A fruitful season of front yard gardening

Last year, I shared how I transformed my front yard into a raised bed potager garden. As the second year of the garden comes to a close, I noticed the beginnings of an annual routine and realized there are plenty more lessons learned. We’ve come so far from last year’s harvest!

This season started in May with a trip to the Coit Road Farmers Market for seedlings. I purchased tomatoes from Community Greenhouse Partners and a variety of other plants, including peppers, eggplant, and strawberries. I love the idea of supporting local growers, but at some point, I’d like to save seeds and begin my growing indoors.

I planted everything in the beds, and gave them a nice dose of compost from my backyard stash. Each bed was protected with netting to keep my critter neighbors from snacking. Cedar frames enclosed the tomatoes. I discovered that painting the base of each frame with a plastic coating spray will help preserve them from direct contact with the soil.

In general, the garden got off to an earlier start than it did last year. As we had a relatively cool spring, I was thrilled to have such an early and large crop of lettuce, spinach, and arugula. Kale and arugula pesto is a new favorite! I had also planted garlic purchased from Thaxton’s Organic Garlic  last fall. They sprang up nicely in the spring, and eventually I harvested 65 heads. It was helpful to have hardy herbs like borage, thyme, mint, and sage overwinter well; they provided instant gratification.

I experimented with a bit of companion planting this year. As a result, my cabbage was free of moths by planting them next to tomatoes. I did, however, learn that mint and cucumbers don’t mix. The aggressive mint overwhelmed my cucumber vines, and I had a miserable crop. So, not many pickles for us this year. Lesson learned!

In general, the rains cooperated, and once again I watered completely from rain barrels. I still water by hand, as I like the routine of checking in on the plants individually. This was especially important as I planted three fruit trees that I kept a close eye on. We now have a sweet cherry, an Italian plum, and a crab apple that not only has glorious white blossoms in the spring, but will eventually produce fruit that’s about 1.5 inches in diameter. I eventually caged the trees after our neighborhood deer made a beeline for the cherry and gave it quite a nibble.

The garden continues to be a wonderful source of community. I have regular visitors, with many folks stopping to chat when I’m out working. A couple of people come by for fresh herbs. (I also leave some to flower so the bees can enjoy them as well.) One of my favorite visitors was a father and his three kids. We went through the garden together and talked about what was growing. It was so rewarding to see a parent instilling a love of growing plants.

I often get asked for tips about gardening. My main suggestion is to just try something! Get a seedling of something you like to eat, put it in the ground or in a pot with some good soil, and water it well. Most vegetables need a sunny spot for a good portion of the day, but you will soon find out what does well in your own yard. The satisfaction of growing your own food can’t be measured.

— Story and Photos by Melissa McClelland