Posts Tagged ‘Garden Tower Project’

Garden Update: Vertical Gardening, Paths, Beds and Shoes!

Hello from steamy Kalamazoo, where the sweet potato vines are happy, and the lettuce — not so much. It’s hot and humid and will continue so for days. Our cool, rainy Spring gave way very fast to Summer. I hope some of those cool weather crops make it through this week without bolting. Arugula, spinach and lettuce, I’m talkin’ to you! Hang in there — cooler temps await.

The past few days brought another upgrade to the gardens, along with full acceptance that I really do have two, totally separate gardens. The front yard features lots of ornamentals and bulbs, plus perennial herbs, garlic, and pollinator flowers that reseed themselves each year. While I grow a few standard edibles up front, a persistent groundhog issue, deer, bunnies, and the desire for an attractive front lawn keep things in check. I added another Big Bag Bed Mini (24″ diameter) so I could have just a little more space for wildflowers and an occasional food crop. You can see the blank round canvas above the tulips in this photo:

The front garden also got an upgrade of new garden shoes. I have garden clogs by our sliding glass door for the backyard, but I’ve been using rubber boots or regular shoes up front. The boots get hot, and getting mud and water on regular shoes isn’t the best long term use of them. On Monday, a divinely directed wild goose chase led me to these lovelies while out running errands:

The main upgrades occurred in the backyard garden, with a new Big Bag Bed Jr. (36″ diameter) by the 48″ one, and another Big Bag Bed Mini added to the ornamental raised bed that came with the house:

The decorative white trellis stands in the 48″ bed, and you can just see the new 36″ bed with a Space Needle shaped black trellis in front of the older bed. David also added the same critter fencing around those that I have around the Garden Tower Cage. The back bed holds Fall planted garlic, mustard greens and newly planted sweet potato slips that will hopefully climb the trellis. The new 36″ bed holds butternut squash starts and newly planted purple Thai yard long beans — a favorite I grew in Goshen. Those should also climb the trellises, provided the fencing keeps critters from ripping out the sprouts. (I took these photos in the morning, but that area gets direct sun from late morning to late afternoon.)

I also added black wrought iron looking trellises and a green tomato cage to the trough bed we installed last Fall. Those trellises will hopefully hold peas, cucumbers and more purple Thai yard long beans. Tucked among the tomato, peas and cucumbers is a zucchini start I got last weekend. I’m OK if it’s only moderately productive. I love zucchini, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Someone in Goshen used to joke, “If you need to buy your own zucchini in the summer, then you don’t have any friends.” Gardeners are well known for overloading neighbors with bumper crops of zucchini when the freezer’s full and the taste buds are done!

Below, in the center front, you can see the mini bed with a trellis to support a container friendly tomato plant, alongside sweet red pepper and basil. To the left front corner, you can just make out one of five round stepping stones I added to this bed so that I can walk around it without compressing the soil too much. I added wildflower seeds, amaranth and sunflowers to this bed, so it will need occasional maintenance beyond what I’ve done since 2017. Assuming critters allow the peas to grow up the trellis and the sunflowers to grow beyond delicious sprouts, the central back area will get extra colorful later this Summer and Fall.

David put up the mesh cage — in its third year of service — around the Garden Tower:

The lower fencing and D-ring gate, plus the mesh cage form the best critter and cabbage moth repellent I’ve come across. The Garden Tower allows 72+ plants in a 4’x4′ space. It’s been a slow year for plants I started from seed, due to lots of cold, rainy weather until the temps shot up to the 80’s. I may end up purchasing more plant starts. Once this thing gets going, it’s very productive — a great way to grow food in a very small space.

Some years I feel so inspired to tend indoor seedlings. I use grow lights and larger soil cells. 2022 wasn’t one of those years. I started a bunch in little Jiffy pellets and just let them grow by our North facing sliding glass door. Not ideal — but I just didn’t feel like setting up a whole plant station in the basement. Things are growing, especially since the sun came out, but I put my main focus elsewhere this year. You can’t do EVERYTHING well ALL the time with gardening. There’s no shame in purchasing plant starts from a local nursery, health food store or farmers market. You don’t get as much selection of specific varieties, but sometimes you get healthier, stronger plants.

