be your best new friend to learn what is appropriate for your area.

        • Rather than going the sod option, I’ve gone the mulching lawnmower option – that is, putting the bag on when mowing high grass, and dumping it on the barren spots, then taking the bag off and using the mulching option on the low and medium grass, to build the soil back up. With a fenced backyard, I can let it grow high enough to seed, which means I’m getting free grass seed and mulch together of the local variant. It’s worked to the point that the front yard looks pretty good, and the back yard is getting there. Side yards are still a mess, though, due to runoff channels.

          For the holes where the last owner’s dog tried to dig to china, I’ve been adding a 40-pound sack of dirt and topping it with a fresh layer of cut grass. For the holes where the prior owners didn’t believe in drainage or getting water away from the foundation, I’ve added the downspout bends, the water-spreading blocks, and then been re-landscaping one bag of dirt at a time, like above.

          This has the option of being in small enough chunks that I can manage it – because I may be more able-bodied than Peter, but that’s not saying much.

          Of course, once it looks awesome, that’ll be about the time that I’m all “Perfect! Now let’s rip out all the bushes and put in raised garden beds and permaculture! And a french drain under a flagstone sidewalk down the entire side of the house with the water runoff issues!”

        • For Texas, hybrid buffalo grass is excellent but pricey. No seeds, it comes as sod. It needs less water than Bermuda and makes a nice thick lawn. When we built our house in Granbury area, I fertilized, added compost and crushed lava rock, and then tilled up the front yard. After raking to level, I put the sod squares leaving a blank space between them. They only touched at the corners. By the end of the summer, I had a nice lush lawn with much fewer grass burrs and goat heads than the Bermuda lawn in the back.

          • TxRed was also recommending the Buffalo, with the caveat that it goes brown earlier in the summer, and winter. But I’m not in the running for lawn of the month; I’m just hoping to stop at being another forgettable front lawn, and not sink so low as to be that lawn.

            Thank you! By the time I’ve survived a year here, helpful folks like the Huns & Hoydens may yet have me informed and able to make a better decision!

            • Not that I’m leading anyone into temptation, nooooo, but High Country Gardens (catalogue) is for people who want native or related plants suited to dry places. And there’s Canyon’s Edge nursery in Canyon, TX (next to Palace Coffee) if you want to see the plants live and stock up.

            • Feather Blade

              I am slowly working on replacing the grass at my house with low growing groundcovers like creeping thyme and scottish moss.

              It takes a while, but once the initial plugs have established themselves and spread out, you never have to buy new plugs from the store – you can just dig out a section of the mat and plant it somewhere else to colonize that area.

      • Reminds me that the lantana bushes out front are on their last legs. Maybe next year I’ll finally get around to replacing them with pyracantha. (I do know how to make jelly from those – yum!)

    • Correction. Dad blasted fingers mistyped. The blueberry plants were one year old when I put them in. About 12 to 18 inches tall. Now six years old and chest high, though the branches are so heavy with fruit that I can sit in a chair and pick.

      • I’m going to be looking into getting some blueberry bushes in a year or two (the garden I want is a long term project), do you have a recommended variety?

        • Variety is highly dependent on your location, ie planting zone. Blueberries primarily come in northern and southern variants so either buy from a local nursery or order from a vendor who advertises products suitable for your area. Stark Bros. is my favorite national vendor.
          It is recommended that you pick at least two different varieties certified for your climate. It greatly improves pollination.

    • SheSellsSeashells

      I have been experimenting with ground cherries this year, with…interesting results. They’re related to tomatillos and have been laughing at summer heat so far, which puts them on my Happy List, and I’ve been getting about a pound of fruit a week off of six plants. I’m thinking of planting them on a particularly troublesome slope next year and seeing if they help with erosion.

      They’re not for everybody, though – the flavor right off the vine is DEFINITELY an acquired taste, though I’ve had a couple of amazing results processing them into jam and salsa.

