Each year we add and take away from our garden. It’s a fun way to experiment with where we plant and how we plant each plant. Learning and building off of each others ideas to decide what works and what isn’t worth it. We’ve made cinder block beds, wooden raised beds, metal raised beds, pea/cucumber trellis, and even removed all of our raspberry canes to make a pumpkin patch. We have a wall of sunflowers that shade tomatillos and our cucumbers climb our pea trellis to cover a couple of tomato plants and those tomato plants shade a bed of radishes. With each bed I try to build a relationship between plants becoming companions. While one may ward off a debilitating insect the other plant may attract a “good” one. It’s fun and you’re able to create beautiful spaces for flowers, herbs and vegetables to all coexist.
Gardening is something I grew up doing. As far back as I can remember, each summer was spent walking the rows of the garden and standing at the edge of the yard shucking corn and giving a good “eww” over each worm we uncovered. Maybe I’m forgetting but I never felt it as work. I enjoyed being there, playing in the dirt amongst the vegetables and watching our pantry grow.
When I met my now husband, I was quick to ask him for a garden at his house. He too was raised picking beans and shucking corn but didn’t exactly have the same feelings about it as I did back then. But as we took on our own garden I believe his feelings began to change and bloom again. Desiring a place to raise our own food and seeing how successful we could be at it we thought, “Gosh this is too simple”. At the time we didn’t really care how we got them to grow… it was more like an at-all-costs type garden. It was going to be successful no matter what. We applied Miracle-Gro to our plants however so often (maybe even more than directed) and would cover them with pesticides to ensure nothing other than us harvest our plants… What is it called 7 Dust? Our first year garden was resilient, hardy, and bared more food than what we could eat fresh and me to can or us give away. BUT… (there’s a big but here) what were we really consuming??
Our views on using fertilizer changed. Our views on pesticides changed. We removed our railroad tie raised beds and switched to cinderblock beds. We decided if we’re going to use fertilizer that we would only use organic; We have only used soil conditioner this year. We DO NOT use pesticides and instead plant Marigolds, cover crops, herbs, other flowers amongst our garden. Playing around with companion planting becomes fun, requires a creative mind, research and paints a pretty picture in the garden.
Omitting the unnecessary, gardening has become harder trying to understand the plants and what they’re telling us that they need. By that statement you may be thinking, “Sounds like it is necessary”. No, it’s not. That’s the problem. Nowadays its seems like people want it easy. Less work. Things handed to them. Lets put in minimal effort to reap maximum reward. No and no. It doesn’t work like that. And frankly it gets frustrating seeing that mentality in people these days. We work for what we have and if it matters to us, we will do the work to figure out what may be wrong with our yellowing leafed plant. Maybe its over watering or is it not enough? Or that tomato plant that isn’t producing large fruit. Maybe we should experiment with suckering? Or maybe my plants are getting ate up with aphids. Maybe I should sow some buckwheat.. which attract aphids and just so happen to be the home of hover flies that feed on aphids.
I love figuring things out. I don’t even mind failing. It’s all a process and so rewarding. When I look at our home-canned food I know exactly what hard work went into a single jar and also what DIDN’T go into them. The investment shows and makes the jar taste so much better. It can be done naturally you just have to start and learn your space. Your plants will talk to you showing you signs of what you may need to show more attention to. You just have to be present and listen.
New in my garden:
As I mentioned on Instagram the other day, I have tried a few things this gardening that seems a little unorthodox. So far all plants seem to be loving their environment and everything looks healthy.
1. I pulled raised rows.
I pulled rows like you would for sweet potatoes, knocking the peak down and planted all plants in these. Burying a few leaves of peppers and tomatoes praying for a strong root system.
Pros: I have found that weeding is much easier with these raised rows. I literally take the weed-eater and knock down the grass in-between the rows. That’s it. I do pull weeds in-between the days that I choose to weed-eat this is just preference as I wouldn’t have to. I also have found that rows have made it much easier to weed-eat as the rows protect them.
Cons: Initially, I was concerned with how they would absorb water. I had gotten discouraged once I planted my garden. Stepping back and looking I thought all of the water will run off meeting in the walkway. So I pulled back the mulch from the base of the plant, creating a well. Hoping to ensure that water would make it to the roots. Since then the wells have been pushed back and the plants are thriving. I guess my “con” would be for unsurety
2. I covered the rows in brown paper grocery bags.
I decided to try to suppress weeds with some Trader Joe bags that had been accumulating. I knew it would do so and also add organic matter back into the soil. Aiding in keeping it nice and loamy.
Pros: This method helped wonders with weed control! I would do it again and again. When I do pull a weed, it doesn’t even feel like its attached to the soil. It pulls up perfectly with all of the roots intact. You’re recycling your paper bags also and giving back to your soil.
Cons: It’s more work but so worth it.
3. Mulch, mulch, mulch.
We mulched all raised rows in the garden, every raised bed and new in-ground garden spots throughout our nook. Mulching also aids in weed control and acts as a barrier to bacteria in the soil that can harm your plants and vegetables. It also acts as an insulator keeping your soil cool which also keeps it loose. I was shocked to feel how cool the inside of the rows where especially in the 95 degree heat that we’ve been having. And on-top of that, all of that the mulch keeps your soil hydrated. We went quite sometime without rain and left for vacation without any means of watering other than hopes for rain. No rain, but our garden still looked healthy and hydrated.
Pros: It gives a nice aesthetic touch while being functional. Plants seem to be happy, hydrated, and healthy. Also may I add, so far minimal bites and spotting on leaves (the only plant that does is my tomatillos).
Cons: More expensive. It’s going to cost you more but I think you’d be happy that you did. Pass on the box store single bags of mulch. Find a landscaping business and buy it by the scoop. Its much cheaper and goes way further. If you’re dealing with hard soil mulch would be a great thing to add to your garden.
4. Tomato Trellis.
I know tomatoes aren’t your climbing vine but this year we were going to experiment with putting our wire wall at an angle. Allowing the tomatoes to lay on the wire getting some support. We still tied them to the wire. This also allows us to companion plant a little differently too. Having our plants at an angle we now have shade in our garden allowing us to plant on the opposite side of our tomato wall in that very shade, lettuce and herbs maybe. I haven’t planted yet because I need the tomatoes to get a little bigger to give ample shade.
Pros: Opens up walkway and allows companion planting. With the tomatoes laid back at an angle the stems aren’t covering my walkway leaving it easy to walk through and work.
Cons: It’s the unsurety thing again. I’m not sure if this will affect the yield of my plants. I wouldn’t think it would but I just dont know. So this is still up in the air.
5. Soil Conditioner
With any new beds or with soil that didn’t feel like we wanted it, we added soil conditioner. This is extremely rich organic soil that is high in nitrogen.
Pros: Gives your soil nutrients that it may be lacking. Loosens up hard to manage dirt. It should promote healthier plants and higher yields.
Cons: More money. Its high in nitrogen so you wouldn’t want to put this directly on your plants.
I’m loving the direction that our garden is headed in. With time we shall see if these changes and hard work was worth it. Until then I’m going to enjoy the process and watch my garden unfold and listen every time they talk. I hope you find something from this article that you can apply to your garden or homestead. Let’s keep gardening fun and help each other make hard work easier.