Category Archives: 2013 Garden

Grow Up!

I use vertical gardening as one of my methods for growing. This makes it super simple to grow many different plants in a very limited amount of space, such as that in an urban environment. Essentially, anything that produces vines, can be grown vertically, and even some things that don’t! The squash family falls into this category. This includes both summer and winter squash (pumpkins fall into the winter squash category). Zucchini, and similar non-vining squash, can also be grown vertically, however, doing so takes a little more work, but I think it is worth it. Cucumbers, of course, can easily be grown vertically, as can melons such as watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and etc. Pole beans and certain varieties of peas as well. And let’s not forget tomatoes of the indeterminate varieties.

That’s all well and good, but how do we grow vertically? Trellises, of course! There is no right way to make a trellis, nor is there a trellis that is right for everyone. I will talk about the method I went with, and why, however, I encourage everyone to explore the options (do an image search on Google for inspiration!) and find what works for you. 

The trellises I decided to make, and use, are very similar to the ones described in the Square Foot Gardening book. Namely I used 1/2″ EMT (AKA electrical conduit) to build the frame. These pipes are more commonly used to run electrical wires throughout structures. They are very sturdy and fairly inexpensive. These come in 10′ lengths, and cost about $2.25. They can be cut to any size needed, depending on your specific need. You will also need two 90 degree couplers to join the two legs with the top cross-bar. These will be almost as expensive as one of the 10′ poles. There are also a few ways the trellises can be attached to the raised beds. I purchased 2′ rebar for this purpose. I measured with the trellis to find out where the rebar would need to go. Then I hammered 1′ of the rebar into the ground. I slipped the ends of the trellis on the 1′ sticking out of the ground. The rebar provides a lot of stability for the trellis, yet allows for easy removal at the end of the season. The final element to complete the trellis is the netting. I prefer, and recommend, nylon. It is incredibly strong, yet very light and flexible.

Dalen Trellis Netting Last year I bought trellis netting, and it worked wonderfully. The spacing of the holes was perfect and adding it to the trellis frame was quick and easy. Some people thought the nylon would harm the developing fruit by possibly cutting through the stem. However, it has been my experience that Nature will adapt. 🙂 I had no issues with the nylon netting harming any of the fruits in any way. If a pumpkin or melon is getting that large, and you are concerned, you can use an old nylon stocking and make a “hammock” under the fruit to provide it a little extra support. I did not find that necessary last year, but then the fruit I had were not all that big. I will see if this is a necessity this year.

If you do not want to buy the netting (which is very reasonably priced), you can run nylon cord manually, and it really isn’t that hard. It is, however, quite a bit more time-consuming. Here is a video of a fellow gardener showing how to make a trellis the way I have, and how to manually add nylon netting:

Incidentally, Reaganite71, whose video that is, is a great channel to subscribe too. He has a lot of really helpful gardening videos. I recommend spending some time watching a few!

Last year I made all the trellises’ 5′ tall and 4′ wide. Garden Bed 2 07-03-2013In the picture, you can see how I arranged my trellises last year (2013). It worked well for some things, but not everything. There were many plants that did not get the amount of sun they needed, and, consequently, they did not do as well as they could. Also, as you can see in the picture, I was attempting to run the zucchini up the trellis as well. That, also, did not work. I happened upon this interesting article that explains how to stake and trim the zucchini plants as they grow. I will be attempting this technique in this year’s garden. This year I am also going to make some taller trellises as well. 7′ and 10′ high trellises will come in handy. If you make trellises higher than 6′, I would also recommend purchasing 4′ rebar and pounding 2′ in the ground. Yes, it is spendier, however, the extra height warrants the extra stability.

Simply put, there really is not many reasons to not grow vertically. The fruit is easier to find and pick. It does not sit on the ground and will be less susceptible to rot, bugs, and other undesirables. The fruit produced will also be more uniformly formed, and there will be less of a tendency for crooked and twisted produce. And of course, less space used in your yard, thus allowing you to get more use out of the area you have.

Until next time, Happy Gardening!

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Planting For The First Time

As a reminder, or for anyone reading these out-of-order sometime in the future, this entry references the 2013 garden.

The beds were ready. The weather was ready. I was almost ready. I still was not exactly sure in what way I was going to actually plant. While I was looking for ideas or inspiration, I happened upon an image such as this one.SFG Diagram And the light bulb went off. This is how I would plant! It was genius, and it made perfect sense. At least to me. I had stumbled upon a method of gardening called Square Foot Gardening that was “invented” by a man named Mel Bartholomew back in the 70’s. He has a book that talks about it in some detail. I bought it, and I read it. If you are at all interested in learning about this method, I would recommend it. There is a lot of great information, and it really does make sense why it works so well. I will add a caveat, however. It is most certainly not necessary to do everything the way he describes. For instance, he has a specific soil “recipe” that he recommends, it is 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost, and while I am sure it works wonderfully, for the amount I would need to fill my beds, the cost would have been too much. Luckily, I already had the soil situation well in hand. Also, because of the lack of space, I decided to grow as much as I could vertically. Pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash. Anything that could go up a trellis, was going too. At least if I had my way.

