This is a collection of posts that I’ve written about my adventures gardening in the great state of Maine. I began writing about this topic in 2014 and have yet to stop. These posts aren’t in any particular order, but they sure are exciting!
Every spring, as I plant my garden, I surprise myself with how wonderful everything looks. I do the weeding from the previous year early on and when I’m finished with that, I plant the seeds. I usually grow tomatoes, kale, chard, beets, and various types of lettuce. After I plant, I sit back and wait. I also do a lot of watering. The first of June comes and goes and as the weeks transition from one to the next, I become more and more excited as I see each plant sprout from the dirt. The excitement stays with me until I watch in horror as the weeds grow as well. And those weeds do like to grow. Sometimes faster than the vegetable plants themselves. By the time July rolls around and after I’ve done a hint of weeding, I throw my hands in the air in disgust and walk away. I wonder to myself if this is what everyone is referring to when they tell others that they “do a lot of gardening.” Because to me, it generally turns into more of a weeding endeavor than anything else.
Every year though, no matter how many weeds decide to grow, I manage to get an enormous harvest, so things aren’t that bad. And to be honest, my heart is only half into the gardening thing anyway. I enjoy setting things up, such as buying the dirt, compost, and fertilizer and then planting the seeds, but beyond that, I’m not one to maintain things. I’m much more of an initiator. I like to say that there are people to maintain things. I’m not one of them.
Vegetable Garden Ground Cover to Prevent Weeds
Last year some time, I saw some sort of fabric sticking out of the dirt toward the edge of our property. As I pulled on it and lifted it up, I discovered that it was a barrier that either kept the nearby soil intact or was used to keep weeds from growing from that soil into the atmosphere. After deciding that it was doing no good where it was, I pulled it all up and saved myself a pile of ugliness that I had originally thought I’d throw away. Earlier on this season, I came up with an even better idea: I’d use this fabric to cover my vegetable garden. I’d trim it to size and then cut small holes in it through which I could plant my seeds. The fabric seemed somewhat indestructible and it allows water to permeate it, so I agreed with myself that using it was a good idea. Over the past weekend, I trimmed the fabric to size and yesterday, I began cutting the holes in it. I also planted seven kale plants and seven chard plants. The tomatoes will come later on when I can locate some that are already growing.
Take a look at this fabric. It’s the stuff straight jackets are made of. I have no idea what it is, but it certainly doesn’t biodegrade.
It’s nearly impossible to cut with scissors, but a sharp razor goes right through it. As it stands, I’ve got the entire garden covered with this material, but have only cut 21 holes in it; enough for almost half of the entire area.
So far, I’ve filled three watering cans and watered the fabric with it. The water first moistens the material and then drips down into the dirt. Besides using this stuff as a weed barrier, I also very much like the idea that it’s going to slow evaporation tremendously. The sun won’t be hitting the soil itself, so that won’t dry out nearly as fast as it usually does. During the heat of summer, that can happen quite quickly. Watering gardens isn’t one of my favorite pastimes, so this should work out.
If I didn’t happen to find this woven weed control covering for free, I think I may have gone out to purchase the more popular garden weed mat that most people use. It comes in a big black roll that can be used for real professional or larger back yard gardens. The weed mat material is thinner and easier to work with, but since I found what I have, I’ll take advantage of it.
I hope you can appreciate how much more I’m at ease now that I don’t have to concern myself with all the weeding I usually dread. Once the plants begin to grow and I have something to show you, I’ll either write a new post or add to this one to show you either my success or failure. I sure hope it’s a success. I don’t see how it can’t be.
Planting Tomatoes, Swiss Chard, Kale, & Lettuce
I got a good jump on my gardening this year, but was forced to stop because we experienced a brief heat wave earlier this week. The temperature rose up to 90 degrees and there was no way I was going to work outside in that. Early this morning, the heat moved out and the cool moved back in. It’s 68 degrees and just about perfect outside right now, so a little while ago, I finished up what I had to do. I wasn’t planning on writing a post about it, but what the heck. I enjoy taking photos of such things, so I thought I’d share them with you.
