Country Living Series

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Garden update

Some of you may be wondering how the garden is doing.

For new readers, let me recap very briefly. For nine years I fought our horrible sticky clay-y soil and got nowhere. I also fought weeds worthy of a jungle expedition, and constant attacks by deer. In short, my gardening attempts were a shambles.

For a successful garden, we needed to control three things: soil, weeds, and deer. We needed to do this as economically as possible, with a long-term goal of making the garden as maintenance-free as possible. I hit the half-century mark last year and Don is five years older, so our bodies are not what they used to be. I don't want the garden to be so physically overwhelming that we can't keep up with it as we get older.

The solution to the deer problem was, simply, to raise the fences to eight feet. Haven't had a stitch of trouble since then.

For weed control (since we didn't want to use poison), we obtained old vinyl billboard tarps from an advertisement company in Spokane. We anchored them with gravel. (We ran out of both time and gravel and only got less than half the garden tarped, so we'll continue our efforts next spring.) Incidentally, the difference in weed control between the tarped and untarped parts of the garden are staggering.

For soil issues, I abandoned the idea of planting directly in the ground and went with raised beds. Initially we put in four raised beds for small fruits (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries) and they proved immensely successful.

But the massive beams we used for the fruit beds were limited (we dismantled someone's old barn a few years ago and the beams came from that barn) and we needed lots and lots and lots more raised beds in order to have a successful garden. What kind of resource could we find that was cheap or free for making raised beds? It was Don who came up with the brainchild of using tires. We fill the tires with compost and topsoil.

Some people express concern that using tires will poison us. Rest assured, that's not the case. Please see this website for clarification.

Through trial and error, we learned to put the tires directly on top of the tarps and gravel. If we lay the tires directly on the ground and fit the tarps around them (as we did for so many of the tires we already had in place before coming up with the notion of using tarps), then weeds will find their way through every chink and crack... plus grow up through the tire center. By putting the tire directly on the tarp, the gravel promotes drainage, the tarps protect from weeds, and weeds won't grow up from the soil below. But this also means the plants grow solely in the tire itself, so we have to factor in root depth and plant type, etc.

For this reason, and also because we've found they're easier to handle in the long run, we've transitioned away from smaller tires and moved toward using big tractor tires, which are abundant in rural areas. We even get them delivered.

Anyway, this is what I've got growing in the garden this year:

Pinto beans
Green beans
Hot peppers
Peaches (kinda)

Here's an update as to how these items look, with any specific links if I made a blog post about them.


Peas. Unlike last year when I had peas coming out my ears, this year's peas didn't do as well. The one that grew are podding beautifully, but not everything grew. Oh well.

I have several places I planted pinto beans, and they're all coming in beautifully.




Hot peppers.

Green beans. I didn't plant a whole lot because I already have so many canned up.

Broccoli. It's growing luxuriantly but not producing a lot of heads.

The older ever-bearing strawberry beds. As you can see, they've recovered quite nicely from being devastated by the deer.

They're still producing some fruit.

The newer, June-bearing strawberries. These are done for the season. (The orange splot in front is a bit of billboard tarp that didn't get covered with gravel.)

Our one surviving fruit tree is producing a lovely crop of pears this year.

I have two peach trees barely clinging to life...

...but rather to my surprise I have some peach sprouts coming up. What the heck, I'll keep them watered.

Raspberries. These are two years old and got severely eaten by deer last year. Thankfully raspberries are like weeds and they came back strongly. We got a nice crop this year.

Blueberries. These have produced heavily this year, and I've harvested at least nine pounds with more to come.

Garlic. Yeah yeah, I know... I never got around to snipping off the scapes (what can I say, it's been a busy summer). The garlic bulbs are likely to be a bit smaller as a result, but such is life.

Pumpkins. My goodness, they've taken over one whole corner.

I have dozens of pumpkins coming in, some as large as basketballs.

Here are the watermelons and cantaloups. You can see why I spaced all the "viney tires" so far apart.

Most of these melons are short-season hybrids. Normally I don't like to plant hybrids, but I ran out of time (since we were working on the garden infrastructure until the very last minute). But I must say they're producing beautifully.

