Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Planning the Vegetable Garden - How Many Plants?

One of the first questions I asked myself, after deciding what to plant (based on what I like, and what my family will actually eat) when planning my vegetable garden was, "How many plants do I need?"

I knew I wanted the basics, which for me and my family were:
green beans

Over a few years of trial and error, or hit and miss, I have pretty much come up with what works for me.  Enough fresh veggies, often enough, yet not too often!  Too much of even a good thing (fresh asparagus for instance, every spring my son starts complaining about the frequency of it on the menu!) and you get sick of it!

This is not a comprehensive list by any means.  I do not grow many of the vegetables popular to backyard gardeners.  I don't grow broccoli, spinach, beets, kale, or may other common vegetables.  I have included a few I have tried, but no longer bother with.  "Bother with" vegetables will be followed by why I quit on them!

TOMATOES:  2 per family (unless you are canning or have a huge family!), 1 full size and 1 cherry.

Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable to grow hands down!   One reason could be the taste.  Homegrown tomatoes taste great, like nothing you can buy in the stores.  Eat them straight off the vines, warmed by the sun.  When working in the garden I have been known to just suck the juice out of ripe tomatoes to quench my thirst!

How many?  Well, that depends on a few factors.  My one Sungold cherry tomato provided more than ample fruit for my family last year, with multiple bags to share with co-workers.  Unless you plan on canning, one each of full size and cherry tomato will be fine.  Once they start ripening you will have plenty for salads, sandwiches, garden snacking, etc.

In 2012 I went tomato crazy.  It was my first spring gardening in my new house, in my new raised beds.  I planted:
Costoluto Genovese
Legend x 2
Yellow Brandywin
Japanese Trifele
Mr. Stripey

What was I thinking!

I cut back in 2013, planting:
Ace x 2
Oregon Spring
Big Beef

This was still more than I needed!  I ended up canning whole tomatoes and sauce from the Ace plants (which are determinate - see below).

Another question to ask yourself is whether you want your tomatoes to ripen little by little over the season, or mostly all at once.  If you are canning, it's great to have a slew of them ripe all at once, but most home gardeners would rather pick a tomato or two daily.   

Determinate tomatoes are "bush" varieties, usually need no staking (3' - 4' high), with fruit ripening all within a few week period.  These are the canners' delight!  They also work well in containers. 
Indeterminate tomatoes will grow and grow and grow... blooming and setting fruit up until frost.  They are large plants, and will need staking.  They would be happy left laying on the ground, rooting here and there along their stems.  But, most of us want to control them to some degree, if only to fit our growing area, so use commercially available tomato cages, or just tie them to a stick sunk in the ground.  These are the true vines of the tomato world.  Pruning indeterminates is necessary, and a subject for another day. 

Brandywine - my go-to tomato - this was actually a volunteer from seeds left from 2016's crop
Sungold cherry - hundreds of fruit per season, dozens a harvest

GREEN BEANS: 15 per person

Another one that tastes best fresh, and tastes so different from either canned or frozen.  You have two choices in green beans, pole or bush.

Pole beans take less space, since they grow up and up.  They require trellises, bamboo poles, stings, something to climb at least 6' - 8' tall!  They produce more, but take longer to mature.  Keep them picked and they produce until frost.  They don't mind a bit of cooler summer weather.

Bush beans are self-supporting, and take more garden area, but are much easier to harvest.  They produce all at once, so plant every two or three weeks for a continuous harvest all summer long.  I plant bush beans just because trellising is a pain.  That will change if I find some inexpensive trellises...

bush beans - I've had great success growing them in the holes of concrete (cinder) blocks!
CUCUMBERS: 2 vines per family (again, if you plan to make pickles or have a large family, you will want more)

Of all the vegetables I could grow, this is the one my daughter and I look forward to the most.  It's the one we mourn come frost.  I only grow lemon cucumbers. I buy a six-pack at the Crater High School's FFA plant sale every year.  A six-pack provides us with all the fresh cucumbers we could want.

summer varieties - 1
winter varieties - 2
pumpkins - 2 (1 full size for eats, 1 cute little mini for decoration!)

I only grow squash, other than pumpkins accidentally, from volunteers in the compost pile.  The squash bugs won the battle.  I don't like squash in any form other than pies, cookies, or cakes.  So, pumpkins or the hard winter squash (like acorn which can be used just like pumpkin) are all I will grow.  I'll buy an acorn squash, toss the peelings and seeds into the compost pile and if I get plants in the spring, fine.  If not, fine. If they get covered with bugs, fine.

pumpkins - yes, they were planted (as seeds) directly into manure bags! It works!

acorn squash in compost pile
 CORN:  A lot of plants per person!   Remember, each sweet corn plant only produces one or two ears of corn!  Don't plant in conventional rows, use blocks, since they are wind pollinated. 

I do not grow corn.   I love fresh corn, but am not willing to sacrifice that much garden space to a plant that doesn't produce enough for even my small family!  Plus, corn is really cheap to buy in season at the stores.