  12. Excellent article. We keep a small 3×9 garden in the backyard and have been growing a variety of crops for years. I have two additional considerations for choosing what goes in the garden: flavor and compatibility. First, prioritize crops that provide things the grocery store can’t. For me, grocery store tomatoes can’t beat the flavor of home-grown tomatoes. For you, it’s small pickling cucumbers. On the other hand, when I make sauerkraut I can’t tell the difference between home-grown and store-bought cabbage. Second, make sure your plants are compatible. Corn requires other corn plants nearby — usually sixteen plants in a square. Hot peppers may flavor nearby tomatoes. Some plants actively interfere with other nearby plants; search “garden plant compatibility” for details.

    • Any honest person will acknowledge that tomatoes are not sold by stores — what they sell are unreasonable facsimiles, red mealy fruit that bears only the most superficial resemblances to real tomatoes.


      There’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s True Love and Home Grown Tomatoes.

  13. In further breaking news tourists/emigrants found in possession of eyeglasses will eb declared intellectuals sent directly to the fields.

  14. SheSellsSeashells

    Gardening in zone 7 here, and I am (tentatively) singing the praises of the amaranth I planted earlier this year. It cooks up nicely as a spinach-y green, has taken every bit of sun the South can throw at it and gotten bigger, and as it’s gotten too mature to use in salads, it’s luring the cucumber beetles in and AWAY from my cucumbers. The smoke test will be September, when I see if it actually produces any grain or not.

    (that said, I have been doing raised-bed gardening for two whole years, and while I’m nowhere NEAR an expert, I’m learning some fascinating stuff as I go along.)

    • Zone 7 for you, too? I moved to this clime in February. There’s lots of learning ahead for me, and acclimatization. Make more comments on gardening, and I shall make more notes!

      • SheSellsSeashells

        …I’ll try? 🙂 What are you looking at growing, or is it just sort of generic at this point? An unexpected benefit of this climate is that we get wild greens *really* early if you know where to look – chickweed is absolutely delicious and is EVERYWHERE from mid-February to the end of March.

        • It’s very generic at this point. I started this year with herbs in pots, just to see if I could keep them (and me) alive though the summer, as I acclimatize.

          Given my darling husband and I are now the owners of a house in North Texas, I’m looking around the back yard with a dreamy plan: we’re not moving for years! I can have raised garden beds! Maybe even tomatoes!

          • SheSellsSeashells

            Yay! As I understand it, North Texas is a happy place for tomatoes, if you keep them well-watered. I heartily recommend Cherokee Purple tomatoes, which are quite nice sliced but make the best spaghetti sauce in the known universe. I don’t even LIKE spaghetti stuff and I will slurp this stuff up with a straw. 🙂

  15. SheSellsSeashells

    Also, I highly, *highly* recommend David the Good’s gardening books from Amazon (some deadtree, some electronic). They’re informative, unthreatening, and funny as hell*, and as an added bonus he is published by some Lord of Evil or other, so you have the added benefit of upsetting a liberal when you read them.

    *The “quick start” section of one book starts with something to the effect of “If you have just picked up this book from the charred remains of your neighbor’s house, here’s what you need to do next…”

  16. Check your local PBS channel — local gardening programming is common on Saturday/Sunday afternoons for such stations. These can be useful for area specific information about timing of plantings & harvests, what crops perform well in your area and such.

    • I used to rely on the Sunset Western Garden book before we moved to Zone 1.

        • Ah, Sunset Zone 1, USDA zone 5b, though in our river-bottom area, we’re probably(?) USDA zone 4b. We have had -28F one winter, and we’ll get a few days where it hits -20F each winter. OTOH, we’ll get summer days where it can go above 95F. Temp swings of 40F night to day are common. Summer frost is common. 33F this morning. Should hit 80F this afternoon. Whee!

    • Pittsburgh Back Yard And Garden is rather entertaining … Getting it from Elfhome can be tricky.

  17. Peas are wonderful if you have kids– you can pretty much dump them along a chain fence line and they’ll grow, even in shade. They are a bit heat sensitive, though, and need water.

      • SheSellsSeashells

        Not with my kid. /mournful

        • Would have been for me. I maintain that Mr. Yuck is a pea with a face for a reason.

