What’s New in the Garden

I had no idea when I decided to participate in the Kinder Gardens project how little I would actually have to contribute. It’s not like the kids haven’t been in the garden over the past month, but as far as having something concrete that I can report on, no dice. My daughter picked out a bunch of herbs so she could start a “Medicine Cat” garden (inspired by the Warriors series), but they’re still sitting on the deck waiting to go into the ground.

I think the problem lies with the expectation that they were going to want to plan and carry out some kind of “project”.  That’s all well and good, but my love of gardening certainly didn’t come from my mom forcing me to participate in the growing of our food, it developed naturally out of experiencing the benefits of having a large family garden.  Some of my fondest childhood memories are of long summer days spent stuffing myself with sun warmed raspberries, collecting piles of hazelnuts, and my dad using the bucket of a backhoe as a picking platform to to access the best fruits on our enormous cherry tree.

Freshly picked strawberries to top off our breakfast.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m going to put away all of the cool, projecty ideas that I have floating around in my head for now and just let the kids enjoy the fruits of our collective (okay, mostly parental) labor.

As for my own garden plans, not having to share garden space means I can have as many projects on the go as I want! I’ve done things a little differently this year armed with information from Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon. I got this book out of the library earlier this year, hoping it would give me some ideas on how to improve our lousy soil, which it did. I have to say, however, that I almost didn’t get to that point, as Solomon’s tone in the first two thirds of the book is so negative and condescending that I almost threw it across the room several times. I did manage to stick it out until the end, and I’m so glad I did, because my garden is thriving this year. I ended up buying the book, because I think the information is vital to those of us on the west coast, and if Solomon is to be believed (and he must know a bit about gardening on the coast, as he’s the founder of Territorial Seed) much of the core advice in other gardening books just doesn’t apply to us here.

So, based on his advice, I limed the soil, added bone meal, manure and compost, and made raised beds. Against his advice, I did use our chicken litter to amend the soil (he’s against using wood products in the garden, but our soil is so devoid of any organic matter that I figure it can handle it). We also made tunnel cloches using 1/2″ pex pipe from the hardware store (a good deal at less than $2 each) and 6 mil plastic. According to the book, cloches are better suited to our climate than solar greenhouses, and they cost considerably less to build.

The frame of the cloche.

This bed was planted on May 24th, the earliest I’ve ever set out my tomato plants (notice the emerging potato hills to the left of the tomatoes). Based on this year’s success, I may set them out even earlier next year.
Solomon uses 2×4’s to hold down the edges of the plastic tunnels, but we tried making “clips” using 3/4″ pipe on a friend’s advice. It didn’t work as well as we would have liked, but I suspect that’s because we used a scrap of pipe that was a different brand than we’d used for the frame, so they would occasionally let go and fly at my head when I was least expecting it. Next year I will try making them again using the same brand of pipe. In the meantime, we’re using a combination of rocks and 2×4’s to hold down the edges.
Some of the best advice gained in the book was to let go of the notion of growing tomatoes that require longer than 75 days from transplant, as our summers are just too short and cool. Looking through my seeds, I noticed that many of my heritage tomato seeds from southern seed companies took 100 or more days to mature. That would explain my recent lack of success in the tomato department. The other problem was that the plants would often get chilled and quit growing for a few weeks after transplant, which the cloche prevented. 

Within three weeks, the tomato plants went from about 4 inches tall to well over 2 feet and flowering, so I removed the tunnel earlier this week and put up the tomato spirals:

We built another hoop house for the peppers, which are also flowering and happy. I’ll leave this cloche in place for a while longer as peppers like a bit more heat than tomatoes, and are less tolerant of our cool summer nights.

The eggplants’ shelter is a little more impromptu, but is working well. I lined the bed with black plastic to collect heat, and made a protective tent out of pipe ends and floating row cover.

It ain’t pretty, but a peek underneath reveals happily growing plants:

The potatoes are now fully hilled and flowering. They’re doing much better this year than last, when I got a return of about 1:1 (as a friend of mine said, I should have saved myself some time and put the seed potatoes right into the fridge!). I’m looking forward to harvesting a few babies soon and making a batch of lemony potatoes!

