May the Best Plant Win

Out here in the continental United States, we’ve moved from early spring- overcast and 50 degrees F every day- directly to summer- sunny and 90 degrees F. My garden is very confused.

DH and I decided to renew the lease on our house, on the theory that though we don’t love this place, we’re unlikely to get something better for the same amount of money. So, since my time isn’t taken up with packing and moving, I’ve been able to devote more energy to the garden.

It’s not any larger than it was last year- two 4×16 beds and one 6×6 bed- but it’s more densely packed. Beans, carrots, radishes, peas, various brassicas, squash/zucchini, onions, tomatoes, and peppers are all fighting for space. So far, the peas, peppers, and zucchini are winning; each have a few blossoms. I’ve also killed one tomato plant, but I’m not surprised. I don’t have a south facing window sill, and I only just acquired a grow light, so any plants I start from seed indoors are going to be leggy and likely to break. Starting them outdoors works much better; I have six tiny pots of cucumbers that should be ready to plant next week. They’re very happy to bask in the sun by the back door, now that there’s no chance of frost, which was what kept me from trying the same trick with my tomato starts.

The small bed is a slightly different story. It’s near a massive oak tree, and I think some roots are intruding into the soil. So I planted spreading perennials like chives, thyme, oregano, and mint, and I plan to let them fight it out.

Not as easy as it sounds. The local soil is mostly clay. This means it’s high in minerals and low in nitrogen. And it doesn’t drain well, so there’s a danger of waterlogged plants, until the soil dries out and bakes into bricks. I haven’t yet broken a shovel blade on it, but that’s only a matter of time. I’ve already adding more organic material and plan to water everything daily.

I anticipate some success, solely because last year’s results were mixed but not terrible. Hopefully I won’t be completely inundated by cucumbers- I started half as many seeds this year. And I took the wise precaution of putting in only two zucchini plants. Judging by the number of blooms on them already, that’ll be plenty.

How does your garden grow?

14 comments

  1. Just got my first tomatoes, more ripening, and the bell peppers are getting close to useful size. I still need to do some serious junk tree removal, they’re big enough to shade my garden area. Flowers on the Eggplant, and transplanting the asparagus over the winter is looking like it was a bad idea.

  2. Last year’s garden was a last-minute affair, 8×4 that wasn’t nearly deep enough a raised bed to do without some preparation of the soil beneath, which I scanted, so a lot of the plants were stunted. I also planted the radishes too tightly, so they produced plenty of tops, but no actual radishes. But I did get some lettuce, carrots, snow peas, green beans, peppers, and zucchini, and a few tiny tomatoes.

    I started planning this year’s garden about the time I turned last year’s garden under, sketching out what I wanted to do and looking through the Burpee website for the seeds I wanted. I ordered the seeds in late January, and started my tomatoes and peppers indoors in march, about the same time as I started digging up the new beds, which pretty much expanded the garden to six times what I had under cultivation last year.

    This year I decided to actually keep a record of my harvests, and we’ve already gotten several bunches of radishes and a bag and a half of lettuce, and I’m noticing a number of pods on the snow peas and sugar snap peas. I’m hoping I’ll have enough of those for chicken stir-fry this Sunday. The tomato plants are flourishing now that they’re in the garden, but the peppers are still struggling. I have some extra zucchini plants in pots on the patio (used the last of last year’s seeds), and I’m planning on transplanting them when the snow peas and sugar snap peas quit producing and need to be turned under.

    I need to plant some more carrot seed in the area that’s getting bare as I pull radishes. This year I have enough seed that I want to keep pretty much every square foot under cultivation until the killing frosts — although if we do well, we may be dealing with the problem of how to store all our food so it doesn’t spoil before we can get it eaten. I’m hoping to score a freezer, although I need to clear an area in the garage and get an outlet wired (going to let an electrician do that, because at my age I’m not eager to go climbing around in the attic), and I can use the food dehydrator to dry some things.

    I’m even starting to think about next year’s garden, and whether I want to dig up more of my back yard to expand the amount of land under cultivation. I know I want to get a greenhouse, and be able to keep gardening into winter and start a lot more plants before they can be put in the soil. Exactly what I do will probably depend on what happens this summer and fall.

