Aggie's Kitchen

The Backyard Garden…a work in progress

The last couple of weeks I’ve been working hard in my backyard starting my summer garden.  I’ve started one every year for the last couple of years…mostly in pots, then got ambitious and started one in ground. I have to admit, I have not had much luck with the in ground portion of my gardening experience. I really love playing in the dirt and growing things, I am always hopeful but usually disappointed. Because of this I have had such a love/hate relationship with gardening.

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(last year’s garden started nice…then became very very sad…)

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(my container herb & tomato garden…it’s the happier part of my gardening)

This year, I got a little bit more serious. Obviously after 2 years of breaking my back trying to grow veggies in the dirt I had in my backyard, something had to change. I was inspired by my friend Betsy who built a nice garden plot in her backyard (we both live in average subdivision sized lots) and had great results last year. The slightly raised garden idea appealed to me for a couple of reasons…being able to enhance the soil and hopefully control some of the weeds and grass that I had problems with in the past. With Betsy’s guidance I headed to Lowes and got to work.

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I started by deciding how big of a garden I wanted. I decided on 8′ x 6′ and went looking for wood. I was told I needed to get wood that was “treated” since it would have to withstand outdoor conditions. Okay. But then I found out that pre-treated wood is not a good choice for gardens due to the chemicals they use to treat the wood. Okay. So what were my options? I could have painted untreated wood, or for a few dollars more purchase naturally treated wood like cedar. I figured the extra dollars were worth the cost of the paint, the labor of painting and the time involved in the whole treating process. I purchased 2 planks of 2 x 8s, and one 2 x 12 that the Lowes employee cut in half for me. The Lowes lumber employee was very helpful to me once I explained to him what I was doing. After talking to him for a few minutes I learned that he actually helped his grandmother put her garden together so he was able to offer me some tips and information that I had no clue about.

Once I finished with lumber (and finding nails…jeesh, there are a million kind of nails, had to shamelessly ask for help there too), I headed out to get my dirt. I’m sure that part of the reason that my in ground garden has been unsuccessful in the past is because of poor soil. After talking it up with the garden department employee (my new friend Mike – who after several visits and even more questions later, probably hides when he sees me), I decided to go with 16 bags of soil, half a vegetable mix and half organic cow compost, to fill up my garden plot.

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(This was the Jillian Michaels workout part of my day…lugging 16-36lb bags of dirt from the car to the backyard. Had no time to wait for hubby assistance…I wanted to get this project moving.)

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(A little hammering later…)

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(Ta da! We have a garden plot!)

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I enlisted some little helpers to combine the compost and soil mixtures. I had to laugh because my son had absolutely no interest in helping until I told him the dirt was made of “cow poop”. Gross huh? He got all excited and started digging in. My daughter on the other hand has been a diligent helper from the very beginning.

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This is the part where a random conversation about gardening earlier the same morning with a school mom comes in. She was telling me about her garden and how she’s following the square foot gardening method. As she explained it to me, I became really interested in learning more. I found this site called My Square Foot Garden and used it as a reference in figuring out how to organize my garden. I didn’t follow it step-by-step but instead used it as a way to learn how to space my plants, how many seeds/plants can grow within each square foot etc. I basically measured out the square feet by making lines with my stick or shovel and seeded/planted within each box according to this plant spacing chart.  I found myself starting to forget where I was putting my seeds so I did something totally out of character and actually drew up a chart:

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Since the chart was originally drawn up, I’ve added spinach, mesclun (mixed greens), and eggplant to occupy the open squares.

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(Backyard Garden Day 1)

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(Backyard Garden Week 1)

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These are my zucchini plants that sprouted from seeds in less than a week! These plants pictured above are two weeks old.

My latest task in the garden has been to figure out how to prevent insects from eating the leaves. I’m noticing a few holes already and I’m not okay with that. I have heard about companion gardening in the past and read up on it to learn that certain plants that are planted near each other thrive from the natural chemicals that are given off by them. For example, I planted basil seeds around some of my tomatoes because it is supposed to enhance the flavor of tomatoes and repel mosquitoes and flies. Marigolds are also considered to discourage many different insects throughout the garden (source: Seeds of Change). My grandfather has been a farmer/gardener his whole life and has never mentioned any of this to me. His thumb is just naturally green I guess. I need all the help I can get.

