The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur
Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!). The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.
This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds. In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage. Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.
The Snarky Gardener lists the top vegetables to plant in July and August
Just because you didn’t get around to planting a garden in May and June doesn’t mean you have to go without for the rest of year. The secret to planting in summer is knowing that the first frost of the year (usually in early October here in NEO) is your limiting factor. So you need either vegetables that will be done fruiting by then or that can handle a little cold. I’ve kept this list to direct seeded plants as it’s hard to get starts by the time summer starts. Seeds can be obtained online, garden stores, and from friends.
Here’s my list:
1. Bush Green Beans
Many green beans are bush varieties, meaning you don’t have to have a pole (or corn) for them to go up. The bush bean will usually produce within 60 days of planting but will only have beans for two weeks before the plants die off.
Carrots are a good choice as they can be planted through out the year and can handle frost. Make sure to keep them watered until they germinate.
3. Short season corn
Believe it or not, there are short season varieties of corn which give you ears with 62 days of planting (like Early Sunglow). Just make sure you get them in by the first of August to assure they have time to develop before it gets cold.
Bush zucchinis (like Burpee’s Sure Thing) are great for a short season with days to maturity in the 48 to 60 day range. Just plant them in mounds and let them go.
Kale, which is related cabbage and broccoli, is a versatile plant that loves the cold but will grow will in the summer also.
Peas are a spring and fall crop, so it’s best to avoid growing them during the hot months of the summer. To get them going in August, you’ll need to shade and water them diligently until temps cool down. Starting them inside first and then transplanting them in September is also a possibility.
As you have noticed in this list, bush varieties of vegetables are the way to go for a short season garden. Just remember to read the number of days to maturity and count forward to your first expected frost.
Spend some time to observe your chosen spot. You are going to want at least 3 hours of direct sunlight a day with more than 6 preferred. If you can’t get the minimum 6, then look for plants that will be OK with a little shade, like lettuce, herbs, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, and mustard greens. Another option is to plant in containers and move them to the sunny spots throughout the day.
2. Start small
Don’t go hog wild with a giant garden first thing out. Keeping it small will allow you to learn what grows best in your area without a lot of investment of time, money, and effort. Containers or a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed would be a good place to start.
3. Grow what you like to eat
Sounds straight forward, but I’ve known a few snarky gardeners to grow things before they know how they taste (like me with my sunchokes). If you think you want to grow it, buy it from the store first.
4. Grow easy stuff
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others, by a significant margin. Talk to people in your area to learn what grows well in your area. For instance, in Northeastern Ohio (my neck of the woods), cherry tomatoes, beans, peas, onions, zucchini, potatoes, and turnips do well with little trouble. Broccoli, watermelons, Brussels sprouts, peppers, and eggplants are much harder to grow, to the point I’ve given up on some.
5. Mulch a bunch
Mulch is anything that covers the ground around your plants. Straw, grass clippings, newspapers, wood chips, and leaves (my favorite) all make good mulch. You can also use plastic mulch, but it won’t make your soil better over time like organic materials will. Covering the ground is important as it will keep weeds from overtaking your edible plants plus it holds in moisture which will keep you from having to water as much (or at all!)
6. Visit often
Gardens are probably ruined by neglect more than anything else. Visit a few times a week to keep up with the weeds, watering, and ready to pick food. Think of it as that exercise your doctor keeps telling you need to do. I find the garden as a quiet place to get away from it all. Also, try to plan around the weather (early or late on hot summer days, etc).
7. Learn about food seasons
Some plants can tolerate and sometimes prefer cold (like spinach, turnips, onions, peas, potatoes) but don’t like heat and others can’t handle frost (tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, okra) and love warm weather. It still surprises me that this isn’t common knowledge (it wasn’t for me when I started). Your frost dates (last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall) are the most important gardening times. They tell you when you can plant certain vegetables and when they need to be reaped. Too early or too late and you’ll be sad, sad gardener.
