Simple pole bean towers

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I’m planting pole beans for the first time this year, in the hope that going vertical will give me maximum production in a minimum of space. (Don’t worry – I’m planting something like six varieties of bush beans, too.) As a result, I was in need of something for those pole beans to climb. As much as I love the beautiful bean trellises I see at the garden center, they weren’t in the garden budget. Instead, I came up with a simple DIY option that I’m hoping will work just as well.

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A few months ago, I purchased a roll of 3-foot-wide galvanized steel fencing from Lowe’s for less than $30. I used part of it for my pea trellises, but I figured the rest could work for growing beans and squash, too.

To create a bean tower, I cut a six-foot length of the fencing, and then bent it lengthwise into a cylinder. I secured the sides together with zip ties (cut off the extra ends so they don’t look quite so junky) and stood the tower in the garden. I pounded three wooden stakes around it, and again secured it with zip ties. Easy, cheap, and hopefully effective. No serious storms have come through since I installed my new towers, so I’ll let you know how they hold up.

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I planted the pole beans at the base of my new towers today. Bush beans will go in later this week, I think. Now I just need to figure out how to keep the rabbits away from the bean seedlings once they emerge!

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Garden data

A picture of a digital kitchen scale. Fair warning: my gardening is hitting the next level of nerdery this year.

Inspired once again by Rosalind Creasy’s approach to edible landscaping, I’m determined to keep some careful records of the yield in my vegetable garden. (Go here for an article about how Creasy planted a 100-square-foot garden and then tracked its yield.)

Screen shot of an excel spreadsheet tracking harvest quantities of each variety of produce in my garden.
Click on the spreadsheet image if you’d like to see it bigger.

To that end, I bought a new kitchen scale this weekend (the last one met a sad end in a sink of soapy water), and designed a pretty spreadsheet for myself. As soon as the garden starts producing, I’ll weigh and track what I harvest. I’ll also research grocery store and farmers market prices for each item, so that I can come up with a “value” estimate. Of course, nothing can account for the value of growing a pepper outside my door and being able to pluck it right before dinner. But still – there’s something interesting about knowing exactly how much your garden creates, and what you would spend to purchase that same amount of produce elsewhere.

Why am I trying this project? Curiosity, mostly – this winter, when I thought about what had produced well in last year’s garden, I realized that many things had actually done quite well, even though I had thought of the year as a “failure.” Having hard data offers on objective look at the garden’s production. Plus, there’s some useful information that could be gleaned: Over how long of a period does a certain crop produce? Does it fall off so much in its last month that it would be better to pull it out and put in something else? Are some crops more worth growing than others, especially when compared to their grocery store value?

I’ll keep you posted on the garden’s production in my monthly updates. And if you’re ever tracked your garden’s production, let me know in the comments how it worked out and what you learned!

 

These container designs are sketchy

The two whiskey half-barrels that I picked up in February are already sprouting with their first round of plantings, so it’s high time to share the plans I dreamed up for them. As I re-read The Bountiful Container, I took the advice about planning for visual appeal and seasonal changes to heart, and created spring and summer versions of each planter.   Two sketches show designs for spring and summer versions of barrel 1.

Barrel One: The spring arrangement for this planter features Delaway Kale (it came with my Seed Savers membership this year). Around it, I’ve planted a row of Bull’s Blood beets, and they are surrounded by the Seed Saver’s Lettuce Mix. The outermost ring is cherry bell radishes.

For summer, the centerpiece of barrel one is a Principe Borghese tomato plant  (a favorite variety, and determinate, so it should do OK in the container). It will be surrounded by bush beans of various colors, and the whole container will be ringed with Globe Basil. Two sketches show designs for spring and summer versions of barrel 2.Barrel Two: To the back of this barrel, I attached about three feet of fencing to provide a trellis. For spring, Green Arrow snap peas will send up tendrils. In front of them, I’ve planted Albino beets, spinach, and a mix of radishes and Paris Market carrots.

For summer, the peas will be replaced by Minnesota Midget melons, which are supposed to have well-behaved 3-foot vines. In front of them, I’ll transplant miniature yellow bell peppers. The carrots from spring will hang out through the season, and the front of the container will feature Tip Top Nasturtium to add to the yellow and orange color scheme.

Time will tell if the real-life barrels bear any resemblance to these sketches – or if my seasonal timing will even work! I’ll keep you posted.

Inspiration for the 2016 Garden

After last year’s major gardening slump, I was in need of some inspiration to get me revved up again. And boy, did I find it. A handful of blogs and books have me excited about gardening again, and have convinced me to think about vegetable planting in a whole new way.

First, two blogs that have been particularly inspiring to me this year:

Logo for Living HomegrownLiving Homegrown: Written by Theresa Loe, who is also an executive producer of PBS’ Growing a Greener World, this blog is packed with great content on gardening and canning, another love of mine. This winter, Living Homegrown introduced me to the term “foodscaping” (see more below), which has me totally re-envisioning my garden. There is also a wonderful weekly Living Homegrown podcast that I recommend checking out.

Favorite posts:
Why You Should Rethink Food Growing
Ten Show-Stopping Edibles
8 Delicious Ways to Use Up Leftover Preserves

Logo for NW Edible LifeNorthwest Edible Life: Erica’s blog is full of no-nonsense advice no matter what level of “homesteading” you embrace. I love her tips on vegetable gardening, and she also has plenty of recipes, food preserving advice, and even how-to posts on topics like making your own soap and home-brewing. Both Theresa and Erica have given me serious chicken envy, too. I’m not quite ready for my own coop, but I love vicariously experiencing theirs.

