Garden Tour, Part II

I gave a photo tour of the hill garden a week or so ago, and today it’s time to fill out another piece of the picture.

The back fence is the southernmost part of our property, and would normally get the most sun, but there are several large trees back there, so in the summer there are a few more hours of shade in the early morning and late afternoon.

Thankfully our neighbor to the south has a huge lot, and most that borders our fence is an open field, so we don’t have to worry about any shade directly south.

Last year (year 1 by the gardening calendar, I had two 12′ x 4′ raised beds that I filled with cheap topsoil, a little bit of compost, and too much mulch. It was okay – most of what I planted really struggled to take hold, but late in the summer I got a burst of okra, jalapenos, and tomatoes.

So in late fall, I planted red clover to improve the soil, partly for nitrogen fixation, but also to keep the soil from blowing away over the winter.

Two beds of clover.

Clover after five months of growing in winter, using plastic sheeting for a greenhouse effect on cold nights.

20170409_103444

Close-up of a volunteer ladybug.

I decided to keep most the clover instead of tearing it out, but also, in the middle of spring, it was growing so fast that I could trim giant mounds of it almost daily and spread it into other beds to decompose.

Each section of the raised beds became kind of like a grid, with cutouts in the clover where I added compost and mulch to insert vegetable plants. Here’s the result almost three months later:

Two 12' x 4' raised beds with rabbit fencing around them, and a trellis structure that I built this year.

Two 12′ x 4′ raised beds with rabbit fencing around them, and a trellis structure that I built this year. From foreground to background: clover, carrots, yellow squash, tomatoes, pumpkin…it gets fuzzy after that!

Here are some close-ups of these beds:

Butternut squash on bloom day.

Butternut squash on bloom day.

Cucumber searching for the sun over a green bean plant below it.

Cucumber searching for the sun over a green bean plant below it.

20170624_081439

A pure jungle of carrots, watermelon, yellow squash, and tomato, all surrounded by clover.

Why so crowded, you’re probably asking? Well, the answer is…so far, it’s working!

I haven’t had much trouble with insects (in fact, I haven’t used anything to repel them on these beds), and while each one might produce a little less than if they had more space, I like the look of a ton of successful plants around each other.

Want more production? Give plants more space!

Okra, green beans, and a big citronella bush (I think - it smells like lemons even if it's not).

Okra, green beans, and a big citronella bush (I think – it smells like lemons even if it’s not).

20170624_081505

The shady end (note the oak leaves at the top of the photo), with a big catnip bush and some oregano in the foreground.

Green beans on the way.

Green beans on the way.

So let’s talk about the trellis. At first I thought about getting some metal fencing and metal posts and using that up and down the length of the beds, but it was suprisingly expensive to do that the right way.

I looked at alternatives, and furring strips are pretty cheap, as is large quantities of metal wire.

Pro tip for buying wire for the garden: do NOT look in the section where they sell wire for hanging pictures. You don’t need to support that much weight, and the prices are ridiculous by unit. I found a quarter mile of aluminum wire among the fencing supplies (presumably for electric fences) for $18.

I used a total of three six-packs of furring strips, also $18, and bought two packs of stainless steel screws for $4 each.

So what about rot? I assume eventually it’ll set in, but I painted the lower three feet of each furring strip with linseed oil (organic, not boiled) to slow down the process. That way the section that’s buried or hidden in shade should stay relatively waterproof. I guess we’ll see!

Fully assembled, the total cost was $44 plus a few hours of time, and I’m sure I could have done it with less expense if needed.

Garden Tour, Part I

Since starting this site a few days ago, I’ve been posting daily harvests and haven’t had time to describe the overall layout. So now it’s big-picture time.

I have three main garden areas, and today I’ll cover the one I call “the hill.” There’s a valley (ravine? gully?) near the edge of our yard, but the terrain rises up to a nearly-level space next to our property line. It’s a pain to mow up there, so I started gardening it last year.

I hope eventually to expand it down the slope, or convert it to a stepped retaining wall, so I don’t have to mow the slope either (sounds like an offseason project to me).

First, a photo of the whole area:

The Hill, with the ground sloping off to the right.

The Hill, with the ground sloping off to the right.

That’s a big cucumber vine in the foreground, with several tomato plants behind it in the same row. There’s actually quite a bit of variety as you go down the row, which I’ll show later in this post.

There’s a second row too, which starts with a completely unruly lemon cucumber vine. It has already grown through three vine supports and is looking for more space.

In the near foreground on the right, there are a few happy strawberry plants that are unfortunately getting engulfed in weeds. I have to pull them by hand since mowing doesn’t spare the berries.

20170624_080238.jpg

Pretty sure this one was in yesterday’s daily harvest post.

20170624_080250.jpg

Interpret the presence of bugs as a sign of healthy plants. Then, kill the bugs (by hand, not with pesticides).

20170624_080324

Booming tomato plant.

I’m a proponent of varied planting. I don’t like when each row contains one species, especially when it attracts a flock of specific bugs that then mow down the entire row like a buffet line.

So check out the photo below. In the bottom left, a sunflower and a cherry tomato plant are helping each other out. Just past them is a butternut squash vine, and just past that is a young okra plant, trying to get out of the shade of a bigger tomato plant. To the left of that okra is a radish. Directly behind all of this is a watermelon vine reaching for the fence, and to the right is that massive lemon cucumber vine mentioned above.

Everybody’s getting along, everybody’s green, and so far, so good on bugs.

20170624_080357

Here’s another example from the reverse angle. Tomatoes are in the cages on the right, with a couple of cabbages growing underneath. In the foreground center, a pumpkin vine is lining the walking path, and behind it, two more watermelon vines are journeying toward the sun.

20170624_080921.jpg

At the end of that front row, a yellow squash is just getting started. There’s one squash ready for harvest, a growing one behind it, two small female flowers about to open, and the MVP of it all, a bee pollinating a female flower in the foreground.

20170624_081001.jpg

At the end of the line, I have some red potato plants growing. They’re in a mix of soil, leaves, and wood chips. This is my first attempt to grow potatoes – as with everything we’ll see!

20170624_081011.jpg

Coming back through, here are some growing monsters:

20170624_081037

The uglier the tomato, the better the flavor:

20170624_081043

Around the border of the hill, I have five or six sweet potato vines. They’re just getting started since it hasn’t been very hot yet this summer, but I’m excited to see what happens. Sweet potatoes are yet another first-time crop for me this year, so if we even get a few, I’ll be happy.

20170624_081058

20170624_081107.jpg

That’s it for the hill right now – I plan to come back and do another post about how this plot was built, since it’s a cool mini-hugelkultur setup. I wish I had taken photos while building it, but I plan to do a few more like it this winter, and I’ll remember then.