2019 Garden Plan….at least I hope it will be.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my goals for the winter was to do the advance planning for my vegetable garden. It’s nice to do it now rather than in the rush of spring. I have time to look at my journal from last year (yes, I keep a planting and harvest journal) and see what worked and what didn’t. Before I get into what I hope to have in store for this year….a little background is in order.

In the Beginning….

We moved into our current house in August of 2016. The big back and side yards were part of what attracted us to it. I immediately declared the south side of the house, a section hidden by fence, as the new “vegetable garden area”. The whole area is maybe 20’x 35′. It gets sun all day, but due to the mature cypress hedge on our southern border, part of it is sightly shaded. It was too late for a garden that year. So I sat, and I waited. Plotting and scheming the whole time. During that wait, I fell in love with the concept of Square Foot Gardening. At our last residence, I ignored conventional row gardening anyway and packed everything in as dense as I could, as a result I had some great yields. So this seemed like a logical step forward to me.

Spring arrived and I came out of the gate hard. I built nine raised beds, 3’x 6’x 8″ out of pressure treated lumber. I used fence boards to make it more economical as they are pretty cheap and the beds wouldn’t be that high, so sides collapsing wasn’t a concern. And I ordered up a load of topsoil. Here is where it went bad. The topsoil was nothing more than this real fine, screened clay. I cut it with compost and as much organic matter I could get my hands on. But it wasn’t near enough. That first season, I had serious compaction and drainage problems. Everything was stunted and only a few of the real hardy things did well. I was expecting some problems, just not to that extent.

Next season I added manure and raised bed soil to all the beds and mixed it in as much as I could. I also noticed last season that the beds have a nice worm population which I took as a good sign. Things were much better last year. I planted a ton of different stuff. I had zucchini and cherry tomatoes in such quantity, that I was sick of them long before the season ended. I started a bunch of stuff inside from seed and that gave me a nice jump on a few things.

This time around

So here we are in 2019. What is my plan this year? This year I am going to start replacing a few of the beds with something a little more hardy. I plan to keep the same size as it is good for working. I just want to use some sturdier lumber and build some cold frame tops for a few of the beds. As for Square Foot Gardening, I am going to stick with it, but ease back on the density just a bit. Especially with beans. I think it will help improve yield. I also plan on adding more organic matter to all of the beds this year. probably more raised bed soil and maybe a little composted manure.

I plan on having a good variety of stuff again this year, just at a more manageable level. So here it goes:

Green Beans and Yellow Wax Beans: I will plant half a bed of each. I prefer bush beans to pole beans, just easier to work with. The dog does too, because she likes to steal them when I am not looking. I have a lot of “Provider” Green Bean seed left over from last year. So I just need to buy more yellow. And I will stagger the plantings by a few weeks.

Red Butter Lettuce and Romaine Lettuce: I had these in beds previously, this year they go into pots on the deck. Too many critters having their way with them last year. Plus then in the heat of the high summer, I can move them to partial shade to help get a handle on bolting.

Swiss Chard: I suddenly can’t get enough of this. I planted Rainbow Chard last season and it went nuts, and I went nuts for it. But I will scale it back to three plants instead of the six I had last season. Not everyone feels the same way about it as I do so I had problems trying to give away the excess.

Zucchini: Okay, so last season I had about 6 plants…..I didn’t have the heart to toss the extra seedlings so I found them a home. My freezer is still stuffed with vacuum sealed bags of zucchini. This year…..1 plant. Maybe a second later in the season, we will see.

Yellow Squash: See Zucchini…..same story just a different colored vegetable.

Potatoes: One of the beds I plan on re-building is the potato bed. This way I can make it deeper. I plan on half a bed of Pontiac Red and half a bed of Yukon Gold. Last year I got a lot of earlies which was great.