SWEET PEPPERS: 2 (for occasional fresh use in salads, plant more if you want to make stuffed pepper main dishes as well)

I have mixed results growing sweet peppers.  My best success was growing in re-purposed cat litter containers, using Wonder Bells.   They need lots warmth, yet soil kept moist.  

PEAS: 15 - 20 plants per family (for snap or sugar snap peas)

There are three types of peas for your garden.  They are not a summer crop (in the Northern hemisphere), but are most often planted in Feb. and late summer. 

Snow: flat pods with teeny peas inside.  You eat the entire pod. The usual pea found in stir-fries.

Shelling, English, or Garden:  these are the usual peas you see frozen or on the plate as a side dish.  You remove the mature peas from the pod shell.   

Snap or Sugar Snap: a delightful cross between snow and garden peas. You eat the entire pod, which is crunchy and sweet.  You may find yourself snacking on them raw in the garden!  Snap peas are the only one I grow.  When my harvest is too much to handle, I have been known to let some pods mature and shell the peas just like garden peas.

Peas will need support, even if the package of seeds says otherwise!  Yes, the snap peas I plant only grow to 3', but they are heavy with pods and do best with some help supporting the weight.  

You can easily freeze any of the pea varieties, so keep that in mind and plant more than enough for fresh eating!  You can even eat the new pea growth and tendrils!  They taste exactly like the peas! 

These are crops that can be planted in succession for a long harvest season.  Lettuce can be harvested as baby leaves, or left to grow to a full head.  There isn't really a recommended number per person.  Carrots can be eaten fresh or cooked, frozen, canned.  Radishes are usually just tossed into a salad to give it color and bite, so don't plant too many at once!


If you don't like the taste of eggplant (like me), it's still a beautiful garden plant.  I grew 'Dusky" for the pretty purple blossoms and shiny purple fruit.  It was easy to give away, so no food was wasted.

There are so many vegetables out there I haven't tried.  This year I am going to give pineapple tomatillos (ground cherries) a go.  They have the same requirements as tomatoes.  I hear the pineapple one really tastes like pineapple and makes wonderful salsa!  I'll try a new variety of tomato too.  The Master Gardener's Garden Fair and the FFA plant sale are both coming up in May, so I'll have two chances to find some great new things!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

How NOT to Plant an Herb Garden!

We've all seen them.  The adorable herbs tucked into almost any container.  Terracotta strawberry pots.  Small pots stacked on top of larger pots.  Even herbs in flatware caddies and shoes are making the rounds.  Look adorable... at first.  But, healthy herbs need proper care, not "cuteness!"

I think what got me started on this was a customer wanting help in building an "herb wall."  She had a Pinterest photo of a frame growing with lush herbs, designed to hang on a kitchen wall.

1) culinary herbs are most often Mediterranean, meaning they prosper in dry, sunny locations, even thriving in gravel.  NOT a kitchen wall, even in a sunny location!  Not to mention the problems with air conditioning and heating indoors.
2) herbs are plants, and plants grow!  They don't just stay hanging vertically in nice little shapely forms.

Falling for the "do-it-yourself herb in a shoe caddy" fad, you rush out and buy this:

catmint (catnip)
orange mint
 You can't resist all the tiny little containers, so you buy:

pineapple sage and lemon thyme
After all, you have eight holes in  that strawberry planter.  Or, according to that fabulous tutorial online, a ceramic pot that can easily hold 10-12 small herb plants!  No problem!  They did it, so can you!


THIS is a sage plant!

THIS is a rosemary (the low growing variety)!

THIS is oregano!  This is the new growth today, it will be 12" to 18" by August. 

THIS is golden oregano!  This too will grow taller, about 6" and began as a tiny 2" plant. 

THIS is mint!

Orange mint taking over a planting bed - new spring growth, it will be up to 2' tall.  It spreads by underground runners.  I mistakenly put a single dying stem in this bed last summer.

Pineapple mint - contained to a ceramic pot.
Even chives readily self-seed and spread. 

I LOVE herbs!

I love them in my herb garden.

I love them in pots.

French lavender and French tarragon

 I love them in the landscaping.

Golden oregano, Tuscan blue rosemary, and Munstead lavender (along with two rock roses)
I am buying more next week!

I am ordering some hard to find ones from The Growers Exchange.  (thegrowers-exchange.com)

Horehound... Mountain Mint... Rue... Chamomile...  so many herbs...

Don't get me wrong, herbs like to be a little bit mistreated!  Rich potting soil or fancy fertilizer may make for a nice looking plant, but the taste won't be there.  Remember they originated in areas of hot dry weather and rocky soil.  For best taste don't pamper, but DO give them a bit of leg room!  (Mints are the exception to this "rule," they have different needs.  Chives too, although mine loves sharing its space with the  Mediterranean herbs.)  

Just don't plant them in a tea cup and expect them to thrive.                                           

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Work on the Rock Garden

Last year I planted probably 1/3 of the front yard as a rock garden.  It has grown tremendously since then!

March, 2016
April, 2017 - you can see a few more rocks were added, as well as some low growing "creepers"
The blue fescue increased the most in size, but the aubrieta (rock cress), armeria (sea thrift) and lewisia have done very well, and are full of flowers.  I did lose one lewisia during the long, snowing, cold winter.

