The Garden


(Updates pending about our 2012 garden.  It’s time to start planning!)

Our garden right now looks like this, but pretty soon it will be Spring!

A Winter Garden

And pretty soon, our garden will look like this!


I’m not sure how to describe our gardening aptitude.  We really enjoy our gardening, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider us “avid” gardeners.  But, I suppose it’s all your perception of the adjective, avid.  We have friends with tractors for their backyard garden.  I don’t put us up there with them!  We primarily focus on our vegetable garden.  While we have perennial beds in our yard, those are really just so the house looks nice, and I don’t particularly enjoy tending to them.  Hence the perennial nature of them.  I almost NEVER plant annuals!  I’m good with buying hanging flowers from our local greenhouse for our front porch.

The hubby and I just planned our 2011 garden last night, and I’ll be heading to our favorite store, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, tomorrow to pick up our seeds.  When I was having difficulty finding my gardening notebook from last year, I thought cataloging what we had chosen on the blog might be a good record-keeping idea.  Our garden is located in Zone 4, for your reference.

We are going to be trying a few new things this year.  We usually like to go mostly with what went well last year, change a few things that we didn’t care for, and add a few new things just for fun.  Our garden is all planted using a Square Foot Gardening (SFG) technique.  The soil in our yard isn’t stellar, and we decided that SFG would help alleviate that concern, and also be easier to tend while taking up less space.  Each year we seem to keep adding more boxes!  The SFG technique has you build boxes, fill them with a special mix (which works great), and then you plant in square foot squares, as opposed to the more traditional rows.  We really like it, and it works well for us.  Therefore, when we plan our garden, I make a little grid, and I write in each box what we are going to plant, and how many you plant per square.  The book gives you numbers for this for most vegetables and herbs, but not all.  If what you are planting is not in the book, you can estimate based on how far apart the seed packet tells you to plant.

Plan for Current Boxes

Box 1 – Along south side of house, 2 ‘ x 8’ = 16 square foot boxes, shallow depth of 6″.  All trellised.

Box 2 – Along south side of house, 2′ x 8′ = 16 square foot boxes, shallow depth of 6″.  First four boxes are trellised.

Box 3 – “Herb Box,” along south side of house, 2′ x 8′ = 16 square foot boxes, shallow depth of 8″.

Box 4 – “Root Box,” in the open side yard, good southern exposure, 4′ x 4′ = 16 square foot boxes, deep depth of 12″.

*New for 2011* Box 5 – “Asparagus Box,” in the open side yard, good southern exposure, 4′ x 4′ = 16 square foot boxes.

*New for 2011* Box 6 – “Mint Box.”  This is going to be a smaller box and I’m not sure where we are going to plant it.  We have planted mint before in a pot, and it hasn’t done as well as we would expect.  So we are going to put it somewhere else on its own (it will take over if you plant it with other things).

*New for 2011*  Wild mushroom cultivation in the woods!  Hubby bought a bunch of plugs of hmm…I think they are shitake.  He needs to harvest some appropriate logs and do whatever you need to do to get the mushrooms started.  He attended a workshop a few weeks ago and has a book.  More updates on that later.

We also have a few other areas planted, including a oval-shaped bed which holds 2 high-bush blueberries, 3 raspberry bushes, and various June-bearing and ever-bearing varieties of strawberries.  We need to plant some additional strawberries this year.


The hubby has planted three hop vines for his homebrewing hobby in small boxes next to the berry garden.  I had the *bright* idea of using the kids’ play structure as supports for the vines, which can grow to over 20 feet.  Hmm…did that really come out of my mouth?  He has three varieties planted, two of which he purchased as rhizomes from Freshops, Kent Golding and Cascade, and a third, Nugget, that he purchased as a vine from our local greenhouse.  Hubby has also been playing with some fruit trees in the yard, and has a few varieties of cherry trees planted.

