Tilling the Soil, Tending my Soul: Planting a Summer Garden

Over the years, the arrival of spring usually means one thing: it’s time to plant a summer garden. Last year I skipped the garden entirely. Year four of the drought and mandatory water rationing put the kibosh on a summer garden. Instead of planting tomatoes, I finished sheet mulching the lawn in the back garden and let the rest of the grass die. What a summer, eh?Β  It was disheartening.

This year is different. For starters, the lawn is gone. In its place: native plantings that will thrive throughout our hot, dry summers. Also in place this year is our newly installed rain catchment system. Harvesting rain water for our vegetable garden should see us through at least half the summer if not more. Mike is connecting a drip system to the tank so that we can water judiciously. I’m hoping it will last all summer.

All this is to say that I’m gardening guilt-free this season.

I’ve also nearly doubled my planting space using a space-efficient gardening box called a VegTrug Elevated Garden.

The only practical place for a vegetable garden in our yard is along the back of our house. Unfortunately, that same spot houses an electrical outlet, a low-voltage transformer and an irrigation manifold intake valve.

collage irrigation manifold

The “business end” of the garden

All of those unattractive components used to hide behind shrubs. Several years ago we removed the shrubs to make way for a vegetable garden. We added a pair of 4 x 4 elevated beds assembled from a kit, fitting them around the boring but necessary items that are part of the business end of the garden.

planter box one

Planting Box One: Upper half, transplanted raspberry vines, nasturtiums, lower box, cosmos and nasturtiums

nasturtium

Edible Nasturtium

planter box two with tomatoes

Planting Box Two: Heirloom tomatoes, three varieties, cosmos and nasturtiums

We added gravel to fill in the odd spaces.

When I grew pumpkins, the gravel provided space for the vines to grow, but otherwise it wasn’t any use for planting.

I spotted the VegTrug in one of my gardening catalogs and inspiration struck. I went out back and measured the distance between the two existing boxes, allowing for the immovable pipe protruding out of the ground.

Oh-my-gosh!!!

The longer of the two Trugs would not only fit, but would have the perfect amount of clearance off the ground and away from the house. I placed the order.

UPS left the box on our front deck while my husband was away on business and my son at school. I couldn’t get it to budge. I opened the box where it sat and carried the pieces through the house and out the back door.

vegtrug assembly

Assembling the VegTrug

I watched a YouTube video ahead of time so I would be able to assemble it (mostly) myself. I sorted the pieces, doubled checked the parts and assembled the legs. No problem. The long planks were a bit unwieldy and they suggested a second person help with that part. In my impatience, I tried to do this on my own, and promptly dropped one of the boards on my little toe. Boy did that hurt. And before you ask, yes the foot with the recent surgery. I felt like a fool.

Later that afternoon, my son helped me with the larger pieces before it started raining. When Mike came back from Brazil at the end of the week, he helped me finish the assembly and move the planter into place.

I have to say, I am in love with this planting box. It’s elevated, making it easy to plant. The inverted triangle means that you use less soil. Deeper rooted plants go in the center where the soil is deep. I planted the shallow rooters along the sides.

fish bowl view before

Fish-eye view of garden boxes before placing the Veg Trug

fish bowl view after

Fish-eye view of garden with new VegTrug

It comes with a removable cover to keep the bugs out, while allowing water to flow through.Β  The cover frame breaks apart into smaller pieces for easy storage when it’s not in use. They’ve thought of everything.

Not willing to take any chances, I wrapped the legs with copper tape. Sorry snails, you’ll have to look elsewhere for dinner.

Thanks to tips from Pauline and Sarah, both New Zealand gardeners, I’ve added nasturtiums to the mix this year. I had a vague notion of companion planting, but somehow never researched the pros and cons. I’ve just been lucky most years, other than snails of course, that the pests stayed away. A couple of seasons of nasty squash bugs sent me scrambling for an organic deterrent. Nasturtiums help keep the bad bugs in check.

If all grows well, it will be a summer filled with raspberries and strawberries, three varieties of heirloom tomatoes and delicious sweet basil. The nasturtiums are also edible, but I’ll let them grow and do the job of keeping nasty pests at bay. I planted the lower boxes with one of my new summer favorites. Cosmos grow like weeds, providing cut flowers all summer long.

vegetable garden march 21 2016-003

Newly planted vegetable garden

Soil, tilled.

Soul, tended.

I am one happy gardener.

46 thoughts on “Tilling the Soil, Tending my Soul: Planting a Summer Garden

  1. I know you meant come see it on the blog but I must come and see it in person-still have a very long time purchased gift for you and would love to see you too

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  2. When it’s meant to be – it’s sure going to fit right! That is one serious raised garden bed! And losing the bending bit is quite good too these days. Did you paint it yourself or did it come in that lovely shade? I also planted petunias with my tomatoes and they work really well at keeping the white fly and other tomato pests at bay.. You will have a relatively pain free garden this year Alys – most of the watering taken care of and easy care garden beds with companion plants mean pretty to look at and healthy to eat………. Way to go!!