I already told you about my new garden weed barriers, so there’s not much more to say about them. The only thing I had left to do in regards to that feature of the garden was to finish cutting holes in them. I had already cut 21 holes for the one half of the garden, so today I cut the other 21. Plus an additional 10 in the center area for some lettuce to grow. Here’s a photo of the finished product. Take a look at all those areas that weeds aren’t going to grow. Again, this is probably going to be one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done. Just to experience the satisfaction of not having to weed is going to be rather awesome.
Here’s some Swiss chard that’s peeking through one of the holes. I’ve got a total of 14 Swiss chard plants that are growing, which means Laura, my friends, and I will be well fed this season.
And here are some baby kale plants. Like the chard, I’ve got 14 of these growing out there, plus a few extras in a pot I’ll discuss in a moment.
On the left side of the garden, I planted some seeds right after I finished cutting the holes in the barrier. Those seeds have already sprung to life and are off to the races. On the right side, I transplanted the kale and chard from some containers that I began growing in approximately two weeks ago. I’m hopeful that those transplants take, but if they don’t, I’ve got some backups. If the backups don’t take, then I guess I’ll plant from seed directly in the garden soil. Here are some of the young Swiss chard plants that I transplanted into the garden.
As far as tomatoes go, I’ve got them too. I didn’t want too many plants this year, as the six I grew last year were a handful. As it turns out, I had 14 spaces waiting for me, so I filled them with seven tomato seeds and seven tomato transplants. Two different types; some cherry tomatoes and some medium sized ones. We’ve got so many seeds, we had to do something with them. I just need to make sure I get out there regularly and prune the bushes. They can become very unruly very quickly.
A few years back, I went a little nuts and bought a bunch of huge garden buckets. Or pails, Whatever you call them. I bought them and I’ve used them for sporadic planting. This year, since Laura had some cucumber plants ready to go into some dirt, I decided to pull the buckets out and fill them with soil. So far, we’ve got four filled and I’ve got another four waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. I have more too, but those are a bit smaller. I think these are seven gallon buckets.
Here are some of Laura’s baby cucumber plants. We’ll need to stake these plants as they begin growing. Either that, or we’ll simply move the bucket so it’s situated next to the fence. The plants will climb right up that.
I forget how large cucumber plants get, so I’m not sure if this bucket will become overcrowded.
Here are some baby beet plants that I transplanted into a bucket. I’m actually going to go plant four more plants in this one bucket when I finish writing this post. I thought these were chard as opposed to beets, and chard needs more room. Since beets primarily grow underground, I’ll have plenty of space. I hope.
This is one of the three baby kale plants that I planted in a bucket. Again, since we had the plants, I felt that I needed to use them. We’ll have tons of salad, but that’s fine with me. Maybe we’ll make a few smoothies too.
Check out how dark that soil is. That’s the good stuff. Laura bought a few bags of it just for this type of occasion.
Do you remember when I wrote a post last year about growing grapes? And about how I made my own grape juice? Well check this out. My two grape vines are growing out of control this year. Here’s one of them.
Both vines are totally loaded with tiny little bunches of grapes. These are the ones that smell so sweet when I ride past them on the lawnmower.
As you may have guessed, I plan on making another batch of grape juice this year. I was thrilled with myself because of what I managed to do last year, so I figure I’ll simply repeat the process.
Well, that’s my update for today. You can be sure I’ll give you status posts after all the plants begin growing through all those little holes. I sure do hope things turn out as I plan them to. After all, this is my first time using a barrier like this. Until next time!
Mid-Summer Maine Garden
Boy, it’s been a warm one this year. We’ve had off and on mini-heat waves since June. It gets hot and sticky and then nice and cool. I’m not one for the heat, but I make do. Last week, in between the humidity, the temperature dropped to 53 degrees overnight. Laura and I had the window in the bedroom wide open and let me tell you, it was glorious. I had to stop myself from running around outside like a crazy man. I do love crisp air and the best part is that more of it is just around the corner. October will be here before we know it and we’ll be back in the car traveling towards New Hampshire for some nice hiking. I’ve already got our spot picked out.