    1. WRT food storage and freezers.
      In my experience the variety *REALLY* makes a difference in whether a given green bean should be eaten fresh, dried, canned, or frozen. Better catalogs will suggest the preservation method for a given variety.
      Freezing stuff that should be canned results in … not very good frozen veg. Sometimes bad enough to compost.

      Oddly, despite what everyone says, freezing tomatoes, even self-sown, grow wild all over the place cherry tomatoes worked for me. Chop them up, drain in a colander, and freeze the chunky drained part and the tomato juice separately. Use in soup as needed or cook the chunky part into sauce on the spot.

  3. I have too much shade for food crops, but the parsley, thyme, mint, oregano, and sage all came back. I’m happy.

    Other than that, I’m digging up non-native invasives in my terraforming efforts.

  4. Plugging along. With the heat wave, I’m going to have to make sure there are flowers that will spread to where the pansies are now.

  5. Good reasons not to plant two root crops together: Digging one disturbs the other. Ate our first new potatoes this week, and the turnips are NOT happy about it. I guess they wanted to be first.

    First blossoms on one squash. The rest are still tiny, except the pumpkins which are still trying to decide of they’re even going to sprout.

  6. Back when I was building a wild bird sanctuary I planted with vicious vegarive competition in mind: willow, spirea, bamboo, honeysuckle, pieris japonica, and nutka rose: May the best plant win!

    Now, trying to grow food for humans it’s more of a struggle. But the herbs planted in the food forest have gone off like gang-busters. And my carefully cultivated little bay tree (pace Push the Zone by David the Good) is nearly 6′ tall!

  7. oooo… the weird weather has the garden doing weird things. The garden is my second job on the homestead after homeschooling the youngest child for one more year… We have a 15×50 tunnel with raised beds down the sides and straw bales down the center. The 100×20 outdoor garden has 40 tires, 12 straw bales, and the rest is normal open garden. The rain followed by ridiculous heat has made the weeds come on like crazy, but so far it is fairly under control. (Because I’m paying the kids to weed, of course!) We’ve harvested asparagus (done now), rhubarb (done now), beets, arugula (bolted), lettuce (bolted), spinach (bolted), peas, strawberries (just started getting those yesterday!). This year’s experiment is rutabaga (which seems to be doing really well so far). The carrots are NOT doing as well as last year, when they were fabulous. Something is eating the tops (rabbit or ground hog, which we have declared war on). It’s getting the tops of the beets in the tire garden, too, but not getting into the tunnel, thankfully. The soil here isn’t bad (not as sandy nor as clay-ey as other places I’ve lived), but it tends to vary widely in terms of pH. It all gets amended with rabbit manure from our rabbits, and old horse manure from our former neighbors (before they moved, they pushed their pile of manure into the ravine that is the edge of our property, so we could have it. I miss them. They had the best garden soil because she had been amending it with manure for nearly 40 years. My other experiment this year is seeing if I can disguise the propane tank with trumpet vine for the hummingbirds. I hope so.

  8. If it would just stop raining I have the stakes cut for my three tomato plants, two cherry and one slicer.
    Several years ago I had an ornamental holly hedge torn out and replaced it with five 18 inch blueberry plants.
    Had to trim them back end of last winter to keep them to head high. Bumper crop and they are just now starting to ripen. I’ll get a fair amount myself, but the DIL will take her share and repay me with her blueberry muffins.

  9. My garden this year is pretty minimal since I’m selling. One strawberry plant survived last year’s watering issues. It looks lonely as the only plant under a hedge of evergreens (the dropped needles work great to keep the berries off the ground and slug-free – and strawberries like the soil acidity). Coming back in better shape: Raspberries, sage, lovage, mint, oregano, garlic chives, regular chives, and hops. Some iris and rose bushes for prettiness. The tomato bed is planted; one bed is fallow this year; the other has peas, brussel sprouts, Thai peppers, and broccoli.

  10. I left the portion that screens my front porch, but around here holly is almost as invasive ad kudzu. You have to hack it back every year or so or it quickly reaches roof high. And it’s purely ornamental, pretty green leaves, and berries that are of no use to humans other than as decoration.
    At the time my entire back yard was shaded by massive trees, so the front exposure was the only practical place to plant blueberry bushes, and they leaf early, produce delicate white flowers, that then turn into tasty and nutritious fruit.

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