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.
Last year, the Snarky Gardener discovered wintersown.org, which gives away seeds that can be used to grow plants outside during the winter. The idea is to sow your seeds in milk jugs (or other recycled objects) and then put them outside until the temperatures are correct for germination. I had mixed results with the WinterSown system but I believe I made several mistakes that I am pledging not to make this year. First of all, I tried plant too many seeds at once – 8 different varieties in just one carton!. This time, I’m using my new 2” square soil blockers to keep the number of plantings to a minimum – just 7 starts per carton. And only one variety per carton with identifying labels (what a concept!). I’m also keeping the choices to those I know well, and that I have too many seeds of already – Red Russian kale, spinach, cilantro, parsley, and leeks. All of these are cold weather hardy, so they are perfect for being winter sown.
Another issue I ran across last year was watering. The instructions explicitly said to open the milk carton to water but I got lazy and sprayed into the opening at the top. The one carton I didn’t put bottom slits in did the best as it didn’t go dry like the others. For me, putting my seed starting efforts outside leads to the “out of sight, out of mind” problem. This time around I’m putting them right outside my back door, which I will pass everyday on my way to work and back.
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.
This fall we’ve had serious snow twice so far (several inches each time) here in Northeastern Ohio. While most people have not even thought about their gardens since the first freeze back in October, the early snow had me worried. Many of my fall duties were incomplete, including digging up and bringing in my rosemary herbs (they died out there last winter – sniff). Also, the fall leaves I gathered into big honking piles did not get as distributed as I would have liked. I found out this summer that some plants (lettuce, spinach, kale, turnips, peas, corn salad) could be covered with mulch 5 or 6 inches deep in the fall to “overwinter” them. Then in mid-March, you just pull off the leaves and viola, they will start growing again. Nifty trick having food producing plants when other unsnarky gardeners are still planning for the summer. Anyways, I was finally able to finish these tasks on 12/4/2013 with most of my fall babies no worse for wear.
If you look at the pictures below, you will notice some of my plants didn’t do as well by December (especially the sad Swiss chard in the middle foreground). In the back left, my mustard is going to seed, which is good because I needed more for cooking and next year’s crop. But you will also see that there’s quite a bit of green considering it’s December in Ohio. On the right foreground, my purple top turnips are looking great. I will thin these out (yum) and mulch the rest in the next week or so. Also, near the Swiss chard, you should be able to make out bright green areas near the ground. That’s my corn salad and onions, all ready to eat. We used them plus mustard greens, carrots, and kale to make a wonderfully fresh salad (again, in December in Ohio).
P.S. I don’t think “unsnarky” is a word, but with use it will soon become one.
Succession planting is the process of planting one crop after another. This sometimes means planting something every two weeks (like bush green beans or lettuce) so that you can have a continuous supply. Other times it means the gardener (snarky or not) will plant something in the spring (like spinach or peas) and then when it peters out with the warming weather, put in something else (like corn or squash), then when summer comes to a close, grow fall crops (like turnips or mustard or spinach). For my garden, I do both with a preference for the spring/summer/fall system, as I like to grow as much as possible for as long as possible (insert smugness here).
Here’s an example with my summer potatoes and then my fall turnips, peas, and corn salad.
Here is my monthly garden progression so you get the idea of succession over a whole season.
In April, I decided to use Cascade bush peas to get my Three Sisters corn/beans/squash mounds started. They make a good spring time filler while the gardener waits for the temperatures to stabilize above freezing.
By the way, this was the first time I coerced my Three Sisters garden to actually work out in three years, with the beans going up the corn like they were supposed to instead not growing at all. Persistence pays off this time – yeah me.
The turnips in the top middle near the potatoes were totally accidental as I let one of my Purple Top turnips go to seed. I’ll try to use the same technique next year by moving some of my overwintered turnips (bottom left quadrant in September) to other parts of my garden. I planted the upper row of Tendergreen bush beans first and then the second row about 2 or 3 weeks later. I would have done a third row in August but the pumpkins ended up taking over from the west. This area will be planted with Roma tomatoes next year. (Yes, I’m already neurotically planning next year’s garden, including a new one in my front yard next to my tree line).
The Ho Mi Z mustard in the upper right corner is currently going to seed as of this November post. I’m going to collect as much as I can, but there will definitely be random mustard all over the place next year. Again, I love to have edible weeds (or volunteers as they are sometimes called). The mustard was planted as a “cover crop” as I knew I was putting in potatoes in that area next year. Mustard is supposed to help potatoes by countering nematodes and weeds. Plus you get delicious greens for salads, etc and seeds for cooking and making mustard. I picked Ho Mi Z (aka Dragon Tongue) because it was on sale at Johnny’s Seeds last year.
The Tyee spinach, New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia), and Cascade peas will be covered with leaf mulch this fall and uncovered in the middle of next March. This will allow them to overwinter and be ready to go in the spring, saving a month or two of potential growth. This will be my first year trying this, so I’ll post my findings for your enjoyment and knowledge.
Thanks to Shop.Cook.Make for this wonderful recipe. I’ve modified it several times over the last 6 months, sometimes using turnip or mustard greens (instead of spinach), green onions (instead of chives), and/or cilantro (instead of cumin). I finally arrived at that point in summer where it could be made using just ingredients from my garden (except the cumin). With this batch, I also added a Jalapeno pepper to give them a little more kick.
3 Potatoes (any type)
3 cloves of Garlic
2 or 3 cups of Spinach fresh or frozen (or any other leafy green) – I used turnip greens
1 tbsp Basil
2 tbsp Chives – I used green onions
2 tbsp Parsley
1/2 tsp Cumin
2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast (optional)
3 tbsp White Wine (optional)
Chop the potatoes in big chunks and boil until done but very firm (about 6 minutes). Add some salt to the water if you want. You can use frozen spinach. Just make sure to get all the water out before cooking.
Chop the Spinach (or other greens). Cook in a pan with the chopped garlic and the wine (or substitute for water) for 3 or 4 minutes until it’s soft.
Chop the herbs (if fresh). Dried can be used also.
Mix everything in a bowl, (including the nutritional yeast if you have it on hand) and let it rest until it’s cool enough for you to touch it without burning your hands.
Then proceed to make small balls (like meatballs). Use cooking spray in the pan.
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.