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This Year's Garden

5.02.2014

One of the first thing's I do everyday when I get home is walk out to the backyard & check on my plants.  Typically I run into the house & strip out of my polyester uniform, take off my makeup, & run out to the yard to visit with my pups & check on the progress of my little homestead.  Last year I really began to delve into gardening, after starting small (strawberries & peppers) a few years before. 
I did have some luck with assorted lettuces, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, & strawberries.  I really wanted to expand this year.  There's really no better feeling than enjoying a delicious tomato sandwich after harvesting it from your garden & knowing you grew that!
I checked the Farmer's Almanac website & was (wrongly) informed that the last frost would be the middle of March.  I was itching to get to playing in the dirt & planted a couple of tomatoes.  Sadly, while we were gone on our CroatiaSlovenia trip, a frost hit & pretty much killed off most of what I had planted (despite being covered).  I also planted a few seeds in an experimental trial but sadly they didn't make it through our two week trip either.  So in April I started from scratch & made MANY a trip to Lowe's & Home Depot.  After countless trips & dollars later, I had my garden set (even though it seems to grow with each "I'm just gonna browse the garden center" trip).  I thought I'd update you on this year's garden so we could all track the (hopeful) progress of these little plants.

My eyes got a little wider than my yard on one of my trips to Lowe's back in the winter & I purchased several packs of seeds.  This was really the first time I had ever attempted to grow from seeds (aside from one failed effort with jalapenos the previous year) & it took a lot of trials to figure out the best method for growing them.  I attempted Styrofoam, cardboard, & plastic egg crates first.  While they really seemed to prefer the plastic crates over the others, they never really developed past about an inch tall.  I found with the Styrofoam & cardboard, they never even sprouted.  I believe the cardboard absorbed most of the water so the seeds stayed too dry.  After not having much success with the plastic containers, I decided to give a flat of seed starters a shot.  I had purchased several squash & zucchini plants from a plant sale at a local high school & decided to keep the tray for my seed sprouting efforts.  This proved to be the best method at that point.  The seedlings developed quickly but they took a lot of effort with watering & they seemed to have plateaued after sprouting.  They haven't quite reached a size to where I believe they're ready to be planted but I'm still babying them.
Top to bottom: beets, radishes, carrots
By far the best results I have seen have been from my soda bottle seed starters!  Less than six days after I had planted them, several of the seedlings had gotten so tall & leggy that they had to be moved to the soil.  I was so thrilled with this method that it will be my go-to from now on.
Four days post-planting!

About five days after I planted the seeds, I had to move the cucumbers.  They had grown so tall & were quickly outgrowing their bottle.  I made yet another trip to trusty ole' Lowe's & purchased five more galvanized tubs.


Note:
One thing that needs to be mentioned about the 'soil' where we live- or more accurately, the lack thereof... Our neighborhood was built in a former strip pit for the nearby coal mines.  Therefore, our yards don't consist of soil.  They are rock, red clay, & sand.  These are not in the makings for healthy gardens.  As a result, 98% of my gardening consists of container & raised bed planting.  My husband has been kind enough to build me two raised beds- one of which has sadly decayed & no longer exists.  Each of these were filled with typical gardening or potting soil.  I don't get all luxurious with specialty soil or concern myself with pH levels like some pros.  I just throw a few bags of garden soil in & get to work. When I'm not planting in my raised bed, I use containers or galvanized tubs.

If you live in a small home or apartment without the yard capacity, galvanized tubs are a great tool for creating your own urban homestead.  I initially started my herb bed out in one & now have expanded to many other plants.  You can purchase these tubs from any home improvement store for $9-$20 (depending on size).  I generally opt for the largest size (maybe 15 gallon?).  At my local Lowe's they are located in the paint section & at my local Home Depot they're located in the garden center.  I've purchased several different sizes & they all work great for gardening.  The metal means they won't rot when they get wet & they come with handles for easy moving.  I drill about 4-5 holes in the bottom with a drill bit before putting any soil in them.  This allows for easy drainage so your plants won't drown.


