April 25, 2009: Looking Back

Here it is, spring of 2009 and my 50th gardening season. I remember my first garden. It was the spring of 1960, I was a young widow with a baby and a toddler, and I was living in a duplex with a weedy patch behind the garage. It was the perfect spot for planting tomatoes, and plant tomatoes I did. I knew nothing of supports or trellises, so I just pulled the weeds, dug in a few plants and let them sprawl on the ground, watering them when they were dry. No fertilizer, no TLC, I just let them grow. And they grew, and grew, until they filled the entire garden. I learned to can tomatoes that year. In all these years since, I've never had such a productive tomato garden. I guess it was beginners luck, but I got the gardening bug and it never left me. This, my fiftieth season of gardening, is just as exciting and satisfying as that first tomato patch.

My 10-year-old grandson came to visit yesterday, and we went on a tour of the garden. He's been good to help rake up leaves, shovel compost into the beds and do some of the heavier work that I find to be harder on my old body each year. He's watched me plant, and he's wide eyed with wonder as he sees the garden come to life. I think I've instilled this love of the earth in him, that he has inherited the gardening genes of my grandmother, my mother and myself. We walked through the garden together, searching for new raspberry shoots, noticing the carrots were getting their frilly leaves, rejoicing over the strawberry blossoms. We paused long enough to find two small radishes for him to taste. He picked up an impulse sprinkler I had brought out to the garden and studied it, figuring out how the pressure of the water made it turn and how it changed directions.....he's curious that way, he has to know how everything works.

I hope he continues to find gardening exciting and satisfying for the next fifty years, just like his proud grandmother.

This week in the garden:

Thursday I worked on the small garden on the west side of the yard. It is twelve feet long and four feet deep, and abuts the neighbor's eye-sore of a fence. I usually put pots of cucumbers and cherry tomatoes here to hide the crooked boards, so I thought it would be a good spot to set out all my new self watering containers this year. It does get some afternoon shade from the fence, but that has proved to be an asset during our hot summers when the tomatoes sometimes suffer from blossom drop from the intense heat.

I made one more self watering container (SWC) bucket, my second one so far, and bought some tomato cages for them at Wal-Mart. They certainly are larger and sturdier than my old (very old) cages, so I guess it's time to buy more and replace all of the old ones. I wish I had used a larger one in the first SWC, but it's too late to replace it now. When the SWC was finished, I set it in place and transplanted a Rutgers tomato into it. It looks as though I'll only be able to put four SWCs in this garden. Any more, and there won't be room to get in there to pick the tomatoes.

After I finished planting the SWC, I seeded three clumps of Pacific Beauty Mix calendula in that garden, as well as two cabbage, one broccoli and one cauliflower transplant, and the remaining three basil plants. I then sprinkled seeds of Petite Yellow marigolds all along the front edge as a border and put a small wire fence around it all to hopefully keep dogs out. There is still room for the Crackerjack marigold seedlings when they are ready to set out.

We had a freeze warning for that night, it was expected to get down to 27F, so I covered the green beans and the "fairy wing flowers" (morning glories) with a sheet, and threw a blanket over the potatoes. All the seedlings were brought inside from the patio and given a good watering at the sink, then put in the laundry room for the night. I'm sure the peppers and tomatoes were much happier and a lot warmer there! It got down to 30F that evening, but everything looked just fine in the garden in the morning.

Yesterday (Friday) Annie discovered she can jump the small wire fence I had put around the new west garden, and she uprooted a cabbage plant. I found it in time and replanted it, but I'll have to find something more secure to fence in that area, because Annie jumps high for a fat girl!

In the north garden, I planted sunflowers (seeds) behind the squash patch and moved some of the compost from that mound over to the east garden, where I made a "hill" for a future zucchini. I'm afraid the one hill I planted earlier won't be enough for me and the neighbor, so a second hill will be planted in May.

I made seed tapes of Imperator carrots (102 seeds), Buttercrunch (12 seeds) and Yugoslavian Red lettuce (12 seeds), and planted them on the east side of the indeterminate tomato bed. There is a foot of space between the edges of the bed and where the tomatoes will be planted, and I can't seem to let an inch of space go unplanted! I still have several wimpy little cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings, so I think I'll put them on the other side of the tomato bed today, and plant a few nasturtium seeds in between them.