Anyway, I thought I’d update you on my backyard garden. The last time I mentioned this garden was back in May and then June and not a lot was going on. I first put down the weed barrier and then planted some veggies a bit later on. The growing was slow going just about all the way through June, but it’s much better now. I think the plants wanted some real good heat and some watering. I’m so lazy when it comes to gardening these days that I don’t get out there nearly as much as I should to water. But since it’s been raining on and off, I luckily haven’t had to do much of that at all. At this point though, I’d say everything is just about the way I want it. For the past few weeks, we’ve been enjoying wonderful kale and chard salads and our cucumbers, zucchini, and herbs are doing very well. Not to mention my grapes. They’re spectacular as well. I am looking forward to making some more grape juice.
Before I begin, let me tell you about a new rule I’ve laid down around here. I will never again plant any type of garden without a weed barrier. I’ve concluded that I must have been crazy to not use one in the past. By this point in the season, if I hadn’t put a barrier down, I’d be inundated with crabgrass, clover, and just about any other type of weed you can think of, growing right next to my beloved tomato plants, among others. Can you imagine? I can. Year after year, I’d have to go out there to pull these weeds out. I’d eventually give up because the job was just terrible (and really not worth it after a certain point). I’d tell myself that I’d simply grab as much in the way of vegetables that I could and leave it at that. Well, no more. This year, I’ve got just about zero weeds. I can’t believe it. So weed barrier yes, exposed dirt no.
I’ll start off with a photo of our cucumber plants in some buckets along with one part of a grape vine clung to the fence. I’ve got lots of big buckets in which to plant. We went out and bought a few bags of garden soil and I filled the bottom half of the buckets with regular dirt from the woods and then the top half with the good stuff. I’m so thrifty.
These are beets and kale growing in buckets. I really like the idea of growing in these types of containers. There’s a lot of control this way. I can move them around if I want and there aren’t any weeds to speak of.
This is some baby lettuce that I’ve got growing in buckets as well. I have some more mature lettuce in the regular garden, but since this grows in waves, I like to have a few different areas at the ready. The trick with lettuce is to plant the seeds in shallow holes, water it often, and to keep the slugs away when it starts growing. Slugs are insidious little creatures.
This is half of the regular garden. Lots of beautiful kale in there.
Here’s the entire garden. I just pruned the tomato plants yesterday and now they look like little palm trees.
These plants should be twice this size by now, but they got a very late start.
When it comes to pruning tomato plants, I say the more the better. I really butcher mine and I get tons of tomatoes every year. If you don’t prune them heavily, they’ll grow out of control.
Here are some nice photos of some kale, chard, baby tomatoes, tomato flowers, and a little zucchini.
These are three of Laura’s zucchini plants. They also got a late start because they just didn’t want to grow. But when they finally did, boy did they ever. They’re just beginning to produce.
And finally as a special treat, here’s a glimpse of the bird feeder contraption that I made for Laura. We used to have this closer to the house, but the seed was making a mess. The squirrels would also climb the siding and jump onto the feeder. I made it so no squirrels can make it up to the top anymore. We’ve been living in paradise without having to deal with those stupid squirrels eating the bird food. And if you’ll notice, I put a roof on it so the feeders can hang from it. It’s pretty awesome.
So tell me, how is your garden going? Do you have one? What’s the season been like for you?
Bountiful Garden Harvest
I was outside yesterday picking some yellow squash that was getting rather large, when I noticed the orange tops of a few carrots peeking through the surface of some nearby soil. I decided to grab the greens of those carrots and give a nice tug. Surprisingly, some fully grown carrots appeared in my hand, like magic.
I say this like it’s a miracle because it sort of is. Last year, when I attempted this stunt, I ended up with dozens of half-grown carrots that we devoured the very night I pulled them from the earth. This time, I waited and waited and then pulled them out. And this time, I’m thinking they were fully grown. A little short, but fat like they’re supposed to be.
While I was out there, I decided to grab a couple of beets that were looking me in the eye as well as the squash I referred to earlier. Here is a photo of this particular haul.
