Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Garden update

Some folks have been asking how our garden is doing, so I thought it might be time for an update.

For new readers, a short recap: we garden in tires. Specifically, big honkin' tractor tires. The reason for this is, after nine years of fighting tough clay soil and massive weeds (this is before we had a tractor), we took a totally different tact for our garden. We paved over the ground with tarps and gravel, hauled in massive (free) tractor tires, and filled those tire with a combination top soil, composted manure, and sand. We set up a drip irrigation system over most of it. As a result of these frugal raised beds, we've never had better success.

We didn't expand the garden much this year, even though we have the room as well as about a dozen new (old) tires ready to install, because we ran out of time last spring. The only addition we made was putting in four new blueberry tires.

So here's how everything is doing.

The corn, despite not getting planted until June 17, is doing splendidly.

This corn is a short season dwarf variety called Yukon Chief. It took a long time to find corn that would grow in our short season windy area -- but this stuff is phenomenal. Last year we harvested about 600 ears, and I'm recommending this variety to all our neighbors (as well as handing out seed with a free hand).

We estimate we'll be able to harvest in less than two weeks.

The garlic is long past ready to harvest (I've just been too busy to dig it up).

Here are the strawberry beds. We got lots of strawberries this year, but unlike last year, we didn't get enough to freeze (last year we put about 60 lbs. in the freezer).

Why not? Oddly enough, the answer seems to be this:

Every area has their pests. For us, it's the ubiquitous chipmunks. As cute as these guys are, they're voracious and industrious, and can carry away entire harvests if we don't do something to prevent it.

Last year, to keep the strawberries from being eaten by birds, we netted the beds:

Netting has a problem in that it can catch and sometimes kill animals, so I don't especially like using it. Last year we caught a couple of snakes and birds, but we were able to free them without incident.

This year the robins didn't seem as inclined to eat the strawberries, so we didn't net. Big mistake. While we didn't have problems with birds, we had enormous problems with chipmunks. I realized in retrospect last year's netting did an excellent job of keeping the little rodents at bay. This year the chippies filched just about every last berry. We had plenty of fruit for fresh eating, but none at all for the freezer.

Live and learn. Next year I'll net.

Here are our tomato plants, lush and full.

The fruit is just coming ripe, so we've been picking and temporarily storing in the fridge until I have enough to start canning sauce. We have both paste tomatoes and larger slicers. Don, who adores fresh garden-grown tomatoes more than anyone I've ever met, is in seventh heaven at the moment.

We had such success with our eight tires of potatoes last year that I planted twelve tires this year. They're growing very well.

These are cayenne peppers. There's nothing Younger Daughter loves more than spicy hot peppers, so she'll dry these and use them over the winter.

Red bell peppers. Growing well, but not much fruit yet. We'll see what we get before the first frost hits.

Here are the herbs. Sage:




(I also have mint and rosemary growing -- sorry, didn't get photos.)

Raspberries. They're past their season, of course, but we got lots and lots and lots of raspberries this year.

Here are some of the new blueberry bushes we planted in the spring. One brave bush even put out a handful of small berries (but very sweet!), however mostly they've put their energy into growth. They're all healthy and strong.

This is our bed of older blueberries, which produced heavily this year.

Lots of new growth on these bushes, always nice to see.


There's something so comforting about the steady dependability of carrots.

Last year I tried letting my carrots overwinter and go to seed (they're biennials), but to my dismay after doing fine all winter they suddenly all rotted in late spring. I'll try it again this year with a few carrots (this time I'll mulch heavily) and see what happens.

These are the potato onions.

You might remember last fall, a reader sent me some potato onions to try after hearing my frustration in trying to grow onions from seed. In the fall I planted every last bulb he sent, mulched them over the winter, and watched as they grew strongly during the summer. I snipped the heads off some of them and left the heads on others (experimenting, of course).

These are just about ready to harvest.

