Beyond "Knee High by the 4th of July"

An experiment in vegetable gardening

O Spring, Where Art Thou?

March 22nd, 2013

With temperatures forecasted to be in the upper 20s last night, I decided I needed to make an effort to cover up my tender plants and seedlings. After all, I told myself, they’re called “Cool Season Vegetables” not “COLD Season Vegetables”! So, I gathered up all of the sheets I could find and enlisted Bruce’s help to spread them over the raised beds.

Heading out to tuck the garden in


All tucked in

My Grandma VonWald used to say that the coldest part of the day is just before the dawn. I didn’t remember to check my thermometer until close to 8 am but it was still a chilly 28°. The frost on the sheet covering the broccoli and kale confirmed I was wise to make the effort.


It had warmed up a little by 10 am, so I went out to remove the sheets and see how everything had fared. As far as I could tell, everything seemed to make it through the cold night unscathed. My radish seedlings, Romaine lettuce, Iceberg lettuce, and spinach appeared to be in tip-top condition.

Collage of survivors

I hung all of the damp sheets on the fence to dry in the sun and thought “O spring, where art thou?”

Drying out the sheets



Signs of Life and Death

March 20th, 2013

I was so happy to see the radish seeds I planted last week showing signs of life even though we’ve had several nights near freezing since I planted them.

Baby Radishes

I was so sad to see that the basil I planted, clearly a bit too early, has not fared so well.  I’m not pronouncing it dead just yet but with more nights predicted to be near or below freezing this week, I’m not holding out a lot of hope.

Dying Basil

By the Ides of March

March 13th, 2013

Since the lion’s share of cool season vegetables should be in by March 15th, I spent today planting most of the rest of my garden.

I started with putting 9 Bonnie Spinach transplants in the bed with the radishes.  I’m really counting on the radishes to be good companions and lure away any pesky leafminers from the spinach so I don’t have to use many pesticides.  This spinach variety is purportedly “slow to bolt” which I’ve learned means it won’t go to seed as quickly once warm weather comes to stay.  I hope that means a few extra months of spinach for salads, omelets, and lasagna.

Spinach collage

Speaking of lasagna, up next were a few additions to my herb garden.  The curled and Italian flat leaf parsley overwintered as did the lime green thyme, the golden oregano, and the chives.  Since I love sweet basil and sage, I decided to go ahead and put those back in where they were last year and then have fun looking around for some different herbs to plant in the 2 open spots.

I really like the biodegradable pots that the Bonnie Plants company uses.  It sure makes it easy to plant and it feels good not to be throwing away all the plastic containers and cell packs.

Herb garden collage

Then it was on to the Buttercrunch Bibb and Red Sails lettuce.  I chose them because they too are “slow to bolt” and have both earned the coveted All-America Selection (which are the tried and true varieties perfect for a beginner like me).  I planted them in the largest center bed so they’d have plenty of room to grow.  The transplants already look good enough to eat. Which reminds me that I need to figure out what pests are waiting to swoop in and eat my salad!  The insects definitely got the best of me in Round 1.  I’m determined to win Round 2.

Buttercrunch and red lettuce collage

Planting lettuce as Chik looks on

Iceberg lettuce is Bruce’s favorite so I made sure to put in 9 transplants.  I can’t imagine that they are actually going to grow to look anything like the heads of iceberg lettuce you see at the Teeter but I’m hopeful I’ll get something loosely resembling them.  Since iceberg lettuce grows best in cool temperatures, I planted them under the chicken wire hoop so that I can provide some shade as the weather warms up.

Iceberg lettuce bed collage

Last up were the Premium Crop Broccoli (another All-America Selection) and the Lacinato Kale.  While to my knowledge I have never eaten kale, after my friend Heather endorsed it and I found out Thomas Jefferson grew this very variety at Monticello, I decided I had to give it a try.  The broccoli is on the left; the kale on the right.  Aren’t they beautiful already?

Broccoli and kale collageAfter everything was planted it was time to water it all in.  Navi scampered over to supervise.  She sure makes a great garden companion – just like radishes and spinach.

Navi helps with the watering in


The 3 R’s – Radishes, Raspberries, & Romaine

March 12th, 2013


While waiting 2-3 weeks for my carrot seeds to sprout, I decided to move on to planting radishes because the seeds should sprout in 4-6 DAYS!

Since direct sowing radishes is the same as direct sowing carrots, I felt like a pro planting the more manageable sized radish seeds.   I only put in 4 rows so that I will have room to plant spinach in the same bed as a companion plant because according to Organic Gardening, “radishes attract leafminers away from the spinach [and] the damage the leafminers do to radish leaves doesn’t prevent the radishes from growing nicely underground.”


Once the seeds were planted and gently, yet firmly, covered with soil, all that was left to do was mist the bed and start watching for the seedlings to pop up – hopefully by the end of the week!