I get about this much (random vegetables), plus tons of greens, about every other day. It’s getting to be overwhelming and the tomatoes aren’t even ready yet.
Ever since I began growing some of our own food, I’ve become a huge proponent of backyard gardening. The reason for this is simple; so many folks can do it. Believe it or not, even if you don’t have any property on which to set up a real garden per se, you can grow your own basil plants on a windowsill inside your home or apartment. There are many ways you can get away with taking an up close look at how nature works and save some money at the grocery store to boot.
Regarding the backyard garden, it’s not that difficult to set up. And it’s not expensive at all. If you have grass, any grass, head out and purchase two 2×12″ pieces of pine lumber. Then, cut those pieces in half (they can do that at the store) and screw the corners together so the wood forms a square. Then, do the math for how much cubic footage you have inside the square (16 cubic feet) and head out and buy some garden soil from a local hardware store or garden shop. Place the square on the grass where the sun is the brightest and fill that square up with dirt. Come late May, plant a bunch of seeds according to the instructions on the packet and within a few months, you’ll be writing blog posts like I am right now. The best part is, the majority of the expense only happens once – at the beginning. Every year, the food you pick from your garden gets less and less expensive because it’s paying back your investment cost, which was minimal.
I think everyone should grow something. If nothing else, do the basil because it’s so easy. You can even get these plants already growing in the grocery store. They have them in pots. Basil is so expensive and is called for in so many recipes. There’s almost nothing to lose.
Do you have any questions about setting up a garden? If so, please ask me in the comment section below. As you might have noticed, I’m just jonesing to talk about this kind of thing.
Harvesting Garden Beets
This is the first year I planted beets, so I’m thrilled with how nicely they’re growing. I had no idea it was so easy. Really, beets are almost as hands-off as Swiss chard and kale. Take a look at these beauties.
The stems and leaves of beets look almost exactly like those of chard. As you may have noticed from the photo above, I already snipped a few from those that I just pulled out of the ground. I like to trim occasionally because the leaves are large and they sometimes lean over and cover up whatever it is growing beside them. In this case, I have kale on one side a pretty awesome baby lettuce variety growing on the other.
All in all, this season is turning into something serious. I’m at the point of not knowing what to do with everything. We’ve got basil all over the place, along with these beets that I planted in waves. Laura has a forest of cilantro and dill up in the front. With the tomatoes, squash and zucchini already doing their things, I’m getting nervous. I suppose I should consider building good will again, like I did last year, and giving some of this stuff away. I know a few people who would be interested.
Last night, I prepared a salad for my other blog. The recipe called for a cup and a half of fresh basil, which I was only too happy to head out to the garden to get. I did that and as I was walking back inside, I realized that I had about $10 worth of basil leaves in my hand. Trust me, I purchase this herb often and each and every time I do, I shake my head at how expensive it is. Having it so accessible for such a small cost in the back yard is magnificent. And that’s the truth.
Check out this next picture. Take a look at how healthy those leaves and stems are. I just ate a few of them in my salad for lunch and you can’t beat them.
If I only had a way to store this stuff, things would be perfect. I’d like to grab one of those chest freezers. We don’t have the room for it though. I’ll figure something out.
Huge Vegetables in Garden!
I think we finally got this gardening thing right. Last year, I planted way too much kale and chard and we couldn’t even come close to eating all of it. I had so much that I was giving it away. Basically, I had one raised bed (8’x4′) with only kale in it and another raised bed with only Swiss chard in it. In buckets, I had about thirty tomato plants and in another garden altogether (Laura’s garden), we had zucchini and yellow squash.
What I learned is that it didn’t matter how much zucchini grew. We’d eat it. Also, we prefer zucchini over yellow squash, but still enjoy both of them. I like kale and chard, but don’t need nearly as much as I grew last year. I love basil and other herbs and made a commitment that I’d grow some this year. Oh yeah – one thing that really didn’t work out for me was the buckets. During the heat of the season in July and August, the sun would beat so hard on the sides of the black buckets that they would dry out very quickly. I was forced to do some deep watering every single day and even though I was able to harvest tons of tomatoes, I didn’t enjoy the process. All I wanted was one nice garden that was well diversified – and deep.