          • I never liked cooked peas, though I could force them down.
            Raw peas on the other hand . . . always could put them away at alarming rate.

            • The sad fact is that peas, like sweet corn and tomatoes, cannot be bought. The sugars convert to starch so swiftly that the time between when they are picked, purchased and consumed must be measured in hours. While reasonable (albeit vastly inferior) facsimiles of corn and tomatoes can bought and eaten, there is no pea which isn’t wasted by the procedure.

              OTOH, they can be relatively easily grown in most environments and reward the effort required to shell and cook.

              • I didn’t like fresh from the garden then blanched, peas, though yes, those are far more palatable than any storebought.

                • Try them en brochette, or individually sliced in half and briefly roasted. Brush with vinaigrette or other sauce, such as BBQ, according to your tastes.

                  • Ummm… 😉

                    Lest anybody think my suggestion serious.

                  • You can use a prescrption pill cutter to split them when they’re dry. (too late, RES, you invented a joke problem in front of a blog full of Other problem solvers. Live with the consequences.)

                    • Joke problem? Joke problem?

                      I just take my trusty 12″ French Chef’s knife, toss a pea inna air and snicker-snack, the pea is split!

                      The only problem is catching the falling halves on the flat of the blade afterward. That’s where it pays to have a reliable assistant.

                      Which reminds me: Sancho Panza would be a great name for a dog, or if you’ve a pair, name one Sancho and the other Panza. Some might lobby for Bernardo, but that would seem restricted to only one particular breed..

            • Similar with cabbage. Cook it and I want nothing to do with it. Make cole slaw (especially the vinegar type) and well now.

              • I don’t mind cabbage cooked, but it is better raw, or as I do in fast soups from time to time, just tossed into the soup before shutting it off.

              • Sliced cabbage, sauteed with sliced onions and diced chicken breast and seasoned with curry sauce is a culinary delight. The goal is to just cook until tender; never overcook cabbage.

                It can also be done with beef or sliced double-cooked pork.

          • SheSellsSeashells

            Well, there’s “peas” and there’s “off the vine and into the pot within 10 minutes” peas, which is a whole ‘nother thing. I mostly grow sugar snaps, though, and don’t have much experience with the shelling kind.

            • One of the best things in life that I haven’t had in far too many years is peas and new potatoes in a cream sauce. Dang family, not liking good food.

            • Should point out there’s peas and then there’s peas. Say “peas” in the South, and the immediate thought are Southern peas, which are different than garden peas, which require cooler weather. Black eyed peas are a Southern pea.

              • SheSellsSeashells

                Yup, but I can get a good run of snow peas twice a year. 30 feet of vines got me about 15 pounds of peas this spring, and I’m hoping for another round in October. I cannot be trusted around fresh snow peas. Especially stir-fried with mushrooms and water chestnuts and Whatever Is Lying Around.

    • I need to acquire a more appropriate variety of peas. During a sojourn in Connecticut, I found that I could grow a small crop of sugar snap peas in planters up the railing outside our apartment twice a year, once before it got hot enough to kill them and once after it cooled off. Very tasty. Admittedly not enough to do much more than nibble them off the vine, but then I probably could have watered them more.

      In the Carolinas, so far as I can tell, April is too erratic and May too warm to reliably fit a growing season in spring between “last frost” and “the pea plants are now cooked.”

      …On the other hand, sometimes we get a nice long autumn….

      • SheSellsSeashells

        Yeah, we lost the first batch of peas to a surprise frost this year. I swore a lot and planted another set. I am planning on saving a double dose of seeds from the fall crop in expectation of this happening again. 🙂

  18. Zone 1 gardening is doable, but a challenge. We’re at 4000+ foot elevation and had a frost advisory with a temp on the porch of 27F two days ago, but with work and a bit of good luck it’s feasible.

    0) My wife starts seeds in May or very late April, and the seedlings go in the beds/pots June 1. We do a couple varieties of zucchini, this year 100 starts. Tomatoes are a variety of cold weather types, including Siberia (an heirloom) and some appropriate hybrids. I do some pots and some small raised beds (greenhouse is 12′ x 18′, beds are 2′ x 8′).