Tomatoes: I have been a tomato junkie since I was little. I love them. I planted a few oddballs last year just playing around and grew a lot of Romas. This year I plan on scaling it back a little. No Roma. Just Cherokee Purples, Sweet Cherries and some Brandywines. I am also trying a new seed by Burpee, called “Steakhouse Hybrid”. It’s a giant indeterminate Beefsteak type with fruits upwards of 3 pounds. I like odd things, what can I say.

Cucumbers: These are my wife’s favorite an one of mine. I grow them every year. This time I plan on trellising them in a bed along my deck. I have doe it before with decent success.

Peppers: I tried a ton of different varieties last year. I had great success with Aji Dulci’s, but I will not be repeating that. I gave most away. This year, Green Bells, Red Peppers, Ancho Chilis, Jalepenos and a variety I discovered last season called “Sweet Chocolate”. Dark chocolately flesh, very sweet.

Kale: I have been growing Tuscan Kale for several seasons now. I does great in upstate New York. It really gets it second wind in the fall with the cooler nights.

Broccoli: I haven’t had a lot of luck with it the past few seasons. This year I plan on just a few plats, but growing them in pots . This way if I fail again, I haven’t wasted precious bed space.

Carrots: The bed for carrots is the second bed I plan on re-building this year. For the same reason as the potato bed. I want more depth. Like the beans, I will stagger the plantings a few weeks apart. They store good in the ground, but they are vulnerable when out there. So I would rather have a fresh batch every few weeks and take them direct to table.

Corn: Last year was a corn fiasco. I started a batch inside. Got the seedlings outside and they never really progressed. So I started over from seed. Good germination and the corn got about 5 feet tall, then the wind storm came after a few days of heavy rain and put a hurting on it. On top of all that, the deer ravaged the corn patch. So….fencing this year. Plus some tall stakes and guide lines to keep the corn straight.

Delicata Squash: I am trying this out for the first time. My plan is to grow it in this huge pot I saved from a fruit tree I bought. I am a huge squash fan and everyone raves about these. Plus,they are pretty pricey if you want organic. So I can hopefully get a good yield and feast cheaply.

Melon: I am trying a new hybrid of cantaloupe called “Mango hybrid”. I have a little spare bed space, so I plan on giving it a lot of room and see what it can do.

Brussel Sprouts: I may try these….not sure yet. I have been eating a lot of them lately, so I thought why not give a stab at growing them?

And although not vegetables, I plan on adding some Blackberries along my southern fence. It seems like a good use of space and I love blackberries. Hopefully my blueberries will come back a little harder this year too. Last year they performed poorly.

Lastly, I found a northern hardy fig. It’s a bush, not tree,, and I have a spot in full sun in the back yard where I have the remains of a stump to pull out. This wold be the perfect spot for it. It’s a variety called “Violet de Bordeaux”.

So that’s the plan. Seems aggressive doesn’t it? It’s a lot of growing in a little bit of space, but that is the essence of what suburban gardening is all about. How much can I produce? If I can make the soil a little better and fertilize when I am supposed to this season, who knows how much I will get. I do keep a harvest journal. I weight everything as I pick and compare it to what it costs at the local grocer. Last season I grew just under $400 worth of produce. This year I want better yields, and my goal is $600 or more.

So that’s it. Any thoughts comments or experience would be appreciated. I enjoy hearing the wisdom of others. I would rather learn from your mistakes whole I have a chance. Just like I invite you to learn form mine.

Up Next, The Great Winter Lettuce Experiment…..

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The Do’s and Don’ts When Seeking Design Help

Some backstory is in order here

I have spent a lot of years in retail nurseries, big box Home Improvement stores and as a business owner helping people design gardens and landscaping. All manner of people have come to me seeking various levels of help and guidance. Nervous new homeowners, people disgusted with what they currently have at their house, amateur gardening “masters” who want me to buy off on their ideas,  the list goes on.

