Thursday, September 11, 2014

Very First Garden

We planted our garden on May 31st (coincidentally the same day I found out I was pregnant with Claire last year!) in the spot of an old tree the husband cut down. Though beautiful, it was too close to the house and thus, the foundation. I purchased a couple garden boxes on Amazon along with a weed control bottom piece made out of some sort of material. We used the lasagna layering method of newspaper, peat moss-mushroom compost-soil, repeat. No manure was used. We did not use our own compost, sadly. When I bought our compost bin last fall, it grew cold very quickly and never really achieved high enough temps this summer to keep the internal temperature warm enough to ferment the compost. Win some, lose some. That investment has not proven to pan out as I hoped it would (picture my husband nodding his head here).
My footwear fashion statement here is embarrassing.

Now 3.5 months later, here is our crop total:

Snap peas: Around 150
Carrots: Hoards
Zucchini: 1, but there were a total of 4 that started and one holding on by a thread. Will it grow?
Peppers: About 10 (from starter plants)
Jalapenos: About 20 (from starter plants)
Cilantro: About a month's worth of cuts
Pumpkins: A total of about 4-5 have grown & still waiting... One was the size of a softball and was attacked. One was the size of a kumquat and attacked.
Tomatoes: 4 growing now and 3 of those are changing colors

What we learned:
- Snap peas should be planted against a wall of some sort. They grow quite tall and the 5ft. bamboo trellis I purchased was still not tall enough. It didn't affect the growth, but did make the top quite messy. We also had some weird fungus (?) attack them and make them spotted on the last harvest (of 3).

- We loved carrots. Maybe the most? We planted a very stubby, small variety based on the short depth of our garden boxes and the fear that they would hit too deep into the soil and affect our electric wires (very unlikely, but we are rookies). It was so much fun to have friends over for dinner or playdates and let the kids pick carrots at random. We literally just poured the seeds into rows and did not count. Possibly foolish as they might have been larger if we planted fewer due to shared nutrients, but it was loads of fun either way.
I can't seem to locate pictures of the really "big" ones, but the majority of good ones were about the size of a baby carrot for this variety.
- Zucchini seed packs really mean that you should not plant multiple seeds close together. They will steal nutrients and hog up so much space. I think we planted 6 squash plants and one produced even a nub of a squash (well, three nubs and one real zucchini).

- We bought a flat of starter peppers of a random variety. They were delicious when they produced, but they were rather small. One of the single plants in the flat produced about all of the peppers. The rest just took up space.

- The jalapenos were starter plants, too. I also LOVED having these constantly growing to use in recipes. Because they are spicy, they go a long way to season a dish and therefore were worth the purchase.

- Cilantro was a huge disappointment. I had visions of using it all summer in recipes and it lasted a month, if that! I had no idea they grew well and then immediately bolted a few weeks later. I loved having it to cut and put in recipes/guacamole/salsa, but it was such a short life!

- Pumpkins were.........well, we don't know. We were SO excited when the first grew and was doing so great until it was attacked! We caged it after, but the bugs continued to eat at the lacerations and it was just over from there. We have quite a few that are still small and it might be a pipedream to assume they will grow before our first freeze. These seeds were from a local pumpkin drop (so Midwest!) with a 500lb pumpkin. I knew pumpkin plants grew HUGE, but this one (of 6 seeds we planted) is maybe 20 feet long? It's enormous. Time will tell.

- My mom bought us a $1 Target spot pack of Beefsteak tomatoes and we followed the directions, started it in the house and planted in a pot (with wire rack thing) outside. It flourished! It's huge and beautiful and is currently growing four tomatoes. That's not much, but they do look super delicious and really healthy. We will see. Maybe they will ripen before they freeze and are ruined?!

- Buying "moisture bead" soil or whatever it was called is just a fancy name for added styrofoam. Not only is it ugly, but expensive too!

2014 garden, photo taken about halfway through the season (pumpkins around that corner)
What we'll plant/change for next year:
Snap peas: plant them against the wall/house. We won't be using up garden box space for them next year and the wall will add stability that is much needed.