    1) Tomatoes want a greenhouse. I built a hoop style, but cheaped out and used ordinary polyethylene for the cover. After it died (in 3 months, really high UV levels, duh!) I re-covered with polycarbonate siding. Spendy, but permanent. The end seams leak. Deal.
    Squirrel control is a challenge. The locals will eat anything, including green tomatoes and zucchini fruit and stems. I did rabbit cage fencing over the greenhouse windows and am ruthless at trapping and eliminating ground squirrels. (Have-a-hart traps work well if you’re heartless…)

    2) Raised beds work fairly well, (32″ x 12′, we have 6 of them) but half-barrel pots work even better. I have 5 HDPE half-barrels and 4 modified muck-buckets. 1″ holes in the bottom, protected with screening (raised beds have that too–they’re ground squirrels), filled with a mix of 1/3 soil, 1/3rd Supersoil, and 1/3rd steer manure. I’m adding compost, but that needs some experimentation. When the zucchini gets going well, we’ll do weekly donations to the Gospel Mission.
    I had to elevate the muck buckets to drain properly. Not a problem with the barrels.

    3) Frost cloth is your friend. It works to the high-20s (we made it through the frost just fine). Any colder and I’ll do a layer of 6 mil polyethylene over the raised beds. I have frames that protect the beds, but the row of pots gets a bit shopworn… I get the cloth in 6 foot widths and cut to length.

    Chard grows well in the greenhouse, but it’s off the diet (too high vitamin K). Red hot peppers do well, but tomatoes are a better choice as a high-value crop. We haven’t been mistaken for a marijuana operation, so far.

    • Sara the Red

      Dang, and I thought Zone 4 was a booger…

    • Chard grows well in the greenhouse, but it’s off the diet (too high vitamin K).

      You have my sympathy. I spent a time on drug that meant that I had to restrict (among things – also garlic) my vitamin K intake. Swiss chard and kale were no nos altogether. Things like broccoli and spinach were restricted. I was not a happy camper. The Spouse has to watch carbohydrates, loves all things green, particularly dark leafy greens and broccoli . The Spouse also adores garlic. The Spouse practiced extreme patient understanding, but at heart was also not a happy camper. We ate a great deal of cucumber salads. Thank heaven it was only temporary.

      • Sort of permanent for me, unless I get the zap-o-matic fix for atrial fibrillation. If medicare covers it, I’ll think about it in a year or two. Garlic isn’t off the diet, so far.

  19. kenashimame

    Market Garden? I think that’s A Bridge Too Far…

  20. One oft overlooked gardening issue is wildlife. We gave up our herb garden when we realized it served primarily as a feeding station for deer — and being suburban dwellers we are not permitted to harvest the resultant seasoned venison.

    Similarly, the year after our yard cat died we not only failed to harvest a single tomato from the garden, the squirrels were so bold that Beloved Spouse and I were placing bets on how long before one rapped on the window to demand salt, pepper and mayo for his tomato.

    • Our solution was an electric fence. Having once seen a cat killed by biting a steady current electric fence, I opted for a pulse model. The hard part was keeping out rabbits, as the bottom strand had to be very low to the ground, and any grass would short it out.

      Deer can easily jump an electric fence, but a double electric fence, one inside the other, seems to give them fits and acts as a deterrent. You do have to repair broken wire a few times after the break it until they learn it.

      The problem in a suburban setting will be people getting into the fence, as most city folks have never seen an electric fence. Even where we live, I used to tie orange ribbon to the strands to make them visible.

      BTW, I always unplugged the fence in dry weather. In theory a short could start a fire. OTOH, dry soil doesn’t conduct current well, and weakens the fence. There are ways of dealing with this, but all involve running ground strands between the hot, and that can really short out if something gets on it.

      • …steady current electric fence…

        There are such things? Are they even legal? (For the precise reason you mention.)

        • Yes. You have to read very carefully to make sure they’re the pulse type. I suppose that, since it’s high voltage but relatively low amperage, the thought is that an animal could break free. But what I saw at a neighbor’s – and which permanently put me off steady current types – when the cat bit, probably in reflect to the shock, it couldn’t let go, and died.