Gardening is highly variable. Go with what works for you in any given season, given your own needs, desires and other obligations. It’s more fun and productive to start small and build up your successes rather than add too much too soon. There’s a learning curve, and it helps to know your climate, hardiness growing zone, your growing space, light, shadow, critters and other things. Little by little, you can add to successes and minimize frustration.

This year’s focus seems to be about expanding the garden in a sustainable and enjoyable way. Once I filled the additional beds last Fall and this Spring, I realized it’s not much more work to grow a lot more food. I duplicated frequently used tools and plant nutrients, and I store one set in the shed and one in the garage. This might seem unnecessary, but it really makes things easier. I’m more likely to do a quick chore if the tool’s right nearby than if I need to go inside the house, take off my shoes, walk across white carpet and then go to the garage or backyard while putting on shoes again.

When I did my permaculture design certification course, we learned about different zones. You want the most frequently harvested, highest maintenance things closest to your door. If you need to walk far, you’re less likely to spend as much time tending, harvesting and enjoying the garden. I spend a LOT of time gardening. I enjoy it … but I’m also a lazy gardener. I like maximum yield and beauty for minimal work. If it’s above 90 degrees and humid and I forgot a tool in the garage, there’s a high likelihood I’ll just stay in the air conditioned house instead of grabbing that tool and going back outside. I’m much more of a lettuce plant than a sweet potato! I don’t like the heat, and my fair skin doesn’t like much sun.

In addition to duplicate tools and shoes in easy to grab locations, I’ve really enjoyed upgrading my gardening clothes. I don’t mean high fashion togs. I mean high function: wide brimmed hats with lanyards to hold them on, sunglasses that don’t slip down my nose, SPF clothing that breathes well and covers my hands, fire hose pants that can handle all sorts of dirt on my knees without rips or stains. I find the SPF clothing much easier than slathering on sunscreen that gets in my hair and makes me feel sweaty and gross before I even start moving around in the heat.

Your mileage may vary. The takeaway point is to find what works for you. Those little delights and irritations add up. Indulge yourself with things that work, and minimize the things that don’t. Then everything becomes so much more enjoyable!

Even if gardening for you means a pot of herbs on the windowsill or helping a neighbor for an afternoon in exchange for produce, there’s nothing quite like fresh, just harvested goodness filled with life force energy. Despite the slow growing seedlings, I’ve still managed to harvest a lot of microgreens as I thinned out arugula, kale and mustard greens. Many herbs are already producing, and the flowers fill my soul.

If gardening’s not your thing, no worries. Find something that is. In these wild, precarious times, the more beauty, harmony and abundance we create in and around us, the more that radiates into the world. The more we radiate, the more things reverberate back to us. Get into a positive feedback loop — whatever that means to you.

Blessings abound for those with grateful hearts and eyes to see!

Happy Spring Garden Update

Happy Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere! Today actually feels like Spring, and I took the opportunity to clear away old growth and plant some cold weather crops. I keep dreaming of young plants just poking through the soil, and indeed, I see bits of green from hyacinths, daffodils, peonies, garlic, chives, and even a tulip.

In times like these, we need to search for signs of life. They are all around, despite evidence of things now dead. The garden’s such a beautiful metaphor for life. At first, we can only imagine the harvest:

It takes faith to believe such things can arise from scenes like this:

I added mushroom compost and then direct seeded the front and top of the Garden Tower. I don’t feel like managing and turning it, but SOME things will grow.

The back bed got cleared away …

… and I found one Fall planted spinach sprout that waited until Spring to show itself to the world.

Such things bode well in the Garden of my Mind:

Meanwhile, we wait. Mother Nature unfolds in her own way and her own timing. Patient or anxious, we can show up and play our part — plant seeds, make room for new growth, tend the perennials — but ultimately, we don’t control the show. On the first day of Spring, we trust in the birth and harvest of things not yet seen.