If these onions live up to their expectation as easy and consistent to grow and being good storers, as well as having a bite to them, I doubt I'll ever grow anything else. We adore onions in our family, so having a steady supply of a type that doesn't rot is a wonderful blessing.

This is lettuce, going to seed. The seeds are just about ready to collect. The funny thing is, these plants were volunteers from last year. I figure if something is going to grow that vigorously and easily, it's seed worth saving.

The Brussels sprouts we let overwinter for seed produced a magnificent crop of seeds (most of which were diligently harvested by the chipmunks, of course). I collected a great number of them. I learned Brussels sprouts require a much longer growing season than we get here in north Idaho, so I'll experiment and start some seeds indoors next January or February.

A volunteer tomato. Several plants grew spontaneously from seed that dropped from last year's plants. I'll certainly be saving some seed from these plants this year.

Watermelon. I only planted two tires' worth this year.

I planted them late (hint: don't bother trying to start watermelons indoors, it never seems to work) so we'll see if they mature before the first frost hits.

These melons are called Cream of Saskatchewan and are a Russian heirloom variety brought to Canada many years ago. It has creamy-white flesh. They're thin-rined and so don't store well, but who wants to store watermelons? The thin rinds make them split easily, so that's a drawback. But as long as they grow in our short season and are sweet, I'm satisfied.

Last but not least, our pear tree:

This is one of two surviving fruit trees from our original attempt at an orchard (the other tree, also a pear, is much smaller) and is producing fruit gangbusters. I'll pick these in about a month, let them ripen indoors, and can them.

That's our garden update. Our garden is modest, but it does reflect a lot of hard work we've put into it in the last few years.


  1. we were looking at a bumper crop of raspberries and within a week bees got about 70 % of them. how do you keep bees from them!??

    steve from near athol

  2. My goodness, I wouldn't call that "modest"!! Great looking garden ! Thanks for sharing.


  3. bees decimated our raspberries this year. never happened before. sems that it is so dry this year thebees are getting moisture from any where they can.

    steve near athol

    1. steve
      keep shallow bird baths full of water all around and put some rocks in for bees to stand on.
      maybe not too close to the hives in case other thirsty critters come along.
      it is said that the little foxes spoil the grapes.
      i'm not so sure they wanted grapes--maybe desperate for moisture.

    2. Bees REALLY tore up my peaches this year. Had a lot so I let em eat... They'd bore right in there.

    3. We had terrible problems with Japanese beetles this year - on our raspberries, corn and peaches especially.

  4. Modest? Hardly! I'm sure you'd love it bigger but to me, it's a sight for sore eyes! I can see the hard work and sweat that has gone into all that. Wonderful job!!!

  5. Patrice,

    I have two questions if you dont mind. One, what do I do with green tomatoes? I know to fry them but after that I am stuck. I have been googling but I am not sure if if canning is a option. Also, we recently have found mice in our garden/home. The peppermint oil only works for a day or so it seems. Does anyone have any tips? The mice are coming into our home. We have traps set already. I want to hire a exterminator but husband is in limbo with work so cant afford anything extra. We already had a report of Hantavirus in our town. Not sure what to do that is frugal and effective. If it helps any, I believe the mice showed up because a neighbor moved and they had bags upon bags of clothes, etc sitting on thier back enclosed porch. I think the mice moved right on over to us. My girls have even seen mice a few houses down while they walk the dogs. I am hoping the mice move again, far away from us. Not sure what to do other what I have been. Thanks for any advice.


    1. Hello from North Carolina. Get a cat to control your mice, even if it is an outdoor pet. Remember to spay or neuter. Sounds like it's time for some spring cleaning in the summer. Look under cabinets, behind furniture and inside closet floors for nests/holes. Repair any you find and keep vigilant. Good luck!

    2. Thank you for your response. Husband wouldnt let us get a cat. I am hoping the neighborhood cats come back around. Have not seen them for awhile. We have scrubbed top to bottom. Filled some holes too. Hoping it helps. Thanks again!