Hop vines - Kent Golding, Nugget, Cascade

We also have sunchokes planted in the wild area in front of our house.  We didn’t harvest them last year so that they could establish.  I’m looking forward to them this year!  At least we did enjoy the beautiful sunflowers that they produced last summer.

Sunchokes, aka Jerusalem Artichokes

Box 1 – Trellised Vegetables

Back row with trellis -3 boxes of Pole Beans (Fortex); 4 boxes of Cucumbers (Olympian); 1 box of sugar snap peas (Sugar Snap)

Front row – 2 boxes of Broccoli (Diplomat); 2 boxes of Brussels Sprouts (Diablo); 2 boxes Arugula; 1 box Kyona Mizuna; 1 box Bibb (Buttercrunch)

NOTES:  We did bush beans and pole beans the first year, and decided that we liked the pole beans just as much, and they were much easier to harvest and more prolific.  We have planted Fortex for three years and it’s our favorite.  We have planted other varieties in the past, but keep coming back to Fortex.  We have also always planted cucumbers, but they have not been too successful.  We are trying a new variety this year.  The Hubby LOVES snap peas.  We plant a lot of these (more in the next box).  The sugar snap variety is excellent.  We tried broccoli for the first time last year, and it turned out well, so we are doing it again.  We also tried broccoli raab last year for the first time, but we didn’t really care for it.  Brussels sprouts are essentially new this year.  We did try them last year, but planted them in a terrible spot and they barely even grew.  We absolutely love being able to go out to the garden and harvest salad greens for dinner, so we always plant a lot of those.  We continue to re-plant throughout the summer.  Arugula is our favorite!  Grows like a weed, and so tasty.

Box 2 – Partially Trellised Vegetables

Back row, half-trellised – 4 boxes of sugar snap peas; 2 boxes of spinach (Spargo); 2 boxes set aside for one tomato plant in cage

Front row – 1 box of Bibb (Buttercrunch); 1 box of Red Romaine (Red Rosie); 2 boxes of Green Romaine (Winter Density); 2 boxes of spinach (Emu); 2 boxes set aside for one tomato plant in cage

NOTES: Although SFG technique says that you can grow one tomato per square in a cage, we found last year that they went crazy and overtook the spaces around them.  They were okay front-to-back with space, so we are going to set aside the two end boxes of each row for two tomato plants.  We are planting spinach next to those squares since the spinach will be planted early and then will not do well in the heat of summer anyway when the tomatoes are flourishing since spinach is a cool-weather crop.  Then we may decide to re-plant spinach in the early fall.  The peas are also an early crop, and usually we pull them up once they have finished and plant something new there.  Not sure what we will do in those squares later in the summer.

Box 3 – Herb Box

Back row – Bee Balm; Dill; Cilantro; Sage; Hungarian Hot Wax pepper; Ancho Poblano pepper; 2 boxes of flat-leaf parsley (Titan)

Front row – Chives; Italian basil; Thai basil; Thyme; Oregano; Tarragon; 2 boxes of flat-leaf parsley

NOTES: The peppers are new this year.  We’ll see how they do!  Not sure if it will be hot enough, but not really sure how hot it needs to be since we’ve never planted hot peppers before.  We absolutely love parsley and tend to use most of it in tabbouleh salad all summer long.  It did extremely well last year.  The chives are from seeds that my friend harvested from her crop last year, so I’m not sure what variety they are.  The basil is new this year in the box.  We have tried basil in pots before and they haven’t done well at all, so we are trying them in the box to see if they do better in that environment.  For the tarragon, you need to plant that as cuttings from a greenhouse, so we will have to pick that up at either the local farmer’s market or greenhouse.