There are tons of reasons why someone seeks out help with landscape and garden design. Many of us will go it alone when it comes to decorating the inside of the house. But that line stops at the front door. For many people. the great outdoors is a mystery best left to those cargo-short, floppy hat wearing individuals at your local nursery. Strutting around, pruners holstered on their hip like some strange modern version of a cowboy, or cowgirl (I never wore the floppy hat..).  Chances are, since you are reading this, that you have sought out design help, or are contemplating doing so. So what I intend to do is give you some advice that can make this visit seem less humbling, much more productive for all involved, and help you realize your vision.

Do Your Homework

I can’t stress this enough. I am not saying go out and become a Master Gardener before you embark on this process, but do some homework. New homeowners especially need to realize that time is on your side, and not rush the process. It’s not like a couch that you can just return. Once stuff is in the ground, you own it. But where to start?

Start by learning about your area. Walk around your neighborhood and other neighborhoods. Different neighborhoods were generally built up at different times, so the landscaping preferences of the designers will be obvious. In my neighborhood, almost everyone has Honey Locust trees, and some type of evergreen foundation planting. Not so across town where the houses are packed in tighter and thick privacy hedges are in style. Chances are good that somewhere in your area is a public garden, park, or arboreum. Here you can find typical specimen trees for your area, see plant combinations and start to get a feel for what you like and don’t like.

There are a ton of other good resources: such as the library; the garden section at a bookstore; the internet, or even just wandering around your local garden center. After all, questions are free. Check social media as well for local garden groups. Many will tell you where to go to see good stuff and some do periodic garden tours or walks. What you want to do is fill your head up with potential ideas. Take and save pictures of things you like, especially if you don’t know what they are. It will pay dividends later on.

Try and Be Unique

Your house is a reflection of your personality. The outside is no different. If you want to have what everyone else in the neighborhood has, there is nothing wrong with that. What has been done up and down your street has been proven to work, and is always a safe choice.  If that is what you want, there is no point in seeing a designer. Just go out, buy what your neighbors have, plant it like they did, and celebrate your victory. This is the first question you have to answer. Do I want something unique? I bet you want something unique.

Next, consider the outside of your house, just as you would the inside. By that I mean, don’t just see it as one giant area, but rather different sections that should be considered separately in terms of function. Just like rooms in a house have different purposes. The professor who taught our initial Landscape Design Class hammered that into us. I will use my house as an example. I have a big front yard. It’s the showpiece. Large expanse of grass, ornamental plants, not a lot happens there except lawn mowing and raking. My southern side yard is the vegetable garden area. Fenced in area with a compost area, raised beds and an area where stuff is stored. It has a character all it’s own.

The backyard is more functional and built for socializing, with the deck and lower patio area. A large grassy area for dogs and humans to run around. The beginnings of a rose garden along the garage. And a big saucer Magnolia with a 20 foot tall cedar hedge ensure a little privacy.  Each area has it’s own distinct character because each area has it’s own purpose. So consider what your needs are and use that as a starting point. This does not mean that your property has to have 3 or more distinctly different themes. You can still have one contiguous theme even though you have a play area, a Japanese garden and a traditional cottage garden around your front porch. Once you know what each area will be used for it helps a lot with plant selection, placement of hardscapes such as walkways, patios, decks and arbors and you will end up with areas that are built for use. You bought the land along with the house, might as well get some mileage out of it.

Now You Are Ready

Why did I ask you to go through all that? Simple. A designer is not a mind-reader. Don’t expect that because they have education and experience, that telepathy is included.  They will have a ton of questions. If they don’t, be wary. If you walk in the door with at least a working knowledge of what you like or don’t like  in terms of colors, textures, what the purpose of each area is, and maybe even a few plants that you saw and really liked, you will be far ahead and more likely to get something you really love with a lot less hassle.

Bring pictures of your house or the area in question. It helps a designer to know what parts of the house or property you like and those you want out of sight, out of mind.  You might have a huge bay window in the front you want to frame, or maybe that spigot around the front corner you wish to conceal.  You will also know by now if you prefer evergreens to deciduous shrubs.

