Black Thumb Gardening

I am not a great gardener.  I try, I dabble, and I fail an awful lot.  Growing weeds, that I can do.  My garden teems with them, and I have a very hard time keeping up.  But every year I try again, telling myself I’ll do better.  I’ve never had that better year, but somehow the optimist in me figures it’s got to happen sometime.  My garden area is very small, about 10’ x 3′.  Which means what I grow hopefully produces something useful, and I don’t have a lot of space for rotation.  I’m trying some of the techniques from Square Foot Gardening.  Since I have an established raised bed I don’t have to worry about working the soil, I just go with what’s been there and hope for the best.  I also have a fence directly behind so maneuvering around isn’t as easy as it would be using the plans in the book.  Next year I should have some compost that’s baking now, so we can enrich the soil further.  For this year I’ll have to go with fertilizer I already own (the blue crystal kind) that I need to get rid of.  I don’t use any pesticides or herbicides, but I think that it does show in the quality of the plants that I haven’t figured out acceptable organic alternatives.  I’m told that soil health has a lot to do with it, and hopefully that will come.

This year’s plan:

3 bean 3 bean 3 bean 3 bean sund. tom roma roma roma roma cucumber zucchini strawberries
birdfeeder birdbath 9 lettuce 4 peppers 4 corn bb tom bb tom bb tom bb tom sage blueberry herbs
9 garlic scallions 9 spinach 4 celery 2 corn basil basil basil basil parsley herbs

Each space is about 1 square foot, give or take.  The back row with the cucumber is actually 6”x12” spaces, and the front row is curved so some blocks there are more or less than 12” from back to front.  The 12” wide is pretty consistent. With square foot gardening, you know how many plants will fit into a square foot, so it’s a lot easier to plan.  Some plants I’m finding (like the zucchini and the sage) are a bit wider than a square foot but for the most part the planning works very well.

This year the vegetable garden is growing pretty good (knock on wood).  All of the plants were bought from a local gardening center, because I never got around to planting the seeds when I should have.  Oh well, that just means I have to pay the “stupid tax” by paying a lot more for young plants than I would have paid for the seed.  Anyway, the core harvest this year will be the tomatoes, 4 better boy, 4 roma, and tomato bred to give sweet dried tomatoes.  These things all grow well in NJ weather and soil, and I’m hoping to put up some sauce and try my hand at canning diced tomatoes.  Diced tomatoes are something I use often, it will be good to see if I can make acceptable jarred diced tomatoes rather than relying on canned versions from the grocery store that have BPA leeching from the can lining.

For the other “crops” I decided to try cucumbers again, after years of not trying because they take up too much room.  I bought one plant with the idea of growing it vertically, which seemed like a great idea when I read it in Square Foot Gardening.  I must say, it’s been quite successful!  We used bird netting tied to stakes that we attached to our reed fence behind the garden.  The cucumber vine tendrils love it, the vine is now 6’ tall and I’ve gotten 3 rather large cucumbers off of it that are in the fridge pickling.  Even as large as the pickles were, there was no sign that the plant couldn’t handle the weight.  If I had grown more plants I perhaps could have gotten more cucumbers at a time and done Alton Brown’s non-fridge fermented dill pickles (highly recommend watching the video on youtube).  We’ll see how the rest of the harvest season goes.

cucumber1 001

In addition to the cucumbers, I have 6 corn stalks happily growing young corn.  they’re surrounded by bird netting to keep the squirrels out.  Last year the squirrels ate all our young corn before we ever got to enjoy it.  Here you can see the morning glory winding its way through the corn, I need to get in there and weed once the weather cools down a bit.


In a rather surprising change, my blueberry bush has actually given us berries!  I planted it four years ago, and it sat there rather dejected, not growing much at all and certainly not giving berries.  This year I tried a tip of mounding used coffee grounds under it to give it the more acidic soil it likes, and I was rewarded with berries!


I think every year as a gardener you need to try something new, to see what can be done in their soil and with your gardening skills.  Last year I did potatoes, which worked out pretty good though I’m still rethinking where exactly I want to plant them next year since they’re rather large and viney and take up a lot of garden space.  I’m considering a bottomless planter method I’ve seen but trying to figure out how to do it without purchasing 5 gallon plastic buckets.  This year I’m trying leeks, which I use in a few Irish dishes I cook.  So far they’re still small, hopefully they’ll flesh out a bit.  I also planted garlic last october, and harvested it the other day.  They were…small.  I may have taken them out too soon, but according to the signs this was when I should have harvested.  I’ll read up some more and try again, it was a very easy crop!  Right now they’re braided and hanging in the pantry to dry out.


If you’re a “black thumb”, know that I once considered myself one too.  I still can’t grow houseplants, but gardening I am slowly but surely getting better.  This is my 12th year gardening.  My garden is messy, and weedy, and I often don’t know what the pests are or why plants are responding the way they do, but I figure that every bit I learn, and watch, I will learn something new that will help me be better next year.  I have found a thousand ways NOT to grow a plant, and hopefully someday I’ll stumble on the right way.

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