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A Garden Project

by Nick

One of the reasons I was most excited about moving from Washington, DC last Fall was because I knew we would have a yard. And with that yard, I knew that I’d finally be able to have some semblance of a garden.

Once we were settled in Colorado I started thinking about all the things I wanted to grow and could just imagine huge rows of all kinds of plants and produce, spilling all over my yard.

Of course, when it was time to actually pick up my shovel, I had very little idea of where to start. But after some research, some help, and some blind luck, I ended up with something that I’m pretty happy with.

It’s not much, but it’s mine. And this is how I made it.

The Start of Something… Heavy

They don’t tell you this in the movies, but dirt is heavy. And if you want to start a garden, even a small one, you’ll be moving a lot of it.

My goal was to build two raised beds that were about 10 feet by five feet each. I figured this would be plenty of space to plant a variety of things and, assuming that things would actually grow in my beds, this would be more than enough to feed me and Betsy.

The problem I had was two-fold. First, I couldn’t plop the beds where I wanted to because our landlord didn’t want them in the front of our house. This makes sense I guess, but it means I had to settle for a spot that didn’t get great light. This couldn’t be helped though, so I just put them in the best spot I could.

The second problem with building the bed was the ground. The ground around our house was pretty much solid clay. I couldn’t imagine that much would happily grow in it. After some research, I learned that I would need to be mixing some stuff into it to make something garden-like.

But first, I had to dig up my rectangles.

It took me probably two hours of serious digging to dig up rectangles the size I wanted. It was a good workout and I ended up with some nice outlines for what I was going for.

garden start

This was not easy to dig up…

Blind Luck

I knew I wanted to have raised beds so I could build up some nice soil above the crappy clay base, but I wasn’t 100% sure on what I should use to build them. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on anything fancy.

I stumbled onto some luck when I found a store of old bricks around the back of our house. They obviously weren’t being used for anything so I figured I would put them to good use!

If I hadn’t found these, I think I may have just built some big dirt mounds which I’ve heard works just as well.

These were my finished raised beds!

gardens made

Turns out bricks are heavy.

As for what’s in the beds, I got a load of compost from our local composting facility. It was $25 for a cubic yard of compost. If you don’t know how much a cubic yard is, it’s enough to fill a truck bed and more than enough to use as a base for my two 10×5 beds.

I also mixed in a few bags of manure and clay buster soil to keep it nice and light. I would say, in total, the soil costs set me back about $40-$50 which was well within what I wanted to spend.

Herb Square

I burn through fresh herbs. I’m not very good at keeping track of what I have and I’m constantly letting them spoil or re-buying ones that I already have.

So I wanted to devote a big chunk of my garden to fresh herbs. I came up with what I call “Herb Square” which is a 3×3 square. I planted one herb in each of the 9 squares.

herb square

Herb Square!

The herbs I planted include: basil, sage, rosemary, parsley, cilantro, oregano, chives, dill, and mint. My basil and mint died on round one, so I moved them to a planter in the front of the house and I’ll replace those two squares with something else. I don’t think they were getting enough light in Herb Square.

The Markings

When it came to planting, I just planted a wide range of things, figuring that that was the best way to see what would grow well in my little beds.

I highly recommend using little markers to show what plants are where if you’re setting up a garden. The week after I planted, I completely forgot what was where. I just ripped off the tops of the seed packets and stuck them in the ground to remind me.

marker

Don’t forget to label…

It Lives!

Flash forward about a month and I’m well on my way to having a pretty legit garden!

Things that seem to be doing well in my beds include: Lettuce and greens, radishes, peas, beets, carrots, and most of the herbs.

The cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers are struggling I think because they aren’t getting enough light. I’m going to have to figure something out for those I think.

I just planted some spinach and onions as well that I think should do fine.

The one mystery to me is kale. I thought it would grow like a weed but my seeds haven’t even sprouted yet! I think I clearly messed something up, but oh well.

In general, I’m pretty happy with my first little garden so far!

stuff growing

Grow baby grow!

I’m most excited for peas which I think should start producing in the next few weeks. They are already climbing right up the wires I set up for them!

peas

Lotsa peas in my future…

I’ll be honest, I stressed out a lot about my little garden. I worried about sunlight and soil and what to plant where, but if I had to give one piece of advice to anyone starting a garden, it would be to just do it.

Not everything will grow, but most things probably will do okay. At the end of the day, I’m learning that most plants want to grow and if you just give them a somewhat reasonable setup to do so, they will do fine.

And while you could spend you’re whole summer reading books and websites on how to get the maximum production out of every single plant, it’s way more fun to just get your hands dirty!

If you have any gardening tips or if you have a photo/post of your garden that you’re proud of, leave a comment!

I’d love to see/hear what others are growing this year!

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19 comments on “A Garden Project

  1. I've been volunteering in the legal clinic at Bread for the City (some charity near the awful P St. Giant) for a while now, and last Friday they officially opened their green roof/garden. They've got a ton growing up there, but the one thing I was most interested in was the asparagus. I can't even picture how it goes from the weedy, hairy looking thing it is now to asparagus I'll ever recognize.
    My recent post Sugar Shuttles

  2. We were supposed to start our garden but a little something called laziness seems to have gotten in the way… however I did my standard planter with basil, cilantro, oregan and parsley so I can at least have fresh herbs on hand :)
    My recent post Good things come…

  3. This is my second year for a garden and I definitely learned so much from my (mostly) failures last year. I've got lettuce, pumpkins, onions, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, hot peppers, cilantro, and parsley out there this year, and all of them seem to be doing well! As long as the squirrels stay away, I think I'll be good.

