So, How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 30, 2011 – updated May 31
Holly Deyo

Just terrific! Thanks for asking. How's yours?

Here it is, not quite June and already we've enjoyed lettuce and spinach – without even planting it! How's that for a lazy way to garden! Actually these non-hybrids reseeded from last year's crops and we just let them do their own thing. The ferny fellows in between are self-seeded dill. More lettuces were planted a week ago on the left side of the box where it looks bare, to produce new crops for a continuous salad bowl. Radishes should be ready this week and we actually ran a month behind getting them in.

New Beds, New Veggies

Pictured in the images below is an overview of our 2011 raised beds. There is more than enough for both our daily salad and veggie needs, in addition to plenty of garden goods for canning later on. These photos don't show everything; now there is a total of 7 beds: 4 – 4x8's, 3 – 4x4's, plus a 2x2 radish bed on the deck above plus 5 potato bags.

Taters in a Bag

This is the first year we've grown potatoes. Since they require a lot of depth, potatoes wouldn't work well in raised beds unless they are really deep. We wanted to avoid using old tires and didn't have time to build a structure so we've always settled for store bought spuds. This year, we found Bosmere potato bags that neatly solved the issue.

Their polyethylene fabric is similar to multi-purpose blue tarps sold in home improvement stores. Bags measure 18" (46 cm) H x 14" (35.5 cm) W and hold 3 - 5 potatoes and 32 quarts of dirt. The material is very flexible allowing the bag top to be folded down and rolled up as the potatoes grow. Drain holes are provided in the bottom so you can't easily make a goof. They've cleverly made a velcroed "drop down door" toward the bottom, you potatoes can be easily harvested without disturbing others on top. These bags also work great for tomatoes, peppers and are a good solution for people with very limited space or want to garden on patios, decks and balconies.

To encourage more spud growth, cover the green sprouts. These are definitely ready for the next layer of Super Soil.

Ongoing Challenges

Hard to miss is the fencing around each bed. We share this land with a lot of wildlife from cottontails and jacks, to a wide variety of birds, some coyotes plus the occasional deer and stray mountain lion. Everybody comes with an appetite, however, the rabbits are the worst. You can almost hear their brain ticking over how to access the "salad bowl". Yesterday a quail hopped on top the lettuce cage and marched around it three times, trying to find a way in. Guess he figured if the raspberries weren't ripe yet, he'd settle for greens. Tough luck on all counts for quail.

Green netting and hardware cloth keep out these critters. Metal supports and animal barriers lift off easily leaving the sides free and clear for planting and picking.

Dark shade cloth, visible on some beds, is pretty much a constant feature on the north and west sides. It protects tender young plants from prevailing spring winds, which can saw off seedlings at dirt level. Having "sides" already in place on raised beds makes hail protection a breeze. It's just a matter of clipping additional shade cloth over the top and securing it with clips or clothespins. Shade cloth, as I've written in Garden Gold, has a ton of uses besides blocking out summer's too-strong UVs.

Ripper Winds No Sweat

Sunday brought horrific winds to our area. Sustained blows were in the 50mph range ripping small branches off trees, propelling tumbleweeds and dirt across streets and yards, moving neighbors outdoor furniture into weird places and needless to say, played havoc with many gardens. Once again we were so thankful for hanging out the black SunBlocker Sun Shade that also acts as an amazing wind barrier.

Yesterday's big blow came primarily from the west southwest so it was a simple matter of moving the shade cloth from the north and west sides to the sides ripe for chaos.

As hoped, our neighbor Pat, to whom we gave two container tomatoes last month, really caught the gardening bug. Her husband built her a standing 2x8' raised bed, making it easier for her to tend. She's planted beans, peppers, carrots, lettuce, onions, squash – all things they like to eat. Smartly, Pat's started small and for a first-time gardener it's important to not get overwhelmed. After Tom hooked up drip irrigation for the garden, they were a-go – almost. Enter the wind.

In record time Tom was at our doorstep to see what to do and Stan gave him some Sun Shade cloth. In 30 minutes Tom had wood supports cut and nailed to the box and his wind protection in place so all of the young plants were sheltered from harsh winds.

Photo: Tom drills drainage holes in Pat's raised bed. It doesn't look it, but accessed from the left side of the garden – off of the sidewalk, it's about waist high.

From this angle (3rd photo right), you can see the asparagus bed toward the back and Super Soil supplies stowed under the deck.

Perfectly Potted

These 6 – 5-gallon containers will move indoors as winter approaches. No more cardboard tasteless tomatoes or canned chiles. However, during the wonderful warm weather – today it's 86ºF (30ºC) – container veggies live outside.

These pots hold an assortment of peppers including Anaheim, Big Jim NuMex, jalape
ños, super sweet mini bells and red bells, plus a variety of tomatoes like celebrity, golden pear, pink and red brandywines, better bush and romas. NOTE: The containers plants didn't have Kozy Koats around them so they're running about a month behind those in the 4x8 bed.

Six months from now when Old Man Winter comes whistling through, we'll saunter over to enjoy an aromatic tomato and pretend spring is around the corner.