After my dear husband drilled a few holes while I prepped my seedlings, I filled one of my tubs with soil.  I then planted my cucumber seedlings, gave them a good watering, & set them out of reach of my curious pups that love fresh dirt to dig in.  I set them in a sunny spot & hopefully they'll continue to thrive.  I feel like they may become crowded with so many plants in one tub, but we'll address that if/when we get there.  For now, I just hope all these little guys live!  Brad loves cucumbers & I would really like to expand from last year's crop of just a few from two plants.

I mentioned I had previously purchased several zucchini & squash (both crookneck & straight neck) plants.  After growing both last year, I knew these plants require a lot of room.  Honestly, I just didn't have the capacity for them, & in hindsight I may should've passed on these plants but I so love both!  One of our favorite side dishes in the summer is grilled squash & zucchini in oil & vinegar topped with dried herbs.  So I caved & bought some.  Considering the school sold me a flat of 36 seedlings for $1 I figured there's no going wrong there.  Thankfully, I didn't find out about the sale until it was over & they were desperate to rid of the remaining items! Since I didn't have anywhere else to put these, I was forced to cram several of them into more tubs.  I'm sure they'll quickly become too large for these & probably won't produce very large fruit but desperate times call for desperate measures.  As for now, they're fairing wonderfully.  Well most of them are- I've learned I have to rotate the tubs around in the enclosed area as the air conditioner blocks sun from some of the tubs.  We'll see how well these turn out!
puppy proof area!

