Friday, March 1, 2013

The vegetable garden, 2010-2012

I would like to start this post by stating that I am not a vegetable gardening expert. To be honest I have found growing vegetables to be more difficult than growing flowers, with the insect pests and especially the wilt diseases.

The vegetable garden is really DH's baby. DH isn't an expert either, although he did tag along with his grandfather in his vegetable gardens. He has more enthusiasm for it than I do mainly because the flower gardens take up so much of my time. My main contributions to the vegetable garden are growing some things from seed (tomatoes, peppers, and basil), weeding, watering, and growing the flowers around the vegetable garden.

The vegetable garden back in 2010, with a fresh topping of
compost. The roses were a good foot or two shorter back then.

In the summer of 2011

For the first few years DH planted tomatoes, squash and cantaloupe all together. That combination makes for a very crowded garden, although it's somehow easy to forget about that each spring. lol

Initially there were wires between two posts to support climbing roses and raspberries. Not a good idea to have something thorny strung up in the middle of the garden. I'm not sure whose idea that was but I will deny it was mine if asked. ;) The raspberries tasted like dishwater so I wasn't sorry when the canes died out. 'Pink Pillar' is still entwined around one of the posts, 'Sombreuil' was moved out, and unfortunately 'Fields of the Wood' got buried under last year's crops of corn and pole beans.


In 2011 DH took down the wires and put up string between the two posts and for the next two years planted sweet peas, followed by corn and string beans planted together. We never got that many sweet peas (hot weather usually cuts them short), but the corn and pole beans have worked out well. In previous years he planted 'Kentucky Wonder' (which is really nice, sweet with a good texture), but this year I ordered 'Lazy Wife Greasy Bean' seeds and the plants were excellent producers. The beans are called "greasy" because the pods are hairless and somewhat shiny, and "lazy wife" because they grow in bunches and are easy to pick. The one drawback is that you have to string the pods on both sides.

Sweet peas and broccoli in early spring 2012

In early May 2012

The best broccoli we ever grew was broccoli that DH picked up at Lowe's one year, that unfortunately didn't have a cultivar tag so its identity may forever remain a mystery. The stems and leaves were slender and a very dark green, almost blue-green, and tender, without that woody texture that broccoli stems sometimes have. Not a hint of sulfur taste.

One of the few vegetables that can match broccoli as a superfood is spinach. Real spinach is a cool season crop that likes good drainage and a sweet (basic rather than acidic) soil. I haven't even tried to grow it, but when someone offered us seeds of Malabar spinach in a trade I thought, why not? It's supposed to love hot weather (which it does, in abundance) and it's high in high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. However, despite its common name Malabar spinach isn't really spinach at all. It usually isn't eaten raw because it has "mucilaginous qualities" ... in other words, it's slimy. Smells delicious while it's cooking but I can't abide the look of cooked greens. To me they always look cooked to death, which they are. Naturally since we didn't really care if the Malabar spinach came back, it did, and covered its teepee again until that fell over in a windstorm at the end of this summer. It is a beautiful vine, with shiny heart-shaped green leaves and clusters of small pink flowers.

Speaking of slimy, we had okra in the garden this year. The vegetable famous for being slimy! One plant will grow taller than a person and produce plenty of okra for two people. As far as I'm concerned, the only way to eat okra is fried. A little corn meal, hot oil in a skillet, and the result is light crispy delicious okra without a hint of slime.

DH planted 3 asparagus plants this spring in anticipation of a harvest 2 years down the road. They put on tremendous top growth this year, shooting up to 6 feet in height. I'm not an asparagus fan so I'm glad the plants are attractive. The airy foliage is gorgeous covered with dewdrops.

Tomatoes have been hit and miss for us. The first couple of years we harvested lots of tomatoes; then, just a few, with many plants succumbing to wilt. We decided to try them in the bed back of the house next to the paddock, where no tomatoes had ever been grown. That was a real tomato disaster. Only one Roma produced anything. The rest wilted, one after the other, even wilt resistant cultivars. New races of Fusarium or Verticillium Wilt? Spotted Wilt Virus? Stalk Borers?? Whatever it was the Japanese eggplant, tomatillos and pepper plants survived and thrived. So the bed was converted back to a baptisia/ Bidens/ anything goes bed this year since it so spectacularly failed as a tomato bed.

2011. Poor tomato plants, looking so hopeful here but so doomed.

I did plant two tomatillo plants back there this year and finally got some tomatillos, although by the time the plants fruited the tomatoes were done. I will try to get them in the ground earlier next year and see if that makes a difference. Worth growing just for the bees though. Bees LOVE the flowers on this plant, which blooms and blooms until a freeze cuts it down.

