Flashback 1: The Phantom Garden

“So,” I said, “I think I’ll plant an area out back with a few herbs, maybe make a flower bed.”

I should have known.  My partner had been looking for a “new hobby”, having for various reasons ended up without her “I’m out at the stables” hobby.  Before I hardly knew what was happening, she had glommed onto the notion, and started expanding it.

At our next trip to the bookstore, she comes up to me waving a book around, “Hey, this guy does urban gardens, and calls it “square foot gardening“.  I grinned, pointing out that I had used SFG techniques back in the 1980s when I was in Cambridge, MA for a few years.  From there it has all been a slippery slope.

We started with 4 boxes, each 4′ x 4′, with 6″ high walls, landscaping material on the bottom, and a compost, vermiculite, and peat moss mix (now we’re changing both the ingredients and the proportions, after a bit of real world experience).  We quickly added 2 12″ high boxes, and have stayed with 12″ depth ever since.

This was June, 2008.  In North Carolina, as in many places, this is starting late.  We muddled through anyway, and were pleasantly pleased with our tomato production, green bean production, and herbs.  We had a hard time with cilantro, and couldn’t seem to grow a radish.  Lettuce grew easily and well.  A raccoon got all — each. and. every. one. — of our ears of corn, even though it was all enclosed in plastic chicken wire.

By February 2009 we decided we needed *more boxes*.  More boxes it was, as we built and added 14 2′ x 12′ 12” high boxes, all made with 2x12s.  Again with the landscaping materials, this time we used the sloping back yard, leveled terraced areas for each box, and spaced the boxes approximately 3 feet apart.  Again we used 5 different organic composts (mushroom, chicken, cow, worm castings, and something called McEnroe’s), peat moss, and bulk vermiculite.   Having tried vermiculite I’ll probably never use perlite again.

Along with the 14 new boxes, we built a concrete block worm farm, populated it with worms raised by a local worm farmer, and made a hinged plywood lid for it.  Since then we have added 2 more compostors, one a simply made yard waste hardwire cloth cage, and the other a plastic Earth Machine.  Between the composting and the recycling we’re doing, our actual “take the trash out” trash day has gone from a fully loaded extra-large green trash can to a mostly empty extra-large green trash can.  This is mostly her doing and her credit, I’m still fuzzy on the details sometimes of what is recycled and what isn’t.

In 2009 we raised a bunch more food.  Included were:

Herbs:  cilantro, basil, oregano, lemongrass, horseradish, thyme, dill, parsley, tarragon, rosemary, sage, marjoram, vietnamese cilantro.

Orchard plantings:  blueberries (High bush and Rabbit Eye), figs (Black Jack, Black Mission, and Brown Turkey), and 4 heritage apple trees:  Grimes Golden, Aunt Rachel, Goldrush, Yellow Bellflower.

Veggies:  Beets, Celery, radishes, carrots, haricot vert, blue lake bush beans, dutch half-runners,  sugar snap peas, snow peas, 5 kinds of potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli raab, lettuces (several varieties), zucchini, yellow summer squash, acorn squash, butternut squash, charentais melons, moon and stars watermelon, onions.

Peppers:  Anaheim, Anchos, Jalapeno, Cayenne, Serrano, California Wonder, Marconi, El Chaco, Thai, Yolo Wonder, Sweet Italian

Tomatos:  Bloody Butcher, Giant Beefsteak, Better Boy, Early Girl, Green Zebra, San Marzano, Brandywine, Rutgers

We’ve had some spectacular successes and some utter failures.  Melons have been a bust so far, Heirloom tomatos not so good while the hybrids just won’t quit.  Celery we did quite well on, but we made several large errors with our seedlings last spring and managed to germinate, then kill a wide variety of seedlings while stunting several other varieties.   Regardless we grew much more in 2009 than in 2008 — a significant portion of our produce through the active garden period.  We even have managed to grow over winter carrots, radishes,  and lettuces.  The broccoli and cauliflower have survived, but calling them productive would be a misnomer.

Now its 2010, and there are 6 new 2×12 boxes, and we’re still going “we need more growing space”.   Just today we planted several cauliflower seedlings in large containers because we have no allocated box room for them.  For the record, that’s 26 total boxes.

Pictures to follow.

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