A Garden Under the Influence of Rain

wisteria vine

Wisteria refreshed

It’s been an extraordinary spring!

Everywhere I turn I see a happy garden under the wonderful influence of rain. I’m taking none of it for granted.

From the self-seeded pumpkins,

2016 garden pumpkin near patio

Self-seeded pumpkin, impervious to the cool night temperatures

to the spontaneous cottage garden

2016 sweet peas love in a mist poppies

My all-volunteer (self-seeded) garden

everything seems larger than life.  It’s rare for San Jose to get rain this far into the year, but we continue to get small storms every week or so keeping things fresh and alive.

I prepped an Earth Box for some pumpkin seeds, and following the package instructions, waited for warmer nighttime temps. I needn’t have bothered. There are two self-seeded pumpkins growing across the back garden doing just fine. They don’t mind the cooler nights and show no signs of slowing down. Emboldened by last year’s pumpkin success (no water, no squash bugs) I’m happy to see these two doing well.

2016 pumpkin vine self seeded

Another self-seeded pumpkin, already setting flowers

The tomatoes doubled in size within a few weeks. I’m glad I staked them from the start. They always looks so small when they’re just getting started, but I’ve learned the hard way how difficult it is to stake them once they are under way.

2016 garden tomatoes

Tomatoes Doubling Down

The raspberry canes survived the move and several of the canes are setting flowers. There is nothing quite so good as a fresh, warm berry from your garden. Grow, berries, grow!

I missed the memo about Nasturtiums taking over the garden, but I don’t mind. They’re beautiful, colorful and edible and they’re supposed to keep the bad bugs away. So far so good so I say “go Nasturtiums.” There are strawberries hiding under the flowers which is probably just as well. If the birds don’t see them, they can’t eat them.

nasturtiam close up

Variegated Nasturtium

Thanks to the heat and rain, the basil is already flowering. The flowers are pretty but they take away all the energy from the leaves so I’m pinching them back every other day. I made this same mistake last year. The tomatoes take longer to fruit so while I’m waiting for tomatoes, I’m having to discourage the basil from flowering. Hopefully I can stay on top of it. Caprese salad is in my future!

I’m really happy with my raised (Trug) planting bed. I wrapped the legs with copper tape before adding a single plant, and it worked. No snails! I used strips of burlap as mulch this year, with plenty left on the roll for years to come. It was also supposed to discourage the cats from using the boxes for other purposes, but they think it’s a delightful place for a nap.

2016 slinky in the planter box

Slinky found her way to the planting box

slinky in the planter box

Cozy

mouse in the garden bed

Nasturtiums and Mouse the Cat

What an incredible spring.

March 10th vegetable garden

March 10th, 2016

vegetable garden may 5th

May 5th, 2016

 

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?  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.  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.