When I started my garden the plan was for a 16 x 32 foot fenced-in area and it was going to be primarily straw bales. I ordered my seeds from a seed store about 20 miles away from me. I was super excited when my order arrived. And then I opened it to find someone else’s order. The company was very cool about it and let me keep the bush beans and seed potatoes they’d sent by mistake and then they sent my order that also included seed potatoes. So now I needed to expand my garden, but straw is not cheap in the quantities I need, so I borrowed my sister’s rototiller (which needed minor maintenance, so Dad took care of that) to break sod on another 16 x 32 section (for a total of 32 x 32 fenced in).
I bought chicken and cow manure to till in because this soil is a very sandy loam. Like, mostly sand. Coincidentally my neighbor’s tiller needed some work so Dad fixed that, too, and tested it out on my garden to till it again. About that time we got a late frost. And it rained about 6” and then another 6”, which washed out one of my bucket planters because it turns out in that heavy of a rain storm the water will arc off the roof and land several feet away, which is where my buckets were.
As mentioned above with the sandy soil issue, the water drains way too well, so I sprinkled on a bale of peat moss that I had leftover from last year’s containers. My sister gave me a round bale of hay, so that went on top as mulch to help retain moisture and add nutrients as it breaks down. I’ll likely be hot composting a good amount of the remaining hay to amend the soil as the season goes on and/or over the winter.
But, I got tomatoes and peppers started under grow lights and I only killed a handful of the peppers so far. I’m putting in Amish Paste tomatoes, primarily, because they’re indeterminate so I can get a small amount at a time to process and can instead of having to do a literal ton of tomatoes all at once (because I’m planting a minimum of 30 plants, and more if I can squeeze them in somewhere). I’m also putting in Principe Borghese as those are supposed to be good for drying, and another variety that should be good for canning. My sister gave me some Marglobe Improved seeds and I have those in the straw bales now. My neighbor gave me one Black From Tula tomato, so that’s sitting on its lonesome in a self-watering planter.
I got about 65 potential potato plants in the ground. So far about 15 have come up, which is pretty good considering it’s been less than a week.
My sugar snap peas are attempting to push themselves out of the ground instead of putting in roots, so every day when I water and check plants I have to push the seeds back into the ground.
In addition I’m planting turnips and beets, as those are good to eat from root to shoot, and can be pressure canned to eat this winter. I have some rutabagas to put in, but those will be kept in the root cellar as I’m told they’re not tasty canned. Other things I’m putting in and why are:
- Onions because they’re supposed to be easy and I got my hands on some sets.
- Potatoes (red, Yukon God, and Adirondack Blue) because they’re easy to grow, store well (dehydrated, canned, or cellared) and provide lots of calories.
- Squash and sweet potatoes because it’s lots of calories, lots of nutrients, and I can cold store or can them. I think I can dehydrate the sweet potatoes as a snacky thing like the pumpkin pie bark from Recipes for Adventure.
- Collards because they grow well, even into the cold months, dehydrate and can well, and are very nutritious.
- Spinach and radishes because they grow fast and are nutritious (they don’t store well, though the radishes should pickle fine as a fermented or quick pickle).
- Watermelon and muskmelon because they’re tasty and I have trouble drinking enough fluids at work in the summer and this helps. I can make pickles from the watermelon rind, too.
- Corn because Dad wants corn. I don’t think there will be enough to put up for winter, but that’s okay. I’m also concerned I’ll run out of space in the garden for this and may have to put it outside where the deer will eat them.
- Sugar snap peas because they can be planted again and again and again all season.
- Bush beans because I got them by surprise. Bonus is I can preserve them lots of different ways to eat through the winter.
- Sunflowers and a pollinator mix so that birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators come into my garden and help grow food.
- Cabbage because I’ve never grown that before and it should be okay in the cool months.
- Brussels sprouts because I like them, they have lots of nutrients, and I can keep them going in cool months, possibly through the winter depending on how much I baby them. I am trying them in self-watering planters in order to bring them indoors for the winter if possible. The late frost killed the Brussels sprouts I had going in self-watering sub-irrigated bucket planters, so I’ll have to try those again.
- Herbs because “The important thing is the spices. A man can live on packaged food from here ’til Judgment Day if he’s got enough rosemary.” (Shepherd Book, Firefly)
My goal is to fill the pantry as best I can; using succession planting, growing plants that have lots of usable parts, and growing plants that can grow into the cool months are key to doing this. Dad found some clear plastic sheeting that a local greenhouse throws out and we’ll be using this and the cattle panels currently in use fencing in the garden as a hoop house this fall/winter to try to keep some foods going as described in the straw bale gardens book. He also found some large glass windows someone was throwing away that we’re going to try to repurpose into a greenhouse. I’m in USDA zone 6b so I have to be mindful of how and what I grow. I’m fighting the weather a bit more than expected, but that’s just how things are.
We set up a little grow room to raise peppers and tomatoes from seed. We’re thinking of using the same lights to grow microgreens for fresh greens this winter, along with sprouting beans. Yes, that’s a wire dog crate. It keeps my plants safe from the cats.