    3. You can pickle green tomatoes as well...

    4. Green tomatoes make the BEST salsa. We prefer it over salsa made from ripe ones- and no peeling. Ball website has a great recipe.

    5. Thank you Jim and Anon. I am going to look up both a green pickling recipe and green salsa from the Ball website. My husband loved salsa and pickles (not together!) thanks! LSM

  6. Cats are your friends when it comes to rodents.

    our outdoor cats seem to be the only way to keep 'em in check....otherwise they undermine EVERYTHING and eat anything they can....

    doesn't take much food to keep 'em around, either.

    1. lsm
      where we used to live the town gave rodent poison to any citizen who needed it. call the mayor's office and explain it isn't just you, it is the whole neighborhood. see what they will do.

    2. I had a chipmunk problem last year....I'm not proficient with a BB gun. I also set rat traps with peanut butter...I don't remember the with a "V" that rocks back to set. I had to do something. Three made way into the basement. (And yes I used the BB gun)

    3. Deborah, that is a great idea! Thank you.

      Mdoe, I will ask hsuband about a bb gun. Of course then I will have to listen to the children say "You'll shot your eye out, you'll shot your eye out!" Ala, Christmas story.

    4. Gotta watch though, here in PA they are protected. (believe it or not ) : (

  7. A great garden. You done good !!! Wish mine had turned out 1/2 that well this year.. ken

  8. You need to harvest your carrots and cut off the tops (leave about an inch of the green). Store the carrots in a container in a cool place over the winter in damp sand (keep the sand moist throughout the winter). Carrots are biennials, but they don't survive in the ground in the winter even here in the southeast. Once it warms up, replant the carrot with the green part sticking out of the ground (it will look the way it did when you pulled it minus the leafy greens) and it will bloom and seed. This is what all the books say. I haven't done it yet because I really don't have a cool place to store them. I might try storing them in one of my many out buildings.

    1. The leafy greens of carrots are edible. You can dehydrate them and have nutritious green powder for winter smoothies.
      deb k

    2. And they're great on a salad (fresh).

  9. Be thankful - we have so much local crop dusting that I really struggle to grow anything that is a broad leaf until after July 4th. (I can grow great onions.....) Now with the advent of GMO many neighbors are using Round up to dry wheat and other crops prior to combining. So much for growing things into the fall. Unless you manage to grown your own you are eating the stuff....Natokadn

  10. Your garden is wonderful! Ours was destroyed by squash bugs. I pulled up the zucchini after harvesting a few (I thought zucchini was easy!?!?) and the squash bug then went to the tomatoes. I have never seen that before! Do you have any insect problems or just rodents? The squash bugs showed up two years ago when I had a volunteer pumpkin plant from Halloween pumpkins that were composted. All my prior years of gardening had no squash bugs. I am trying not to use poison but I might next year. Brenda from San Jose.

    1. Brenda,
      If you can catch it early, simply mixing dish soap and water and spraying the squash bugs will kill them. It is quick and easy.

    2. Brenda, we have had squash bugs as well. My daughter stands around when she waters and as they come out of the ground she tosses them into a bowl of,water to drown them. We also just learned that diatomaceous earth is suppose to be helpful as the bugs dont like it. It is natural so no pesticide worries. Hope this helps!


    3. Chickens are good for the bugs, they love em.

  11. Wow! That is awesome, God has blessed you guys. Both with the skills and harvest!

  12. Beautiful garden. We've had a good harvest so far this year and still coming in are tomatoes and winter squash and beets. I'll take some pictures of those when they get picked. Good harvest of Romano beans so far and those will be yummy in the dead of winter. Also put in 10 quarts of blackberries wild and domestic. We really like blackberry pancakes.

    God has surely blessed us with a good harvest 'cause without Him as we know, the garden doesn't grow .

  13. Cat!
    Grew up with them. Big Toms patrol and will decimate any pests in your location. Ours sunbathed in the garden. Nothing bothered the garden.