 The wall flower transplanted from a cutting out of the herb garden has taken well.  

wall flower ( erysiumum "orange flame") between a sea thrift, and red creeping thyme 

Yesterday I got started on the remainder of the yard.  What a pain those bark chips are!  They will be moved to the backyard, surrounding the butterfly garden rounds.  The soil underneath though is very rich from years of decomposing bark.  I dug in some manure and sand.  The manure was probably overkill, rock garden plants like a little struggle...  

After a trip to Lowe's (hello, broken bags!) for river rock and pea gravel, I finished the middle path (it is a short-cut to the mailbox), and part of a path around the front of the planting area near the driveway.  

Two plants are in so far, a bright pink ("Morning Star") sea thrift, and a penstemon I have had in a pot on the deck for a few years.  

That mossy rock had a big, fat black widow underneath it when my son turned it over to move it!  I leave spiders alone (even putting them outside if I find them in the house), with one exception... black widows.

Today I bought some more plants (Grange Co-op), but they need to wait for 
1) sunny weather 
2) more sand 
3) more rock moving 
4) days off

lewisia - hybrid mix

lewisia flowers

six pack of sea thrift (armeria)

lithodora - the first of its kind for me!  The plant reminds me of rosemary.  A 4" plant may spread to 4', and I have a six pack! 

lithodora blossoms - love that color!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Butterfly Garden Construction

Finally one of my days off was dry enough to work on the Butterfly Garden.

Step one:  Have my son mow the overgrown grass underneath the cardboard.  If I were really particular, I would have dug it up, and leveled it all out.  But, I'm not.

Can you believe the weeds in the iris bed?  

Step two:  Lay down weed barrier cloth where the path will be.  This is just from the Dollar Tree.

Step three: Place the scalloped tree ring edging (I placed them on cardboard, which I then cut to fit).  I will align these better when I add the soil, right now they are not quite round!

The triangular space in the center will make a perfect spot for a container grown perennial butterfly plant.
Step four:  Should be to add the soil, but I haven't bought it yet.  I will be filling the beds with Gardner & Bloom raised bed soil.  It comes in 3cf bags, and this month I can get a free bag by buying three.  I can easily use three!  I usually mix up my own soil, but this is nice organic soil for just $9.99 per bag (and one free!).  If I figured correctly, one bag will be more than enough for one circle.

So, my step four was to try out some mulch for the path.  I had been to Lowe's again to check out the broken bags, and hit pay dirt (I guess the pun is intended!) with 50% off bark mulch that was already on sale!  $1.00 a bag!  I wish it were a bit more barky than mulchy, it looks like compost.  I thought pea gravel would be nice, but if it leaves the path that would cause problems for the lawn mower. 

It may be a while before I get out there again; the weather took a turn for the worse today.  Very, very windy and cold. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Stella planted... at last.

Finally, some dry hours!  I got the Stella dwarf cherry planted.

The concrete blocks are all crooked at one end because, at the last minute, I made the bed smaller (due to just having no energy to move as much soil as my original plan needed) than originally planned. 

That cardboard in the background is where the future butterfly garden will be.  The cardboard is smothering the weeds... in theory. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Jelly Bean" Blueberry and Some Other Neat Stuff!

As a co-worker said, I had a "busman's holiday" on my day off today!  I went to my work place and bought some fantastic plants. (My co-worker also said "kids" wouldn't know what a "busman's holiday" was... it's doing what you do for work on your time off.  Like a bus driver taking a trip by bus.)

BrazelBerries is a brand name of some varieties of berry.

They are dwarf varieties, perfect for containers, of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.  Mine is called "Jelly Bean."  The snow and cold weather killed the French lavender that was growing in a ceramic pot on my deck, so I was looking for a replacement plant.  Jelly Bean seemed like the perfect thing!  I had some leftover acid lovers soil, which blueberries need. 

"Jelly Bean" blueberry
I also bought a beautiful edible I had never heard of before, a "Raspberry Dressing Rumex."  I had never even heard of "rumex" before!  It looks like a spinach/chard relative, and turns out it's a kind of dock.  Alright, what's dock?  I have a vague image of some kind of edible weed growing wild in ditches when I think of dock plants.  That image may come from a novel, or something else I read a long time ago.  At any rate, this plant is incredibly beautiful, and after seeing it last night at work I had to buy my very own today!  And it's a perennial!  I planted it in my new bargain ceramic pot.  It's named for its taste, similar to raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing. 

Last year's dormant perennials are on sale, and I was able to limit myself to only two.  One is a healing herb, Feverfew.

The other is Tickseed, or Coreopsis.  This variety has more lacy leaves than some.  Butterflies love Tickseed, so this is for the yet-to-be-built Butterfly Garden. 

I got another Tickseed too, with different leaves.

"Cruzin' Main St." and "Up Tick" are such silly names for plant varieties!

Since this year's plans include extending the front yard rock garden, I got a pretty pink Armeria, or Sea Thrift.  The color is a deep pink called "Morning Star."