    Love the brick beds! Definitely look awesome – as does the whole garden in general =)
    My recent post Sausage &amp Radish Patties

  4. The trick to basil is LOTS of water. I haven't had any trouble getting it to sprout, just getting it to grow. This year we just have been watering it to death and it's very happy now. The one I can't get to grow is rosemary. :-( Did you plant any potatoes? I recommend trying the Kennebec variety, and definitely do the mounds instead of in the ground. We also have 6 tomato plants this year, wanna come help put tomatoes up? :-P

  5. I do all my herbs in pots on my deck – they look pretty, smell good & are right outside the door so easy to grab what I need in the middle of cooking. I have another garden area about 9×11 or so – I've got tomato plants, brussel sprouts, red cabbage, a yellow squash, a cucumber and my 3 year old rhubarb which I am happily harvesting this year. The sprouts and cabbages are new to me this year, so will see how they handle a St. Louis summer.

    1. I don't know if you have these white moths in your area, but I have learned with sprouts and cabbages, the only way to keep them out is to cover them with some wire or row cover, or maybe even cheesecloth would work. The moths lay eggs on the vegetables and then the little worms work they way through the vegetables and totally wreck them. I gave up growing them, but last year my daughter grew some beautiful cabbage by putting some wire screen over them. You have to make it tight so the moths or butterflies or whatever they are can't get in. I'm going to try again this year.

  6. We had dug raised beds that my husband turns over each spring. He adds of grass clippings and yard mulch. This year we have: lots of heirloom tomatoes (most Brandywine), eating cukes and pickling cukes, eggplant, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, potatoes, brussel sprouts, lots of lettuce, baby onions, peas, and loofa (for soap making). This is probably our best garden thus far.
    My recent post Seeking Youth

  7. Katie and I have done a decent job with what little we have to work with this year (living in an apartment). We have two large window planters with herbs (basil, cilantro, and mint) which are doing awesome. We also have three large pots, one for tomatoes (which is doing great!), one for peppers (which was totally eaten by bugs, not sure what to do about that…), and one for beans (which is just starting to make some moves) sitting out on our fire escape.

    I'm concerned about the veggies getting enough light on the fire escape, but so far they seem to be doing fine. Even if they don't produce much, I still feel like it is worth it just to know your food is literary coming form your back yard (or window)! Your gardens look great and I look forward to seeing how they do a few months from now!
    My recent post Countdown to NFEC 50k – Less than 2 Weeks

  8. Starting a garden was the first thing we did when we moved last year to Virginia. We didn’t move until about this time and by then it was too late to start much, but this year we got a head start and made the garden much larger. We also have pretty bad clay soil so we actually layered just pure compost on top of newspaper on top of the old garden which over the winter became weeds and grass. We just planted seeds right into the compost and it’s worked well so far. Haven’t eaten anything except the lettuce.

    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/577/img20110

    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/228/img20110

    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/37/img201105

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  9. I'm doing container gardening myself — mostly veggies & herbs but one strawberry pot and one blueberry bush. I took these pictures less than two weeks ago, but I really need to update, because they're doing great!!
    https://picasaweb.google.com/10920847211657692048

    Mesclun, broccoli, peppers (3 pots), zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, oregano, parsley, sage, lavender (2), rosemary, tarragon, chamomile, and…. well, I'm leaving something out (besides the fruit) I'm sure! OH YEAH: pumpkins.
    My recent post I dont usually brag too much on myself

  10. You should be really really happy that your mint didnt take in your raised bed. I have a raised bed at my house, and was super excited to start planting in it. I discovered when I started working the dirt that the previous owner had an herb garden there and planted some mint. The mint has totally TAKEN OVER the bed and now is begining to invade another plot on my land that is on the other side of the yard. I dug a foot down in my raised bed and added a ton of new dirt and now about a month and a half later I still need to go out and weed out the mint at least 3 times a week. From the research Ive done and from talking to my gardening friends mint and catnip will spread like a wildfire and once its out, its impossible to kill. Hopefully my zucchini and cucumbers wont taste totally minty come harvest.

  11. Congratulations on your garden! My husband and I have lived in our home with a yard for almost three summers and we still haven't started a proper garden. I'm still growing herbs and tomatoes in planters. Back in February I ripped up a horrible lily plant by our front porch and planted some rosemary in its place. This spring I planted romaine lettuce (just the day before Anouk was born!), lots and lots of basil, oregano and cherry tomatoes. I can't wait to make pesto! And I'm hoping the fig tree we planted last spring yields an edible harvest this year. Perhaps next spring I'll be our year for finally getting in a garden!
    Advice: be on the lookout for bunnies eating your peas. I planted some last year but they never made it because they bunnies got to them.

  12. Artichokes in the front yard!!! Use them as "landscaping" in those sunny spots. Just sayin'! They'll be annuals in your neck of the woods, but they're pretty AND delicious. Just make sure you amend the soil, ie: dig a decent hole w/ good stuff added, plus keep 'em watered.

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