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So in went the marigolds…

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In addition to my garden you see here, I have 21 pots growing an array of herbs such as basil, mint, oregano, thyme, flat leaf parsley, cilantro, culantro, chives, sage as well as a few pots of cherry and grape tomatoes. My herb garden did not happen overnight, it has been a work in progress for many years.

I know a lot of you are still having winter weather…so hopefully the sight of all this green makes you smile.

For those of you in the southern states and have spring fever…are you or have you already started your garden? Do you have a green thumb or are you learning along the way like I am?

I hope to be able to keep you updated with nice results…and lots of recipes from the fresh veggies I grow. But what I am really hoping is that this garden doesn’t make a fool of me this year.

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34 comments on “The Backyard Garden…a work in progress”

  1. NICE! I hope the garden turns out well! We put in a slightly raised garden last year. This year, my Dad (who actually took a class to become a master gardener) is going to help us really get things going. I’m excited to have fresh veggies & herbs!!

  2. nice job Ag! I have total faith this garden is going to be great!

  3. My parents owned a farm market when I was growing up. We had fields of fresh produce and industrial sized greenhouses that grew outdoor flowers and vegetable plants. So I’m actually quite knowledgeable about gardening, but I haven’t actually had a real garden in ages! I have an indoor AeroGarden and, last year, I grew a few small pots of peppers and tomatoes, but that’s about it since I was a teenager.

    It won’t be grow season here in upstate NY for quite some time yet, but I am getting the gardening itch and hope to have a bigger raised garden this year.

    Good luck with yours!

  4. What a lovely garden and I love your two cute little helpers!

  5. Your garden looks great. I’ll be planting my favorite tomatoes, called, Early Girls, next week. Can’t wait!

  6. Great garden! I have a dog who loves to eat everything so I just admire from afar! I have friends who share there bounty and I hit the farmers market for now!

  7. Love the garden!!! Great pics!!

  8. I love it, your garden looks fantastic, hope it goes well. So rewarding (and delicious!).

  9. I have garden envy….

  10. It looks great, but watch out for the zucchini taking over the whole place!

  11. This is amazing! You could teach me a few things for sure!

  12. This post really comes at perfect time. I failed at gardening the last two years I’ve attempted it. I really like your raised garden and feel I can find some place in my yard to do the same. Thank you for the step by step details.

    I hope your garden yeilds tons of fresh yummies for you and your family. It is really beautiful so far.

  13. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of you for taking on this task. I am awful in the garden. Sadly nothing lasts too long because I forget about it. I can’t wait to read about your successes! xo

  14. I found you! Awesome blog 🙂 I have a blog that is mostly to keep the family in Michigan informed about us down here in Florida. I had planned a garden post a few weeks ago and snapped some pictures. Maybe I’ll snap some current pictures and post them all and you can see what I’ve got going on. Oh, and you can see some of my chickens if you visit my blog 😉

  15. umm…well, maybe I don’t have pictures of the chickens on the blog? They must be on my facebook page. Maybe I’ll try uploading some to the blog soon 🙂

  16. Wow, Aggie! Looks wonderful! Maybe you can try to do some composting to help build and replenish your soil between growing seasons, too! Keep those zucchini plants trained so they don’t take over the surrounding the space!

    New England is a long way off from planting … we had more snow yesterday. Seeing your Spring activity is such a pick-me-up! Good luck with your garden!

  17. As I was reading your post, I relived my gardening experiences – I could have written this:) Everything I learned, I found online, and my garden was a success (after I despaired when the rabbits ate the young lettuces and geese and their goslings nibbled the leaves off my pepper plants). I also planted basil between the tomatoes, and by the end of summer the basil plants were veritable bushes! Yes to marigolds, not only prety, but I think useful, too.
    Beware of the squash borer. I had beautiful zucchini plants that I pollinated myself (not trusting the bees, I guess) by transferring the pollen form male to female plants (I am sure the birds and bees got their job better then me, but it was fun!). All of a sudden they started shriveling – this insect gets into the stem and eats from inside out. Nasty!
    You are going to love Swiss Chard! The more I picked, the faster it grew. That was the best surprise that summer.
    I am looking forward to following your garden growth, as I have to live vicariously through you (we have lost the house and the garden, and moved to SoCal, where I grow many herbs on my patio and dream of a sunny garden:)
    Good luck! If I can help you with anything, let me know – not that I am the expert, but our approaches to gardening seem similar:)