Last night I pushed a thermometer 6" into the compost pile in the big black bin, and it registered 130F. The compost pile in the fencing was only 80F, so I'll turn and combine the two piles in another week or two, or maybe invite the grandson to dinner and let him do it for me. I think I'm finally going to cook up some decent compost!

A Pictorial Tour of the Garden
*click photo to enlarge*

East bed #1, front to back; carrots (four varieties), green onions from the grocery store and radishes, Chioggia beets from Cheryl, more radishes and Detroit supreme beets. When the back row of radishes are pulled, there will be a 1-foot space in the center of this bed for four pepper plants to be planted.

East bed #2; Four cabbages, one square of dill from Dan, one square of dill from Daphne and two squares of nasturtiums.

East bed #3, front to back; Still babies so hard to see in the photo, but there are Royal Burgundy bush beans (not yet up), parsnips and Contender bush beans that are just beginning to show.

East bed #4; Four broccoli plants from EG, two squares of yellow onions and two squares of nasturtiums.

East bed #5; This one is really hard to see, but there are three squares of 3 varieties of lettuce and one square of nasturtiums on each side of the bed, with three rows of spinach (rows planted 1-foot apart). The spinach defines the 1-foot squares for 8 pepper plants that will go in this bed when it warms up.

East bed #6; Four cauliflower plants, two squares of parsley and two squares of nasturtiums. You can really see where I put unenriched soil in the corners for the nasturtiums!

East bed #7; Four squares of carrots (4 varieties) on the left and four squares of beets (two varieties) on the right, with room in the center for eight pepper plants.

East bed #8; Potatoes. The Yukon gold haven't broken through yet.

East bed, south fence; Super Sugar Snap peas with Black Seeded Simpson lettuce just emerging.

East fence bed #1; Shallots from last fall's planting. I was going to put a pot of cucumbers behind them, but the post of neighbor's new gate falls right in the center of this bed, so as soon as the shallots are pulled, I'll remove the bed completely and put in some stepping stones or pavers.

East fence bed #2; Nothing here but 5 brassicas (lost the labels, so whatever grows will be a surprise). This is where 3 or 4 determinate tomatoes will be planted, along with a few marigolds.

East fence bed #3; The garlic is looking MUCH better since I sprayed it with cornmeal tea! The rosemary is definitely dead and will have to be replaced.

East fence bed #4; Nothing but 4 brassicas of unknown varieties, and four basil plants in this future tomato bed.

East fence bed #5; A new blue pot will hold lemon cucumbers from Cheryl. In front of it are my chives, which are beginning to blossom, and the entire bed is surrounded with mixed sizes of marigolds. The pretty tulips are on the other side of the fence, and belong to my neighbor.

In the "dog kennel garden" bed #1, Alderman peas and mesclun.

Dog kennel garden bed #2; Three varieties of lettuce, now protected with netting so the quail don't eat it all.

The first of three barrels in the north garden holds the leftovers from the brassica seedlings. I'll tuck these plants into the tomato bed today, then this planter will be the home to two varieties of melons from Dan.

North garden barrel #2 holds one of the two new bluberry bushes, a leftover strawberry plant and some large variety nasturtiums.

North garden barrel #3 contains the second (rather sickly) blueberry and nasturtiums.

North garden bed #1: borage from Cheryl, godetia and Kentucky Blue pole beans (not yet showing)

North garden bed #2: Strawberries, sweet onions and yellow onions.

North garden bed #3: Bush beans from the dollar store (45-cents worth!), raspberries and spinach. One of the raspberries has sent up a new cane! I MUST thin the spinach soon. Some of the beans have really yellow leaves, but I found that is quite normal in this cold weather. Once it warms up again, they should green right up.

I won't show North garden bed #4 (the indeterminate tomato bed) and bed #5 (the squash bed) as nothing is showing there yet.

