This past year has been a wild one but afforded our family the time to start our first serious garden project at this house. I started the plans in November when my boys were out of the country with no idea that we would have ALL THE TIME WE COULD WANT to get it off the ground (or is that “in the ground”?)
We’ve completed SO many indoor projects in the past four years (I promise that one of these days I will post about our hall bathroom, game room and basement bathroom remodels), but it’s time to head outdoors. Our goal was to have a big enough vegetable garden to provide for our family with dreams of having plenty to share with friends and neighbors. Honestly, I also wanted a project big enough for my three children to be able to pitch in as well! Hard work is a great teacher and so much fun.
We planned for 32′ x 18′ of fenced space for annuals (I’m not interested in sharing with my wild neighbors) with an additional 3′ on each side for perennials. We’re starting this experiment with Charles Dowding’s no-dig approach. (As a side-note: if you need a way to escape the craziness of life, Charles Dowding’s YouTube videos are inspiring and really restful.) Now, let the digging begin. No, no digging. Well, we did dig the holes for posts but I think our garden still qualifies. My oldest daughter, Annika, and I got the holes dug for the posts in about a week. Not bad! We chose 6′ cow fencing for our sides and left a 4′ space on the east end for an entry gate.
Next we posted on NextDoor for cardboard boxes and were able to collect plenty to cover the entire garden area. Our walkways and entry area needed a solid mulching so we sent a request to ChipDrop and got a beautiful FREE load of wood chips from a local arborist. We found a local landscape company that had a February special that would deliver garden soil if we purchased 5 yards so $150 later, we were set. We spent a few days with the wheelbarrow and placed the materials in a pattern of rows that I planned out with the help of the Farmer’s Almanac online Garden Planner tool. We were ready to… wait. It was only the end of February. Our last frost date isn’t until April 27th dang it! Patience is a virtue and indoor seed starting is about to become a new skill.
My husband thought I needed a little shed-type entry area to hang tools and provide some shade for our house critters that like to visit the garden with me. He built a 4′ x 6′ garden hut that is perfect for all of us. That’s Misty the dog and Winter the bunny taking advantage of the shade – getting a break from their hard work.
Overall we have been extremely pleased with the results of the project. We were amazed at the amount of vegetables we have harvested and the fun it has been to cultivate. If I were to start this again there are a few things I would change. First, I would have made sure there were NO exposed seams in the cardboard. The weeds we had in the garden (namely: Bermuda grass, wild chive and dandelion) all came up through the spots that we did not layer the cardboard at the seams. We continue to weed those spots but hope with diligence that they will clear out eventually. Second, we would have dug a trench round the whole project. Because Bermuda grass spread with runners as well as by roots and seed, we are now digging a trench that will be maintained to spot those stragglers. All in all, it has been SO worth it.
Its time to face facts. Gardening and landscaping in my new yard is not going well. My plants are lackluster (unless it’s a violet), puny (unless it’s a violet), and unimpressive (unless it’s a violet). I am discouraged but not beaten and I think it’s time to stop adding, amending and irrigating and start getting some answers. I am turning to the wise minds of the UT Extension Institute of Agriculture for help and answers. It’s time to test some soil.
For $15 UT Ag Center will complete a Basic Test that covers Water pH, Buffer Value, M1P (Phosphorus), M1K (Potassium) ,M1Ca (Calcium),Analysis M1Mg (Magnesium), M1Zn (Zinc), M1Mn (Manganese), M1Fe (Iron), M1Cu (Copper), M1Na (Sodium), and M1B (Boron). Additional testing available as well but for this first run I’m going to stay basic and see if I can get some answers – maybe even an understanding of why violets love my yard so much!
As per the instructions, I’m headed out to do a zig-zag collection of soil from my yard and beds. I will be collecting about a cup of soil from approximately 6″ deep. I could pop on over to the Ag Center’s office but for my convenience, I’ll probably just mail this in. If you do this make sure to follow the directions: “Do not place your check in the soil sample box.” I’m sure that bank loved that!
Are you wondering how your are can produce better results? Want to join me? If you’re in Tennessee there are handy instructions, costs, and directions for collecting your soil at https://extension.tennessee.edu/Hamilton/Documents/Agriculture/Soil%20Testing/Soil%20Testing%20Packet.pdf if you are out of state, contact your local Agriculture Extension Office.
January leaves me with time on my hands. I was starting to crave a gardening project and ran across the idea of testing your old seeds to see if they are worth planting. The fact is, I have a bag of seeds that I haven’t wanted to throw away because I remember the good stuff we grew. Some of these are looking mighty questionable though. I’m sure there are better ways to store seeds but I do well to stash them in the garden cupboard.
It’s a simple matter that only took 5 minutes to put together and a couple of days of patience – kinda like popping seeds in the soil in spring. Only this yielded quicker results… to my decluttering efforts.
Choose several of each variety of seed you want to test and arrange them on a damp paper towel.
Roll them gently to keep your seeds in individual rows and keep the moisture in,
Put your roll of damp seeds in a Plastic bag to retain moisture.
