Country Living Series

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Knee high by the fourth of July

There's an old saying: "Knee high by the fourth of July." That's how tall your corn should be by early July in order to anticipate a good harvest before frost hits.

Nowadays, of course, with modern technology, hybrids, and fertilizer, such quaint adages hardly seem to apply any more... except for small homesteaders in cooler climates using heirloom breeds.

So how's our corn doing? Here's Younger Daughter's knees:

If this is any indication, I guess we'll have a decent crop of corn this year.

So how's the rest of the garden doing? C'mon, I'll give you a tour.

The corn pictured above is one of nine tires of corn. Younger Daughter was standing in the best-looking tire. The rest range from decent... not-so-decent. We'll see how this scraggly corn does.

Yesterday morning I stepped outside at dawn to release the chickens, and what should I see in the garden? A DEER. Grrrr. She ricocheted around, frantically searching for a way out, bouncing in a terrifying fashion into the fences. I had my camera in my pocket and snatched it out to take a shot of her as she was tangled four feet up in a fence, looking like a giant struggling fly in a spiderweb, when she miraculously managed to break loose and escape outside the wire, unhurt.

I had some damage to repair.

But how did she get in? I had aproned the fence eight feet high. Where I ran out of chicken wire, I criss-crossed baling twine. Surely she didn't jump higher than eight feet?

A quick survey showed the fence nailed to the side of the loafing shed had come loose. Doubtless she squeezed herself through this, the wily minx.

Thankfully she must have just gotten in when I stepped outside and saw her, because the damage was minimal. She had only eaten down some of the strawberry leaves. Of course. It's always the strawberries that get eaten down first. Must taste like candy.

Here's a verifying hoofprint, one of many. Guilty!

So Don hammered the fencing back to the loafing shed, and I re-patched loose areas, and we'll see how things go. While I was patching, I noticed this eastern Kingbird and this Robin, quarreling. The Kingbird was winning despite being smaller.

The Kingbird perched triumphantly on the fence by the pond...

...and the Robin took a bath.

Anyway, on with the tour. The strawberries seem to dominate the garden. Three hundred plants in ten big tractor tire halves will do that.

The plants are growing strongly and putting out runners...

...and some gorgeous fruit. Not a lot, yet, but then the plants are still young. I'm aware that I'd get more fruit if I pinched off the runners, but this year I'm more interested in cultivating plants than I am in acquiring fruit, so I'll let the plants do what they will.

For the older strawberries in the two raised beds, they're recovering from being ravaged by deer last fall. This is the less-damaged bed...

...and this is the more-damaged bed.

Younger Daughter hunts for ripe strawberries.

The raspberries are astoundingly thick with little green fruits.

The blueberry bushes are bursting with greenish berries.

They're just barely starting to flush with blue.

I'm also getting a lot of sprouts, which pleases me, since I (so far) haven't had any luck propagating blueberry bushes from cuttings.

Some of my onions (grown from sets). I have two large and one small tire of onions.

This particular tire has a volunteer tomato plant growing in it, since I grew tomatoes here last year.

Herbs. I have thyme, parsley, sage, and oregano, all of which overwintered.

I have four herb beds that I seeded with basil I saved from last year's plants. It's just barely starting to sprout, but by the end of summer they'll be full and luxurious.

Peppers. A couple of the pepper plants died...

...but the rest are thriving.

One even has a tiny flower on it.

I planted four types of beans: green, pinto, navy, and black. This is a baby green bean, just emerging...

...and a slightly older one with its leaves unfurled.

I have sixteen broccoli plants which are bushing out nicely.

Here are the potatoes -- four large tractor tires. I have about 130 plants in these four tires. I also found I have a bunch of volunteer plants spread around from where some small potatoes landed last year after I harvested.

The peas are doing terrible. I have 28 tires planted with peas, seven peas per tire for a total of 196 plants. Only a few have come up, and they're very small even though I planted them on June 13. Peas like cooler weather, and I have a feeling I just planted them too late, just in time for too much heat.

The beans -- all four types -- are doing much better. They practically sprinted out of the ground, even though I only planted them June 27. I planted about 700 beans (spread between the four types) and at least 3/4 are up.

This is horseradish. The deer ate it down to nubbins last fall, but it overwintered very well and sprang back up strongly. Notice the contrast with this tractor tire, which doesn't have tarp and gravel around it to control the weeds outside the tire.

I have eight tomato plants. I also have cages for when they're big enough to need them. It's my hope to purchase a food strainer/sauce maker this fall, and make some proper tomato sauce.

My "viney plants" aren't doing so well. The watermelon, though healthy, is very small.

Ditto with the cantaloup. I don't know if they'll grow fast enough to provide fruit before the frost hits.

The pumpkins, however, are growing with great gusto.

Notice this line of weeds next to one of the pumpkin tires? That's a split in the billboard vinyl. Shows the dramatic affect the vinyl has on cutting weeds.

Last but not least, the garlic. It's just about time to cut the scapes off.