8. Watch out for critters
If you notice animals in your neighborhood, know that they may think of your garden as a free meal. A small fence (2 or 3 feet tall) will keep out rabbits, but you will need a taller fence (6 feet or more) to deter groundhogs, raccoon, and deer from invading your space. There are also garlicky sprays and fence clips that will deter them some. Most animals don’t like strong smells, so planting herbs and garlic/onions on the outside of your garden is not a bad idea. Also, keep an eye on your plants for damage, as even the best fencing can be leaped over or dug under.
9. Think outside the box
There are a lot of different ways to garden besides the standard “till up the backyard and plant in rows”. Indoor gardening can be done with systems like the AeroGarden. Containers or individual planters work well for situations where you can’t plant into the ground (apartments, limited sun, etc). If you don’t have a tiller or want to go to the trouble of tilling, you can build gardens on top of your grass, whether it be raised beds, straw bale gardening, or lasagna mulching. And don’t be limited to your backyard. Front yard gardens, if done tastefully, are a possibility as long as there are no prohibitions where you live (like city ordinances or home owner association rules).
Good luck and happy gardening!
Have any questions about your first garden? Please leave a reply.
It’s been an eventful 2013 spring for the Snarky Gardener. He has learned humility and patience, especially since it’s taking forever for everyone to know how wonderful he truly is. Mother nature has given many lessons this year, and it’s possible the Snarky Gardener won’t make the same mistakes next year. Here’s the summary of highlights and lowlights (is that really a word?) for this spring.
Starting my own plants
This year started with much (probably too much) enthusiasm as January can make a gardener in Ohio a little nuts. Overall it went well, with lots of tomatoes, and basil plants to plant and trade. I do need to improve on starting dates, labeling, and hardening off. All of these issues come down to one thing – patience. I tend to want to start seeds earlier than they should be, forget to label and/or record properly, and to rush plants outside too soon.
Spinach was a little hard to get germinated (maybe one in two seeds actually sprouted). I used the AeroGarden starter kit, so maybe spinach just doesn’t do very well with that system. I’ve done some research on soil cubes and could go that direction for spinach and others next year.
Frosts and freezes
Last year we in Northeast Ohio got spoiled with an early spring with warm weather in March and April. This year we had freezes and frosts into late May and I lost quite a few tomatoes and peppers. I’ll make a concerted effort not put out the majority of my frost intolerant plant until late May next year.
This is the second year I’ve had issues with groundhogs in my garden. Last year in July, a little guy (named him Woody) terrorized my garden for a week or two until I finally caught him in the act of trespassing and theft. He took out half my early corn and green beans before I was able to finally capture him. Let’s just say that he’s in a better place now.
This year the fun started earlier in late May as a momma and her little one moved into Woody’s old house, which is a burrow under a stacked pile of pine trees 5 feet behind my garden. It began with a few carrot tops missing and culminated with the loss of spinach, peas, kale, broccoli, and even Jerusalem artichokes. I called in the experts this time as my own trapping efforts were getting me nowhere. First morning we had a raccoon, who had been stealing my trap bait of corn and apples. My trap is obviously cheap and worthless. Since the raccoon, we caught two more raccoons, Mama and another baby groundhog. On July 4th, I added some 3 foot chicken fencing to the north side with 1 1/2 feet on the ground and 1 1/2 feet attached to the current fence. This will keep future groundhogs (there will be more) from digging under (crossing my fingers).
My long-term plan is to remove the wood either by having the landlord move it or by acquiring a chain saw. The cleared area will make a good place to expand my composting efforts.
Overwintering and collecting seeds
I overwintered several different plants this year, mostly because I wanted early spring produce. Carrots, kale, onions, mache, and turnips all made it back for 2013. I let the kale, mache, and turnips go to seed with a concerted effort to collect the Seven Top turnip green seeds. I ended up with a giant bag of turnip green seeds on 7/14 (more than I’ll ever use), so if you want some, just let me know and I’ll figure out a way to get them to you. I’m still planning to collect tomato and bean seeds for sure, with a possibility of collecting peppers and eggplants this year too.
