This spring was amazing--exactly the kind of weather you love to be out in, with the soil just the consistency you love to dig in. My husband and I got busy improving the structure of our little urban backyard garden so that by planting time, all would be ready.
I built up the level of the raised plot up by the house, while he borrowed a tiller and prepared a strip along the back fence, which he later fenced with chicken wire.
Looks small, doesn't it? But I added eight 40-lb bags of composted manure to bring the soil level up. I left a service walkway between the deck and the plot. You see the first new inhabitant, a broccoli plant, in a wire cage. Further back where the shade starts are clumps of chive. Beyond them it gets even shadier and suitable only for flowers.
At the left end you see a white trellis (viewed on-edge) that I stuck in the dirt for the edible pea pods planted at that end. Then there are also beets, banana peppers, carrots, sage, and summer squash growing with the broccoli now, with planters of various herbs toping the flat paving stone edge.
We're guessing this raised plot has about 30 square feet, not counting the flower bed at the far end.
Below, the garden strip along the back fence is shown.
The back fence plot looks smaller than it really is from this angle. At the far end you see our raspberry bushes, now four years old. The fence kept rabbits from eating them down last winter, and a huge berry crop is ripening. There will be berries to freeze this year.
That green clump in the tilled portion is a raspberry upstart and we decided to leave it. From there to the near end we've planted bush and pole beans (trellises added). The middle section between raspberry bushes has tomatoes, an acorn squash, a cucumber, and a couple more broccoli. I planted marigold seeds in front of the tomatoes and zinnias along the fence, hoping it would be pretty as well as useful.
The tilled area is approximately 150 square feet, with another 48 square feet in raspberry bushes at the end that gets shady by mid-afternoon.
My husband neatly fenced the whole thing with chicken wire. We've seen rabbits looking longingly through the fence at the beans.
As soon as plants were set out and seeds were in the ground, I started laying down a mulch of sheets of newspaper that I covered with whatever green stuff I could scrounge on the lot. Our mower doesn't collect grass clippings, but I had trimmings from perennial flowers and shrubs, some clumps of grass dug out of flower beds, and coffee grounds to dump on top of the newspaper. As I weeded the lawn, the weeds got tossed on the paper too. Finally the paper was sufficiently weighted down, no weeds grew, and before long the veggies had grown to cover the entire fenced area plus creeping up the trellises and fencing. What looked ugly a month ago has now vanished from sight.
The Ups and Downs
Our urban garden has had its problems.
A windy day snapped three or four of the largest pea stalks right off, greatly diminishing the yield of my tiny planting. I will plant them in a more protected area next year.
A screen cage over the summer squash to keep out squash moths proved to retain too much moisture for our rainy spring, and aphids overwhelmed one of the two plants before we had a chance to examine them. We tried soapy water on the other, but eventually used a little Sevin to save it. Now we are rid of the aphids but fighting the squash moths sans screen cage. I recalled Fred Kirschenmann explaining in his book that organic gardening doesn't happen all at once, and I know what he means.
We thought we had the carrots adequately protected from rabbits, but woke one morning to find them grazed over. There is wire fence around them now, and I think that the remaining leaves will produce carrots--I hope so anyhow.
Here is the raised plot as it looks today:
Then the Japanese beetles showed up. These are the iridescent greenish brown beetles not to be confused with Oriental lady bug beetles. These fellows showed up last year for the first time in our neighborhood and went for roses and raspberries primarily. We don't have roses, but we captured dozens of beetles from the raspberry plants. They are easy to catch and shove into a jar, so we adequately controlled them that way.
This year our raspberry bushes were huge and full of ripening berries when the beetles showed up. When they get to feeding on what they really like, they release pheromones to call their brethren from miles around to dinner. What to do?
We happened to have saved the netting that surrounded a gazebo that broke apart in a relative's yard. We hauled it out of a basement container, and soon my creative husband had it covering the entire length of berry bushes. The beetle horde left, and the lone ones that settle upon other plants soon end up in The Jar.
Our three year old granddaughter loves to pick berries right off the bushes. "This one's ready Grandma!" she says, as she shoves it into her mouth. In time the beetle life cycle will be over, we can take the netting off, and she can keep picking berries until frost.
I'm sorry, but I have to go to supper now. It includes green beans picked today, and spaghetti sauce frozen during last year's tomato harvest, flavored with fresh herbs. We have our first little batch of baby beets too. Last night it was pea pods and broccoli.
See you later!
July 11, 2010 Update by GreenGranny:
Today we took the netting off of the raspberries. The crop on the second year canes is nearly all harvested, and flower buds are forming on the first year canes. It rained again last night and we wanted the plants to dry out as much as possible and not have the canes pushed into each other by the weight of the netting.
So far today I've caught about half a dozen beetles on them, and about as many more elsewhere in the yard. Our newspaper said that Japanese beetles emerge over a two month period, so they are going to keep coming for a while. Unlike last year, we don't have leaf damage from them--you have to look carefully to spot holes in leaves.
I've been picking green beans by the bowlful and sharing with family. They are beautiful beans, just perfect. Found the first ripe cherry tomatoes and promptly ate them--good! There should be a big supply coming on, and regular tomatoes even more so. The marigolds and zinnias in the veggie garden are blooming.
The only plants looking unhappy are the banana peppers--all the rest seem to find the close quarters workable. I wanted to try growing combinations of plants at multiple levels, and it's been interesting to watch them climb and crawl and intertwine with each other. I now know, for instance, that I could dispense with the zinnias next year and grow a row of trellised veggies all along the fence, and still be able to crawl between them and the tomatoes for harvesting.