Your Wait is Over! Detailed Garden Update

Oh my, where do I start?  I realized in talking to my best friend on the phone last week that it’s been a couple of months since I blogged about gardening — my garden, in particular. This is a long post, but worthy of words, unavoidable due to the amount of sharing to do! I’m absolutely convinced that anyone can do this — this is my laziest gardening season ever.

All the photos are here in one spot. I didn’t bother creating a Picasa album for them, because past posts indicate that people only look at the one-or-two pictures in the post and miss the other 20 or more still in the album (that has to be clicked to get to). No “clicking away” is required this time, unless you just want to catch up on a little more reading.

Prepare to be amazed.

It rained like the dickens yesterday. Everything was drenched and green, beckoning me for a walk outside. I grabbed my camera and my coffee (later traded for dirt) and put on my flip-flops. Ahhh…beautiful, beautiful, beautiful soil. It’s all working as planned, in spite of my efforts. Really, it’s working as a direct result of my lack of efforts. Walk with me as I explain.

First, the non-edibles — the rose garden. You may remember back mid-February when I lamented about how neglected it had been. When we moved into this house back in 2006, it was already ravaged by a long, hard, waterless summer and no upkeep for more than a year (the house was already vacant).

Here’s a first view with the realtor:

May 2006 – The Rose Garden

Sold.

We moved in a few agonizing months later, but didn’t help with the yard much because we were still juggling our other house, a newborn baby that needed an operation, a crazy toddler, a pre-schooler who we suspected may have developmental delays, and our oldest kid wasn’t even five yet. Sanity first, rose garden second.  Priorities, you know.  The following summer, it got its first TLC and much needed weeding, mulching and pruning. The reward for our hard work? Twenty or so less bushes to enjoy. This is the first round of survivors.

May 2007 – The Rose Garden, All Cleaned Up

Fast forward a few years. In between, let’s see…we got hit by Hurricane Ike, there was the whole house-rebuilding process, there was this freak snowstorm in 2009, followed by another deep freeze in 2010, and to top it all off, we experienced the longest, hottest, driest drought in our area for more than 50 years. With my water conservation ways, some rose varieties didn’t stand a chance.

The good news is I’m down to only the most hardy varieties of roses.  I still don’t water.  They are bug-resistant (for the most part), heat and drought tolerant, and still give me some pleasure with minimal work.  Here is what the remaining few look like today. (NOTE:  I have added no chemical fertilzers to my yard, or otherwise wrecked the soil, including the roses.)

June 2012 – The Rose Garden, or What’s Left of It

Okay, you’re thinking now, Not so amazing. (I agree with you, but hang in there. It’s coming, I promise.)

Roses ain’t my thing. They’re just too finicky and require way more TLC than I’m willing to give. As a general rule, though, I don’t pull up live, functioning, healthy plants, so I will leave what remains, but whatever comes next will decidedly not be more roses. I’m thinking more along the lines of “butterflies and bees” with any future plant purchase. And cheap-o, too.

Welcome to my veggie garden!!

standing with arms outstretched

Moving over to the east-most part of our one-and-a-half acre property, we come to the place where most of the edibles are grown.  The photo is shot from within the non-producing fruit orchard (pears, plums, and peaches all conserved their energy for a season due to last years’s drought).   It’s looking, well, green.  Yeah, green.  I like that word.

Scott describes it in another way. He says it’s my “Not So Pretty” garden, but I prefer “Serendipity.” It just sounds nicer. In fact, all the plants in my reduced-size veggie garden area have been among the top producers in my entire 4-year gardening career.  It seems that this tremendously talented Dirt Girl nature has got this thing down pat.

June 2012 – Shannon’s Veggie Garden

What you see here is a mess of things going on all at once (a little like my brain and my home life). Here, I’ll try to make some sense for the rest of you.

