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!

Beyond "Knee High by the 4th of July"

An experiment in vegetable gardening