That's it (so far) for the garden. I can't even begin to describe how much better everything is growing with weed control, deer control, and raised beds (tires). We have lots more room in the garden, and lots more tires and tarps (we ran out of gravel). Next year we're going to try planting fruit trees in some ginormous tractor tires; plant oil sunflowers; expand the number of corn beds and bean beds; and otherwise push to make this garden provide all our vegetable and fruit needs.


  1. You may want to consider feeding the soil with raw milk. The microbes are wonderful for the soil.

  2. All your hard work is paying off! I can just taste all those delicious jams. It's going to be a busy canning season for you, Patrice!

  3. Get a guide and check if some of those weeds are edible.You just might have some free food there.Linda Runyons books are good for this and she also gives recipes.

  4. It's a beautiful thing - an abundant garden.

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska

  5. Don't give up on those peas. As the days get shorter and cooler they may just take off. Here in the deep south, we plant peas in February for a spring crop and then again in about October for a fall crop. They grow really well both times so while most folks think of them as spring food for us they bring images of fall as well. And an added advantage during the fall crop is that most of the pests are gone by then so there is very little if any insect damage. Love your garden!

  6. My garden doing well in spite of living in a deer paradise. The secret?
    Deer can jump high or far - not both. Put a waist high wire 4' out from your existing fence. If you really want them to leave you alone, make it electric and put some tin foil tags on it smeared with peanut butter.
    Also it's best if the top of your high fence is black. The deer can't see it well and don't know how high to jump so don't.
    My corn is waist high and the squash is flowering and I live in the upper Midwest. The blue berries on the other hand are sick. The leaves come up and then turn brown?? Lack of acid do you thing?

  7. Yes, your blueberries may be lacking acid. Try some azalea fertilizer, and perhaps mulch with sawdust (not too thick) and see what happens.

    We haven't tried the double fencing yet because we don't have enough T-posts (cha-ching!) but we'll try it as a last resort. After repairing that one hole, so far so good.

    - Patrice

    1. Even the plastic posts work, except for the corners. Also, deer won't walk on or across chicken wire. If you have some of that, lay it in their "launching area".
      Critter scare water sprinklers also work as long as you remember to turn them off before you enter the garden. Online they're reasonable.
      Thanks for the advice on the Blueberries.

  8. I noticed that you still have straw on your plants, did you put that there for fertilizer or to keep them warm when planting? Here in NE Nevada they say that the last threat of frost is June 3 but I have seen it come later than that. We have been having a heat wave here this year too. Doesn't the straw keep them too hot? It looks beautiful. Congratulations. It's nice to see all your hard work paying off.

    1. The straw acts as mulch for water retention. The soil doesn't try out NEARLY as fast when it's mulched.

      - Patrice

  9. Wow, that's a beautiful sight! Way to go!

    My strawberries are coming back after being shredded by four hail storms May 26 and another early a.m. 27 May. I thought for sure they would not survive. A couple are good size and have a few berries but that is only because I grabbed the pine straw I had used for their winter blanket, and hurriedly covered them. It was strange to see tough straw chopped into inch sized pieces.

    Gardens are good for the soul as well as the stomach. Yours is quite nice.


  10. hi. a few comments.
    years ago u. of okla. studied fruit trees planted in amended soil and those planted in the terrible native soil. in the long run the native soil trees did better. something to think about.

    also try putting stakes at edges of pea beds and putting shade over them until later in the season to protect them. you can have fall peas.

    we visited someone whose tomatoes were up to the eaves. he puts one cup of milk on each one's soil and they grow like mad.

    my mother had two tomatoes in two pots so i asked her to give a cup of milk to one of them. that one grew much better than the milkless one.
    deb harvey

  11. Love your garden! All the fruit/vegetables will be so tasty. Thanks for the pictures & sharing your homesteading experiences. ><>

  12. When I planted my blueberry bushes I put in handfuls of pine needles to make it acidic good and it is free if you have pine trees.

    Tina H

  13. Picked our first ripened Northern Idaho raspberries yesterday. Had them for breakfast this morning. Excellent!

  14. What a fabulous tour - thanks Patrice. Isn't it rewarding to see a thriving garden!! I love working out in mine - good for the soul as well as the eating. I hope you can continue your updates for us garden-lovers. Jenny

  15. If you angle the top of your fence outward the deer will have trouble jumping it. But I have seen them jump 8 foot high deer proof fences I think it depends on the deer and how much they want to get across

  16. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I'd say jealously would be my first response, except hand in hand is knowing how much sweat, blood, sweat, tears, and sweat each green leaf represents. Did I mention sweat?

    Jeff - Tucson

  17. Enjoyed the tour so very interesting!
    It is truly amazing the difference tarp and gravel make!
    My son and wife out East put much effort into theirs, I refer them to your blog and the grandchildren to see the animals!

  18. Just found your blog and I have to say that I'm really falling in love with your raised bed tires. Very clever. I look forward to checking out the rest of your site. Thanks