Today’s blog entry comes to us from Kristy L. Rustay, Marketing Manager at Storey Publishing, who has lovingly detailed the story of her gardening adventures in this guest post. Thanks Kristy!
It is hard to believe, but gardening season is upon us. This past weekend I started some seeds in my basement, and then started a fire and cozied into my couch to read the beginning chapters of Storey‘s new gardening book, Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook.
Some of the first advice the authors Ron Kujawski and Jennifer Kujawski give is “think small.” They elaborate on this advice: “Plan your first garden to include just a few favorite vegetables, no more than can be eaten fresh . . . until you are comfortable with home growing.”
The advice in Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook started me thinking about my gardening experience.
Here is my story.
I began gardening in 2008. I did start small. I started growing herbs, flowers, and a few vegetables in containers. All my plants were very successful.
The chive plant below was planted from a bought seedling in 2008 and placed on the outside of a whiskey barrel planter. The planter was also new to my yard in 2008, and was the container for two cherry tomato plants. It has since housed sungolds (a golden-orange-yellow variety of cherry tomatoes), more of the red cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers.
The blooming chive plant.
Due to my beginner’s luck in 2008 I was excited for the next gardening season and I began planning a ground garden. Our yard is a very odd-shaped plot of land, and was not well maintained by the previous owners. We had a Northeastern version of a jungle growing behind our shed. Despite the massive tangle of growing and dead plant life, I saw potential. I noticed that this overgrown area receives a good amount of sun and was a perfect sized spot for a garden.
I now knew what I wanted to do, but with the mess out there, I didn’t know where to begin.
The proposed site for my garden, March 2009
The chosen site for my garden was full of shubbery, weeds, vines, debris, roots, and rocks. The excavation of all of this was overwhelming — I didn’t think I could do this on my own. I needed someone with experience and equipment. I asked around at work and I asked friends and family if they knew anyone who could do this type of work and wouldn’t charge me a fortune. The husband of my co-worker had a retired friend who took on odd jobs similar to what I needed done. I hired him and a few weeks later I had garden plot that I could begin work on.
The first year wasn’t easy. There were still many roots, sticks, and stones that I needed to pull. Also, the dirt was very hard-packed. I did my best to get the big pieces out of the way and loosen up the soil. Then I spent a small fortune on bags of organic garden soil to build raised mounds.
The gardening books I was reading at this time, The Backyard Homestead and The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, both highly recommended raised beds — the main reason is for drainage purposes.
Before I built up, I dug out. I dug out the rocks, roots, and sticks, but I also dug out some of the dirt. I did not have my soil tested (as recommended by most all gardening books), instead I replaced the first 10″ of the soil with newly purchased organic garden soil. I filled in what I dug out, and then added more to make slightly raised rows.
I continued to keep it small. My 2009 garden had only 2 rows. One was mostly tomatoes (a total of 15 hybrid plants that I started from seed) and a few herbs. The second row was zucchini and summer squash on one end and a lettuce patch on the other. I also continued using my containers for flowers, additional herbs, cherry tomoatoes, and peas — some of which I started from seed in my basement.
My first in-ground garden, summer 2009
My squash was abundant, my peas produced plenty, the herbs grew well into the fall, and my tomato plants grew as tall as me (don’t jump off your seat, I’m only 5′ tall). I was very proud of my tomatoes, I started them in April, and they were just getting ready to turn from green to red, purple, or yellow (rainbow mix, remember), and then they got blight.
The late blight affected my tomatoes the first week of August.
I actually cried when I had to pull each and every one from the dirt and shove them into garbage bags. It was very disappointing, especially for a newbie gardener, who spent a fortune on dirt, stakes, grow lights, etc. So frustrating, in fact, I didn’t even attempt to grow tomatoes the following year — just cherry tomatoes that I bought already started.
Last spring I expanded my garden even more. I added three more rows and a 5′ x 5′ lettuce patch. I successfully grew garlic (planted the bulbs in November 2009), cucumbers, green beans, peas, banana peppers, bell peppers, zucchini, summer squash, boston marrow squash, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, Romaine lettuce, buttercrunch lettuce, and herbs in 2010. A few I started from seed, and many I purchased as small plants from local nurseries and farmers markets.
My 2010 garden
There are 4 rows in the center. The fifth row is along the fence to the left — beans and peas grew there. The lettuce patch is over to the right and is enclosed to protect it from hungry bunnies. Additionally, I had my husband make me a crude compost bin made out of old pallets. I’m hoping this year I won’t have to spend so much on dirt!
The compost bin.
I planted 40 garlic bulbs in November (some from past summer’s harvest and some newly purchased) — they should be be sprouting any week now.
2010's garlic harvest drying in the sun. I replanted some and cooked with the rest—I just ran out in February!
And, last weekend I started some seeds under grow lights in my basement: kale, parsley, basil, cumin, tomatoes (several varieties big and small), strawberries, leeks, peppers (several varieties), peas, lettuce, and broccoli.
Kale is the first to sprout—came up after only 4 days.
I clearly marked each row of seeds I started.
I still have more seeds to start in the second week of April, and even more to sow right in the garden in late May! I may have too many plants for my little garden.
Should I expand again or am I growing more than I can chew?