          Something else to watch out for: For plug-in types, make sure the outlet is the correct polarity. We once had a customer with an outlet wired in reverse, and the fence was putting standard high amperage 120v out. Have only seen that once, but it’s something to be aware of.

          • Huh. I had only encountered the pulsed “fencer” setups. The only constant setups I’d heard about were always described as being illegal, but maybe that was a state (WI, where I spent most of my supposed youth) thing.

            And yeah, I’m rather paranoid about checking that outlets and such are what they are supposed to be. I once wound up rewiring a plug that had me convinced the last person to touch it was at best an utter fool, and at worst homicidal. Earth ground not connected at all, hot and neutral swapped. And I took it apart after it had “bit” someone. We were both quite horrified at my discovery.

    • The same people who make bird netting do a heavier deer netting mesh. We tried it and stopped using it because the deer 1) don’t like zucchini, and 2) can’t get to the tomatoes. We’ve had hoofprints through the garden, but usually off season. It gets, er, interesting when I see mountain lion tracks along the hoofprints. After dark garbage runs usually entail the support from one of John Moses Browning’s finer efforts.

    • The perfect urban squirrel/rabbit deterrent……The Crosman 760 177 cal air rifle

  21. In So Cal our Tomatoes are doing fine. The squash, zucchini and cucumbers have nearly died.

  22. Sara the Red

    I gave some thought to planting a small garden in the little sort-of-flowerbed at my current home…but lack of time/energy/funds and also the will to attempt to deer proof it killed the idea. For this year, anyway. Maybe next year. Or maybe I’ll just pack it in and move back south where I can have a *real* garden, and deer are much rarer, and not nearly so pestiferous.

  23. THIS JUST IN: Sarah Hoyt stages daring escape from IPDR Portugal rehabilitation farm by speaking English to the overseers, convincing them shecwas Russian and could get them foreign aid and hot mail order brides…

  24. As the slavering cars bay in the distance, Sarah looks up at the rugged Torres Vedras looming before her.

    “Hmm. They looked a lot shorter the last time I was here.”

  25. I started gardening out of nostalgia for my grandparents’ garden. It is certainly not economical in Colorado. The amount of money spent on water drastically exceeds any savings on groceries. Herbs are the exception.

    Some notes:
    Horseradish spreads – even if you put it in a pot; be sure to plug the drain hole in the bottom or it will escape.
    Mint is worse – just don’t plant it.
    Raspberries do well, but watch for bugs and kill them.
    Blueberries require acidic soil – I killed all mine before finding this out.
    Strawberries require acidic soil – they are thriving under a conifer hedge, which was entirely accidental; the fallen needles keep grubs/slugs off the berries, too.
    Mildew (some disease, not actual mildew) tends to kill my cucumbers before I can harvest anything. Here’s hoping year four is different.
    Do not spray weed killer on the vegetables or flowers – despite the name, it will kill them (don’t ask).
    Perennials are your friend, so are heavy seeding annuals – let the lettuce (and cilantro and dill and…) bolt; if you find the lack of rows aesthetically distressing, thin and order when they start coming up.
    Grapes are iffy. Every three or four years we get a freeze that knocks them back to the roots, which means no grapes the following year.
    Corn destroys the soil. Rotate it and fertilize.
    Miracle-Gro Sunday is your friend, especially if you are watering by hand, anyway.

    It’s a fun hobby and relatively easy to care for – just don’t let the weeds get ahead of you. Pulling a few in the evening while drinking a beer is relaxing. Spending a weekend digging and hoeing, not so much.

    • Corn destroys the soil. Rotate it and fertilize.
      Miracle-Gro Sunday is your friend, especially if you are watering by hand, anyway.

      Traditionally, corn is followed by a legume, which is why you often see fields of corn one year replaced by fields of soybeans the next. It used to be common to plant a type of pole bean at laying by time, the dying corn stalks serving as poles for the vines. This was in an age when rows were about five foot wide to allow for horse or mule plowing, and when it was common to run cows over the corn field after harvest – the beans were for the cattle. It also helped replenish nitrogen in the soil.