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    • Thank you, Pauline! And yes, it was meant to be.

      I’m still tickled that it all came together and that it looks nice. Form and function working beautifully together.

      The Trug came in that color! Isn’t that amazing? It’s a soft, blue green stain which just added to its appeal.

      It’s good to know that petunias are good for white fly. I heard that New Zealand had more problems than usual this past summer with the white flies.

      I love the hopefulness of a freshly planted garden. I’m out there checking on things a few times a day, much like a new born baby. Thank you for cheering me on.

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  3. Not only does it fit perfectly in that space, it looks really good too! I have often looked at these in catalogues ( although I haven’t seen a painted version like yours), so it will be interesting to see what you think at the end of the growing season. All those edibles sound great, Alys. I can’t wait for srawberry season! πŸ˜‰

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    • Cathy, is their anything better than warm berries straight out of the garden? Yum!

      I will be reporting all season long on the box. It was an amazing experience planting on my feet and my back was all the better for it. Twenty years from now I’m imaging an entirely elevated garden so I can continue gardening into my twilight years. ha!

      Thank you for your enthusiasm.

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  4. I’m having better luck finding your posts on FB than in my list of blogs to read via e-mail. I so want to get mine started because yours looks so wonderful. We just can’t seem to stop the rain. :{ Maybe Saturday we will have one dry day. Next week is looking better too. I love you raised beds. Also the new trug with the cover!! The back looks so inviting. I bet you can use the water your son would have used for showers and laundry while he was at school to water plants with this summer. πŸ™‚

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    • It’s wonderful seeing you on FB, Marlene. Thank you for connecting there. I love your nom de plume. πŸ˜‰

      I slowly transferred all my blog reading to Bloglovin so that I could do away with email notifications. I get all the notices in one place, WordPress or Blogger, and can see them by author or by date. It’s been a terrific organizing tool.

      I hope your rain stops soon so you can get outside to plant. We had remarkable luck. A dry weekend, followed by a day of rain after the plants went in.

      Funny about using the water my son would have used for laundry and showers at home. Good idea!

      I love this Trug for it’s design and ease of use. They must be quite popular as I found several videos on the assembly.

      Fingers crossed that you can get your garden in this weekend. Hugs

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  5. Fantastic backyard improvements for someone who lives in the bay area! Great progress on the water wise was well. Excellent job Alys.

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      • Our water comes from rain and spigots in the garden! Some years I have to water more and once when we were in drought we couldn’t use the hoses and had to water by hand, which I do quite a lot anyway as it’s more direct and effective.

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        • Spigots in the garden! Fabulously convenient. I’m glad you have a water source nearby. You’re right that watering cans are more efficient. I’ve been watering from the catchment system, and find I’m quite judicious when I have to make several trips.

          Are you still getting cold rain or has it warmed up a bit. Lisa, we all met around this time last year, that first week of April. What an extraordinary time.

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          • I was thinking about that as the cherry blossoms were in peak bloom last weekend. I walked down to see them with a colleague. Thurs-Sat were nice. Sunday and today, back to cold, cloudy yuck. It’s supposed to clear again this afternoon, though ad be nice for two days…

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            • How lovely that you can just walk there to see them. I remember your office in relation to the mall. You live in an extraordinary place.

              Interestingly, we are back to colder, windier weather this week after a dry, warm spell. It’s probably still warmer than DC, but cool to us.

              I hope you have a wonderful spring in your garden, Lisa.

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                • Funny you should mention high winds. Have you read Shelley’s recent post?

                  I’m not a fan of wind at all. I tend to get a stiff neck from walking in it and find driving stressful. I can see why you would avoid the garden on a high-winds day.

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                  • I didn’t see her post, but I missed a few days of reviewing!!! I imagine they had the same high wind advisory we did. It’s still brisk today. Maybe I can get to the garden tonight….

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                    • When does your spring weather usually warm up for good, Lisa? Is it always unpredictable? We actually had a brief storm and hail yesterday and cooler temps, but now we’re into a warming trend. It makes it difficult deciding how to dress for the day.

                      I hope you make it to the garden soon.

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                    • Spring is pretty unpredictable. Mid-April to early May become reliably warm-65+ consistently. Sometimes it gets warm all at once, but the last few years, we’ve had real springs with temps around 70 well into May. June is mild and warm and usually all hell breaks loose July to mid-September. But it’s fluid, so to speak.

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                    • I prefer the slow crawl to warmer temperatures myself, but we are often slammed with three-day heat waves as early as May, all the way through to October. I’m grateful that we don’t have the humidity that you do. That must be unbearable in July and August. A good time to get away.