It’s Not Too Soon to Plan Your Garden …

Just a little garden inspiration for people who’ve never gardened before or have only a small space to grow vegetables. Whether a potted tomato on your patio, or a mini herb garden, even the tiniest amount of homegrown food fills you with flavor and a sense of real accomplishment. Getting your hands in the dirt is one of the fastest and easiest ways to improve your mood and raise your vibration.

It always helps to brainstorm a garden before planting it. You’ll save money, time, and have much more success with at least a little planning. Yes, there’s room for spontaneous additions, but spend some preemptive time observing your intended site(s) and gathering seeds and other supplies.

BBC Gardener of the Decade Katherine Crouch packs so many tips into this one video. I’ve intensively gardened for over a decade, and I learned a bunch in 20 minutes:

I’ve used Big Bag Beds and Smart Pots for at least five years. I like these for perennials, as well as annuals. You do need to water more frequently than an in ground garden, but the aerated roots produce healthy, robust plants. You can also work around existing landscaping and/or poor soil, just plunking a raised bed on a reasonably level surface with good light.

existing garden plus newly added Big Bag Beds and Smart Pots

This next video covers five different crops you can grow in under a month:

I’ve blogged for many years about the Garden Tower Project and Garden Tower 2.

I can’t believe how much produce I’ve harvested from the GT2 the last couple years. I especially love growing carrots and lettuce on the top — no bunnies munching up there! I’ve also grown several basil’s next to a dwarf tomato plant a couple years. Another year, I grew bush beans and kale up top.

If you live somewhere with garden munchers, a mesh cage and low metal fencing keeps out the larger critters AND the cabbage moths. You just need to be careful you don’t accidentally leave a moth in there if it sneaks in while you’re harvesting. In that case, you’ll need to diligently pick off those black eggs on any kale or collard plants, so you don’t get an enclosed infestation. Once you clear out the eggs, you’ll have a moth free garden again. The mesh is large enough for bumblebees to climb through, but it keeps out many aerial pests.

Garden Tower 2

Over the years, I’ve adapted how I use the Tower. I use plant nannies and scatter several Pellegrino bottles (filled with regular water, not the fizzy stuff!) throughout the pockets. This eases some of the watering frequency during long, hot or windy days. It also allows me to go on a short vacation without worrying that my plants will die. The GT2 is an amazing way to grow a lot of plants in about a 4’x4′ (or less) space, but so many plants in so little soil do require more water than a traditional raised bed would. Extra rich compost also aids moisture retention.

If I grow taller plants on the top, I use the compost tube and worm setup. When I grew lettuce up top last year, I decided not to use the compost tube so as not to contaminate my lettuce by pouring rotting food scraps and eggshells right over it. Had I thought of this issue ahead of time, I would have only planted the lettuce on the outer edge. If you don’t do use the compost tube and worms as originally designed, then you’ll need to add compost and/or organic fertilizer a few times throughout the season. The worms work well, but with all the groundhogs and bunnies, I LOVED having a large tray of lettuce and carrots out of their reach. I have other compost bins, so it made sense to prioritize the lettuce.

For those people who want to garden because they’re concerned about our crazy external world, here are the 15 fastest growing survival veggies to grow in a crisis. He offers great information, but also has such lovely energy and a positive attitude:

For seeds, I like Baker Creek Seeds, which offers a wide variety of heirloom and organic seeds. A lot of farmers markets and local co-ops also offer plant starts, which can help you fast track your garden. I use a mixture of direct seeding, starting seeds indoors, as well as purchasing plant starts from farmers or stores. There’s no shame in letting more experienced gardeners begin the process for you, especially if that makes the difference between gardening or not gardening!

Late August Garden

We’ve still got humid temps in the high 80’s, but the garden reflects a subtle shift from Summer towards Autumn. I love this stage of sedum before the buds turn bright pink then burgundy:

Our fall clematis burst forth its white blooms …

… and I need to harvest and freeze the aronia berries:

The Garden Tower 2 continues to produce loads of greens, although we’re out of lettuce season. I planted spinach, purple mustard and more lettuce, so we’ll see how well those take. It’s a little tricky because most of the empty slots are deeply shaded by full grown greens.