  • A pile of pruned branches in the foreground which won’t be gone until we have a free weekend with two parents at home — one to run the chipper, one to watch the kids and call 911 if a limb gets severed
  • My favorite blue wheel barrow with not one, but two wheels (I can really load this thing down); it’s currently full of water from yesterday’s rain
  • The compost pile which is mostly empty (I haven’t chipped or trimmed hedges yet)
  • Two 4×4 raised beds — which I used to quickly, lazily plant last year’s peas and broccoli seeds — with a soil mix (peat, compost, vermiculite) that was “made”
  • lasagna garden squeezed in between the 4×4’s, built with compost-able materials
  • a wicking garden with lettuce and chard (and Angie’s beans grown in school) to the left, a great water-saver
  • two 100-gallon pots with blueberry bushes in each
  • a pile of mulch waiting to be distributed, from tree work done early in the year
  • bell pepper plants to the back right (not seen)
  • 8-10 “volunteers” which have come up and grown where they seeded

First, we go to the compost bin. There are usually a couple of green anoles (my Gravatar!) eating up all the flying bugs that come in to munch. I love to watch these guys while I drink coffee. It really is fun! I have a video I should post later…ahem.  Back to my garden.

This morning, it’s a Tawny Emperor butterfly visitor that Scottie promptly spotted and named all-at-once (that’s my boy!). We came in and checked our references — good God, the boy was dead on.

Tawny Emperor dining on Rotting Banana

I usually split a rotten banana or tomato to put on the pile just so these guys can get some treaty-treats (I put them near the center so the Anoles can’t jump ’em). They certainly appreciate it. Just yesterday, while eating a tomato sammich (sliced tomato on bread), two of these guys came to dine right on top.  I had just watched them finish ahem doin’ the bug love dance (Hey!  I told you I was gonna.) Nice to know I can whip up an omelette for them afterward, no cig though.  Aaaaaanyway…

Since most of what I’m adding to the compost at this time of year is “green” material (i.e. from the kitchen), I cover the top with cardboard to keep the fly population down to a minimum. About once a week, I add some mulch, newsprint, and other “brown” to the pile and stir it up and water it.  Once a month I flip it. This is all I do to make my own “dirt.”  It does not stink.  There is, however, a nagging odor coming from my neighbor’s septic tank 20-feet away…I wonder if it requires maintenance. I digress.

Now, let’s have a look at some soil samples. I know this is what you really came for.

The first photo is of the ground, right there where I stand at the compost pile, au naturel with a 3-to-4-inch layer of mulch on top (chipped from my trees). I do this to keep the invasive grasses out as well as to conserve moisture and give myself a place to walk that’s not on top of plants.

The Garden “Earth,” Un-managed

And then I’ll dig down to the black gold!! And you’ll see why I have so many happy volunteers in my garden.

Beautiful, Healthy, Aerated Soil — No Work

Look at those nails!! My favorite way to be. Are you still with me? Good. ‘Cause this dirty party is just gettin’ started.

Under all that earth are several earthworms (very fat and fed ones), nematodes, fungi, bacteria — veritable hundreds of thousands, if not millions of organisms in my hand right there. That’s healthy soil, my friends. And healthy soil makes for healthy plants, and healthy plants make for healthy eaters. I think you’re starting to get it.

These areas of my garden (with volunteers of tomatoes, bell pepper, pumpkin) thrive with fruit yield and have produced relatively pest-resistant, tasty, juicy fruits for our bodies.  Zero work.  

Yes, you read right.  Zero work.  I did nothing except spread some mulch with a rake, walk through it once every day or so, pick the fruit off the vine, sometimes eating it as I walk back to my house.  No rinsing required.

Tomato Volunteer – Appears to be Cherry

Okay, so maybe I drove a few T-posts and wrapped in sisal twine to keep the bugs off.  That’s hardly work.

What you don’t see is another pumpkin vine that completely took over the mulch pile.  I just pulled it up yesterday (it’s laying on the ground in the garden photo).  I got 50-75 fruit off that vine alone.  And though I saw many a-squash fly (they’re really pretty), I had very little pest problems to speak of.  We found one grubworm in the breakfast room which must have crawled from one of the squash in the basket.  But that is all.

Off to the prepped beds.

The modified Square Foot Garden (not the original ’cause I bastardize everything) is where the peas and broccoli lived this spring.   Scott built them post haste so I could get to sowing outside, right in the soil and the sun.  We laid them each down right on top of Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses — both very invasive species — on a bed of cardboard boxes dumpster-dive’d (yes, I did this) from the recycle drop-off center.  It’s my job to embarrass my kids, as you know.

That whole grass thing?  Well, another experiment in process. And the grasses have not been a problem thus far. BAM. Done. Moving on.

