After months of planting, watering, mulching, and pulling weeds, I tend to run out of steam by the end of August. The heat and the bugs are taking their toll, we’re actually getting a little tired of zucchini (imagine that!), and I am in desperate need of encouragement.
When my friend Amy asked me to come see her new garden, I jumped at the chance. She wanted some advice, but I wanted motivation Looking at someone else’s plot always inspires me to get back outside in my own veggie beds.
Since Amy lives in town, her suburban backyard limits the amount of space she can devote to her food crops. She has six beds divided by one-foot planks that act as walkways. A grid of flexible plastic piping punctuated by small holes keeps the soil moist. It’s amazing what she has growing in those few square feet!
In the back are two rows of corn. I’ve always read that corn should be planted in at least a four row block, since the silks are wind pollinated, but in Amy’s case, her two rows are loaded with almost-ripe ears. Surprised, I asked how she accomplished that. Smiling, she told me that her husband has picked some tassels and hand-pollinated each plant. Pretty smart!
She had planted purple beans, expecting them to stay short and bushy. Instead, they turned out to be pole beans, and she had to improvise support. She was a bit disappointed in the insipid flavor of the crop, so I made some suggestions for more flavorful varieties she can try next year.
Her tomato plants were very healthy, but the tomatoes were still mostly green in spite of our unusually long, hot summer. As a new gardener, she had been wooed by the descriptions in an heirloom catalog, and hadn’t considered the fact that most heirlooms take a long time to ripen. (There are some varieties from Russia and eastern Europe which are incredibly early.) Now she knows to check the “days to maturity” to improve her chances of a plentiful harvest.
Another long season crop, the watermelon vine had a small fruit at the end, but again, it’s highly unlikely that it will be ripe before our first snows. The adjacent summer squash, however, were growing like mad, and of course she just had to share. Sauteed with onions and garlic, they were delicious.
The lettuce had bolted weeks ago, but rather than pull the plants, Amy had decided to collect the seeds. I asked if they were open pollinated, explaining that hybrids won’t come true from seed. She didn’t know. I guess we’ll be surprised next spring!
I was complimenting her on her huge, solid heads of cabbage when I noticed an almost-mature head of Romanesco broccoli growing nearby. Wow! That’s a difficult crop that prefers a long, cool growing season—the exact opposite of Colorado. I’ve tried to grow it any number of times with a complete lack of success. Yet, here was perfection.
In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, I also found kale, onions, various herbs (annuals and perennials), sunflowers, peppers, and eggplant, all producing a harvest.
All in all, I was quite impressed. Anyone would be proud to grow a garden like that, and she is still a beginner. Next year she’ll make some changes and, weather permitting, the results will be even better.
While I don’t intend to eliminate my extensive system of raised beds, French drains, and drip irrigation, I was reminded that I really don’t need to plant the entire garden every year. If I keep it small—say, two or three of my four by twelve foot beds—I could grow as much as Amy. It wouldn’t meet all our needs, but we’d have plenty of fresh produce and I’d be much less likely to burn out by the end of the summer. Maybe then I could keep those late-summer weeds under control.