The jury’s still out on my carrot experiment. I harvested one, but I don’t think it had matured enough. It didn’t taste as sweet as I would normally expect. I’m letting the others mature a little more before I harvest them. Regardless of the carrot results, I’m impressed by how much produce I’ve harvested from such a small space — for months now. I photographed all four sides of the Garden Tower 2, in order to show what can be done:

Up front, it’s still dinner plate hibiscus time:

We’ve also got zinnias, ripe tomatoes, shiso and more flowers, herbs and greens, but I’ll save those for another time. Wishing you a beautiful start to your week!

Lush

Just a few garden pix today, plus a reminder. If you missed spring and summer planting, you still have time to plant cool weather crops like spinach, lettuce, mustard and bok choy. I started some inside today to replace lettuce and spinach that already bolted.

The Garden Tower 2 continues to produce loads of greens.

A few varieties of lettuce remain, and I need to harvest the New Kuroda carrots to see how well these shorties grew. I knew I wouldn’t have room for long carrots, but tried these as an experiment in the shallow top. Most of the tower filled in with collards, kale, basil, nasturtium, and chard.

Red hot poker compliments the Garden Tower 2:

As the orange daylilies fade away, echinacea (purple coneflower) and hyssop bloom in the same pot. The bees approve!

Plant Nannies and Today’s Garden

Some quick photos from this morning’s garden show the strategic use of “plant nannies.” I wrote about plant nannies in a 2018 post called “Edible Landscaping Secrets,” and I still recommend them for the Garden Tower Project and any plants that need more water than their neighbors. You can use mineral water bottles or wine bottles — anything with a long enough neck to fit in the terra cotta spike that digs into the soil. The terra cotta slowly releases water if the nearby soil dries out. If the soil’s moist, the water stays in the bottle until needed.

I scatter the plant nannies around the Garden Tower. Otherwise, I find the soil dries out by late afternoon’s scorching temps. With the nannies, I can go longer between waterings, and my plants feel less stressed and therefore healthier. These photos also show the (unzipped) mesh cage and rabbit fencing around the base. Yes, that’s volunteer lettuce in the patio cracks!

I have heavily harvested this Garden Tower for months, and it shows plants of varying degrees of growth. I recently removed the now bolted spinach and replaced that with carrots, rainbow chard and zinnias. Those are the holes with less growth.

We’ve had weather in the 80’s and 90’s for weeks, which would normally make all this lettuce bolt. I’ve found I can harvest the heads “too much” if I know it will be close to 90. That robs the plants of enough energy to shift from leaves to flowers and seeds. When it cools a bit, I let the leaves grow again. I’ve lost track of how many giant salads David and I have made from the Garden Tower. So fresh — and critter free! The mesh cage also keeps cabbage moths off my kale and collards. 🙂

Some other shots from today… It’s officially “Orange Season” here — David’s favorite color!

Wishing you a beautiful day!

Early Spring Garden

Bright colors and cool, rainy temps look and feel like early Spring! Some shots from Dra’Faven:

hyacinths, weeping cherry and forsythia precede chive and daffodil blooms
hellebores and holly
dianthus and vinca
seeds sprouting indoors and outside …
Garden Tower planted on one side with cool weather greens
The spinach has doubled in size since Sunday!

It felt so good to get my hands in the dirt again. I started a bunch of seeds at the New Moon and then couldn’t resist filling 1/4 of the Garden Tower with lettuce and spinach starts. I also direct seeded gourmet lettuce and carrots in the top of the Garden Tower, as well as in the front yard beds, among hyacinths, green onions and chives.

I have yet to harvest, but gardening season has officially begun! How are things growing in your corner of the world?

Happy Lammas!