We had tried growing purple tomatillos from seed and something chewed off the seedlings at the base. Only the tomatillos, on a porch full of seedlings. Go figure. A lady from DH's workplace then gave us some plants. She'd raised them from seed she brought from Mexico. Tomatillo plants get quite large, at least 3' square, so they need plenty of room.

This year we decided the only option was to grow the tomatoes in pots, with bagged potting mix.

So DH bought some pots and rigged up a twine netting as support for 8 plants. We got plenty of tomatoes and they were good, although I'm not sure they quite had the usual depth of flavor. Next year I want to use bigger pots (as I had to water them twice a day in hot weather), perhaps add some "cooked" compost, use rope instead of twine for support, and put everything in the vegetable garden instead of the front lawn. The twine proved to be entirely inadequate for support.

We also planted lima beans at the four corners, which did nothing but grow and grow and produce a few shriveled beans, so I won't try them again this year. The pole beans are enough anyway.

DH planted white potatoes for the first time in 2012. We got some and the voles got the rest. I want to grow sweet potatoes this year, again in pots.

Our success with the gourd family has been hit and miss too. This year we planted spaghetti squash as usual in the vegetable garden and they all croaked. When one actually harvests spaghetti squash, the innards are scooped out and boiled just like pasta. The cantaloupes were not good. I think DH was picking them before they were actually ripe. Judging from what I have read ripeness can be more accurately ascertained by how much the stem has pulled away than by the fragrance of the melon. I would like to try growing butternut squash too. Someday. Given the problems with disease it looks like pots are the way to go with the gourds too, although providing support will be tricky at best. They get so LARGE. Growing tomatoes and potatoes in pots will be enough for this year.


  1. Interesting reading about your veggie garden experiences. I've grown some tomatoes in the past, but that's about it. I have herbs and flowers. Can get my veggies from the vegetable market just down the road. :-)

    Have a lovely weekend ~ FlowerLady

  2. It's great that you are trying to grow your vegetables, Sweetbay ! Maybe it would be better for the tomatoes in some kind of shelter ...
    Never heard of Malabar spinach :) I love okra with tomatoes, must try your recept too :) Greetings !

  3. I admire your tenacity and pluck, growing so many vegetables and trying so many ways to get good harvests. You've certainly had mixed results! It all sounds wonderful to grow one's own food, but then I find out how hard it is. I'm glad you keep trying, and have had some good results along with the struggles!

  4. You sure are growing a lot of different kinds of veges. Homegrown veges just taste so much better than store bought vege. Sometimes when I'm harvesting cherry tomatoes I alternate, one in the basket, one in my mouth, and so on. They are just so good!! Good luck with all your veges this year!

  5. Sweetbay..I really enjoyed you sharing your experiences and seeing the photos of the veg garden as it passed through the last few years. Great information. Thanks.

  6. I identified with everything you said. Like you, I'm better at flower gardening than vegetable gardening. It's always been a dream of mine to grow vegetables, but between the squirrels, deer, birds, rabbits, disease, and yes, the heat, I never had all that much success. Thank goodness for farmer's markets, is what I say.

  7. Of the local farmer's markets here, one is part of a big flea market and the other is in a small venue downtown.

  8. Your house is so cute! I agree with the less flavor from those grown in pots, although maybe it was just the weather that year. I read somewhere that those big buckets you buy at home depot are the right size to grow tomatoes in, and just drill holes in the bottom. If you try growing Kale, this is my favorite recipe but I also like making Kale chips in the oven with olive oil and salt. Really good.

  9. Enjoyed reading about your vegetable growing experiences. Agreed: fried okra is delicious (although I have learned to roast it in the oven using olive oil with good result).

  10. I love how honest you are about the veggie garden. :o) I grow sweet potatoes in pots and they're awesome! Go to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange website and order Bush Porto Rico slips. They're perfect in containers. All my veggies are grown in pots. I refuse to give up my flowers for veggies. :o)

  11. Loved the journey over the past couple years in your veggie garden. I have all but given up on veggie gardening ....have a farmer whose produce is organic and pesticide free...and she is a nice lady.
    I am not a fan of slimy vegetables at all...tried frying okra once when we were first married....still wasn't great. I do however LOVE asparagus. Have a couple little plants in my garden that were a gift. I just stuck them in the back of a garden far so good.

  12. Thanks so much for stopping by to answer my foxglove questions. I have my fingers crossed that new plants will spring up, but I will plant some seeds as well. My experience with vegetables is much the same. Each year I learn from my successes and failures. Rabbits seem to be one of my greatest challenges. Every year there is a number of baby bunnies and their very hungry Mama.

  13. You're so organised! Fried Okra it is. They call 'em ladies 'fingers' in Indian restaurants.

  14. Surely it is very peaceful to live here. Your house is very lovey as well as the garden. I love to live here. :)

    parker landscape

  15. Oh, If only we could all have a DH of our own! Yummy! What a delicious garden.


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