    • Hi there! So happy to get your comment! Thank you for writing it…I am so learning “out loud” and sometimes my insecurities get the best of me, lol (for instance, is there something that I am obviously doing wrong that everyone sees that I don’t! LOL)

      I am going to have to keep an eye out for that squash borer. Do you know how to repel them (preferably naturally??) . I came in contact with a tomato eating catepillar last year that was huge and green that scared me to death and I am reading up on it! I am hoping the marigolds really help. Should I plant more (I have 6 in the garden right now)? Can’t wait to see the basil grow…I planted some around my potted cherry plants too, it just seems right that they go together doesn’t it?

      Anyway, thanks again for the comment…I really appreciate it. And please stay in touch!

      PS…can’t wait for swiss chard! I fell in love with it on a California trip, but its so expensive in the grocery store!

  18. Lucky! We are still getting snow!

  19. Your garden looks great! I’m so behind on mine. It doesn’t help that my tiller moved to Idaho (friends). I’m hoping to get mine ground worked asap and veggies in the soil, I am jonesing to play in the dirt.

  20. You have NO idea how timely this is. We too have a small garden plot that hasn’t been very successful and we think it’s due to poor soil. We were going to get a raised garden bed kit, but now I am considering doing it the way you have! Nice work!

  21. Looks fantastic! I would love to have a garden someday! =)

  22. Aggie, your garden is starting off great this year. I’ve heard of the square ft method. Read about it last year. My main problem last year were the insects. And I hated using the chemicals. I’m going to try your marigold method and planting basil near my tomato plants. I haven’t started mine but plan to next weekend. Keep posting your tips. It’s helpful.

  23. I have heard the one about the marigolds but didn’t know if it was true. You’ll have to let me us know. I love gardening until I get the first tomato worm. Then I get all freaked out. But I do love to grow my herbs. In fact, I have a pot that is so root bound that it will get a whole new pot of soil and a do over this Spring.
    Thanks for sharing your garden plot and inspiring me to get on it! 🙂

  24. Looks fabulous! I would love to have a little raised garden some day. haha cow poop! cracked me up he became interested in ‘helping’ after that 🙂 Hope your garden continues to do great!

  25. My garden is still covered with a foot of snow! Ugh! All you southerners are making me itchy to start digging in the dirt. I hope your new garden is abundant with beautiful produce!

  26. I had a generous neighbor “loan” me some space in his garden last year. This year (after being firmly bitten by the gardening bug), I have my own raised bed garden (it is 4 x 16). This week, it will be planted with tomatoes, peppers, peas and argula. My herbs are in pots, leaving me more room for my plants. I will post pics later…thanks for sharing your pics!

  27. I’d love to have a garden plot like that… first I need a fence around my backyard due to all the wildlife that travels through and would eat my wonderful veggies! 🙁 I’m going to share this w/my husband so that I can put a “bug” in his ear that we need to start thinking about doing this… if not this year, then next for sure!

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  29. The only thing i am trying different is alternating my carrots in between my tomatoes, as i heard that the tomatoes use a little more than the 1 foot square, and that tomatoes like carrots and vice versa (good growing buddies). actually i have alternated almost everything (bush plant then ground level), except i put potatoes down the center (my box is 18′ x 5′ – i see why 4′ is recommended by most) – and the potatoes will be the last thing i take out.

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  31. I’m curious to know how this layout worked for you. Based on my experience with tomatoes, yours look really close together. I tried planting marigolds as well, but they require a fair amount of sunlight and yours look like they will be well shaded from your plants once they start to grow.

    • It actually worked really well, although my zucchini were too many and too close, I don’t know if I misunderstood the whole square gardening method of planting zucchini seeds, but there were way too many in a small space, this year I planted a lot less. I kept the tomatoes a good distance from each other and they didn’t crowd each other at all. And my marigolds were actually the healthiest of all the plants, lol. I get a lot of sun in my yard and they did fine under the plants.