Monday, June 3, 2013

garden update: late May/early June

Gardening has been a lot of trial and error for us over the few seasons that we've been in this house. This is our third year to have a garden, and each year we have expanded our plans, trying new things to see what works. We made a commitment to not use any artificial fertilizers or pesticides on anything we grow, so we've had to adapt our methods to accommodate that, and we've also lost plants to pests. 

We added a third raised bed this year. A local drywall company had pallets they were throwing out, so Mark salvaged those and ripped them apart to create not only our compost bins, but two of the three raised beds we have. We line the insides with the appropriate garden paper in case any chemicals could leech off the wood, and we haven't had problems growing in the beds at all. 

The reason we added another bed this year when we already have two, plus a subscription to a produce CSA, is so we could grow extra food to donate to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank through its Community Harvest program. We're hoping that with the addition of this third bed, we can have a larger amount and more diverse types of produce to share. 

We also use smaller container gardening for herbs, and this year I'm trying flowers - a few from seed. I'm notoriously bad at keeping flowers alive. (I was really happy the first year we moved in to hang some baskets of flowers on our back porch and they died.) We're going to use some of the flowers, such as marigolds, as natural pest control. 

I'm also experimenting with some seeds I received in one of those random fundraising mailings. The wildflower mix has a lot of interesting seeds in it - I can't wait to see what comes up. 

We use seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. We start the appropriate ones indoors, in Jiffy pots. But we live in Pittsburgh. Good sun is sort of a luxury around here, and we often don't have much of a spring. We go from cold winter to hot, muggy summer in a span of a few weeks. We do our best to grow them inside with sunlight in windowsills and sometimes grow lights, and they definitely germinate, but they don't really take off too well. Last year the same thing happened, though, and once they got outside, they took off. So we're not too worried about the weak seedlings.

Here's what we're growing this year:

  • Beam's Yellow Pear Tomatoes
  • Earliana Tomatoes
  • Amish Paste Tomatoes
  • Black From Tula Tomatoes
  • Dr. Wyche's Yellow Tomatoes
  • Cherry Roma Tomatoes
  • Romanesco Broccoli
  • Diamond Eggplant
  • Chocolate Beauty Peppers
  • Garden Sunshine Peppers
  • Candlelight Peppers
  • Dragon's Tongue Beans
  • Boothby's Blonde Cucumbers
  • Double-yield Cucumbers
  • Orangeglo Melon
  • Eden's Gem Melon
  • Emerald Gem Melon
  • Kikuza Squash
  • Cheyenne Bush Pumpkin
  • Green Culinary Sage
  • Thyme
  • Purple Dark Opal Basil
  • Oregano
  • Sweet Marjoram
  • Cilantro

Our first year of gardening we made the mistake of growing zucchini and yellow squash. Sure, we were elbow deep in squash all summer, but the plants took up so much space that could have been devoted to other items, we decided to just buy our zucchini from local farmers who have the room for the things.

This year was also complicated by the fact that we were still having overnight frosts a few weeks past the average last date of frost for our region. Mark worked really hard to get the beds ready and a plan together so that when we finally had the right combination of weather and time, we could get everything outside. (While I am 100% convinced that having a garden is worth it, it is definitely a time commitment, particularly when you work full time and commute in a city center. If I could take my commute hours alone and devote them to the garden, I'd be a green thumb in no time!)

Something else we added this year was some fencing around the beds. We have a fenced-in yard which keeps away a lot of your usual predators (except for the rabbits that come from under the old buildings that border our property). But the chickens are another story - last year we made the mistake of letting them out with the gardens exposed, and they ate or dug up a lot of what we had planted. This year, they aren't going to get the opportunity to dust bathe among our tomatoes and peppers.

We also made mounds for melons, squash and cucumbers, and are guarding their spots momentarily with tomato cages. These mounds were also fenced in after these photos were taken.

You can tell we don't have a ton of respect for our "lawn." It's enough for the chickens to be able to run around as they please, but we have no real use for grass space that only has to be mowed. We'd rather grow food on it! We do have a cement patio as well as an uncovered deck, so there's still space to enjoy the outdoors. We also have plans to build a canopy over our patio table this summer, with planter boxes surrounding it.

What are your summer garden plans? Is your garden "in" for the season?

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