Those initial likes and dislikes, goals and purposes you give to the designer are what they use to give you a preliminary drawing. The more you can articulate, the better off you will be. The designer is going to begin with the end in mind. It’s what we do. We are putting together a puzzle with all the pieces you are giving us. But it’s a puzzle with multiple possible outcomes. Some other relevant things to consider that you need to communicate are; how much work you are willing to put into this when it comes to maintenance; do you have kids, if so what ages; any outdoor pets? And last, for all you northern folk, anywhere you intend to shovel, blow or plow snow, and any walkways that you salt regularly, speak up! You don’t want to wait until the following spring to discover all the grass and expensive perennials along your front walk are dead from salt. Or in the teeth of winter you discover that all that snow along the garage could be easily blown aside, if only those huge shrubs weren’t planted there. Begin with the end in mind.

Be On The Same Page And Stick To The Plan

This part applies to all you couples. This whole learning process needs to happen together. You don’t want to find yourself having an argument in public in front of a complete stranger, because you want that country cottage looking she-shed, but your partner wants a water garden in the same spot. Discuss everything beforehand this way you are both aligned. The whole process of learning and planning needs to be a group activity. Otherwise you like it, he hates it and that’s a recipe for disaster.

A savvy and opportunistic designer, especially if commissions are involved, is still a salesperson. Their job is to sell you a lot of material. Stick to the plan when you go in. Don’t let them sell you stuff you aren’t crazy about.  You will have no way of knowing if the designer is really that in love with Dwarf Korean Lilac and wants to share that love with you, or the nursery manager accidentally over-ordered and they are trying to unload it. Stick to what you like, be aligned, and don’t go rogue on each other.  Don’t be afraid to say “NO” if you don’t like a recommendation.

So there are my tips to help you succeed. This is not the “be all and end all” list by any stretch of the imagination. But I have seen all of it happen. These tips can hopefully help you get exactly what you want and have a green space that you want to spend time in; one that people stop to look at when they walk by. I want you to go in there and make the designer sell you your own idea, tempered with their professional knowledge of design and plant materials. And I want everyone involved in the process to come away happy.

Not too much to wish for.

An Introduction is in Order

Welcome to my re-purposed blog.

Previously, I was just posting about random stuff, trying to have a purpose….and it just wasn’t doing it for me. I like to write. But, I like to write most about things I am passionate about. That was the driving force for the re-purposing. The whole time I was blogging before, it felt too much like work. Like I had to keep doing it, but I could never truly answer the “why?”.

Now I feel I can.

I have always had an interest in the outdoors, gardening, landscaping, and horticulture in general. I went to college and studied Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design. I spent tens of thousands of hours working in Garden Centers, home improvement garden departments, nurseries, commercial landscaping, and consulting. At one point, I even found time to have my own landscaping business. Even after all that, there is still a enough I don’t know to fill a set of encyclopedias. The green world is vast, and even a lifetime spent in it, only shows you a very narrow piece.

Here is my space to share my piece with you, and hopefully you will share a little of yours. Bringing the green world into our lives makes us happier, healthier, more self-sustaining, and builds a better word for the rest of us. A greener world is a better world by far, and no one could really challenge that statement. Don’t think this means I am advocating for getting rid of cars or plowing under civilization only to return the modern world to pasture. But I feel we can integrate the green world into our little corners of civilization and sort of “take the edge off”, if you will.

I plan on covering a range of topics, from product reviews and gardening tips, to more educational stuff like soil science, design elements, site selection, common landscaping problems, and sharing my landscaping and gardening trials and tribulations. In return, I would love it if people would comment and share their experience, advice, etc. With my education and experience, I am still by no means an expert compared to some. Everyone should bear in mind that I live in upstate NY. So my preferences and experience are based around being in USDA zone 5/6.

Even though we are staring winter in the face here, there is still much to do and even more we can talk about. All winter long we wait for spring, then when it comes we never seem to be fully prepared! But we love it all any way. So welcome. Pull up a seat

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