Favorite posts:
Lawn to Garden in a Single Weekend
How to Make Succession Planting and Year-Round Gardening Really Work
Which Seed-Starting Supplies Are Worth It? And Which Aren’t?

A1F8vI99cmLNext, the books. A post on Living Homegrown (I think) led me to the work of Rosalind Creasy. Creasy is a pioneer in edible landscaping, or what has popularly been termed “foodscaping.” I picked up her book “Edible Landscaping” during the depths of winter when I was most in need of encouragement, and it is full of envious landscapes. The idea behind foodscaping is to grow edible plants as if they were ornamentals, taking factors such as plant shape and size, texture, foliage color, and blooms into consideration. Rather than utilitarian rows, you end up with a cottage-style garden that is both productive and beautiful! Edible Landscaping even includes photos of the experimental foodscapes that Creasy has planted in her own front yard over the years. As I tackle arranging edibles in my expanded backyard veggie beds, I’ll be turning to these inspirational images again and again.

The cover of "The Bountiful Container"I actually purchased a copy of McGee and Stuckey’s Bountiful Container a few years ago. It’s packed with useful information, and when I first bought it, I was a little overwhelmed by everything there was to learn. But when I picked it back up this winter while planning the 2016 garden, I was motivated anew to try some of the authors’ tips and planting arrangements. I’ll be using a lot of the advice here in deciding how to fill my two new whiskey barrel containers.

What resources are serving as your garden inspiration this year?

Changes to the garden in 2016

The view of the garden from the driveway.
The 2016 garden, waiting.

This is my most impatient time of the year.

Sure, there are seeds sprouting inside, and I’m trying to get a jump on some early peas. The garlic I planted in October is poking up through the soil. But I am restless, eager for the sun to come out and the soil to warm so we can really get going in the soil.

To give myself something to do while I wait (not to mention fulfill this year’s goal of expanding the veggie garden), I’ve been busy making some changes.

You can see here where we put in three raised beds and carved out a tiny section of lawn for gardening last year.

This year, we went a step farther, encroaching even more onto the lawn. (Less to mow = happy Kate!) The bed might look awkward, sticking out into the grass, but I keep reminding myself that it’s part of abigger plan. Someday, I hope to install a patio in the back of the yard, and then the veggie garden will butt up against it.

Plastic landscape edging carves out a section of lawn where the expanded vegetable bed will go.
Vegetable bed expansion in progress. Forgive the photo from my phone, taken after a long day of working.

After roping off the new bed with some plastic landscape edging, I heaped the doomed lawn with several inches of soil and several inches of compost. I’m crossing my fingers that will be enough to smother the grass and create nice, fertile soil. It might not be perfect this year, but I think next year’s garden will be in great shape. I’m trying to remember that I’m in it for the long haul, now that we’ll be here for a while.

A small strip of soil against the south fence is edged and mulched with compost.
Tiny strip of land against the south fence. More herbs, flowers and maybe leafy greens will go here this year.

While I was at it, I also edged the strip of land next to our driveway, against the south fence. These herbs flourished last year, which convinced me that it was worth trying to plant more there. Wherever I can snatch up a few extra inches of soil!

A photograph of my garden, with changes labeled.
A closer look at the changes for this year.

This year, I’m also hoping to get more cut flowers in the ground. I added compost to a couple of neglected beds in the back corner of the yard and along the opposite fence and finished them off with some mulch. These beds are too close to questionable neighbor gardening tactics (and neighbors working on cars) to make me comfortable about growing edibles there, but I’m hoping to fill them with flowers and get a grip on the weeds that tend to take over by July.

View of the garden from the west, standing at the back of the yard and looking toward the house.
A view of the garden from my imaginary future patio.

How are you passing the time in the garden early in the season?

A Garden Journal

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The first yellow snow peas from this year’s garden. They didn’t do very well in our weird spring, but they were beautiful.

I have been gardening on and off since 2009, when my husband and I turned the trash- and weed-covered patch of dirt behind our first rental into two neat vegetable beds. We had no idea what we were doing, but it didn’t matter — I was hooked. Since then, I’ve planted vegetables every summer, as long as we weren’t in the middle of a move (and that one dreadful year where we lived in an apartment building and didn’t have a yard at all).

Every spring, it seems like a miracle to me that the tiny seeds I tuck into the dirt actually sprout, let alone become rambling monster plants by late summer. And every year I think to myself that I should have been keeping track, should have been documenting the garden better. What grew well, what floundered. Pests that plagued us, and whether I was able to fight them off. How and when I fertilized, watered, harvested. When exactly those first tomatoes ripened, so that when I’m anxiously watching them in June, I can remind myself that I still have a month to go.

Our very first garden.
Our very first garden in Pocatello, circa April 2009.

But the chore of record-keeping has never been my forte, so I thought keeping an online journal might be the perfect way to track my garden. Nothing formal or structured, no set rules, just a simple way to remark on what’s happening in the garden now, so I can look back on it next year and the year after that.

Starting this journal in mid-August means I haven’t done a very good job of documenting this year, either, but at least I can reflect on the end of this year’s garden while I dream about next year. And besides, timely, organized, well-planned? That’s not exactly how I garden, so why should my garden journal be any different?