Last year Matt and I dug up a lot of land in our back yard (um….a lot). We bought rabbit fencing to keep out our dogs and we diligently planted all of our favorite vegetables: green beans, collards (bleh, Matt’s favorite), broccoli, squash, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, Habanero peppers (I’m not known for “paying attention to details,” so these were in efforts to get jalapenos), and tomatoes. We also planted two strawberry plants and a little collection of herbs: cilantro, basil, and oregano.
I’ve been told that with every garden, be it edible or not, you win some and you lose some. Each year is a new and hopefully a more successful venture in gardening.
This is a short list of what we learned from last year and what we’ve improved upon this year.
1. CONTAINER GARDENING CONTAINER GARDENING: Last year our intention was to block out the dogs with our sectioned off garden. This failed…horribly. Not only did it turn into a total mud pit everytime we watered it, the dogs, being dogs, promptly found a way around our barricade. Attie (the lab/rottie) jumped over, while Toby (the miniature Beagle) found a path under the deck straight into the garden. Forbidden as it was, this was obviously their new hang out. Even their buddy, Gus Dog the lab mix, found the garden a wonderful place to play with Attie. In no time the fence was falling over and weeds were growing up around what was left of it anyway.
This year we built 3 boxes and fertilized them over the winter and spring with table scraps (compost), potting soil, top soil, and manure from Matt’s parents horses, with great results. (Side note-Sun Chips now has a compostable bag-so that’s in the garden, too!) AND the dogs aren’t interested in eating our veggies anyway. The advantage…Matt can mow around them. They look nicer. Tilling isn’t so strenuous. We waste less water in watering JUST what needs watering.
For the herbs, we bought some big pots and put them on our deck. We still haven’t figured out cilantro, but basil and oregano are growing easily in the sun. In fact, I could probably whip up at least three batches of pesto tonight if I wanted to.
2. ABOUT TOMATOES: Last year we made three tomatoe mistakes. First, we did not stake them. we got cone-shaped wire structures that supported the tomatoe plants as they grew. That is until, the plant outgrew its support in uh…June. For the rest of the summer and into the fall we had tomatoe madness going on in our back yard. They were EVERYWHERE. This year we bought stakes that were 5 feet tall and tied the plants to the stakes as needed (next year we will buy even taller stakes). Instead of buying ties, we just cut up strips of old panty hose.
Secondly, if you want an organic garden, at least where we live-you’re gonna have to pick those suckers before they ripen-when they’re green. Last year we tried to let them vine ripen and our whole crop was a bust because of bugs and birds. Now we pick them when they are green, firm, and about the size of our palms. We leave them on the counter and wait. Then we eat them…and man are they yummy!
Finally, last year we bought Better Boy tomatoes. These are little guys and not super tasty. This year we went with Big Boy tomatoes and aren’t looking back!
3. PEPPERS: What we learned about peppers last year is just simply that they like to grow and we like to eat ’em. Peppers are definitely our most prolific crop. This year we planted 3 Bell pepper plants and 2 jalapeno plants. And have eaten jalapeno poppers every time we grill out.
4. A QUICK RUN DOWN OF ALL OUR LOSER PLANTS: Broccoli is a loser. Apparently it only produces one-three bunches per plant. We planted one and then it flowered so quickly, we didn’t get to enjoy it. Squash does not work in Arkansas (though my in-laws had it coming out of their ears last summer in Texas) because of a little enemy called the vine borror. One of these little boogers will eat your whole squash plant from the inside out. I lost 6 plants this way. Corn did not work for us, simply because this Iowa girl and her Southern husband planted one plant in one box and one in the other. The first spring storm knocked them both over. We may devote a whole box to corn sometime in the future-but we may not. Our two strawberry plants grew and sent out runners to amass a total of 20 plants. However, they each produced one crop of teeny tiny strawberries. To top it off, this happened when we were in Iowa, so we didn’t even get to enjoy them.
5. THE NEWBIES: This year we added snap peas, eggplant, and English cucumbers to our repertoire. The snap peas were delish until they were devoured by some mysterious pest. The Eggplant is in the process of growing us a little something…but we’re still working on it. And the cucumbers? Well the jury is still out on those. We have had at least 3-4 amazing nearly seedless cucumbers this summer. However, I have believed this vine to be dead now more than once. Perhaps, it’s catlike because after nearly all of its leaves turned yellow, it sprouted some more little flowers and a small cucumber is growing. Hmmm. will update on the cucumbers.
A WORD ON MARIGOLDS: Supposedly these plants serve as a natural pesticide. And so far, since I’ve filled my boxes with them, I seem to have less pest issues this year. They do not deter all pests, but they are nice to look at, cheap, and grow quite easily.
TO SUM IT UP: Gardening is something that I believe will become a permanent part of our springtime regime. It’s rewarding to watch your labor turn into bounty throughout the summer and fall. Every year, there are some failures, but with each failure there is new knowledge (oh hey-kinda like life!). And-who can beat fresh, free, and organic produce on your kitchen counter? So, next year, head to Lowes, buy some plants and seeds, and get crackin! Bon Appetit!