After a slight rain delay, I was finally able to put in my vegetable garden this week. One of the things I love about my house, is that it came with a detached garage. This created an area of otherwise wasted backyard that has now become the perfect spot for a vegetable garden. When I say perfect, I mean perfect only in Texas. Typically a vegetable garden requires six hours of full sunlight. My garden area has the potential for shade from the detached garage on one side, a neighbor’s tree on the other and a newly build shed at the back end. This would be less than ideal if not for the brutal 100 degree days that Austin has to offer. The sun still manages to bear down on my little garden but it is more protected than if it was in any other spot in our yard.
My attempts at veggies has been scaled back over the years. My garden is probably 12 ft x 25 ft, perhaps a tad bit larger. The first year, I planted mixed greens, zucchini, a variety of green beans, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers, eggplant and cucumbers. The result was very little walking space between rows. Since then, I try to be a little more methodical in planning out my rows, measuring them out so that there are at least 36 inches between rows and each plant. But when push comes to shove, I always end up squeezing in an extra plant or two, and the garden quickly becomes more overgrown and messy than I anticipated. That is probably the case again this year.
The bulk of the garden is made up of five tomato plants. I usually plant these towards the front, but I needed to rotate out my crops (as much as one can in such a small garden), so they are towards the back of the garden bed this year. I hope they like their new home. I have experimented with a number of varieties over the years. This year, I went with three slicing tomatoes: Early Girl, Big Boy and Celebrity. I also planted three small sweet varieties: Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes, Juliet Grape and Yellow Pear. Early Girl is a new one for me. I bought it because it sets fruit before all the rest. I’ve had good luck with Big Boy and Celebrity. The Sweet 100 replaces the Mike’s Red Cherry Tomatoes I’ve planted the last few years with varying success. Last year, I planted another variety of grape tomatoes because the Juliet wasn’t available, and it didn’t produce as much. Plus, Juliette would get a real kick out of knowing the tomatoes share her name if she could realize such a thing.
I actually read the Natural Gardener instruction sheet that comes with the tomatoes for the first time and learned that tomatoes like to have their stem buried a little bit. They encourage you to remove some of the lower leaves in order to bury part of the stem. I have always hilled my tomatoes to give them more stability (they get taller than me and over run their cages), but I planted them more deeply than I normally do at their advice and also made moats around my hills to encourage water to stay near the plant’s root system. This I learned from my Dad.
I planted four hills of straight 8 cucumbers (this basically means you should get fruit that is straight and 8″ long- can’t get any more simple than that) much too close together. I am hoping that I can set some trellises along the fence near the cukes to encourage them to grow vertically. Otherwise, they will grow into a tangled mess and start climbing up my tomato cages, which is their normal M.O.
I also planted one green bell pepper and one eggplant. I always get nice, tall pepper plants but have yet to yield an edible bell pepper. I had jalapeños coming out my ears one year, but I am cursed when it comes to bell peppers. I’m hoping this will be the year that all changes. Eggplant is also a bit of a challenge. The problem is that by the time they set fruit, it is 100+ degrees. While you are waiting to pluck a sizable eggplant, they start actually cooking on the vine and the fruit gets all shriveled up. Still, I am hopeful there is eggplant parm in my future.
Lastly, I planted some lettuce. Lettuce is better suited as a fall or winter crop in Texas, but I always try to get some out of the beginning of the growing season. After all, lettuce is an essential part of the salad I’m growing. As you recall, some butter leaf lettuce popped up from the seeds I planted last spring. I also put some seeds down for romaine lettuce and planted one malibar spinach, which is not really spinach at all but very heat resistant and similar tasting when cooked. It is a vining plant, so I placed a trellis near it to encourage it’s vertical growth.
While I was at it, I replaced some more winter casualties in my herb garden. I managed to lose both my spearmint and chocolate mint this year. This is a little ironic because mint is highly invasive, and I spend a lot of time debating whether I wanted to plant it or not. I eventually decided it was too good to pass up, but I planted it in pots sunk in the ground to discourage the runners from escaping. Alas, both mints took a hard hit this past summer. They would like a little more shade and the plan was for the rosemary to shade one, the oregano, the other. The winter did it in for good. There were no signs of life, so I marched to the Natural Gardener and got two more. A girl’s got to have mojito supplies on hand.
Finally, I replaced my basil. I normally plant two every summer as my good intentions to overwinter the babies indoors never pans out. I went a little overboard, planting two sweet basil and one thai basil. Can’t wait to try the thai basil in a recipe.
Also looking forward to the fruits of my labor, so to speak. Grow baby grow!
- Green Thumb? (whileeveryoneelseissleeping.wordpress.com)