Saturday, July 9, 2011

110709 Garden

Well I came back from three weeks vacation expecting the worst for my garden.  What could have gone wrong?  My three biggest worries were wind damage, weeds, and drought.  Below is a picture of my garden the day that I got back:

As you can see it is not in bad shape.  I had partially weeded it before I took the picture not thinking about my blog.  But I can assure you the weeds were minimal.  There was no wind damage and the garden had received adequate water.  The only damage was that a lot of the new green bean plants in the bottom right portion of the garden had been eaten to stubs.  If I didn't know better I would think a rabbit had somehow gotten inside the bird netting.  I suppose it could have happened.  Some of them are starting to put out secondary leaves but at best they will be stunted plants.  That afternoon I picked lettuce, radishes, and green beans for supper.  The radishes were so good that I ate all of them at one meal.  I have had two meals from the green beans so far and have enough already picked for two more meals.

I love green beans.  The simplest way I cook them is to bring a pot of water to boil and drop a big handful of beans in.  I boil them for seven minutes and then pour off the water.  I then add a teaspoon of butter and some diced onions and stir until everything is mixed well.  Cooked vegetables is one of the few times I use salt.  I like a very small amount of salt on cooked vegetables. This was part of Thursday night's supper.  On Friday I made a garlic-chicken stir fry. I cut up green beans, onions, carrots, radishes, corn, broccoli, and some left-over garlic chicken and pre-cooked noodles.  I cooked all this on high heat in a frying pan sprayed with Olive Oil PAM and extra garlic powder.  This made enough for two meals (Friday and Saturday's) and cost next to nothing since most of it was left-overs or out of my garden.

Today I went for a hike and made roll-ups for lunch adding my lettuce.  I took a couple more radishes.  They are good and sharp.

What is my secret to a weed-free garden?  Well I do a couple things that are to my advantage.  First, I prepare the garden bed properly and then leave it alone.  There are billions of weed seeds in every cubic foot of soil.  Every time you disturb the soil you bring more seeds up to sunlight where they can germinate and grow.  Once I have the bed established for the year I only add compost to the top of the soil and then let the worms and other critters work it into the dirt. Proper clean-up at the end of the year is just as important.  I always ensure there are no weeds going to seed anywhere near my garden.  The fewer new seeds that drop in your garden the better.  Eventually you will clean up most of the billion seeds in your dirt and fewer weeds will even grow.

Secondly, I visit my garden every day, sometimes several times a day.  Each time I check the status of the plants, check the moisture level, and look for signs of distress and insect damage.  Each visit I make a point to pick some of the emerging weeds.  Doing a little bit each time makes it a routine and minor job as opposed to just weeding once a week when they are already getting big and sucking nutrients and water out of your soil. Nobody looks forward to spending hours pulling big weeds out of the garden.

Lastly, I cultivate intensely. This means that I over plant the soil so that the vegetable plants actually create a "living mulch" by shading out the weeds. (Normally I put down a layer of mulch but I don't really have access to anything suitable here.)  Most gardeners plant their crops in long rows.  This makes it easier to run the rotary tiller down between the rows, thus mechanizing the weeding process.  I only do that with corn.  Everything else I plant in blocks.  I plant in staggered rows so that each plant grows mid-way between two other plants in an adjacent row like this diagram shows.

What I usually do is take the recommended plant spacing distance from the seed packet and add 50-100 percent to it and then stagger-plant them in a block.  In the case of these carrots, my experience tells me I can plant them four inches apart (double the recommended spacing for a row) in a block.  I will actually get many more plants in the same space this way and as they grow their greens will quickly fill the space between the plants and shade out almost all weeds.  A few weeks into the life cycle and you have no weeds in that plot.  When you plant in rows you almost always have bare soil exposed in the rows.  That begs weeds to grow and is also hard on the soil and soil organisms since the sun burns the top layer and quickly forms a hard crust that water cannot easily penetrate.  Without 4-5 inches of organic mulch the soil will dry out and start sucking water out from under your plants as well.  Square Foot gardening and/or block planting (also called wide-row planting) are easier and better for your soil and plants.

The last thing I did in the garden was to pinch off the growing tips of my tomato plant.  Is is almost as high as my bird netting and big enough for the amount of tomatoes I will need.  Limiting further growth of the plant will allow it to divert more energy to production of fruit (in this case, tomatoes).  There are several nice green tomatoes started so I expect to eat my first one in about two weeks if all goes well.

In the past three days I have supplemented all my meals except breakfast with produce from my small garden.  Not too bad for such a small plot in a bad location.

I highly recommend this book if you don't know much about intensive gardening methods.  This book gave me the foundational knowledge that I use as the basis for all my gardens.  Through experience and additional research I have modified a lot of it to suit me and my growing locations/conditions.  But it will teach you what you need to know to grow the most food in the smallest space.


  1. We have been enjoying green beans and tomatoes from the garden, most days. They have been amazing. So far only 1 green pepper. I freeze those to eat later with sauteed onions and whatever we choose to add.

  2. My garden soil is not near as nice as yours. I am always fighting the grass that creeps in, especially crab grasses. UGH
    I tried laying a newspaper barrier this year but it snuck in around the sides of the raised bed. Any ideas of what I can do when I close the bed down for the winter that may help this.

  3. Crab grass sends out creepers, roots, that can grow quite a distance until they send up a shoot in your garden. I use two methods to get rid of it. The easiest is to spray weed killer, one that will kill crab grass, around the outside of the raised bed frame to kill the source of the creepers. Be very careful not to get any "drift" or over-spray inside the raised bed (although it will decompose over the winter and be gone by spring). Second method is to take a sharp, square spade and go all around the outside and inside edge of the raised bed frame to slice the creepers. Insert it as far as you can because the creepers will go deep. Then dig down around the inside edge of the frame to find and pull out the creeping roots. Replace the soil and put down paper and mulch for the winter to starve any missed pieces of root. A combination of the two is the most effective.

  4. Thanks I'll give it a try. I'll try the spade first. I picked another bowl of green beans tonight. Lots of green tomatoes no more red for awhile. Blueberries and diced peaches for dessert tonight. Yum.