After almost 3 weeks of traveling in Scotland and England, followed by recovery time and some various life events, I am finally back to blogging. And here to talk about all the delicious fruits and veggies we are growing in our garden this summer. (I will likely post more about our trip at a later date, but in the meantime feel free to check out Instagram for some pictures of the incredible scenery we saw in Scotland.)
We planted seeds and starts in all of our boxes in the spring, and some of them had begun to pop up when we left for our trip in June. Our awesome neighbor watered the garden for us while we were gone, so we came home to a forest of vegetables and some perfectly ripe berries. A few of our plants didn’t make it, but that was mostly because we failed to realize that our elevated beds would need additional water because they lose a substantial amount through the bottom and dry out more easily with air exposure from the top and bottom.
Overall, we had pretty low expectations for the success of our first garden attempt, but we have been pleasantly surprised. Most of the plants we have tried to grow are healthy and are producing very well.
Kale has been one of our most prolific veggies, and we planted a LOT of it. We eat kale almost every day, year round, so it was important to us to have plenty of it. We planted two types of kale: dazzling blue and bolshoi. Unfortunately, the dazzling blue hasn’t done well in our garden. We planted it in 3 different boxes, and in each of those the leaves were stunted and seemed especially susceptible to pests. The bolshoi kale has done very well though, so we have been feasting on it daily.
We also planted cabbage and collards in boxes with the kale. These have been doing fairly well, though they also appear to be quite susceptible to pests. Cabbage in particular is an aphid magnet, and it’s difficult to remove them because the leaves are close together and huge numbers of aphids can get deep into the plants. I think we will skip cabbage next year for this reason. It’s not one of my favorite vegetables, and it ends up just acting as a reservoir for aphids, which then spread to the kale and collards.
We planted a lot of lettuce – far more than I could eat before it bolted, but it has been nice to have an abundant supply of greens for salads. I enjoy colorful varieties, so we planted splashy trout’s back, oaky red splash, and merlot. They all are growing very well and so far haven’t had issues with pests. There are a few slugs around, but overall the lettuce has been very easy to take care of. It even seems to require less water than many of our other vegetables.
We also planted double purple orach and arugula, both of which grow like crazy and aren’t being eaten by bugs. We ended up letting the arugula go to seed so that it can spread on its own. We aren’t too attached to a perfectly organized garden, so we’re open to a little bit of disorganization in our boxes.
We eat a LOT of carrots, so we planted many many rows of purple, red, and orange varieties. They’re fun to thin and harvest, and can stay in the ground until you’re ready to eat them. This makes them quite low-maintenance and really enjoyable to grow. The tops are also edible. I like to make carrot-top pesto or add them to salads or smoothies.
Beets are great for similar reasons. They can stay in the ground for a long time, and can be used in a wide variety of ways – raw, boiled, roasted, or even to make healthy and colorful brownies.
We also planted some potatoes, and were pleasantly surprised by some volunteer plants that popped up near where ours were planted. They were left over from the previous owners, and once planted potatoes never really go away. We planted purple and red potatoes, and the volunteers turned out to be fingerlings.
We were lucky enough to have 6 mature blueberry bushes bordering our driveway when we moved in. The previous owners didn’t get a lot of berries, but we learned from the neighbors that they didn’t spend much time watering. We made sure to water the plants regularly and have been rewarded with an abundance of fresh blueberries throughout the summer. They are starting to drop off in production now, but we will definitely keep up the watering next year.
The two other very prolific plants in our garden are purple string beans and cucumbers. What started as 3 tiny cucumber seeds have threatened to invade half of our 8×8 box and are starting to shade out some of our carrots. The bean plants are also overhanging one of the carrot rows, and providing hundreds of beautiful purple beans that we eat raw and saute or cook on the grill. It’s looking like we will have about 4 dozen cucumbers. I don’t know that I’ll be able to eat quite that many raw, so I might have to figure out some refrigerator pickling.
Pests and Weeds
The biggest challenge we are facing with this garden is keeping the bindweed and aphids under control. We have a huge number of invasive plant species on our property, most of which we are able to keep under control. Bindweed, however, grows rapidly and spreads via rhizomes and seeds through just about any type of soil/gravel/rocks/etc. It is nearly impossible to kill and grows extremely quickly. So far our only successful strategy is to pull it out of the garden boxes and attempt to prevent it from strangling our vegetables. It’s an ongoing challenge, but is manageable for the most part. If we are gone for over a week, though, we definitely have our work cut out for us when we return.
Aphids have also been a major issue for our cruciferous vegetables. I try to physically remove them via squishing every day, but it seems as though there are always new ones, and I regularly miss large clusters. As the summer progresses, they are attacking the new kale leaves as soon as they pop up. Those leaves are too small to be able to remove the aphids by hand, so I am using a mixture of water and Dr. Bronner’s soap to attempt to kill them (1T Dr. Bronners in a medium glass spray bottle). It seems to be working, but I’m still having a hard time keeping on top of them. If anyone has any tricks for preventing and removing aphids, please share your knowledge!
Looking to the Future
We will definitely keep up our garden next year. It is a huge source of enjoyment for both of us, and it’s so fun to be able to harvest a large part of our dinner from the yard. We plan to skip the cabbage next year, plant less lettuce, and grow even more carrots than we have this year. We will likely skip the collards as well, as we aren’t eating them very much and they are very susceptible to aphid infestation.
This year, I would guess that we broke even as far as cost. We don’t have to buy veggies, but we spent a considerable amount of money on good soil and on supplies to build our boxes. As the years progress, though, I think we will see a financial benefit. And even if we didn’t, it is definitely worth it to have an abundance of fresh vegetables right outside our door!