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                    • Umm…I like the humidity. My skin feels so much better. I always feel like I’m going to turn into a white raisin in CA or anywhere out west. I may be coming to CA in October, BTW. It’s supposed to be a good time…

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                    • I wilt under the humidity myself, but how wonderful that you draw such benefits from the moist air.

                      I’m so excited to hear that you plan a visit this fall. Will you be in the Bay Area?

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                    • Yes! We’ll make a plan closer to the time. I’m about 70 miles from Walnut Creek. My son will be away at college so we’ll have a free room if you want to spend a night down here. It will be terrific to see you.

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  6. It’s so exciting to see all of the carefully planned changes in your garden, Alys! Hoping this will be an amazing summer in your garden. Your new garden trug is wonderful. It will make gardening so much easier ~ on the gardener and her plants! I love both the design and color. Hope you will share photos of your VegTrug throughout the gardening season! This will be a lovely, long-awaited, fun summer in the garden with all of your thoughtful planning! Happy gardening, dear Alys! β™‘

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    • Hello Dawn! You’re always full of enthusiasm when you stop by. Thank you!

      I will be sure to share progress throughout the summer. I’m looking forward to removing the cover, too, once things are established. It’s quite windy today which quickly dries out the soil as you know. It’s good to have the tender plants under cover for awhile longer.

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  7. WOW ! Look at you go, sow but not mow…ha! The garden is looking fantastic Alys. So different than when I first visited. I remember Alyster running thru the grass over to the pumpkins and actually climbing them for a wee break. I can see the native plants have already grown up so much. Ah, the wonders that be ‘California’.
    Quite the fetching planter you’ve built and placed there. Of course the colour is perfect πŸ˜‰ I’ve always admired the shape of your patio too and how it sort of swirls into the rest of the yard. I wish we could do concrete here, but normally, it cracks and moves due to the winter freeze, thaw thing. We’ll have to manage with our brick patio. There’s not too much weeding required here but the odd one pops up between the cracks. I have soooooo much to do when the weather warms. Yipes! Well, one project at a time I guess. We’re a ways away from any gardening so it’s fun to see what you’re up to. By the time you arrive though, it’ll be a blooming palooza πŸ˜€ I can’t wait!! xox Love and hugs xo k

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    • Thank you, Boomdee! It’s so fresh and green and lush now with all the rain and the changes we’ve made. I’m loving it. I wish you were here to enjoy it with me. Our visits seem so spread out this year.

      I remember the charming photos of Alyster in the grass. When he comes back the garden will have lots of new adventures for him to try.

      I didn’t realize that concrete would freeze but of course that makes sense. What do they use to construct sidewalks so that they hold up under the punishing weather?

      A brick patio sounds nice. I’ve always loved the look of bricks. We had a brick walkway along the side of our house that wrapped around the corner and down to the sidewalk. Then when the tractor moved to the back to do work extending our house (the remodel), the weight destroyed the entire pathway. It was such a let down. We eventually replaced it with paving stones.

      There is a lot to do when spring or summer roll around. I still have a few more planting projects. I’ve been attacking the weeds almost every day, so they’re staying manageable. You will not believe the sweet peas. I’ve taken several photos, but they just aren’t turning out very well. Hmmmm.

      I can’t wait to see you. xo

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      • I just bought sweet pea seeds two days ago. I pretty mix for growing in a pot too. Mid-week next, I’ll soak them and ready them to plant into the dirt by the second week of April. I usually do that a month before the bedding plants. They can start to grow up then b4 the end of April when there’s less chance of a frost to nip their tender leaves. It’s so different this year, my garden-dar is all discombobulated. LOL

        Re the sidewalks. They do use concrete for the most part or super large pavers. The city spends a lot of money replacing them. After a while, they’re a mess. Especially where there are tree’d boulevards (Like our street). Our’s are looking good since they’re not that old. xo k

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        • Oh, sweet peas! I like the idea of growing them in pots. They smell wonderful. Seeing the self-seeded grow fest in my front garden is a reminder of what’s possible with regular rain. I hope we have a cool spring so that they last a long time. I did get a crop last year, but no sooner had they bloomed when the heat set in and they wilted, drooped and collapsed from heat exhaustion.

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          • I might snoop thru Pintrest to get a notion but most likely will just loose my mind at the garden centre πŸ˜€ I hope summer is not too hot either. A couple of my baskets didn’t like being in the baking sun last summer. I’ll expect perfection from the weather gods, LOL I have an important guest arriving don’t they know xo

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            • Lose your mind at the garden center? Is there an echo in here? That sound’s like me too. I’m so excited to see your wonderful home, garden, neighborhood, work, friends, community…all of it, but most of all you. We’re going to have so much fun. Xo

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  8. Alys, we can always count on you to introduce us to new and inventive things! Mostly, I’m just so happy that both your soul and your soil are tended πŸ™‚ Someday, I hope to take a tour of your garden!

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