The vegetable garden that ate my life (for four months), not counting...

The vegetable garden that ate my life (for four months), not counting the planning and dreaming

Corn (left), asparagus beans (on the teepees) and gourds on the back trellises are growing apace.

Corn (left), asparagus beans (on the teepees) and gourds on the back trellises are growing apace.
Corn (left), asparagus beans (on the teepees) and gourds on the back trellises are growing apace.
My vegetable garden has been two to three weeks behind the elaborate calendar I set up in March when I was brave enough to take over a 50×50-foot section behind my mother-in-law’s house for a family garden.

We all love to cook and it seemed like a great idea to save money and get a chance to grow things I don’t have room for in my own yard. Plus, I let myself be seduced by those gorgeous color photos in the seed catalogs over the winter. I always wanted to grow squash and melons, which require so much space.

The plan included onion plants, shallot sets and seeds for asparagus beans, green beans, snap peas, sweet peas, corn, watermelon, a French melon, three types of winter squash, summer squash, cucumbers, two kinds of potatoes (Yellow Finn and Red Pontaic), two types of carrots (Kaleidoscope Mix for the kids in orange, purple, yellow, red and white), parsnips, two types of radishes, beets, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, broccoli, four types of lettuce, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins for the kids, along with tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers.

Oh, and two raspberry bushes (Caroline and Heritage). Along the back fences are two trellises for a Corsican gourd that can be made into covered bowls and three types of sunflowers — a pale, vanilla white called Coconut Ice, Peach Passion and a new red called Moulin Rouge.

What we didn’t anticipate was how long it would take to remove the grass, copious weeds and rocks from the area, which hadn’t been gardened in four or five years. Some small rocks are OK in a garden, but anywhere the root veggies were to be planted had to be sifted to get quite a few small stones out of the way (or you end up with forked or stunted carrots, radishes and beets).

The prep work was brutal (and there are still a couple of patches we never stripped) because time got short. My long-suffering husband (bless him) stripped off the top 4 inches of soil and the grass and weeds with a foot-propelled sod cutter. Then, he rototilled each bed.

It took longer than expected, so by mid-May only the raspberry plants, spinach, kale, snap peas, peas, onions, shallots and lettuce were in the ground.

The asparagus beans, green beans, radishes, cucumbers and potatoes went in the beginning of June, along with some flower seeds. But, the asparagus bean seeds never sprouted and I had to replant them. They are doing fine now. The tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, along with broccoli and Swiss chard went in mid-June — two weeks later than I would have liked.

The corn (an 11×11-foot bed with five rows of 13 plants) got planted June 23. I got a Jackpot Hybrid that grows 6 feet tall. The butter and sugar bicolor has 8-inch ears. It was about 5 inches tall on July 7 (certainly not “knee-high by the Fourth of July” as old-timers recommend).

Then, we had all that 90-degree-plus weather and all I managed was lots of watering and a little weeding.

Companion plants

I planted marigolds and nasturtiums, flowers that make good companion plants for vegetables and are said to help keep bad bugs away. So far, so good. Something has been chewing little holes in the kale, but there are no bugs to be seen. Something chewed the tiny broccoli seedlings to the ground, but they grew back.

I also planted herbs as companion plants with certain veggies. So, there’s sage, dill, oregano, rosemary and basil.

The yard had more shade than I anticipated, so the garden plan took into account which veggies could take some shade (lettuce, broccoli, spinach, kale) and which needed the full sun areas (pretty much everything else).

Succession plantings

Even though I’m late, succession plantings will (hopefully) keep us in veggies into the fall. A daikon radish (Pink Summercicle) got two plantings and that spot was sown a week ago with watermelon radishes, which get sweeter with a little chill in the fall.

Asparagus beans and green beans (Jade) were planted in May, June and July so we aren’t inundated with too many beans all at once. Cucumbers, summer squash, kale and spinach (a heat tolerant variety called Space) also got two sowings about a month apart.

Lettuce was planted as often as we needed it. You can never have too much fresh lettuce. And, those hot days turned it bitter. I have some in my own yard, too, including mache (Piedmont), which I always wanted to try. Also called corn salad or lamb’s lettuce, it’s so buttery and sweet.

I not only plant Swiss chard in the garden, but in areas of my flower beds where there’s a gap. It’s so pretty, depending on the variety. I usually plant Bright Lights, which has pink, yellow and purple stems. But, this year, I got Lucullus Swiss, which has ivory stalks with dark green savoyed leaves.

I started the Brussels sprouts in pots as directed and set them out on my deck. They were supposed to be put in a sheltered spot where they could get afternoon shade. Something ate them, too, but they are rebounding nicely. But, I’m not sure if they will grow fast enough before our first frosts. Fingers crossed that we get a mild fall this year.

Squash and melons need lots of space

But, I’m probably most excited about the winter squash and melons. Along with the ubiquitous butternut (Atlas), we’re planting Boston Marrow (a custardy orange-fleshed 10- to 20-pounder good for pies and baking) and Speckled Hound (a gorgeous green and orange striped sweet, nutty-fleshed squash that looks like a big gourd).

Melons are a first for us, with a Pony Red Mini Watermelon and Petit Gris de Rennes (a small orange melon with a dark gray-green skin).

Even with the squirrels having their way with my potatoes last year, we had enough to last until February (onions, too). I’m hoping for a whole winter of squash, potatoes, onions and maybe some frozen beans and broccoli. We’ll see.

The onions aren’t doing that well. I think there was too much rain in June. We had snap peas and peas and have lots of lettuce, kale, cucumbers, green beans, Swiss chard and eggplant. There are tons of green tomatoes, with only two Early Girls and some cherries ripe so far.

And, the pumpkins never made it into the ground. Those and the sunflowers (except for two in my garden, which are only a foot tall) fell by the wayside when time got short. Maybe next year.

I will let you all know how these varieties perform. If you have any gardening questions or tips for me, feel free to pass them on. I’m learning lots of new things this summer.

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