Misting the radishes


Last season, I planted 3 raspberry plants that I ordered from an online nursery in Georgia because they were supposed to be particularly suited for North Carolina.  I paid $19.75 for each “jumbo” plant and sadly, not only didn’t they make it, they never showed any sign of life.

So this year, I decided to go with the $4.99 carton of raspberries (2 plants in each carton!) from my local Tractor Supply Company.  I went with three different varieties:  Harvest Gold, Brandywine, and Latham.

I planted the bare root plants exactly as instructed on the carton and made sure I watered them in very well.


Since raspberries are Bruce’s favorite fruit, he has fingers crossed that this season will be THE season for a huge harvest of raspberries.

Fingers crossed

Romaine lettuce

When I opened the bag of romaine lettuce seeds and saw that they were at least as small as the carrot seeds, I decided to direct sow only 2 rows from seed and then plant the rest of the bed with transplants from the garden center.  I scattered the seeds as thinly as I could in very shallow rows and covered them lightly.  Then Navi, the kitten, helped me “gently tamp” down the soil.

I filled out the rest of the bed with 3 rows of 3 transplants each and watered everything in, being careful to lightly mist the rows of seeds.  If I don’t let the seeds dry out, I can expect the seedling to emerge in 7-10 days.  Meanwhile, with any luck, the transplants will be well on their way to my salad bowl!



The Carrot Seed

March 11th, 2013


The Carrot Seed

I decided to kick off my 2013 Cool Season Garden by planting carrot seeds. As I researched everything I could about how to grow carrots from seed, I couldn’t help but feel a bit like the little boy in the classic children’s book The Carrot Seed:

A little boy planted a carrot seed.
His mother said, “I’m afraid it won’t come up.”
His father said, “I’m afraid it won’t come up.”
His brother said, “It won’t come up.”
Every day the little boy pulled up the weeds around the seed and sprinkled the ground with water.
But nothing came up.
And nothing came up.
Everyone kept saying it wouldn’t come up.
But he still pulled up the weeds around it every day and sprinkled the ground with water.
And then
One day
A carrot came up
Just as the little boy had known it would.

To ready the seed bed, I added some ashes from our wood burning fireplace because according to How To Grow Stuff, “the extra potassium will boost your crop.” I planted Danvers carrot seed from a local seed supplier and when I opened the bag, was astounded to find such tiny seeds!  I could suddenly see why the little boy’s family was so skeptical!

Carrot seeds

I was careful to rake the seed bed and clear it of any big rocks or clumps of soil that would impede the growth of straight carrots.  I scattered the tiny seeds into 4 rows, 12 inches apart so that I’d have room to plant another 4 rows in a couple of weeks.  I very gently, yet firmly, covered each row with as little soil as possible so the tender seedlings from those tiny seeds would have a chance of breaking through.

Covering the carrot seeds

After I misted the bed, all that was left was to wait for 2-3 weeks to see if my carrot seeds come up like the little boy’s did.  Smoky, one of our miniature horses seen just outside the fence in the picture above, appears to be hoping they will, too!

Ready, Set…

March 9th, 2013

Wheelbarrow in front of garden

The garden is weeded and fertilized and ready for my first try at a cool season garden!

A Garden in Winter

February 17th, 2013

Snow falling on garden1It’s time to plan and plant my first cool season garden!  And it’s time to start blogging again, too!  Please stay tuned.

The Pumpkin Chronicles

August 5th, 2012

So…my determination to use the experiential approach to learning in order to figure out why my baby pumpkins were shriveling up lasted just short of 24 hours.

“To the Internet!” I cried as my determination now turned to learning from other people’s experiences!

After wading through several cooperative extension service websites, GardenWeb forums, and vegetable gardening blogs, it became clear that my problem was that the female flowers on my pumpkin vine were not opening.  That meant that the baby pumpkins formed at the base of the female flowers like normal but when the flower failed to open and be pollinated, the baby pumpkin shriveled up and never developed.

As to why this was happening was far less clear.  The only reason that I could find that seemed plausible is that female flowers require cool nights to open.  We hadn’t seen a night below the mid 70s in weeks and since I had planted my pumpkin patch rather late in the season, it would stand to reason that I had missed the cool nights of spring that are optimal for pollination.

So, I started watching the weather forecast and inspecting the female flowers for any sign of a petal beginning to unfurl.

And at 8:17 am on the not so cool morning of July 19th, I was ecstatic to find this:

Now it was up to the bees!  Surely the term “busy bee” has some basis in fact!

Sure enough, the bees did their job and my baby pumpkin was soon off and growing like a weed!

Isn’t it beautiful?

Unfortunately, my baby pumpkin wasn’t the only thing growing like a weed!  The pumpkin vine was taking over — growing up and over the trellis, trailing down the sides of the raised bed, and spreading out along the ground!

