Alex and I will be the first to admit that our DIY skills are lacking when it comes to gardening. Plastering, plumbing, electrical, and woodworking don't scare us, but ask us to make selections in the outdoor center at a local nursery and our knees begin to quake. But there's only one way to fix that -- call in the experts! No, I'm kidding of course, you know that's not our style. In our home, the way to fix our green thumb deficiency is to talk to friends, family, nursery staff, read books, research, and try, try again.
Last year we made our first attempt at building a raised bed organic vegetable garden in our back yard. After reading All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, we felt it was a simplified approach and might be easy enough for black thumbs like us to tackle. So under Lulu's watchful eye, we got to work by first pulling up a small section of bricks to make room for the 10x2 garden, followed by creating the new bed, preparing the soil, selecting the veggies to plant, and popping them in the ground. If you're interested in the whole project from the start, you can read all about last year's three part square foot garden series.
- First Steps - Selecting the Location
- Building the Garden Bed
- Preparing the Soil and Planting
All this hard work left us with a great foundation for our new vegetable plants. Last year we planted cabbage, Ichiban eggplant, spinach, sugar snap peas, kale, chives, lavender, beets, and spring onions.
We carefully cared for our new green friends all summer long, and truthfully were met with mixed results. The beets died a slow death, the sugar snap peas wilted before their big debut, and the spinach never showed up to the party. Oh, and what we thought was broccoli was actually cabbage, but we didn't know this and just kept waiting for the broccoli to show up. So by the time the black thumb crew realized it, we had even let the cabbage go to waste. Feel free to shake your head in disgust along with us at that one.
On the positive side, the chives and lavender flourished. And we even harvested four eggplants, a couple spring onions, and a good supply of chives and kale throughout the season. In our house, we consider that a modest success for year one.
And so that brings us to year two. Undeterred by a few flops in 2011 and armed with a year of experience under our tool belts, we set off to get ready for another year of organic square foot gardening. The bed had weathered a bit during the cold months. The white wash isn't as crisp and a few faint cracks in the wood are starting to show.
Our bigger concern though was the number of roots that had infiltrated the raised bed from below, despite our use of the weed mat. (Is it just me, or are roots the troublemakers in our gardening efforts so far this year?)
Alex got to work using our handy axe and a few hand tools to break up the soil and began pulling up all of the roots. Since this part of the yard is under the canopy of our large tree that's always looking for water, there's really no preventing root infiltration, so we'll just need to clear them out each season.
Alex was completely shocked byt the amount of roots he pulled from the bed. By the end of the de-rooting, he had three paper grocery bags completely full of roots.
Once the bed was free of roots, we needed to replenish the soil. While we hand intended on doing our own mix, we ran out of time and opted to use several bags of organic soil we had used last year. Alex took care to dig up the remaining living items in the garden for relocation. There's no sense in letting living things that somehow survived us go to waste. At this point, the bed was starting to look good again.
As we did last year, we also added in a good amount of worm castings (yes, that's worm poop) to fully prepare the soil. We also reused the square foot dividers from last year. Though they aren't as sturdy as they were when first assembled, but they're still the right lengths. We may remake these as the season progresses.
I had previously picked up the vegetables that we wanted for the year -- first, when I was at our local home improvement store buying herbs for our outdoor pots, and then again while we went to Merrifield Garden Center, Groupon in hand, to select the new flowers for our front urns.
In order to make room for more vegetables, we first consolidated the four chive plants into two squares. Previously they were planted in four squares. Next Alex removed the four lavender plants and transplanted them into a large pot.
We were all set and ready to go with the new plants. The breakdown of our 20 garden squares is as follows:
- 4 x Brussels sprouts (We are obsessed after all.)
- 4 x Broccoli
- 3 x Cauliflower
- 2 x Zucchini
- 2 x Chives
- 1 x Ichiban Eggplant
- 1 x Leeks
- 1 x Sping Onions
- 1 x Green Beans
- 1 x Cantaloupe (I don't have high hopes for this one, but Alex really had his heart set on a melon.)
Before we even had a chance to get these suckers in the ground, we had a bit of an attack -- a squirrel attack to be exact. Those little buggers attacked my newly planted herbs as well as a few of the vegetables still in the shopping bag!
Fortunately my little Ichiban eggplant was resilient enough to withstand a night on the cold, hard bricks of our patio. Alex, knowing how anxious I was to plant the veggies before the squirrels could mount another attack, planted all the vegetables while I was out of town on a business trip last week. He did a great job. Here's a look at the finished result.
We're keeping our fingers crossed that we'll be enjoying homegrown vegetables this summer. Between the herbs and these new veggies, I may even try to organize a veggie swap at work for fellow gardeners that have surplus. Think of it as a barter-only farmers market.
What are your thoughts on our garden's chances this year? Like I said, I don't think Alex's precious melon has any hope, but I'm cautiously optimistic for the rest. Are vegetables a part of your gardening efforts this year? Is anyone trying a new vegetable or herb for the first time? What have been your biggest gardening successes an failures over the years? Any tips for us to help us succeed? We sure have a lot to learn.