Since I have been speaking about how our gardens influenced my lifestyle change, I should probably show you around! One of my absolute favorite parts of the day is watering everything and seeing the growth from each day.
We have two wooden raised beds with trellises that were here when we purchased the home. Then there is a small plot by the garage that Jason starting digging up the day we moved in. It used to be grass and it was pointless and awkward to imagine mowing this small area surrounded by pathways. Then we have 3 identical cement block raised beds that Jason started building last year and completed 2 this spring to start the season, and the 3rd in June to continue growth.
I did not take pictures of the herb pots or the strawberry bed. The yield on the strawberries was magnificent the first two years, but unfortunately most of the plants dried up this year. We are discussing whether to replant new strawberries next year, or fill the long and narrow bed with flowers.
Since we have such a variety in beds, and the space to do so, we are using them to experiment with a variety of vegetables.
The first wooden raised bed. We have always done tomatoes in these beds. In previous years, we did Romas, but have always been overrun by them. This year we tried 3 Heirloom varietals: Purple Prince (because PRINCE), Yellow Plum, and Beefsteak. The Purple Prince will be a deep red, nearly purple, medium sized tomato. The Yellow Plum will be similarily sized to a grape tomato. The good ol’ Beefsteak is the large and meaty tomato that slices great for sandwiches. There are a total of 6 tomato plants between the two beds.
The green beans are on the trellis behind this first set of tomatoes. These plants are the original beans we started with 3 seasons ago, as Jason harvests and dries some at the end of the season to replant in the spring. They’ve worked beautifully for us each year.
Don’t judge my weeding in this picture! This is two days growth of this awful plant that has always invaded our tomatoes. I’ve found it easiest to wait a few days because it grows so quickly and I can pull some big suckers out.
The second tomato bed. The kids like to attack my little white critter fences, isn’t that sweet? (Cue sarcastic eye-roll). There is one lone pea plant hidden behind there. Peas have always produced for us, but they were a woeful failure this year. Jason has planted 3 separate varieties on 3 separate occasions, and they just would not sprout this year. We’ve been suffering drought-like conditions with lots of dry heat, and so I think there just wasn’t the opportunity for them to grow.
Speaking of no rain – we got our first downpour in nearly a MONTH this morning – woohoo! My poor empty rain barrels are overflowing again!
Onto the oddly-shaped little bed. We’ve tried a bunch of different things over the past few years in this little guy. We did sunflowers, which grew as tall as the garage! Tried corn, which ended up as decorative stalks for me. We’ve also done broccoli, okra, and carrots down here. This year we did just broccoli because last year it went nuts and crowded the carrots. It’s doing well and some small heads have popped. Unfortunately, when the seedlings just started to poke through, a small critter ate a lot of the leaves so not everything made it this far.
Adjacent to the small bed is the rhubarb. Jason transplanted this when we moved in from his mother’s plant. We waited the necessary two years after moving it, and you can see the success! I have made rhubarb bread and it was surprisingly sweet. My two-year-old actually ate it raw, which shows how yummy it is. Jason has requested a Strawberry and Rhubarb Pie, which I will get around to one of these days.
The first of the new beds. We compared costs of wood to cement block, and it was over $100 difference. If I remember correctly, Jason was able to purchase the block for each bed around $30-$35. We looked into whether there would be any environmental leachings of the block and they are safe. Jason saved all the turf that was pulled up in this area last year and piled it up and tarped it over this winter. It became very nutrient rich and we used this to fill in the beds, with a layer of topsoil and manure on top. The wood chips we filled in around the beds are from the city of West Allis, which allows residents to take free wood chips if you haul it yourself. So with a little ingenuity and a lot of sweat, raised beds don’t need to cost a fortune!
Onto what’s in them. This first one starts with Okra. Before I met Jason I had never even tried it. Oh, it is so yummy fried up! I have attached a picture of an Okra flower next because they are simply beautiful. If they didn’t taste so darn good, I would definitely pick the flowers.
Next in the bed are the carrots. In previous years we have always done traditional orange carrots. This year we chose an heirloom variety that will present with a multitude of different colors: white, yellow, purple, etc. I’ll update on those when we harvest them!
Last is the Kohlrabi. Oh, how I love Kohlrabi! This was one of our new trials this year and I’m happy to report that it is coming in well. We tried two varieties; a traditional white/green one and a purple one (because I had to know). I’ve attached a picture of the purple one I tried today. While I am slightly disappointed to report that it wasn’t purple all the way through, I am happy to say that it tastes quite good. The flavor is a little milder than traditional Kohlrabi and they are slightly crispier. So if that is the the way you prefer your Kohlrabi then I certainly recommend them!
The second bed has played host to the cucumbers, arugula, red lettuce, and scallions this year. If you read my previous blog (about pickle-making) then you know that I am overrun by cucumbers! We tried them out for the first time this year and went with an heirloom. I actually spent yesterday afternoon pickling my second batch of another 15 jars so we are set for the year! With such success we’ve decided to trellis our cucumbers starting next year so they don’t overrun other crops and to allow for easier harvesting. This next picture shows you our daily pick!
The arugula was in the center of the bed and has since been clear-cut to allow space for the cucs to grow. It was actually the first thing to sprout this year and we were eating it in a matter of weeks after planting. We actually got three cuttings before I removed it so it certainly served it’s purpose. It was quite spicy and blended well with the red lettuce. Speaking of which, the red leaf lettuce is remarkable. I’m on my fourth cutting, and it shows no sign of slowing down. I did have have an aphid infestation, which has since nearly cleared up by eliminating dead leaves and spraying the lettuce with a hose every few days (see, no need for pesticides). Last in this bed are the scallions. They make such a nice addition to soups, my daily salads, and my love of baked potatoes. I have been known to grab a few, wipe them off, and munch them while I weed.
The last bed was completed and planted at the end of June, so it is just beginning to sprout. In the back are two varieties of cabbage, red and green. So far they are showing the most growth. In the middle will be Brussel sprouts. The tiny sprouts in the front corner are parsnips. I will update on this bed when it becomes a little more interesting.
When I started my in-home daycare nearly two years ago I named it Miss Suzi’s Sprouts. Now it means even more than the nurturing of little people. These little children love engaging with the vegetables every day. I bought them all mini watering cans and they help water and pick everyday. I have seen children who swear they don’t like vegetables pick something and eat it right on the spot (my eldest Becker pictured above)! When little minds have a real understanding of where their food comes from, and they have a hand in growing it, they are much more apt to eat nutritious food. I love that I have a hand in starting food appreciation in these children at such a young and impressionable age. And their parents love getting my extra veggies sent home at the end of the day!
(These pictures are of my own two boys helping out!)