Planning Ahead

There's no getting around it. This area of Colorado has terrible soil as I've bemoaned before. In the next county over by the Arkansas River bottoms, it's a different story. Our dirt is a combination of shale, pebbles, granite refuse, sandy loam (a good thing) and bentonite clay. Not terribly inviting to fruits and veggies especially those that require good drainage, which most do. We laugh remembering the $$ spent in Australia BUYING bentonite to line the larger pond for waterproofing. Here, you can't give that stuff away and Colorado has gobs! There's no way one could ever use this dirt for growing crops.

This spring when we were ready to plant, not a single retailer had Super Soil's ingredients in stock. Because we doubled the area of our raised beds this year, we were in desperate need of "dirt". Good dirt. Not this miserable "natural" stuff that only weeds adore. The previous owners of our property must have brought in literally tons of soil amendments to make this "tan concrete" usable as the front and side lawns are really lush. Using existing soil, depending on how poor it is, might take 3 years to get it to optimum growing condition so we were really chomping to find a solution.

Unfortunately, our own compost wasn't ready either. So we waited... and waited.

Since temps in southern states were considerably warmer compared to the rest of the country, we'd hoped stores would get product in sooner. Didn't happen. So this spring, we purchased enough to top off next year's beds and have plenty left over for other deserving plants. Flowers, fruit bushes, trees and shrubs all love the naturally rich, non-clumping, easy draining composition of Super Soil.

Warm and Cozy

All 32 Kozy Koats were in place weeks before Easter letting the sun heat the water in their built-in tubes, which in turn, warmed the soil. Once the dirt temperature raised, tomatoes and peppers sat inside their private "tents' enjoying their new home and happily starting producing fruits. Once outside temperatures stabilized – this year it was about 3 weeks ago, the red Kozy Koats came off and they were off and running.

By using early planting measures like Kozy Koats and other techniques discussed in Garden Gold, and having the needed dirt on hand, we should be enjoying veggies even sooner next year.

In Zip Drive

To speed the process, we filled a 4x8 bed with Super Soil from an area slated later for corn. Since that bed would be planted after the last frost, filching dirt from that 4x8 filled the tomato and peppers' needs immediately. This allowed the Kozy Koats to be set out and do their work warming the Super Soil for really early planting. Today tomatoes and peppers (pictured below right) are already growing like crazy so we'll get to enjoy a nice homegrown pico de gallo soon. Everything needed for this recipe can be harvested straight from the garden except the limes.

Fixing Trouble Spots

Photo: Tomatoes and pepper plants are already producing since Kozy Koats, Walls o' Water, etc. allow for very earyly planting.

For several years, we debated what to do around the outside of the beds. Leaving the paths as dirt only makes a muddy mess after every rain (remind me what that wet stuff is?), rock becomes very uncomfortable to walk and kneel on, and unwanted grass seed can blow into the beds. We've opted for the latter and just now seeded it with a drought tolerant, sun or shade, hardy Scott's variety. The existing native grass pictured is gramma, which withstands drought even to the point when it crunches under your feet. At the first sign of rain, gramma becomes a beautiful green carpet. God's gift to the desert.

Keep in mind that we live in the high desert at about 5,000 ft. During good years we get about 12" of rain. So far, we've seen a little under 2-1/2". Parts of our back property are landscaped (not pictured), but a lot of the acreage is gramma grass, sage, cactus and wild flowers. Oh yes, and the all-too-abundant tumbleweed. It might look quaint rolling across ghost towns in Westerns, but around here Russian Thistle is a noxious week spreading thousands of tenacious seeds in its wake. The unlandscaped area would be beautifully colorful if we were experiencing an El Niño and NOT a La Liña. It's hard to remember when last there was meaningful rain. We get lots of virga, which is rain wannabe. It starts falling from clouds, but dries up before hitting ground. Fat lot of good that does.

So to further conserve water, we switched our irrigation system 1/4" spaghetti tubing. It tied in easily to the existing 3/4" tubing and is flexible so you can move the "spaghetti" into just the right position. While it may look like there are dry areas of the surface, dirt underneath becomes thoroughly saturated. There's no overspray to encourage weeds and overall, it costs less than the amount of water dispersed by sprinklers or hose sprayers.

Enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your garden soon!

PICO DE GALLO ("Rooster's Beak" in English – go figure)

There's dozens of way to make Pico, but most people nearly always have these ingredients on hand. It just take a few minutes to whip up and makes the mouth crave more. The Pico pictured was hand chopped, so it resulted in bigger pieces.

6 serrano or jalapeno chiles, stems and seeds removed, chopped very fine
1 large onion, chopped very fine
2 med. tomatoes, seeded and chopped very fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T freshly squeezed lime
1/4 C finely chopped fresh cilantro
Salt (optional)

Mix all ingredients together in a nonmetallic bow. Let stand at room temp for at least 1 hour before serving.

NOTE: We normally make this in the food processor. Peel and quarter the onion and give it a few quick pulses in the processor. Add the next 5 ingredients and a few more quick pulses to chop it fine. (If you put the processor on "On", chances are you'll end up with slush, not recognizable veggies.)

Stir in the chopped cilantro.

Alternately everything can be chopped by hand.

If you're going to serve this with salty chips, no salt is needed. However, If this will be eaten with chicken, fish or veggies or some other non-salty dish, you may choose to add salt to taste.