This is the west garden, the one that is "under construction" this weekend. Although they don't show well in this photo, there are two nice tomato plants in those SWCs. I have planted 5 brassicas, 4 basil plants and a lot of calendula and marigolds in this garden, as well as bush cucumbers in the pot in the center of the photo. Two more SWCs will be placed to the right side of the garden.

The Blue Pot

Hardening off the last of the plants before they go into the garden.

****And finally, two views of the garden****

The next complete pictorial tour of the garden is scheduled for the last Saturday in May.


  1. You've been busy! I put store bought bunching onions in the garden too. When they start going soft in my fridge, I just pop them in a bed somewhere and they grow. It keeps me from throwing them away.

  2. Granny, are ya growin' EG's de Cicco broccoli? Everything's looking great!

  3. Daphne; I'll buy them from the store just to have them fresh, in a pot or the garden, year round! I only usually use one or two of a purchase bunch, so I immediately plant the excess. I've grown some gorgeous onions from them!

    EG; Half my broccoli is your De Cicco and the other half is Calabrese. Unfortunately, my labels disintegrated and I don't know which is which! I don't even know which is broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower! If/when they get larger, I should be able to tell the broccoli apart...I think.

  4. Can't wait to see how your garden grows. Congrats on your 50 years of gardening!

  5. Very touching at the beginning of this post Granny. I am always hoping to instill the love of gardening into my 3 children. So far my middle child seems to be taking interest and he has a knack at identifying plants.

    You sure have been quite busy and reading this post makes me feel like I have been lazy and am drastically behind! lol! I love your blueberries in the barrel and was hoping to do the same thing this year if the budget allows.

    As always, visiting your blog is a treat. :)

  6. Cynthia, thank you. You are far from lazy, look at all the time you have been spending with your children! I've certainly enjoyed your nature blogs.

  7. Well done Annie's Granny - both in your garden's progress and in sharing the love of gardening with your grandson.

    It was a pleasure to read about your first garden. Gardening has obviously has been a part of your life ever since and it shows.

    Looking forward to the May garden tour.

  8. I'm sure glad you're sharing your 50 years of experience. I've been gardening for a long time, but have never had a year where I didn't learn at least one new trick. That's what is so wonderful about the "net". A great place to share. Thanks so much!

  9. That is such a great story Granny! I think it emphasizes the point that we just have to try even if we don't know what we're doing. Also, I used to garden with my grandfather and that has been one of the highlights of my childhood -- something special that I will always remember! He planted a seed in my head and got me interested in growing food -- and he taught me so much.

    Your gardens are looking so nice!

  10. Kitsapfg; Thank you. I love to look back at photos of my gardens' progress from month to month....of course I'm usually out there taking them week to week!

    Sue; You're most welcome. I'm happy that you enjoy it, as I enjoy sharing with all of you.

    Judy; Sometimes I still don't know what I'm doing, but it's always fun to try anyway! Gardening can be an exciting adventure ;-)

  11. I got the planting bug from my grandmother. I'd help her out in her yard or she'd help us out in ours. My mom, she'd get the garden going, but I'd kind of nurse it along. My kids, the bug didn't stick with any of them. I've got one last hope, that's my little niece. She loves helping in the garden and getting her little bag to go "shopping."

    p.s. You borage has outgrown mine.

  12. Cheryl, my grandmother gardened well into her 90s, and my mother loved gardening too, so I was pretty familiar with how to garden by the time I started. None of my children inherited the gene, so my only hope is this grandson.

    I direct seeded my borage right after you sent it, holding back some seeds just in case it was too early. I'm surprised it is doing as well as it is, as I noticed the quail had a bite of that, too.

  13. It skips a generation, doesn't it, granny. I loved your story. Have you turned him on to your blog yet? I'd bet he'd love it as well as leaving messages for you.

  14. It certainly seems to, Ribbit. Yes, he has seen my blog a few times, when I force him to look ;-) Of course, his comments are to me, in person. I think he's more interested in food than gardening, though. He was here today, and started reading a cookbook I had on the counter. When he came to "meatloaf", he informed me he was really hungry for that. Of course, I told him to bring the bus here after school Friday, and he'll have meatloaf.