Keep your seeds in a warm spot for a few days but keep in mind; seeds need moisture and warmth to germinate but not light – a closed cupboard is just fine. Check them after 2-3 days for progress. Mine took 5 days to show progress but it was in the single digits outside when I did this.
My results are below with the results in red to the right. Way to go Asparagus pole beans!!!! Broccoli and tomatoes brought up the rear but I’m not wasting precious garden square footage with a 50% chance of success. Looks like it’s time to get out the seed catalog! And I get to throw the rest away. Ahhh! The satisfaction of decluttering. Now, on to bleach those nasty tile counters!
…and so little to do in the garden. I actually attempted to rid one of my future flower beds of weeds but realized the rediculosity of my endeavor when the plants just broke off in my hands. Did I mention it was 22 degrees? There is such a things as futility.
A friend of mine is plunging into the Master Gardeners course at our local extension and I crave the possibility of doing this someday but now is not the time. Between homeschooling, work, home renovation, restarting my own gardens and a household to manage, this goal has to wait. I am so looking forward to diving into my new dirt this year though! The UT extension website has an incredible resource, free for the copying. Check out your free 2018 gardening calendar here: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W436.pdf
Not a Tennessee gardener? Check out your local Agricultural Extension for fantastic resources. I’m getting ready to use my local office to have my soil tested. There’s no use fertilizing dirt that doesn’t need it or using the wrong materials.
A new discovery! We get our best fruit from Bulk Natural Foods, a co-op of organic and naturally grown produce. if you’re in middle Tennessee check out bulknaturalfoods.com This month they had the first of the fall fruits available. Beautiful Gala apples and Baby Gold Peaches. These peaches are pretty different. You don’t want to eat these fresh but rather mid-winter after being jarred for a bit. Their firm flesh is perfect after being stored in a simple syrup.
I’m experimenting a bit. While eating a THM diet, sugar is off the table for me. Frankly, I’d like to get sugar out of my house completely but the rest of my family is a little slower on the bandwagon. I’m making a few jars of peaches with sugar syrup, a few with a blend of sugar and erythritol, and some with a syrup of stevia, erythritol and xylitol.
We’ll have to wait til Christmas to find out but these beauties look so pretty I have great expectations!
Update: Success!! These babies are worth the effort! Deemed “really yummy” by my youngest and ready to eat right away!
It’s heading into late summer and I’m debating wether to plant one more crop or not. We’ve had beautiful tomatoes, an abundance of peppers, onions with real flavor, and herbs galore. The “volunteer state” has given us an extra season of tomatoes and cantelope that are taking over. Who needs a patio anyway? A late season, perfect tomato is worth losing some real estate for a couple months.
With the nights getting cooler and days not quite so blistering, I’m left wondering what more I can get from my little plots before I put them to bed for the winter.
Veggiegarden.com offers a simple chart of ideas to get a bit more from your kitchen garden. I’m opting for beets, carrots, spinach and peas. It’s time to get planting!
It’s been some time since my head was clear enough to think about blogging again. I was about to drop the project permanently but one space has been cleared…. literally.
My sweet husband got me the audio book of Andrew Mellen’s “Unstuff Your Life” a few weeks ago and slowly, yet surely, I am moving through the progress of decluttering and reorganizing our home.
It started with my purse and keys and the mantra…. “A home for everything and like with like.” I know – it’s not rocket science, but it works. I then moved to chapter two and the kitchen. In five hours on a Wednesday afternoon I completely emptied my kitchen cupboards and drawers onto any available surface. I cleaned, sorted and reorganized with purpose and clarity. I prayed it would be worth it!! I fell into bed that night exhausted but hopeful. Maybe this would help my home and mind be a bit clearer of clutter.
Unfortunately, I still have to clean my counters and floors but the amazing thing is that it’s so much easier! Five days later and I’m not shuffling items to get to the counters to clean. My floors are free of things that don’t belong there and my family is helping to keep it that way.
I might have said some unkind things about Mr. Mellen along the way – and ripped off a snarky email in the hight of my disarray – but in the end, I am so thankful. I will complete my last item (the junk drawer) in that room and move on to the office under his wise judgement. Thank you Mr. Mellen!
I am ready for spring! I don’t know about you but this winter seems to be dragging. It could be that my family has been cooped up for three weeks alternating sickness or the fact that we’ve had almost no snow to play in this winter but I am so ready for spring! What do I do when I’m ready to see some new life and encouragement? I plant things.
Seriously, I know it’s only February but one of the benefits of living in the South is sometimes these winter experiments work!!! So, the other day I drug out my little shovel, my rake and my newly delivered bag of seeds and headed to the back 40 (square feet of raised bed.) After a quick perusal of my stash I decided to experiment with sweet peas, broccoli, radish and beets. Their not called winter veggies for nothin’ (I hope!) So in they went with a good dousing of MegaSea from Sweetcorn Organic Nursery and a healthy sprinkling of MegaStart worked into the soil.
I have hopes, high ones! It’s supposed to be 60 dregrees today so I’m thinking I should be picking peas by Easter, right?!? Well, maybe my patience will be exercised in this endeavor, but the hope that spring is coming will keep me encouraged for another few weeks til I see the redbuds showing signs of life.