Watermelons. (There are three in the top photo, somewhat buried in leaves.)

Cantaloup. (There are at least five in the top photo.) There are so many cantaloups that I'll be handing them out to all the neighbors.

The tomatoes flopped. Grunt. There go my dreams of canning tomato sauce.

That's the garden tour. Next spring we'll be laying tarp and gravel in the rest of the garden and put in yet more tires. I want to plant oil sunflowers, a LOT more beans, and probably more potatoes, etc.


  1. Wow, the garden look great! Keep up the good work.

  2. Patrice, it all looks beautiful! I'm in the first phases of my new garden (we moved to a semi-rural area late last year) and will be doing a LOT of mulching next year as my weeds are also flourishing. I was wondering if you have any problems with grasshoppers. They are everywhere here, and I haven't gotten my chickens yet to help deal with them. They ate my herbs down to the ground. Also, do you have problems with squash bugs and how do you handle them? Thanks - Pamela

  3. All our brassicas died or were eaten. The tomatoes that aren't in containers up on the deck got eaten by deer or got rot with all the rain and no drainage. The only thing that came through well were the peppers.

    BTW, I highly recommend the Heinz Classic Heirloom Tomato. We picked up a plant from Wally World to try it out and it did well; the tomatoes look nice and taste good. They are determinate, so they would be good for mass canning purposes. Next year we try the KC 146 from Rutgers.

  4. Shut the front door!! THAT'S a terrific looking garden!! I've been shamed into spending the rest of the week dealing with my garden!

    Just Me

  5. I love the way you used the tires. My grandfather is a truck driver - I should tell him to save me his old tires to use.

    my garden is only 3 4x4 raises beds. i planted seeds late but I am finally getting lots of okra, green beans, lettuce, hot peppers and soon to be carrots.

    yesterday, my neighbor asked me to come over and pick from two gardens. i was able to get eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and banana and hot peppers. it was awesome.

    next year, i will try fruit. blueberries, strawberries and maybe lemons.

  6. What's up with the domain name? I couldn't find you. Had to google you to find the actual blog location...

    Glad I found you! I was going to have withdrawl symptoms.

  7. Beautiful garden! I am green with envy! I don't know much about your area, but don't forget railroad ties.

  8. Thanks for sharing. It looks like you'll have a lot of produce - how rewarding!!

    It would be interesting to see if any of the locals had the same plants not do so well in their gardens. Otherwise, it gives you a chance to look up their specific needs and try something different with soil/watering/nutrients next time.

  9. I'm one of the locals, and we also were extremely busy trying to salvage our old garden spot (we had been away for the last 4 years, and it was totally taken over and wild again). By the time we got it resurrected and put in half of the raised beds (the other half will be next year), we were a month later planting than Patrice, so some things didn't do all that great.

    My peas are horrible. Most seed didn't even try to come up (just way too hot by the time we planted). Some of the beans didn't come up, but in other parts, they are doing okay. No beans yet (will, I found one, and after taking a picture of it for my husband, I promptly ate it!). But my tomatoes are doing great, Patrice! They are not that big, but there seem to be a fair amount of green tomatoes on (actually the plants are big, but the green tomatoes are for the most part still small). I have picked 4 red ones already, but they are very small red ones. My lettuce, onions, carrots never came up from seed, radishes (surprise) did about half, but what did come up are great and good sized. I planted peppers, broccoli, and cabbages from plants from Walmart, but I had bought them early and by the time they were put in the ground they were not looking so good. But the peppers rebounded and I am starting to see small peppers on them and the plants are looking good, although not as large as yours. Most of my broccoli plants didn't make it, but the few that did look about the same size as yours, but no heads yet. The cabbage plants did great, but I am seeing a ton of holes in the leaves (don't see the bugs though) and no heads forming yet.

    My rutabagas, turnips, and beets from seed do seem to be coming along fine (of course nothing big enough to pull yet, but the tops look great!). But again, not one sign of a carrot came up! What is with that!!!