The peas are already spent and have been pulled. We ate most of them right there in the yard from February through April. Peas! They are the sweetest, most delectable treat that people ruin when they cook them. Raw peas (and their leaves) are just plain delicious and rarely made it into the house. First-come, first-served in my household.   The girls picked and ate most of them.

The broccoli?  They never did bolt — which is unusual given our average temps in the 90’s. Each of the 5 plants (I started with 10) produced one, beautiful crown, and we’re still eating all the little off-shoots (these would become flower stalks if I would let them) as well as the leaves and stems. I will let them flower through the heat of summer, to not only collect seed for next year, but for the bees, who will love me for it.

Here’s what the raised bed soil looks like.  It sparkles because of the vermiculite, which is supposed to keep it ‘fluffy.’ I mulched with the spring oak leaf drop (we are rife with leaf litter from 15 large live oaks on our property) to conserve soil moisture. It appears to be working.

Square Garden — Peat | Compost | Vermiculite

Here’s a pretty picture of a broccoli shoot that I promptly popped off and ate after I took the photo.  I enjoyed how the dew looked in the morning sunshine.

Broccoli – What Remains After the Crown

Over to the lasagna bed.   I planted two tomatoes and had two pumpkin volunteers come up.  I liked the pumpkin’s “location,” so I let them go.  You have to be careful with certain squash variety. There’s truth in the phrase “run over like a watermelon vine.”   The 8-ft long, trailing pumpkin vines produced well over 50 fruit (homemade pumpkin pie…yum!) and have already been yanked.  The tomatoes are still producing giant, sweet tomatoes as I write this.

I have been meaning to put okra seeds in the open spots…maybe I’ll do that today. Here’s what the lasagna soil looks like.

Lasagna Bed Soil – Moist and Crumbly!

Lastly, the peppers.  I only planted six plants, no ground-prep other than lining the hole with compost and watering well.  Each has 5-6 fruit already set with several flowers showing.  Have I told you how much I love this “no-work” thing?

Red Bell Pepper — Not Mature
Six Bell Peppers and Two Tomato Volunteers

Those volunteers…you just can’t stop ’em.  I never did get the cages on these two, so sprawl they will.  I’ve pulled off a few fruit already; they’re apparently some kind of Roma variety.

I’ll not go into it much with the wicking garden, because it required a lot of work at the onset, and pretty much all of my lettuce got munched upon at some point.  Here’s what it looks like today.  Prettiest, maybe, but not the best.

Wicking Bed — Lettuce and Chard

If it wasn’t for the caterpillars, it probably would be a great contender, but I don’t like doing shovel-work.  So I’ll build wicking gardens for my back porch next season instead, raised off the ground, netted for moth control.  So there.

Drum roll, please!

sigh  Finally, here’s what you’ve been reading all this for — results for the new-and-improved lazy gardening efforts.   Thanks for sticking with it.  You can go wash up in just a minute.

For experimental purposes, and to be fair to each competing bed, I bought six similarly-sized tomato plants (Better Boy variety) and planted two in each planting medium.  I watered them all the same — deeply for the first two weeks, nothing afterward — and zapped them with some compost upon planting.  Here are the results.  Each plant got a dozen or so ground eggshells (for calcium and flowering).   They’ve had three months to do whatever they’re gonna do.

Here are the results:

Which one was the best producer?  Lasagna Raised
Which one was the fastest grower?  Lasagna Raised
Which one produces the biggest, juiciest fruit?  Untended Ground (!!)
Which one grew great as a plant, minimal as a fruit producer?  Mixed-Soil Raised
Which one kept the best moisture content?  Lasagna Raised

I think you can deduce where I’ll be putting my efforts next year. Perhaps I’ll even have more time to work on my blog.

21 thoughts on “Your Wait is Over! Detailed Garden Update

  1. Oh! I can hardly wait to get my first crop out of my veggie garden! I did see just yesterday that I have a few radishes that look like they’re getting very close! Thanks for sharing your gardens — I LOVE the picture of the dew on the broccoli! Your post makes me antsy for tomatoes to start growing and pumpkins to start vining out.

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    1. Well, thanks! And I also anticipate living vicariously through your garden during my “off” season (starting now). My garden is looking quite empty now.