In one of the smaller tubs (5.5 gallon), I planted several pepper plants.  I haven't really researched thoroughly planting complimentary items near each other but know I need to.  As a result, I'm not really sure if the jalapenos & cayenne peppers will affect the sweetest of the banana & bell peppers (& vice versa).  Honestly, my OCD told me they were all peppers & they HAD to be planted together.  Just the way it is... None the less, I've found in the past that peppers are generally easy to grow & hope these will be no exception.
peppers & more squash & zucchini
In my remaining raised bed, I have a smorgasbord of items.  It started with six brussel sprouts that I planted last fall.  I know that these are generally cold weather plants but they never did anything.  I gave up hope on them but left them to die.  I gave them absolutely no attention & to my surprise- they've made it through the winter (including a few rare snow falls).  Early on in March they really took off by shooting up about two feet & blooming.  I thought there must have been some mistake in labeling them because they looked just like collards.  
After some research, I found that brussels do look like collards & the sprouts actually grow between the leaves & stalk of the plant.  I began to notice some small sprouts forming but once again they've plateaued & not grown a bit since I first noticed them.  
I don't really know where to go from here as the plants have grown so tall they continuously topple over.  Perhaps I will stake them for some support.  Knowing these guys are cold weather plants I feel the impending Alabama hellacious heat will kill them soon enough as we're already into the mid-80s.  Once again, I find I'm just waiting for them to die but here they are still holding on.  I really didn't know much about growing brussels, only that Brad also loves them & thought he would enjoy fresh grown ones as they are said to be much softer & sweeter than store bought.  Through the tiny bit of research I've recently done on them, I've learned they take quite some time to develop so I'm not sure we'll get anything from them.  As for now, I'm leaving them in their corner of the bed & seeing what will come of them.  
Weebles wobble but they don't fall down
Also in this box, I've planted two other cucumber plants.  I had purchased these from Lowe's or Home Depot before I started with the seeds.  Last year the two I planted seemed fairly low maintenance in the planter box but this year's aren't looking too excellent.  I'm not sure if they're too crowded or what's going on with them but the leaves have a yellow tinge to them so I'm worried they're on the downward slope.  They're still holding on for now & I'm hoping they'll bounce back.  
I've also planted a few peppers, kale, lettuce, onions & tomatoes.  One problem I have with so many items is they tend to run together as I'm not the best at keeping them labeled.  If I bother labeling the plants in the beginning (which doesn't always happen), then inevitably the labels fade or wash away or get covered so I still have no idea what I'm working with.  I'm fairly certain the pepper plants in here are sweet banana peppers.  The kale (winterbor & lacinato) don't appear to be doing well.  Despite having several items to shade them, they are getting too much sun & are starting to suffer.  Leafy greens need more shade than sun & I incorrectly assumed they would survive in the raised bed, as I assumed the other plants would grow & help shade them some.  The butter crunch lettuce I planted bit the dust at the first sign of sunshine.  It's far more delicate than I expected & will know for future reference.  I was over the moon yesterday when I spotted my first tomato popping out.  I have a few different varieties (indigo rose, cherokee purple, marglobe, beefsteak, better boy, roma, & mortgage lifter).  The marglobe I purchased at the same plant sale was huge & has proven to be the frontrunner in fruit production this far.  The others are still getting their roots settled while ole marglobe has already popped out the first little friend. 
I can't wait for these guys to start arriving for some delicious tomato & onion sandwiches this summer!  I also have high aspirations of making some canned salsa so I really hope I see some results.  I'm also interested to see some of the different varieties as I branched out this year into tomatoes I've never heard of!  The other items in this raised bed are a pack of onions I bought at the garden center.  I've forgotten what type of onion but they're producing already.  It's been my understanding that root vegetables such as onions, carrots, & beets are ready for consumption when their 'shoulders' start to show above the soil.
Since this is the case with my onions I would assume that they're ready to eat but after pulling up a couple I've found they're only about the size of my thumb.  I know the label did not say pearl onions, otherwise I wouldn't have bought them.  I replanted a couple of these & am leaving them to see if they'll get any larger.  I really hope so, otherwise these little guys are quite the disappointment.  I'll have to further research these to see if I can figure out what kind they are & when they'll be ready to eat.  I also planted a red onion we had purchased at the store.  Brad & I forgot one on our counter while we were gone on our trip & when we returned, it had sprouted a top on it nearly to the bottom of the cabinets!  I decided to see if this would take in the soil & planted two separate pieces.  The pieces continued to grow once they were in the bed but they've sent out tiny onion like blooms on the sprouts, rather than growing underneath the soil.
I'm waiting to see what will happen with these also but it may be a flop of an experiment.  I've had a couple of strawberry plants for a few years now in a tub & I've decided not to bother with them this year.  The frost had zapped them earlier this year & I just threw the remnants of the plants in the bed with everything else.  I can't bare to 'throw out' any living plants- no matter how near death they are!  I didn't expect them to fare well but they've thrived in the sun & are still living.  Considering I only have three small plants, I'm not expecting more than a couple of berries but I'll enjoy them right off the plant when they show up.