Something had to be done.  So, after consulting the same cooperative extension service websites, GardenWeb forums and gardening blogs, I came to the conclusion, albeit reluctantly, that some pruning was in order.

That would turn out to be a tall order indeed.  The vines I had so lovingly weaved in and out of the trellis now appeared a tangled mess!  I did my best to trace each vine so as not to prune too severely.  Things were going well and I felt like I was beginning to bring the vine back in line.

And then the unthinkable happened.  I inadvertently cut the vine that fed my beautiful pumpkin.  I couldn’t believe it.

I was crestfallen.  My one and only perfect pumpkin cut down before it had a chance to grow up to be a Jack O’Lantern.  And I was responsible.

In an effort to console me, Laura and William set out to make the best of the unfortunate situation.

How couldn’t I feel at least a little better?  Such a happy little guy!

And I felt even better the next morning when I woke up to to find William had left me this:

Isn’t it beautiful?

It’s the Great Watermelon, Charlie Brown

July 16th, 2012

This morning, after searching high and low for another baby pumpkin and coming up with nothing, I decided to distract myself and turn my attention to my watermelon.

On June 7th, I planted 2 hills of 5 Sugar Baby watermelon seeds in one of the longest beds in the garden so the vines would have plenty of room to spread.

I chose Sugar Baby because the vines are compact and the watermelons are only 6-10 pounds when ripe.  I didn’t want the fruit to be much heavier than that because like the pumpkins, I wanted to grow them on a trellis.

So Bruce and I cranked out another A frame trellis for my Sugar Babies.

All of the seeds germinated in about a week and were a couple of inches high before I knew it!  The worst thing about planting 5 seeds in each hill is having to pull up 3 of them! All of the seedlings looked so healthy, which made thinning them even more difficult.

That unhappy task finished, I looked forward to the happier task of training the vines of the 4 plants that remained up onto the trellis.

And weaving those vines in and out of the trellis was just what I was doing this morning to get my mind off those pumpkins (or lack thereof!) when out of the corner of my eye I spotted this:

I couldn’t believe my eyes!  I had been so earnest in my search for the Great Pumpkin that I hadn’t noticed that the Great Watermelon was already rising out of the watermelon patch!

Upon closer inspection, I found several more hanging down inside the A frame, just like they were supposed to!  What good watermelons!  I even found one that was sitting on the dirt up against the base of the trellis.  Since it had no where to grow, I decided to pick it and ran inside to see how much it weighed!

My darling 1.344 pound Sugar Baby!  I’m so proud!

So proud (and downright ecstatic) in fact that I asked Laura to come take a picture of me with the first one I spotted hanging on the vine:

I guess it’s time to start thinking about making some slings that will hold 6-10 pounds. :)

In Search of the Great Pumpkin

July 15th, 2012

I’m feeling a bit like Linus van Pelt these days, because every morning I head out to see if there’s a pumpkin rising out of my pumpkin patch.

The 6′ x 6′ raised bed in the center of my garden officially became my pumpkin patch when I planted the transplant Jack O’Lantern on May 28th and the seeds Connecticut Field on June 6th.

Since my pumpkin patch is small by most standards, I need to encourage the sprawling vines to grow up rather than out.  So before the pumpkins grew too big, Bruce and I hoofed it over to Tractor Supply, bought 2 steel cattle feedlot panels and attached them at the top with hog rings to make an A frame trellis (I promise you that when I was growing up in suburbia, I never dreamed I’d use “Tractor Supply”, “cattle feedlot panels”, and “hog rings” in a sentence that had anything to do with me!).

Thanks to the drip irrigation and warm temperatures, it wasn’t even a month before “Jack O’Lantern” was off and its vines quite literally running and “Connecticut Field” had sprouted and started reaching for the trellis.

Surely, it was just a matter of time before my first baby pumpkin would appear!  And on June 26th I spotted something I thought might be it!

It definitely looked like a baby pumpkin and it was at the base of a flower which I thought was a good sign.  I became more and more hopeful over the next few days and began to envision my pumpkin cradled in a sling tied up to the trellis.

Then, on the morning of July 2nd, I saw this:

And my hopes and visions shrunk right along with what I thought was a baby pumpkin.

The same thing has happened to other potential baby pumpkins since.  “Why?” I wondered (and for the sake of experiment and experience, I decided for once NOT to consult the Internet…yet!).

It can’t be for lack of pollination!  There are plenty of bees!

And it can’t be for a lack of growth!  There is plenty of that, too!

So, for now, every morning, I go out to my pumpkin patch, weave the vines on the trellis in search of my Great Pumpkin.  And wait.

Beyond "Knee High by the 4th of July"

An experiment in vegetable gardening