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  2. What a great introduction post (for me, to your garden.) I love volunteers as well. I figure if they’re that set on growing and giving us food, who am I to call them a weed and pull them out? And if they’re a success, they are rewarded by having their seeds saved and used in my “on purpose” gardens, because obviously if they wanted to live so badly (in this heat!) they have a good chance of being amazing producers when grown on purpose (and actually tended to.)

    What kind of flies do you get in your compost? I had a house fly invasion recently, which was not so fun, and then fruit flies compounded the gross factor. Thankfully, the soldier flies returned and now my compost bin is teaming with their larvae. (The soldier flies either kill, or otherwise somehow prevent, other flies from invading the compost and really speed up the composting process by digesting the rotting material.)

    It’s so nice to find another blog about gardening, let alone in a similar low-work chemical-free style, and even more rare in the same part of the world!

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    1. My growing space was much bigger in 2010! Then it shrunk considerably in 2011 (with the drought), covering the immediate space around my compost pile. I’m gradually building back out from there, but the grasses (which have grown back in) are forcing me to do things a little differently.

      I love volunteers. I have no problem stepping over plants, particularly when they’re feeding me.

      Flies? Only a problem with some of the attacked tomatoes (which I just toss on top of the compost), but I put my kitchen waste into a hole that I pull aside with a pitch fork. Then I throw mulch or leaves on top of that. Never flies with that.

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  3. Wow, Shannon — like you wrote on Peg’s blog — you can go the lazy route and still get yummy stuff. I like the tip of eating the peas raw. We just got a big bag of peas from my neighbor and have been eating them raw. I thought I was being lazy but now I can say it’s the way they’re meant to be eaten.

    When are you going to do a real dumpster dive like you told me about? Recycling dumpster diving isn’t the same thing. If you blogged about the experience, I’d bet you WordPress would take notice!

    Gorgeous garden pictures!

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    1. Oh, I’m totally going to dive a Wal-mart dumpster with Ashley, we just haven’t figured out the logistics of watching our (combined) six kids while we do it. Perhaps after school starts. So right — diving into a cardboard rubbish bin is not the same thing as diving for fruit!

      The lazy way is really the way to go. I have learned much from Mother Nature this past year. She’s a pretty awesome teacher.

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  4. WooHoo! I’ve been waiting to see your gardens girl. Everything looks great Shannon. I love the two wheeled wheel barrow. What a great idea. Don’t you just love the volunteers? I agree, if they have the tenacity to come back on their own, the deserve the chance to grow, wherever they happen to come up. Great post!

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    1. This fall, we’re planting four citrus to round out our orchard and 3-4 pomegranate to replace a few “mystery bushes” that succumbed to last year’s drought. That’ll do nicely!

      On the agenda for tomorrow, I’ll be building 32 more square feet of planting space (lasagna style, thank you) — Scott’s back from his all-week trip to WV so I have some muscle to help me. That and I have a whole lot of chipping to do. It’s gonna get good. And. Dirty. Yippee!

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    1. Yeah, didn’t you guys have snow on Memorial Day weekend or something weird like that?

      We are sub-tropical down here 45 minutes from the Gulf Coast. It’s a great place to be if you want to grow your own food. It’s practically a 12-month gardening world.

      Downside is we’re about to start seeing triple-digit temps starting next week.

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    1. It’s tough for people who don’t have much of a home life (i.e. on the road, at the office) to grow their own. It requires at least a daily eyeball to stop any potential insect invasions from spinning out of control.

      It helps that my “job” requires me to be here already. And the short commute rocks. I don’t have PhD in anything, but oh well. That’ll come one day, soon enough.

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    1. Not as laughable as the grammatical error in the title. Oh Lordie! I changed it from something else but the “you’re” never got changed to “your.” It’s changed now. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves and I just did it. LOL

      Girl…that garden space is only 15×15 or 225 sq ft. It’s not that big! Granted I have 20 fruiting trees as well, but I’ve seen bigger gardens produce less, and smaller gardens produce more. It’s all in how it’s done.

      I’m convinced the key is to stop “humanizing” it so much. We do more to wreck the system that to help it, so all I’ve done is try to understand the why’s of it all, and then get out of the way.

      It is sooooo doable!!

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      1. You are incredible. I agree, the more natural, the better and easier things are maintained. I didn’t even notice any typo in your title. haha! Just blame it on typing too fast, that’s always my problem.

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