From Black Thumb to Green Thumb

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Spring is here, and it is time for Lily and me to start playing in dirt again. It is hard for me to believe that last year was the first time I had a garden. Prior to last year, the only plants I grew for food was a small basil plant, (which I managed to kill), and a Kumquat tree, (that my husband managed to kill). I was not sure how last year’s experiment was going to turn out. But surprisingly, the garden was a success. So I thought I would share some of my experiences on my blog, in case others were thinking about starting a garden. It seems like there is a growing awareness about our compromised food supply. What better way to control the quality of the food you consume than to grow it yourself?

So where do you start? That was a question I put up on Facebook. In response I was told strawberries and green beans are pretty easy. I will add radishes to that list, based on my experience.

The first obstacle I encountered was trying to find good quality strawberry plants. I looked around, but I was not too impressed with some of the local selections. (In my area, it is difficult to find strawberry plants that are organically grown. I am not sure how important that is if you don’t use pesticides when YOU grow them, but I wanted to keep it clean. The way I see it, if I am going to spend the time and effort growing my own food, I want the best quality). So I asked around and I was told I will have to mail order my Strawberry plants. So I searched online and many of the popular websites were already out of stock. (Apparently you have to pre-order pretty early, so plan ahead). I did find one website that still had organic plants available, and that was Backyard Berries.

Their berries are available to ship at the end of May. (This worked out well for me because of the weather patterns here and lack of a greenhouse). The downside of ordering from them was the shipping cost was expensive. But I will say I was very pleased with these plants. They arrived in very good condition and they even had strawberries on them already, which was very cool!

I had no idea what type of strawberry plants to get, so I ordered 4 day neutral plants, and 4 June bearing plants. In hindsight, I wish I would have done more research. Day neutral is the better buy because they produce strawberries all season. (At least that is what I was told, and what I experienced). The June bearing variety did not produce much and did not do well in the winter, in a container. So my favorite variety of strawberries at this moment, (with my minimal experience), is the Seascape strawberry.

Once my strawberry plants arrived, I planted them in my square foot garden. I planted 4 plants to a square, (just like the book said). I felt strange, having only two squares of strawberry plants. Other members at the community garden had large strawberry patches. I had 2 square feet. But in the book Mel said to trim off the runners, (to keep most of the energy in the plant), and that was my plan. It worked out well for me.

Strawberry struggles
Growing strawberries was actually pretty easy. I think this year will be even easier, once I apply the knowledge I acquired from last year.

Slugs love strawberries. If the strawberry is touching the ground, the slugs will take a bite out of them. It was very disappointing, (and a little gross), to pick a strawberry and see a big chunk taken out by a slug. I was told that slugs would not cross egg shells, and I did spread some around my 2 strawberry squares, but some of the strawberries managed to touch virgin ground and were chomped on. Now if this were a traditional square foot garden, which is in a raised box, this would not be a problem. But since it was a community garden, I was limited in my garden layout and design. My strawberry plants were planted in the ground, not in a container.

This year I have a better plan.

1. My strawberry plants are in raised boxes. My husband made some individual cedar boxes for me. I transplanted the strawberry plants into them last year when the community garden shut down. The plants did well, and I did not have any more slug problems!

2. I purchased some Helix Tosta, which is supposed to be a homeopathic way to repel snails and slugs.

3. I also purchased some diatomaceous earth, and have some ground up egg shells ready to go.

I wanted to add some more strawberry plants to my garden this year, so I purchased 4 strawberry plants from a Tasteful Garden.However, I got them last month, and they did not do very well indoors. By the time I was able to transplant them, only one survived. (The weather has been horrible this year). So last week I ordered some organic strawberry bare roots. This is an experiment; I am not sure how well they will produce this year. But it is a more economical option to buying the full plants.

I did not worry about pH in the soil, and the only fertilizer I used was compost. I kept them consistently watered, and gave them some TLC. The plants did pretty well, and my daughter and I enjoyed strawberries freshly ripened off the plant. This is the BEST way to eat strawberries, it spoils a person.

Green Beans
Green beans are very easy to grow. Unlike the strawberry plants, we had a very large yield. The trick, I think, is to grow them up a trellis. We followed Mel’s instructions in his book and made a trellis using electrical conduit pipe, rebar, and a trellis net. The seeds we used were organic, but we did not even buy them. They were given to us at a vegetable plant sale as a promotion. We didn’t soak them overnight before planting, (which I read later you are supposed to do). We only planted 2 “squares” of green beans. It was supposed to be 8 plants per square. I think we only did 4 per square, and added a few more later on. You are supposed to space out the planting by a few weeks for a continual harvest. We didn’t do that, but we had a continual harvest anyhow. We were not in short supply of green beans once they got growing. It was awesome. (Lily loves green beans which makes it even better).

The only pest problem we had were Japanese Beetles. They loved our green bean plants. However they came later in the season, after the plants were well established, so they did not seem to affect the plants much. (They ate the leaves not the actual green beans). If they become a problem, I read I can lay down a tarp and knock them off onto the tarp and put the beetles in a solution of dish soap. But since they didn’t seem to affect the yield, (we had more than enough green beans), I am not worried about it now. (If anyone knows a good way to prevent an infestation please let me know).

The only thing I will change this year is I will use the taller trellis for the green bean plants because they love to climb and got bunched up at the top last year. I will also plant a few more squares. (Green beans freeze pretty well, so why not).

I have no idea how well the green beans will do if you don’t use a trellis, I have never tried that. Use a trellis, it is worth it.

Radishes were the very first vegetables we grew. (Not counting the green bean plant that we grew inside as a fun science project). We grew a variety called French Breakfast radishes. They are cute little pink radishes, and I think their taste is more mild than some of the other radishes I tried. We planted them in a self watering box on our patio, and they were zero maintenance. They matured in 28 days, give or take a few days. Last year we planted them in the middle of May because I received this seed pack as a Mother’s Day present. We planted them a little earlier this year, and they sprouted fast, but they only had their seedling leaves for a few weeks. I don’t think they will be ready in 28 days this time. (It has been a chilly Spring).

So those are just some of the plants we grew as gardening newbies last year. I will blog about some of my other gardening experiences in the next few weeks. Gardening will be on my mind, since the community garden finally opens this weekend. I hope this post inspires a former black thumb like myself to acquire a green thumb.

What do you think is the easiest plant for a beginner gardener?



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