My summer has been a busy one – hence the infrequent posts. My veggie garden for this year started back in November of last year with a plan. Being a computer geek – or is it nerd? – I subscribed to an online resource called Plan Garden (www.plangarden.com) to lay out my garden for 2014. There was a bit of a learning curve, but once I had figured out a few things, I enjoyed the ability to plot a garden on my computer screen. I started by laying out the designated area, then creating garden beds within the patch, each bed 4′ wide, with a 2′ walkway in between. The plot is 16×40, though the fenced area includes a 4′ walkway around the perimeter. The entire area allowed me to create 7 beds, each of which is 4′ wide by 16′ long.
Next I added the plants. The beauty of using a planner is that it automatically fills in how much space each plant will use when full-grown. I can add plants individually or in rows and if planting a row, all I do is add a row to a particular space and it will then tell me how many plants I will need to start and at what spacing.
While creating my garden online, I also did a lot of additional research into things like companion planting. Each article I read provided me new information that resulted in moving plants around in my plan. For example, I learned which vegetables do well planted close together and which “do not play well with others” and should be left by themselves. I rearranged and rearranged again, trying to make sure every plant was going to be happy not only in its location, but with its neighbors.
In the past my garden space was limited so I planted only those items my family could eat. Flowers held no value to me because they are pretty but otherwise useless. Or so I thought. An article on attracting beneficial insects changed my mind and I rearranged my garden yet again to accommodate flowers that were likely to attract the insects I wanted, both to pollinate my veggies and to eat the harmful bugs.
My final draft looks like this:
The planner suggested when to start planting seeds indoors. In February I started seeds in newspaper pots. I created mini-greenhouses and each morning carried my seedlings outside to take advantage of the sun, hauling them all back indoors at night to protect them from the cold. The last frost date for our area was May 1st but Mother Nature has a sense of humor and we had our last frost on May 2nd – a few days after I’d planted out quite a few of the seedlings, thinking surely the cold weather was behind us. I lost a few seedlings in that frost but many survived.
Since May, my garden has grown. I’ve battled squash bugs and potato bugs, caterpillars of all kinds, blister beetles, and grasshoppers galore. Most recently we’ve been visited by tomato hornworms. Each pest has been countered by our efforts which involve picking them off manually since we don’t like to use chemicals in our garden. I lost all of my zucchini plants to the squash bugs, but a few weeks later I replanted and, having spent themselves destroying the first crop, the bugs have not returned and the second planting has done well. Too well. This weekend I carried in two zucchini so heavy my kitchen scale only said “Error” when I tried to weigh them. You see, I hadn’t checked the plants for two whole days so it was really my own fault they grew so big.
In spite of the bugs, the garden has exceeded my wildest expectations. We’ve apparently had the right amount of rain at the right intervals and our harvest has been amazing. Every couple of days we go and pick bucketfuls of tomatoes and the preservation of them will be the subject of a new post in a few days. While harvesting tomatoes this weekend, HWA suggested next year we should plant fewer of them. However in a less productive year, I might need this many plants just to keep us in fresh tomatoes so I’ll happily chop and peel and can this year’s crop and hope next year will be as good. When we are eating our spicy pasta sauce this winter, I think I will be very glad I expended the efforts over the summer.