Today marks the official crossquarter day of Lammas or Lughnasadh, when the Sun reaches 15 degrees Leo. It’s the first of three harvest festivals (Fall Equinox and Samhain/Halloween) —  and a good time to count your blessings. I’ve just had a full morning harvesting and tending the garden. I love this late Summer time of butterflies, bees, fresh tomatoes, cosmos and hummingbird mint. Here are some shots from today’s garden:

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Robinhood roses in fragrant bloom

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Casablanca lilies

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hummingbird mint, orange zinnias and coreopsis

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Garden Tower 2 with newly installed plant nannies

As lettuce went to seed, I converted some of those pockets to plant nannies with Pellegrino bottles filled with hose water. I’d wondered if this would cut down on my watering time, and indeed, it has! The lower pockets stay as moist as the upper ones, now, which means less frequent watering and happier plants.

So grateful for a very productive and flowering garden this year, for all the magical bird sightings in our yard, and for the new (free!) iPhone 11 with the huge camera upgrade. I’m still learning to resize photos so I don’t overwhelm my WordPress storage or slow down site loading too much. Meanwhile, between that and newly installed fiber optic lines to the house, it feels like a new Universe coming into being.

Blessed Be, and be the blessing!

Hair and Garden Update

Whew, it’s hot and HUMID here in Michigan! Here’s a little photo update of the garden in mid-late Summer. This tends to be a time of fewer blooms. The trick is regular deadheading (popping off the spent flowers). Many plants will rebloom to complement new bloomers like hummingbird mint, hibiscus, hostas, echinacea and cosmos. Before long, it will be aster and mum season.

The garden continues to yield more produce for less work, so I’m liking that! Between massive amounts of greens from the enclosed Garden Tower 2 and cucumbers, squash, herbs, banana peppers, carrots and eggplant in the open beds, every day brings a sizable harvest. It’s not the over-abundance I used to need to deal with while quasi-farming in Goshen: rather, a steady supply of fresh flavors and nutrients.

Some photos from today:

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dinner plate hibiscus

 

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Garden Tower 2 Update

For those wondering how the Garden Tower 2‘s producing, here’s a photo series taken from each side. I rotate it daily or every other day. You can see some sides have more growth. Those would be the days I didn’t rotate so those plants got more southern exposure. This is a heavily harvested tower and still producing. I made a huge batch of pesto last weekend, mostly from the tower, and it looks like this weekend will be pesto time again.

Turning the tower seems to have kept most of my lettuce from bolting even in our many days of 90+ degree heat. As long as the tender greens get periodic afternoon shade, they seem to think it’s still earlier in the season. I can’t believe how much produce I’m getting from 4 square feet of space!

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So far so good with the fencing and mesh cage. A groundhog sniffed around and tried to figure out how to break in, but the 2 foot metal fencing and gate around the bottom are just high and wobbly enough that it gave up after just one “window warning” (opened and slammed shut).

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The other advantage so far is that the white cabbage moths can’t fit through the mesh to lay eggs on my kale. Major score! Usually by this time of year, those little green caterpillars do major damage or it becomes a near full time job picking off the eggs. It felt soooo satisfying yesterday to watch a moth try to enter from every angle and eventually move onto sipping catmint flowers. 🙂

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Now …. if we can just get the groundhog to move out of our shed. I had enough extra kale to give my neighbor a bunch when she dropped off a bucket of used kitty litter to drop down the new burrow. Fun times! She said, “I’m trying to wrap my head around this. I’m leaving a bucket of used kitty litter on neighbor’s porch — and I like her.” Always an adventure, even with plenty of yummies.

I also need to figure out how to prop up the dwarf tomato plant without ripping the mesh sides or ceiling. Even with pruning, it’s getting too big to rotate without hitting the top or sides.

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Overall, this garden season feels much more fun than past years in Kalamazoo. The front yard is mostly herbs, flowers, hot peppers, cucumbers and eggplant, but so far so good even there for lettuce. The front yard beds get afternoon shade, and the cucumber vines now shade the lettuce even in the sunniest parts of the day.

The weirdest thing is that something — I think a deer — is leaving all my edibles alone but decimating my “critter resistant” large sedum and one other plant that I only purchased due to its resistance. I forget the name now, but it starts with an “a” and it’s totally gone. I’ll take it, though. If something wants to concentrate on non-edibles that I only planted so I’d for sure have plants there even if an animal ate my more prized items, I’ll play along. Munch away … far, far away from the things I want to eat. 🙂