Check this out.
I’m not sure if I told you this or not, but when we moved into this house, we discovered a large pile of driveway pavers. I’ve moved these pavers around quite a bit and finally, they settled where they are now. I hope I don’t have to move them again.
At this point, after many trips with the wheelbarrow, I have a garden that’s about twenty feet long and four feet wide. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s sixteen inches deep. I also have a really nice variety of vegetables and herbs that, just yesterday, I began harvesting. I’ll show you some photos.
This is a yellow squash plant. You can see the young ones growing. Behind this plant are a few zucchini plants, which are a bit smaller. They grow super fast, so I’m crossing my fingers that we can begin eating them soon.
I’ve got six Big Boy tomato plants growing along the back of the garden. You can see some stakes in the previous photo. These guys are getting large quickly and I’m forced to trim them to keep them at bay.
I have five really healthy basil plants growing, which is nice because they’ve got some great health benefits to them. I trim some leaves and add them to every salad we eat.
I used to have one more but that mysteriously disappeared one night. I’m left wondering what happened.
A friend who lives up the road from us let us take some parsley that wintered over from last year. We did and it’s growing wonderfully. I also planted some earlier in the season that’s getting right up there with the stuff that was already growing. I’m hopeful that ours will winter over too so I don’t have as much work to do next year.
In the next few photos, I have a lettuce mixture that’s starting to come up, some beets that I’m very much looking forward to, carrots that just started to take off last week, our staple Ruby Red Swiss chard and some kale. Each night now, I go outside and trim some from each area for that night’s salad. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Towards the front of our house, Laura made some huge gardens during the spring. I positioned some old raised beds that we had laying around in one of them and she planted various herbs. We can now add fresh dill, more basil and cilantro to our salads as well. On top of that, the same friend I mentioned earlier also gave us some chocolate mint plants that we need to keep an eye on. I hear they spread like wildfire. I’ll have to find an edible use for these too.
I’d say things are coming along nicely. At the very least, we get some low cost food and I also get to see how everything grows, which will help for next year’s planning.
This Year’s Gardening Season is Almost Over
Well, this year’s gardening season was a complete success. I set up three raised beds and we grew cherry, plum and big boy tomatoes, green beans, chard, kale and lettuce. I, never in my life, thought we could get so much food from three small locations.
I believe the first vegetable we began eating was kale. That was in the middle of June some time. Since that moment, we stopped purchasing any type of salad green from the market and, for three straight months, saved money hand over fist. I remember heading out to cut the kale and chard every night and returning indoors with a large bowl packed to the rim. If you think about it, heads of green and red lettuce cost between $2 and $3 each, so this whole thing made perfect sense for us.
I planted the green beans late. Truthfully, I just stuck nine seeds in the dirt between the tomato plants in one of our beds. I wanted to see what would happen. Well, a few weeks later, Laura and I were pulling handfuls of beans off the vines daily and either cutting them up to throw in our salads or frying them to use as a side for our dinner. Crazy good stuff.
The cherry tomatoes began ripening first and didn’t stop – well, they are just stopping now. They are the gift that keeps on giving. The plum tomatoes offered us a smaller yield, but were extremely good fried up. I added them to virtually everything. I cooked them, along with some kale and chard and made omelettes like it was nobody’s business. The big boy tomatoes were the last to ripen, but when they did, were we overloaded. Even though they aren’t great sauce tomatoes, I blended them up in our food processor and they yielded over three gallons of sauce. Of course, most of that sauce was water and boiled off, but we still have some left and it’s pretty good tasting.
But even with all the success we had with our first year of gardening, we learned some lessons.
First, it’s all in the soil. While tomatoes and beans grow well in lesser quality soil, kale, chard and lettuce love it rich and dark with organic (chicken poop) fertilizer added every few weeks. After I added the first round of fertilizer, our slowing plants popped back to life rather quickly.
Second, I watered every day. Because my initial mixture was 2:1 parts of topsoil and lobster compost, we were lacking the organics to keep things moist. The hot sun of July demanded that I water regularly and frequently.