  15. Wow, I don't know what to say... you had me at your 50th season. OMG, that's downright amazing.

    Everything else looks great. Impressive. I'm excited to see how it grows as well. You've got tons going. Yay!

    It's game on between EG's and you're broccoli, hehe.

  16. Wow! I was 7 and probably following Grandma or Dad around the garden when you started yours.
    My girls both like plants and would probably garden if they weren't so busy with kids and life.
    The grandsons like gardens, too, but not to the extent of being willing to actually WORK in one...LOL...even if they were close enough to do so.
    Just looking at your garden is enough to tire me out. I have enough trouble keeping up with my tiny little garden, but I think that's mostly because of the heat. Just walking from the house to the car wears me out when it's 95 degrees.
    Anyway, it's looking good, for sure.

  17. Everything looks so beautiful, Granny. You're going to have some serious veggies this year!

  18. Sinfonian; If I'd known I was going to last this long, I'd have taken better care of myself ;-)

    I won't have a chance of beating EG out on the broccoli. My seedlings were so scrawny, and I still can't find BT, so I'll just scavenge for little green worms. EG babies and fusses over his plants, I just plant the things and keep my fingers crossed!

    SB; You just told us your age! I know what you mean about the heat. We get really hot summers here and that's the only time I get up real early in the morning, so I can get my outside work done before it's sweltering.

    Jen; Thank you. I hope I get some good stuff. I know it won't be radishes, though. Darned things have pretty tops and no root. I don't like them, anyway....maybe they sense that and refuse to grow for me LOL!

  19. Granny, just think how our Gchildren and GGchildren (and so on) will appreciate the journals.


  20. John, I hope they enjoy them as much as I enjoy finding my grandparents' journals. I found a very old one written by my favorite grandfather, and I was absolutely thrilled to have it.

  21. I love these long posts! Your comments about your grandson remind me of my nephew. He's had some trouble in his life (much better now that my brother is remarried) and I seriously think gardening with my mom has helped him become interested in something and has been a great outlet for him. I'll never forget one day when he was trying to chop up a worm with his spade and I went over and explained to him why he shouldn't do that and what they do. For the rest of the day he was finding worms (we were digging stuff up) and carefully carrying them over to safety in my mom's compost pile. I was so proud of him :)

    So how do you make your seed tapes? I was planting carrots yesterday and was thinking I should make them but I don't know what would be best.

    Also - what does the cornmeal tea do for garlic? I remember your post about how they were sickly... they do look much much better! Does it act as a fungicide, then?

  22. Bethany, that was a long post, wasn't it? ;-)

    My grandson, like your nephew, is also from a troubled (motherless) home. I'm so happy he spends a lot of time with us, I feel he needs that extra security of knowing we are always here for him.

    The post about the seed tapes (these were actually seed mats, the tapes are just cut narrower) is here: http://annieskitchengarden.blogspot.com/2009/03/march-19-2009-finally-i-get-outside-to.html

    Those seed mats worked great, by the way. Three of the four varieties germinated well, the fourth was OK, but that must be the seed, as "normal" planting method gave me the same results.

    The post about the corn meal as a fungicide is here: http://annieskitchengarden.blogspot.com/2009/04/april-12-2009-sickly-garlic.html

    It really seemed to do the trick. I probably should have done at least one follow up application though.

  23. Annie's not fat just big boned, hehe. I have squirrels that dig something up every day, enough to drive me crazy. They keep pulling up the onion sets and putting them in piles. That's some pretty hot compost you have. Your garden is really starting to fill up, won't be long until you have a lush garden now.

  24. Dan, let's face it...Annie is fat!

    I'm surprised the squirrels don't bother my garden. I guess the neighbor's walnut trees keep them happy.

    One more week and the weather should be warm enough to make the garden grow. I sure hope it makes a better showing on the next pictorial tour at the end of May!

  25. Oh I teared up reading that first little bit! What a wonderful legacy. And of course the garden looks amazing as ever, what can I say? You are the PRO!

  26. Jenn, thank you. You make me blush....I'm far from being the pro!