    My corn (I didn't even try sweet corn, because not enough space yet for it, but I did devote one 4x4 square to trying out some popcorn) looks about the same height as yours, but no tassels forming yet, just stalks. My summer and winter squash plants are getting pretty big, lots of blossoms on the winter squash, and I have started pulling several large summer yellow squash and zucchini off the plants already. I just pulled my first two cucumbers off my two cucumber plants, and I see a few more babies forming (should have been 4 plants, but 2 didn't make it, they were just too sickly by the time we got them planted--so I don't think I'll be canning pickles this year). I also planted some watermelon and pumpkin seed, and again, the plants are looking good and spreading, with lots of blossoms, but no fruit forming yet. I still have hope though (or at least I did until I saw the pictures of your pumpkin and watermelon the size of basketballs???--I am not even seeing any formed yet, just the blossoms).

    And I am still sick about my peas not coming up--I was really hoping for a nice crop of them. Oh well, this year was a learning one, to see what we could grow in our new garden. Still a lot of work to do on it, still have half the beds to build for next year, and then we want to double the size of the garden (more fencing and ground to recover to do that) so we can plant more corn and potatoes--lots of potatoes! This fall we are hoping to get the green house up (we bought one of those from Harbor Freight--the large one) a couple of years ago and put it away. That is my fall project for hubby when he comes home--I want my own green house for next year's garden!

    So much to do, and time is growing short! And we are older than you guys--oh to have 10-20 years back! LOL

  10. Questions? Do the tarps allow for drainage? If not, how are you getting excess water away from the tires? Or are you just having a really dry year? Looks like it on the evening news weather segment. We've been drowning here in the southeast this summer and I just keep envisioning my plants swimming in a pool made by an inpenetrable tarp. It would be so nice, though to have a weed barrier, just not all the excess water.

    1. Our garden has a slight slope which tends to funnel water toward the pond. This was part of our consideration to use tarps to control weeds.

      - Patrice

  11. I'm inspired by the tire garden, as the land I'm looking to buy is mostly rocky river bed. I'm essentially designing an above ground walipini, and I'm wanting to use big tires filled with earth for the walls. Might I ask, what are the average dimensions of those big tires? Just diameter and depth will do. I'm hoping to incorporate aquaponics and a cistern sandwiched between two walipinis. Fun!


  12. georgeous!!
    So glad that we can still see your blog.

  13. I'm just curious if you have ever planted lantana to help with the deer?? "supposed" to help...well, I am curious if it actually helps or not, to be honest- wondering at your or your neighbors experiences with it.. Its a beautiful plant, and a perennial..I have it planted around my mailbox (strictly for visual pleasure at this point, but was wondering about the future applications). So glad the tire/tarp combo is working for yall!

  14. Love to see how your garden grows, thanks for sharing. The melons look so nice,truly amazing how the tires are making the difference and all your hard work is finally paying off! Enjoy your bountiful blessings!

  15. Have you ever tried Yukon Chief corn? I have grown it the last two years here north of CDA and it does very well. It is short season, 55 days, and the plants only grow 3-5 feet tall and sometimes the ears are funny looking but they taste great.
    Your watermelons look like Blacktail Mountains, this is my first year for them and they are doing great, too. I have several short season musk melons for the first time and they are doing well in spite of the grasshoppers.
    For tomatoes, I grow Siberia and Glacier every year and they are wonderful. This year a lady at the nursery showed us Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes. They are prolific little plants that produce large tomatoes in a short time! I will certainly grow them again. I also have a mystery, heirloom looking tomato plant that was supposed to be a Siberia. It is giving us large slicing tomatoes and early, I will try to find out what they are to try again.
    Your garden is looking great, maybe your "black thumb" is finally turning "green"!

  16. I love it! I love hearing about your, and other local folks', gardens. My husband & I have mentioned you more than once in our garden planning. Your experience with the deer is partly why we built such a tall garden fence! :) We had great luck with strawberries, and no luck with cabbage this year.

    Azure Standard has a decent price on organic saucing tomatoes right now. $18 for a 20lb box.