The Snarky Gardener lists the best vegetables for Northeastern Ohio gardens
The list is ordered by asking, “If I was starting a new garden today, what would I grow to (almost) guarantee success?” An important fact to remember is that success includes planting them at the right time of the year. Some can withstand frosts and prefer spring or fall. Others love the heat of July and August. Also, some can handle a bit of shade where others must have at least 6 hours of sun a day to grow well. All these variables are noted below.
When to Plant Tomatoes in Northeastern Ohio: around the middle of May after all danger of frost has passed.
By onions, I mean the bulbs you buy at the garden store and use as either green onions (tops and all) or later as full onions. Onions (and other related plants – garlic, leaks, chives) are also mammal resistant, as deer and rabbits and groundhogs will usually leave them alone.
When to Plant Onion in Northeastern Ohio: These can first be planted in March or April and can be continuously planted through the fall.
3. Green Beans
Easy to grow (once the spring frosts are over) and will help to improve the soil with their nitrogen fixing. They also produce food quickly (under 60 days) so they can be planted later in the season (through the beginning of August here in Ohio). Beans are a favorite food of groundhogs and rabbits though so you’ll need to fence them in.
When to Plant Green Beans in Northeastern Ohio: around the middle of May after all danger of frost has passed until August.
Very prolific, zucchini are always welcome in my garden. I tend to go with the all-female varieties – like Burpee’s Sure Thing. Plant Zucchini in mounds with 2 or 3 seeds per mound.
When to Plant Zucchini in Northeastern Ohio: around the end of May after all danger of frost has passed and the ground has warmed up.
Planted in spring, potatoes are really easy. Just put in the ground and hill up dirt or mulch (leaves or straw) as the plant itself grows up. Just wait for the plant to die off and then dig up your taters. You will need store bought seed potatoes as grocery store potatoes are usually sprayed with chemicals that keep them from sprouting.
When to Plant Potatoes in Northeastern Ohio: as early as St. Patrick’s Day through May.
Garlic, like potatoes, are super easy. I did find out the hard way, you must split the bulbs up into cloves before planting. But after they are in, you are good to go. Garlic can be strategically planted to help deter critters (deer, rabbits, etc) from eating other crops. Many animals do not like the smell of garlic.
When to Plant Garlic in Northeastern Ohio: mid October to be pulled in July or March/April (though this will grow smaller bulbs).
7. Turnip Greens
Easy to grow and very nutritious (a so-called “super food”), though somewhat bitter to eat sometimes (colcannon anyone?). I’ve been going with Seven Top turnips over the last year or so, which are only grown for their greens. The standard Purple Top White Globe turnip is also good for it’s greens, though you do have to worry about the roots getting tough and dried out as the summer temperatures spike. Turnips prefer cool weather and can be sown in early spring or fall and will overwinter (and then promptly go to seed if not harvested in time). They can also handle partial shade.
When to Plant Turnips in Northeastern Ohio: March through May and then again in August and September.
These are an issue for some gardens as rocky or clay soil can make for forked carrots. Red Cored Chantenay is the 6 inch variety I grow that’s just perfect for Northeast Ohio’s clay soil. They also overwinter well, coming back up for a special spring treat. The tops are loved by fuzzy animals, both mammals and caterpillars.
When to Plant Carrots in Northeastern Ohio: April to August.
Think of peas like green beans (i.e. they fix nitrogen) for the spring and fall. They can be planted as early as St. Patrick’s day in Northeastern Ohio. And like green beans, they are loved by bunnies and groundhogs, so you’ll need to fence the peas in and the rodents out. Also, they are tasty right off the vine, so there’s a chance they never make it back to the kitchen.
When to Plant Peas in Northeastern Ohio: March through May and then again in August and September.
Kale is a relative to cabbage and broccoli but easier to grow. Red Russian kale seems to be a winner as I know several other local gardeners who also raise it. You’ll need to keep an eye out for little green worms as they love kale.
When to Plant Kale in Northeastern Ohio: April through September.
I threw spinach in because it’s one of my favorite “super foods”. I like it better than most other greens (including lettuce and kale). But it’s a little hard to get started and will bolt (go to seed) once the weather gets hot. Also, spinach can handle some shade.
When to Plant Spinach in Northeastern Ohio: April / May and again in August/September.