Carrots: We intend to plant both regular (on the side of our house) and sqautty (garden box) varieties next year. I'm not sure about planting fewer seeds = ALL fat carrots as opposed to some that flourished and some that flopped. Maybe we'll experiment in different rows.

Zucchini: We'll plant again in the garden box, but plant maybe TWO plants and not six.

Peppers: I don't know. We will probably forego the pepper plants or possibly do starters inside ourselves of more known varieties. They just weren't large enough to really yield much.

Jalapenos: We'll definitely plant these again and possibly try our hand at starters ourselves and buying a few. Would be fun to compare side-by-side.

Cilantro: While we enjoyed having it that one month of the season, we'll consider planting and then removing once it bolts, then planting again for a second harvest. Half of the season our garden box looked barren because the cilantro jumped ship so early.

Pumpkins: We lost nothing here, but seemed to have gained very little, too. I don't know! We might try again, but question if there is enough sunlight on the side of the house we have them planted. And how to keep the rodents away? This year it took about 1 minute to dig six mini holes and plant them, so it wasn't much of a loss, but hard to watch when they were eaten often.

Tomatoes: Definitely plan to plant more and even start some in the house ourselves again. I am thinking we might have more luck with varieties that are smaller and produce faster (cherry, roma) and want to consider those to go in the actual garden boxes and run while on their own. It might be messy...?

Overall: We really enjoyed our first gardening experience! It was fun getting outside with the kids, having Benjamin water and share in his excitement with friends, picking carrots whenever others would come over, sharing the modest crop, picking veggies to use in dinner and just having something to maintain. I think this is as big as we're up for managing, though.


Tiffany said... [Reply to comment]

Oh i miss having a garden! I think we are going to get a plot in our community garden next year. I think it's so good for kids to have a garden and understand where real food comes from! Hope you get a couple pumpkins!!

Jenny said... [Reply to comment]

In northern IL, it is best to start hot season plants like peppers and tomatoes from seed around... March 1. You'll need a grow light on a timer. Just buy starter plants from a reputable greenhouse that notes the seed start date, keep them outside or get them in the ground the weekend after Mother's Day. Peppers need really poor, hot soil: your soil was probably too nutritious, and you need a constant sun position (no west facing wall) away from other peppers and tomatoes. I like Roma, too, because they are compact, but more have to be planted than with an indeterminate tomato... and determinate Romas yield a large crop all at once. Do you plan on canning? It can take 5lbs just for a batch of salsa, and that requires a lot of plants!! For cherry tomatoes, just plant 1-2, and keep it somewhere where you don't mind 8' trailing vines! For a Halloween pumpkin in northern IL, start your seeds and transplant on the 4th of July. And your compost bin will work better maybe next to your (sunny?) south facing garage door; plus you'll see it and give it a turn daily in that location.A great publication for you to read free from the library over the winter is Chicagoland Gardening. And the best greenhouse/garden center near you is The Growing Place. Best of luck for next year!

Tiffany said... [Reply to comment]

cool!! i miss my garden too. hopefully we can do one this upcoming spring/summer after we put in a fence.

Laura Jane said... [Reply to comment]

AWESOME! We had grand plans for a veggie garden this year but we couldn't get our act together to actually make it happen… def want pumpkins, tomatoes and some zucchinis. the spicy peppers sound fun, too!

sucks E was right about the com poster- hate when the hubs is right! ;)

Laura Jane said... [Reply to comment]

AWESOME! We had grand plans for a veggie garden this year but we couldn't get our act together to actually make it happen… def want pumpkins, tomatoes and some zucchinis. the spicy peppers sound fun, too!

sucks E was right about the com poster- hate when the hubs is right! ;)

Caroline said... [Reply to comment]

One day that composter will be well worth the purchase, I have faith!

I think your garden is super impressive! Another job well done, Wilson family!

Alison G. said... [Reply to comment]

We've had great success with jalapeños started from seed. Super easy to grow and produced like crazy! Beets were just about the easiest thing to grow and seemed resistant to pests.i want to try garlic next but not sure if it's hot enough(even though it was this year!)