      For fertilizer, I went to the local feed and seed store and bought 5-10-15 or 10-10-10. Cheaper than the tiny amounts you get in gardening centers, but applying it to your garden can be troublesome. Since my father had me hoeing corn and dropping fertilizer by hand, because he believed every boy should know how to hoe corn and drop fertilizer by hand, this wasn’t very hard, but it tends to be rough on your hands and you have to figure the application rate down to a per row level.

      • Traditionally traditionally, you planted corns and beans and squash all in the same little hill, with a fish underneath the little hill for fertilizer. That’s what Squanto taught the Pilgrims, and that is the “Three Sisters” pattern used by lots of tribes. (Albeit it does not work well for modern farm equipment, and a lot of Indians did slash and burn instead of crop rotation.)

        • I don’t know. As a boy, I never had good results planting corn over a small brem (I was allowed to have an experimental garden, a short row where I could do pretty much what I wanted agriculture-wise). I strongly suspect the proverbial three-sisters garden was closer to the planting beans in the corn at laying-by time, with squash nearby. All three help supply amino acids, though i think you have to make hominy out of the corn.

          If there are historic records of what today is called a three-sisters pattern, I’ll accept it. But, FWIW, an Indian (Creek) I knew didn’t practice it, though he kept a traditional red flint corn going, and my family, with rumors of Cherokee in the mix, didn’t.

          It’s not to start an argument: I very well could be wrong. But I remember winnowing the tiny black bean we used to plant, and when I think of how it was planted, it makes a lot more sense than the hill method, because the timing prevents the corn from blocking light to the beans. And things become garbled by lack of crucial information, and I suspect beans planted in three-foot rows with corn a foot or more apart don’t do so well as beans planted in five-foot rows.

          Ditto the fish in hills of corn, though the use of fish fertilizer is well documented and emulsions are still used today. I wonder if what happened with planting a hill of corn over a brem was over-fertilizing – and if someone has positive results doing it, I’ll revise my opinion.

          • I planted three sisters method last year, and the corn and beans did fine. Unfortunately, I planted them too close to the tree line, and the squash failed to thrive due to not enough sunlight(I also didn’t water the plants enough). As I understand it, the bean should be pole beans, with the corn representing the poles.

            I also read that there is a seldom-mentioned “fourth sister”: sunflowers. According to the article I read, the sunflowers were there to be eaten by the birds, and keep them away from the corn.

            • Thee farmer I knew up here in the U.P. planted sweet corn several rows deep (the width of the Combine used to harvest) surrounding his field corn as a way to keep deer, raccoons , etc occupied and not delving deeper into the field.
              Any they did not get we were free to pick and eat, the rest got tilled back in.

    • I can’t get mint to grow, here; I WANT it to go wild, because it’s pretty, and helps drive off bugs.

    • Mint… evidently I am the one creature on earth that can plant mint and not have it get everywhere. Planted some in a patch on the lawn a few years ago and a few plants came up, and then… nothing happened, despite dire warnings. Perhaps it’s that I (though likely not my neighbors) would have been thrilled with a mint lawn.

      • At what was once my great-grandparents’ house, the mint stays mostly confined to the herb bed. It does however tend to grow waist-high in summer and then die back. I suppose if mowed (or grazed?) steadily it would be less dramatic.

  26. Pingback: How Does Your Garden Grow? – Cedar Writes

  27. On the other hand… you need to accurately gauge your willingness to babysit a garden. If you assume that your time is worth absolutely zero, maybe spending several hours a day gardening in order to reduce your monthly grocery bill by a little will be worthwhile. If you are fully physically able, maybe it will be worthwhile. If you are depending on your teenage kids to spend several hours a day on your grand design of a gardening project when they have school, an hour bus ride on both sides of school, and are working 28 hours a week on top of that, maybe it isn’t such a great idea. If it would actually be more cost effective for you to spend that time working- writing, whatever… then maybe it isn’t the best idea.

  28. And here is wishing Sarah and family are well connected today. 🙂

    • From what I have grasped about Portugal (and Southern European cultures in general) it is important to be very well connected.