Elsewhere in the garden, the three-sisters plot is well on its way, the onions are fattening up, and the blueberry plants are covered in fruit.

It looks like the kids have some work ahead of them!

10 thoughts on “What’s New in the Garden”

  • Thanks for the review of the book…I have been interested in reading and just haven't gotten to it yet. Now I'll know what to expect!

    I never learned the love of gardening from projects either but going and just playing and picking.

    But I must say the kids have had fun in the maze so far. I especially like it because I have another vertical surface to grow on! Great post, Kim

  • Things are looking good out there Cheryl!

    For what it's worth re: gardening with kids and ending up gardening FOR kids, you're spot on. You need to de-project it if you're going to hold their interest.

    What I have figured works with my own kid is I just drag her along to my 2-3 daily trips out there. It's the daily look that sustains her interest (the latest task: squishing potato bugs) and not the "this is my patch of garden" thing. That, and it's time with her mom and it's also part of chores by helping (she does a great job at harvesting) and thus gets bragging rights that *she* cleaned the shallots we're eating.

    With the kids at school, though, it's a lot more task-oriented as it tends to be interwoven into the curriculum. In other words, they get to plant and harvest but weed? Hah. That's what parents are for.

  • I really should try the cloches like you did, they look great and the results are fabulous! I like Solomon's book as well, I should probably read it again. Thanks for the inspiring post!

  • Hi Cheryl. I can't say I relate to the west coast weather as I'm in SW Ontario and it get's mighty hot here in the summer and our tomatoes do fabulously. But I do like the idea of ahoop house for the peppers. I just read that peppers and eggplant are tropical plants. I hadn't heard this before. I mean, I knew they loved the heat…so I guess it all makes sense. Our peppers are still only 6 inches tall – and no blooms. So hoop houses would be great for them. As for kids in the garden; I let my son help when he wants…and to go off and play when that is what he wants. He does love to harvest and so teaching him how to properly harvest is key. ie: The other day he wanted to eat some spinach and pulled on a leaf without supporting the plant…and the whole thing came out of the ground. This was a good lesson…for both of us – on what we need to focus on. πŸ™‚ I can't imagine experiences of growing up with a family garden, spending days in the great outdoors (being homeschooled) not translating into being a lover of gardening and nature. Sounds like you are doing everything right. -Debbie

  • I really like the cloches you built. They look like they act like simpler, cheaper greenhouses. I could have used some this year as my tomatoes are probably still not 2 feet tall!

  • How beautiful your garden looks! As you know, I recently reviewed the book on my farm blog. I, too, found the book hard to get through the first time. But what he said made sense, and I was thrilled the other day to see that the tomato seedlings I planted (after they'd been sitting in pots way too long), the ones I thought for sure would not survive, are now thriving. I used his liming technique when I made the bed, and his complete organic fertilizer mix. So far, so good, but I can't wait to get a "real" garden going next year. Yours is truly inspiring!

  • Kim – I'd love to hear what you think of the book.
    I think projects can be a great way to get kids interested in gardening, but I'm just finding it to be a bit of a hard sell at 11 and 14. I'll just have to try and reach them through their stomachs!

    El – I think you're right about making it a part of their day to day life. My guys do seem to enjoy choosing the mix of greens that go into our salads.
    Parents are for weeding? I'm putting a call in to my mom…

    Cathryn – I can't recommend the cloches enough, they've made a huge difference to my garden!

    Debbie – I think the hoop houses would definitely help with your peppers, I'm stunned by how quickly mine are growing this year.
    And of course you're right about the kids, I just have to remember to relax. : )

    Author – They are definitely simpler and cheaper, and much less of a commitment, as they don't permanently take up garden space.

    Barbara – Thank you so much, I'm a big fan of your blog and photos!

    Freelearners – I didn't make his fertilizer mix this year, but added many of the key ingredients to the soil. I can't wait to hear how it works out for you!

  • Wow, your garden looks great. I hope to concentrate a little more on my garden next year. I think I need to do some coverings for some of the plants when I transplant. Some of mine got sun burnt this year and some did okay but the chickens escaped a couple of times and did them in. Needless to say there was a feeling that heads should roll, but I refrained. Thanks for the ideas.

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