Box 4 – Root Box

Row 1, north side of box – 4 tomato plants

Row 2, middle north row – leeks (Megaton), beets (Red Ace), sugarsnax carrots, rainbow carrots

Row 3, middle south row – leeks, beets, sugarsnax carrots, rainbow carrots

Row 4, south side of box – leeks, beets, 2 boxes of scallions (Deep Purple)

NOTES:  We built this box late last year, and the carrots and onions that we planted didn’t have time to do very well.  The tomatoes flourished there however.  So, hopefully things will do better this year with a full season of potential.  The leeks are new this year, so we’ll see!  As are the carrot varieties that we are planting.  I’m looking forward to the rainbow ones.  We have done beets before in the main garden boxes and they have not done well.  Since Hubby likes them so much, we are going to try them again in this deeper box and see if they do better here.

Box 5 – Asparagus Box

This will be new this year, and we are going to plant it with one-year crowns of Jersey Supreme.  We won’t be able to harvest these until next year or the following year.  We are thinking that a 4′ x 4′ box will fit 25 crowns.


We have not done well in previous years trying to grow tomatoes from seeds.  We don’t have windows in our house with a southern exposure and there just isn’t enough light.  Hubby is going to build a basement growing station this year, so we are going to try again, and see how it goes.  If they don’t do well, then we will buy seedlings from our local farmer’s market based on available varieties.  We  have plans for six plants, and will try to mix it up with some regular red varieties, one cheery, one grape, and hopefully something heirloom, like Cherokee Purple (yum!).  We are going to experiment with seeds using the Defiant variety.


Hubby built a set of three composting bins two summers ago.  It tends to work well, except for the fact that our dogs like to eat the compost.  Ick.  So we have had to fence the garden so they won’t walk all over our plants.  Hubby uses the traditional SFG “Mel’s Mix” for the garden, and puts in our own compost.  I also wanted to mention that we compost all year.  We keep one of those small ceramic crocks on our kitchen counter.  In the summer, it goes straight into the bins.  In the winter, however we have a yard trash barrel with tight-fitting lid in our garage.  We just throw the compost in there all winter and in the spring, dump the whole barrel into the compost bins.  Works very well.  No smell at all, neither in the house nor the garage.

Compost bins

It has been so fun looking through the garden photos from last summer.  I can’t wait to get started (as I sit here with school canceled for another snow day).  I did a “garden tour” post last year on the blog, and you can read that here.  Some of the same pictures however!

7 Responses

  1. Wow, I loved this post! I’m always wondering how other people’s yard gardens work. You have so much going on there! I’ll definitely be checking back on this page.

    You may already know this, but you said you were going to move your mint this year.. Just a warning, I planted some in a side garden last year and the root system on that sucker had it travelling all over my garden in no time. It’s a voracious spreader. And the roots are everywhere! I have since taken it out of my garden (again and again) & moved it to a pot (where like you said it doesn’t do as well).

    Anyway, best wishes! I am looking forward to blogging more about my garden too. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Suzanne, thanks for the comment! It’s nice to document all the work. I actually don’t feel that we have a huge garden, but it seems that way when you write it all down. Looking through all of those pictures made me long for Spring! We’ll be starting our seeds soon, but probably not for a while longer since our last frost date isn’t until the end of May/first of June.

    • And I was also going to comment about the mint. Yes, I know that it will crazy-take-over, but your story makes me want to be extremely cautious! I will have to talk it over with Hubby about how to curb its spread.

  2. J’adore the new garden tab!!!!! I know it’s hard to imagine that spring will be here soon, since we are covered in a ton of ice right now, but Patrick and I were just saying that it is going to be time to get into spring gardening zone soon. We may just have to copy what you’ve done and adapt to our zone because everything sounds awesome and will be uber-tasty.

    We did cukes last year and they didn’t grow forever, but when they did, we well and truly had more cukes than any two people could ever use in a reasonable period of time.

    Can’t wait to keep reading about this…:)

  3. […] wife and I have become avid gardeners.  However, we prefer to use the Square Foot Gardening technique.  I just screw together some […]

  4. […] Month-by-Month Gardening in Illinois by James A. Fizzell, as well as my friend Tina’s blog, Squirrel Accorns.  This year, we are going to try square foot gardening, as discussed in the book All New […]

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