  29. I used to have a vegetable garden until the carburetor went out on the tiller, and reclaiming the spot means cutting through turf. I initially did it with a shovel, but I was younger and even then it was a lot of work. I’ve tried to be positive and see it as a means of eliminating some weeds that considered herbicides a challenge. Well, herbicides safe to use in a vegetable garden.

    The best resource I’ve found are county extension publications available online. These have the advantage of being climate specific. One of the handiest was a chart I came across of recommended row widths, plant spacing, seeds and fertilizer rates per 100′ row lengths, as well as spring and fall planting ranges for various plants.

    I have Square Foot Gardening and due to snakes I’m not impressed. We have to watch out for several species of poisonous snakes, so this means clean rows and being able to see under the plants before you pick vegetables. Even at four-foot rows, the pea vines (Southern peas, not to be confused with garden peas) often lap, which meant I put on snake leggings and looked really hard as I picked the peas.

    I also ended up looking a century old farming techniques because I practiced dry land gardening as much as possible. This meant having several inches of dry mulch, as several inches of organic mulch would have to come in a dump truck. Maintaining that dry mulch can be labor intensive, but cut water used for irrigation.

    I never used a compost heap. Instead, I practiced adding organic matter to the garden soil, which is like turning the entire garden into a compost heap. Had I something more than a tiller, I would have planted a cover crop, as this worked great in building up soil on the farm.

    Did it save us money? That depends. Our costs were seed, plants, and fertilizer, and since labor was time I’d be wasting elsewhere, that was a wash. Canning expenses, after initial set-up, were propane and jar lids.

  30. OT: Home again, finally. Yeah, I know, nothing compared to Sarah’s “little jaunt.”

    • I got as far as the Grants’ house on Monday, then staggered home yesterday. I was still pretty glazed over yesterday evening.

  31. In the Hebrides, folks plant potatoes on raised beds that are like big tables with that plastic stuff over them, because the soil can get really cold and it is easier to enrich a raised bed than rocky soil. On the bright side, no bending over.

  32. I have to disagree with the basic premise that a garden is cheaper than buying from a supermarket. Gardening is for those who love getting their hands dirty & getting to eat fresh produce – that really tastes like produce. But after the costs of starter plants, or seeds & the equipment you need to start them; adding improvements to your soil; & protection for the plants from diseases/varmints; it doesn’t cost any less than buying the produce (note I’m not mentioning the cost of your time). Even with canning it’s borderline when you factor in the equipment/supplies needed. The only real way a garden can save you money is if all your neighbors have them & their excess produce comes to your doorstep during growing season.

    • Perennials are your friends. On the other hand? my husband and I spent $60 on seeds when we had the windfall of money to throw at them. We plan on getting them in the ground next year. If it works as anticipated. Even with needed soil amendments (clay soil is so much fun…) the seeds we have should produce enough that we can replant from that and after the initial outlay there will be minimal additional cost. My folks have a small tiller they’re not using (and haven’t for years) and they’re passing it on. We’re working on getting a compost heap started which will reduce any need for purchased fertilizer. (We’re in the middle of nowhere. If we don’t compost it we have to trek it into town and either prevail upon my parents’ city garbage disposal or find a dump that isn’t insanely expensive.)

      Gardening can be quite cost effective, especially over the long term. Especially if the cost of getting fresh vegetables means they’re not there at all a good chunk of the time anyway. So it may not lower the grocery bill very much, but it may add foods to the table that wouldn’t be there otherwise at very low cost once the start up is done.

  33. Feather Blade

    In the paths between beds, you could leave it wide enough to run a garden cart, or lawnmower, down it, or make it narrower and lay a layer of mulch over weedcloth.

    I’ve got about 20 inches of walking space between my beds (because long narrow growing space). I am in the process of pulling up all the weeds and replacing them with creeping thyme, scottish moss, and wild strawberries (which make surprisingly good groundcovers. Keeps the weeds down (once established) and keeps moisture in the soil. Also provides extra food for bees and such, when the thyme blooms.