Progress was being made! Next step: figure out what to plant, and get the seeds and starts. So we made a list. We wanted:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Acorn Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Yellow Crooked Neck Squash
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cucumber
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Beets
  • Corn
  • Onions
  • Swiss Chard
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Edamame
  • Cabbage

Phew! I purchased several packets of seeds from local stores, and my wife purchased several starts from a local greenhouse. Now, I feel it is important that I state, or reiterate, that I was very green last year. I had no idea what I was doing. I was going off intuition for most of this. I have no idea what variety of any of those plants I was growing. I just wanted seeds and plants in the ground before the season slipped by again. A little foreshadowing, this year I know exactly what varieties I am planting.

Awesome! Now I could get planting! I had decided that I was going to place the corn and tomatoes in the southern most beds. All of the trellis-able items were going to go in the middle bed, and everything else would go in the northern bed. I was gifted 10 additional tomato starts (YAY!), which brought my total number of tomato plants to 16. I placed the overflow into the other beds. I would also place a few marigold plants in each bed to attract beneficial insects, and discourage problematic ones.

After one month, specifically, June 23rd, the beds looked like this:

The northern bed:Garden Bed 1 06-23-2013 The middle bed (eventually almost every row would have a trellis):Garden Bed 2 06-23-2013 The southern bed:

Garden Bed 3 06-23-2013

There you have it! This was the fruition of a dream/goal of mine. The garden was in, and growing!

I will write-up how I did my trellis’ in the next entry, and I will definitely do an entry all about Square Foot Gardening. I am a huge advocate of it, as you will see. Also, a lesson since learned: putting all the vertical items in the same bed, and arranging the trellis’ the way I did, turned out to be a mistake. I will touch on that at a later time, however.

Until then, Happy Gardening!

Why Don’t We Start at the Start

What better place to start, then the beginning? I figure the best way to know how I got where I am, is to see where I came from. Discussing improvements to the garden won’t mean much if there is nothing to base the improvement on. So let’s all get into the Way Back Machine, and we will get started!

We moved into our current home almost 6 years ago, and it was 3 years later that I started to throw around the idea of having a garden. At the time, it was just a vague idea. I wasn’t quite sure how to get a garden going, or even how I wanted the garden to be, if that makes sense.

So we talked about it a bit, and I thought about it a lot. The yard has a large amount of rocks just lurking under the surface. We live on a very old river bed. So tilling up the soil did not seem very feasible. Not only that, the “traditional” gardening motif, you know, long rows with a few feet between the rows , just simply would not work. We live in the city and the lot is normal size. Perhaps if I lived in the country and had an acre or more of land that would be doable. We simply did not have the space for that type of garden.

So 2011 passed without a garden. I continued thinking about it, talking to fellow gardeners, and doing some research on the Internet. During this process is when I realized raised beds was the way we were probably going to have to go. It remedied the difficulty of the rocky ground. There was still the concern of space, however. Even with raised beds, I would still need to have long rows for plants. That is just how gardens are done! That meant large raised beds, because I have a hard time doing things like this small. Also, the idea of starting small and building it up over time is a difficult thing for me to carry out. When I try, things usually end up being large in the end anyway. That meant monetary expenditure for lumber since I did not have very much scrap lumber lying around then. I would also need good soil, and other expenses. Expenses I could not really afford.

This is how 2012 passed without the garden coming to fruition. I made it a goal to make a garden in 2013. So, when March rolled around I started getting antsy. There were still some pieces that had not come together yet. One of my co-workers has a very nice garden. He also uses raised beds, and he is a great source of information and inspiration. I was talking to him about the problem of space. How was I going to fit a garden that produced enough food for my family and I into the backyard and still leave room for the dogs? He patiently explained that long row planting was not necessary. A gardener could fit more plants in less space by staggering smaller rows. Aha! Genius! That sealed the deal for me. And so I began to work in earnest to get a garden up. I had finally accumulated enough spare lumber to build a couple of 4’x4′ raised beds, but that was not enough. I found that untreated lumber isn’t really that expensive. I scraped together enough money to buy some 2x12x12′ and a 2x6x8′ pieces of lumber. The 2x12s I made into two 12’x4′ beds, and the 2×6 I used to tie my two existing 4’x4′ beds together. This gave me a total of three 12’x4′ raised beds. I could do something with this! Next step was to buy some good soil. I do not own a truck, so I figured it would be easier to order some and have it delivered.  I asked around and got a recommendation for a local landscaping company with good organic (this was important) garden soil at a fairly reasonable price. In order to have it delivered, I had to order 6 cu. yards of soil. That was way more than we needed, however, we figured any left over would be used. During the spring and summer we can always use some good garden soil around the yard.

To prepare the beds for planting, these are the steps I took:

  • In the 6″ tall bed, I dug down an extra 6″ and removed the grass and dirt (and rocks). I did not do this for the 12″ beds.
  • I put down a layer of cardboard and watered it well.
  • On top of the cardboard I placed a thick layer of straw, which I also watered well.
  • Once that was complete, I filled the beds with the garden soil.
  • Once I had the raised beds filled with the soil, I added some bags of organic steer manure and turned it in to the top several inches.

Ready to Plant 05-12-2013This is what we had at this point. As you can see, it did not take long for one of the cats, this one is Xanax, to make his way onto the fresh dirt. I had a fun time trying to keep them from using the beds as their new, large, kitty boxes. I am well aware that cat feces is not good for gardens. Needless to say, it is easier said then done. Regardless, the beds were ready to plant. I took this picture on May 12th, which is right around the average last frost day for my area, and I was anxious to get to it! However, I am going to save that for the next entry.

Until then, Happy Gardening!