Third, pests love gardens. While we didn’t have any issues with deer or other furry wildlife, the slugs and cabbage loopers loved the kale. For some reason, kale is very attractive for pests. I bought some slug killer and that worked well, but since we got so much rain in the middle of the season, it was challenging to keep up with the applications. From what I read, the killer consists of iron that’s naturally found in dirt.
Regarding the cabbage looper, I read that neem oil gets rid of them. I bought some super-powerful concentrate (the good stuff) and didn’t see any improvement. It wasn’t until I purchased “BT” that I saw a reduction of them. I’ll have to use this next year as a preemptive measure.
There was a morning when I woke up, walked out to check on the gardens and was horrified by what I saw. One of our larger tomatoes was eaten to the core by a tobacco hornworm (oftentimes confused with the tomato hornmworm). Upon further inspection, I found four of these enormous caterpillars (about four inches long), pulled them off and threw them in the pond. Laura and I stood there watching as the fish swooped in and ate them. Laura grabbed a great photo of one of them. BT works on these as well. The whole idea of this insect is very disturbing.
Anyway, the season is coming to a close. While the chard and kale will still grow into November, the beans and tomatoes are done. I cut down the larger plants and am going to compost them into all the horse manure I’m going to get from Lenny over at the sanctuary. I’m hoping that next year will give us bumper crops with the two additional raised beds I’m currently constructing along with all the rich soil I’m processing right now.
I took a few pictures of what it looks like outside. I did this for a number of reasons. It’s always nice to practice my photography. It’s also just as nice to practice my post-process image editing in Camera Raw and Photoshop and, I’m sure you like to have a few photos tossed in these posts as well. Enjoy.
Once the frost hits, green beans and tomatoes don’t stand a chance. The leaves are the first to go with the fruit close behind.
While these little cherry tomatoes don’t look terrible, there’s no way in heck they’re going to ripen. Unfortunately, their fate is as the other’s that didn’t make it.
This horse manure has been sitting over at Lenny’s for a few months. What I get this fall will most likely look like this. By spring, the worms should have had their way with it and it’ll be ready for planting.
Chard likes the cold. While it’s not as winter hardy as kale, it stays strong through these types of minor frosts we’ve been experiencing. And in the cooler weather, it gets very rugged and firm.
By far, kale is my favorite. I’m getting a different variety (winterbor) for next year and expect to multiply my yields. It tastes good, is tender, is easy to grow and lasts well into November.
Growing Swiss Chard Indoors Over Winter
My good buddy, Steve, invited me over to his place this past Friday. He wanted to give me some gigantic chard plants that he grew in his garden this past summer. Since the cold weather is moving in, either the plants die or head inside. He figured that we could dig the plants up and put them in pots. Then, I could take them home and place them in a nice sunny room inside our house. He told me that he’s been able to extend the growing season of chard for the past few years by moving the plants indoors. I was happy to jump at the chance to follow in the footsteps of one of the areas wisest and most enduring home farmers.
Check out what he gave me:
I know the picture is horrible, but I want to impress upon you that the plants Steve let me have are enormous, especially and seemingly after placing them inside one of our upstairs bedrooms. I think I took 4 or 5 plants. Just for good measure, he threw some celery in there as well. And as you can well imagine, I’ve been eating chard heartily for the past few days.
So, can you even grow swiss chard indoors over winter? Well, like I said above, Steve’s been doing it. From what the plants look like up in the bedroom after I re-potted them, I’m hopeful. They perked right up and are growing strong. And this website recommends people give it a shot because, as they say, “It is extremely easy to grow. A prolific grower, Swiss Chard tolerates poor soil, inattention, and withstands frost and mild freezes.“
I’ve also read some comments on other gardening forums where people have claimed they’ve grown chard over the winter. I’m excited to see what happens because the last time I was in the grocery store (this morning), a few stalks of chard was going for $2.99. That’s a hefty price to pay for something that’s fairly simple to grow. Gee, at those prices, I must have eaten at least $12 worth of chard in the past two days!