I’m growing food this year. I usually grow a few tomatoes and some herbs and the occasional squash, but since I’ve lived in the city, I haven’t had a real vegetable garden. I don’t have the room for it.

This year, a few things happened to make a garden possible. A couple of trees were cut down, leaving a small unused area along my back alley open to enough light. I read Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening” and made some 4×4 boxes. Here’s the result so far (click for full size):

I’m not really following the Square Foot Gardening plan, so I can’t really call it that. I’m mostly using dirt from the ground, mixed with a little vermiculite that I freecycled and my own homemade compost. I couldn’t bring myself to pay for dirt, and the SFG method uses a growing medium that is mixed from bought components. The whole thing would absolutely be more successful with the growing medium rather than regular dirt, but I’m still pretty happy with what I have so far.

I love the 4×4 box concept. I can weed by sitting down and just reaching across and weeding – no kneeling or trying to be careful between rows. The middle of the box is an arm’s length across, so I can weed the whole thing quickly and only need to move myself twice to get all three boxes weeded – very efficient, and I love sitting down with my plants and seeing them up close. Since this is in part a spiritual discipline for me, I can do weeding meditation. It’s relaxing.

The plants are, for the most part, doing very well. I have scarlet runner beans on the upright frames and the vines are already over my head. I will have my first cherry tomatoes by the end of the month, which is the earliest I’ve ever gotten backyard tomatoes.

I will have peppers soon. My eggplants are just starting to flower and the onions are getting big.

I harvested and froze a bunch of cilantro yesterday to keep it from turning into coriander – I might let it go later in the season for seeds but right now I want cilantro. I also harvested some basil which is now drying. I have two basil plants in the garden specifically for drying or freezing, while there is another basil in a container on the porch for fresh basil all summer long (also in porch containers: lemon thyme and marjoram. The rosemary graduated to the back yard after it got too big for the container. Oh, and catnip, too, in a hanging basket for obvious reasons. Mint, lemon balm, anise, bergamot and comfrey are all in the front of the house.)

The chard had a rough start due to slug incursions, but with some copper and beer traps we’ve got that in check and it’s growing well. I take a few leaves now and then and it just keeps on going. Same with the French sorrel – I don’t expect to do anything to preserve the sorrel or the chard (how would one do that, anyway?) so we’re just enjoying it all summer. The zucchini, the pattypan squash, and the winter squash are all growing well. Fennel and dill are both also doing well – both are getting used fresh on a regular basis, and in a few weeks I’ll dry some dill for the winter. Carrots and beets appear to be growing well, though I have my concerns. Cabbage and Brussels sprouts both appear to be growing well, though I’ve never grown either from seed before – they look healthy enough. We had some problems with flea beetles on the eggplants, but we did a neem oil spray a few weeks ago and haven’t seen any since. Today I saw a praying mantis in the garden, which made me very happy. I’m hoping not to need to spray anything again, but we’ll see.

Peas and spinach have both been failures. We’ve had a really hot and early spring, and I should have planted them much earlier than I did. It just got too hot too fast. Radishes have been a lesson. I’ve got a whole lot of healthy and tasty radish greens and no radishes at all. What I learned from the university of Google is that radishes sometimes just won’t radish if the soil has too much clay. I have this really heavy clay soil, so that would explain it. I’m having a very successful and abundant harvest of radish greens right now, so it’s not a total failure, but no radishes. This is why I’m concerned about the carrots and the beets – they look great above ground but I don’t know what’s going on down below. I might just conclude that I can’t grow root vegetables here. I consider this whole thing a learning experience, so I’m glad to have learned something, but I still wish I had radishes.

I don’t know what’s up with my potatoes. I’m growing them in a barrel, and the whole thing seemed to be going very well – lots of healthy-looking, dark green potato plants. About a week or so ago when it got really hot, they started to wilt. I’m thinking it’s some kind of bacterial wilt rather than a management problem since they had been doing so well. I was thinking of just knocking the whole thing over and starting over with a more wilt-resistant potato variety, since it’s still fairly early in the season, but I cannot find seed potatoes now. My original potatoes were kitchen potatoes that I let sprout, and I also wonder if there’s some genetic component there. I’m not even sure what variety they are.

I have a few veggies growing in my own backyard as well (the veggie garden is behind a vacant house a few doors down.) Kentucky wonder beans are growing, but not anything like the way the scarlet runners are (that’s a Kentucky wonder behind the gnome at the top of this post.) We also have a thornless blackberry and a strawberry. It’s the first year for both, so I’m not expecting a whole lot, but the strawberry gave a few berries this spring that were divine and the blackberry has some green berries on it. We will also have elderberries later this year from our three elder trees, and rosehips from the rose bush out front.

This all sounds like a lot, all layed out like this. One of the things that is surprising me is how little work it really is. I spend maybe a half hour every day on the garden, and a couple of hours on weekends. I probably spend more time on it then I actually need to because I really enjoy it. It’s very relaxing to come home after work and spend the time right before twilight taking care of the garden. All watering so far has been done with water from our two rain barrels – no city water has gone into any of this. The wood for the boxes was all scrap. I paid for the twine, the seeds and the starter plants – if I had to guess, I’d say I’m in about $60 on the whole thing. Easy, cheap and fun.

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