In addition to the raised bed & galvanized tubs in the backyard, I've also been working on a few fruit trees.  Last year I had quite the little harvest of small grapefruits from a tree.  It produced approximately 10-15 grapefruits that were actually about the size of large oranges.  
some of last year's grapefruit crop
Since that was the first fruit, I'm hoping this year will prove even more productive.  Last year I also purchased a pomegranate tree.  My youngest stepson & I both love pomegranates, but they're so expensive usually in the stores.  I thought "Hey- why can't I just grow them?" & purchased a tree.  I was a little disheartened when no fruit ever showed last year.  That was washed away this year when I removed my little friend from the garage to find he had grown into a BIG friend.  This guy has now outgrown me which is great for a container tree. 
Brad & I were out browsing the garden yesterday when he pointed out several small red bulbs starting to pop out.  I did a little happy dance after we realized this thriving tree was producing some fruit!  I can hardly wait for these guys to grow so we can enjoy some delicious pomegranates.  
After our trip to Eastern Europe, I was awe struck by the overwhelming amounts of citrus trees.  It made me so jealous & I decided I was going to grow some lemons.  I knew my sister had great luck with her meyer lemon tree in Pensacola, but I was concerned it wouldn't do well in our winters here.  After a bit of research I found that our hardiness zone was actually conducive to growing citrus trees.  I still worried it might die off in the winter so I figured why not grow it in a container like the grapefruit?  After a few unsuccessful trips to Lowe's & Home Depot, I came up empty handed.  A few weeks later I was browsing our local farmer's market & stumbled across one last remaining meyer lemon tree!  Clearly my excitement was apparent & the vendor saw a sucker because I paid $25 for that stupid tiny tree.  None the less, I excused it as permissible after knowing how badly I'd wanted one.  I took it home & put it in a container & I'm happy to report that he's been slowly but steadily showing new growth.  I think it's safe to say we're in no danger of being overrun with lemons this year, but hopefully in due time that will be the case.  
Along with the container fruit trees, I also have a couple of peach & plum trees planted on top of the massive hill in our backyard.  I planted these three years ago & thanks to the April 27 tornado, they suffered through quite an ordeal.  The damning factor though would be Fischer's love to chew on all things when he was a pup.  These poor trees endured several attacks but are still alive.  They've yet to produce any fruit so I'm hoping this year will end that streak.  Along the fence line next to the raised bed, I also planted four blueberry bushes.  The four became three after one fell victim again to the dogs.  (If they weren't so cute, I'd kill them...)  These are already popping out blueberries & I'm anxiously anticipating their turning blue.  
When I lived in an apartment several years ago, my green thumb started with succulents & herbs.  I was able to grow a few small herbs in a tub for use in cooking (not that I did any).  I continued my herb garden in a galvanized tub after purchasing my house.  Eventually it grew too large for a container & I purchased some landscaping rocks from Home Depot & made myself an herb bed.  Today it's filled with mint that takes over everything- seriously... I've learned never again to plant mint in the ground.  It also houses lemon balm, cilantro, basil, chives, & assorted non-herbs (elephant ears & two unknown plants).  
 
I also struggle to keep a pot of lavender & a large rosemary topiary alive.  These are my two favorite herbs & they both hate me apparently.  Last year I also planted stevia in the herb bed & ended up making homemade stevia extract.  I planned to do the same this year but I've been unable to find any thus far.
my struggling rosemary
lavender is finally showing growth!
The last edibles I'm working on are a box of greens.  I tried something new this year for my lettuce mix.  In the past I've struggled with the leafy greens because of the extreme Alabama heat & the lack of shade where I live.  They often turn out bitter or burn up altogether.  Our weather here also has been known to fluctuate drastically (hence tornades...) & I knew this fickle little beings would wilt in the cold.  As a result, I opted to plant them in a toolbox caddy I had laying around the garage.  
I wouldn't suggest it as they quickly outgrew the small holes but it worked out well enough that they managed to produce quite a harvest.  Last night, Brad & I enjoyed these greens with our dinner.  We had enough left over for more salads the next day. 
The remaining assorted greens will hopefully continue to produce.  While I like the ease of picking up the caddy (handle on top) & moving the lettuce out of the sun or cold, I don't think I'll repeat the process next year.  Not to mention I believe the wooden caddy is beginning to rot after all the water that's been put into it.  Who knows what toxins the lettuce is absorbing & we are thereby ingesting... Eh, we haven't died yet so thumbs up on that one!

I'm still waiting for the rest of my seedlings to grow a bit more before planting them in tubs.  They're starting to peep out from the soil so perhaps it won't be long.  Seedlings include: organic orange carrots, rainbow carrot mix, rainbow sweet pepper mix, beets, radishes, jalapeno peppers, shooting star eggplant, & purple tomatillo.  

While I love planting & working out in the garden, I've learned that nothing tests my (already nonexistent) patience like watching these little guys grow.  It's a rewarding experience to see them grow into full fruits & thriving plants but is it difficult to wait for them to ripen!  Considering the lack of workable yard space I'm currently dealing with, I think I've made quite the little urban homestead for myself.  Hopefully, *knocks on wood* we'll reap the benefits of all this hard work & enjoy some delicious homegrown goodies!

Check back later for more updates!










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