Playing in the Dirt: My Garden of Heavenly Delights
It’s the third week of March and I spent the last few days working in the vegetable garden, digging the rows, pulling the winter weeds that had grown up to compost, and planting my new crops for this year. This is the first year I’ve actually had some natural manure to add in, so I hope it will help the garden do a little better this year. I planted on the new garden rows three rows of onions inter-planted with carrots, two rows of tomatoes, one row of potatoes, and three rows of rattlesnake beans inter-planted with corn. My peas that I had planted in January are just making flowers and starting to produce some, but I inter-planted some more corn in with them today as the nitrogen beans and peas produce helps the corn to grow. By the time the peas stop producing, hopefully the corn will be up and growing.
In my raised garden bed squares, I had planted lettuce, kale, collards, mustards, and Swiss chard back in December and January, so they’re just getting some size on them now. When my greens finish making seed, I’ll pull them up and plant something new in those plots. I had also planted some radishes, which I recently found out both the roots and the greens could be cooked like turnip greens. They loose their spiciness and taste a lot like turnips. My asparagus is now coming up nicely and I hope to have enough baby ones to start a new bed next year. Since they are perennials and they come back each year, I hope they will eventually make enough for a staple food. My green onions and garlic are doing well. I lined one garden fence with the garlic to hopefully have a decorative effect when they go into flower. I have a grape vine planted along the other fence, so it is very pretty on that side already.
My strawberries already have berries on them, so I can’t wait for my first taste of them this year. The wild black berries are taking over the place, so I hope to get a nice harvest out of them, before I cut them back again. The wild American plums have flowered and leafed out now, and the blueberries are in flower and beginning to make berries. I hope to have enough plums this year to make several jars of plum butter, and enough berries to make a bit of jam and jelly. I transplanted several blueberries and plum trees back in late fall and most of them did well on the transplant and are doing nicely now. I wanted to double my trees and though it will take about three to four years for them to produce well, I should have about a dozen of each by then. I had some visitors come by last year who asked if they could pick a few plums. I said yes and left them to their task, but when I went back to pick my plums there were few left, so if figured I needed a few more trees to make sure I had enough for us and some for the neighbors.
We had a mild winter this years so I actually saw two figs on my fig tree, already. That was quite early for figs as they usually produce fruit in the summer. My pecan is just starting to leaf out now and I need to purchase one more to make sure they pollinate well. My orange tree is about two feet high now in the pot, so I hope to transplant it in the yard, later this year in the fall. My lemon tree is still small, so I’ll leave it in the pot one more year until it grows a little bit bigger.
I made the mistake of planting some spearmint in the garden a few years ago and am still battling it taking over everything. I have dug up and transplanted much of it on my walking trail, so I hope it will do well there and then I can eradicate it out of the garden except for a small contained area. I love its scent though. I also found some wild fern growing along side the road and recently transplanted some of it around the water features of my walking trail. My elephant ears are coming out now, too, so I hope these will help the trail look nicer this summer when not much else is in bloom, except the yellow lantanas. My daffodils and snow drops have pretty much finished their blooms and the day lilies are taking over where they left off. My other Asian lilies are popping up now, so I hope to have a few blooms by Easter. The spider lilies, which bloomed in the fall, have all gone to leaves now, but are still pretty. The roses and azaleas are in full bloom now and are absolutely breath-taking. The crepe myrtles and yellow mums are beginning to green again and will be in bloom over the summer. Also the little wild huckleberries are in bloom and are very pretty as well with their little white bells ringing in the breeze. The purple spiderworts are blooming everywhere too with all the rain we’ve had lately. They and the dandelions have medicinal value, so I like having them around. I feed many of the dandelion greens to the bunnies, so they don’t go to waste.
Speaking of bunnies, with all the bunny poop I have this year to fertilize the vegetable beds, I think they’ll produce a little better this year. I also have two new baby chicks, so hopefully they’ll earn their keep making fertilizer as well. I have two new pups, too, which are Golden Retriever and Australian Shepherd mixes. They are beautiful, so I want to mix them in my line of American Southern Shepherds, which is a breed that I designed myself. This breed is a mix of Australian Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Husky, and Lab. I love the look and temperament of the Aussies, but I wanted a healthier breed, so I did some research to find out which breeds had less health issues. I found out that Goldens and Huskies have the least health issues so I bred them into my Aussie line. I threw in a couple of labs over the years too, so that I wouldn’t have to inter breed any of them. Interbreeding is why our dogs have so many health issues, now, so I didn’t want to repeat the mistake our ancestors made.
Needless to say, my little farm and garden is brimming with life, and keeps me running most days. Between home-schooling my two youngest children, working in the garden, and taking care of the animals, life for me is pretty busy. My writing and ministry work keeps me busy too, so the days are never ever dull around my place. There’s more work than I can keep up with, so I hope my children will grow to love this kind of work like I do. My daughter and son planted their crops in theirDixiecups and will transplant them when they’re ready for the garden. My son also helped me plant some watermelon and pumpkins out in the field yesterday. I hope their little crops will grow well and encourage the kids to love gardening. Playing in the dirt was one of my best childhood memories, and I hope it will be one of theirs.
My Favorite Vegetables and Fruits
The following list of twelve of my favorite garden vegetables and fruits will hopefully encourage you to get outside and play in the dirt. Bring your kids with you and make it a family affair. It doesn’t have to be laborious and it can even be a lot of fun, if you do it together. If you plant your garden in squares rather than rows, it’s easier to get it done. Just do one or two squares a day or a week as you have the time. Be sure and add compost, fertilizer, and wood ash to your beds. Lime may be necessary for some crops like Brassicas (Cabbage, broccoli) and onions. Use neem oil, BT, or pyrethrum for unwanted insects and spray late in the day so as to not hurt the bees and other beneficial insects.
Lettuce – this leafy salad green is fairly easy to grow, but it won’t germinate if the weather is either too hot or too cold. It does best in early spring and late fall, but it can be started indoors at almost any time of year. It does best planted in some shade in the summer months and in full sun in the winter months. I like to plant mixed loose leaf salad greens to get a variety for my salads. Cos and black seeded Simpson are two good varieties. Mesclun mixes are great as well.
Tomatoes – Tomatoes is one of the most important garden vegetables for most people. I like to plant one or two kinds of slicing tomatoes, a cherry tomato for salads, and maybe a Roma for canning. My favorites are Brandywines, and other beefsteaks, but I also like heat-wave tomatoes if I can find them. They are hard to come by, but I usually find them later in the year. I planted them one year and had so many I didn’t know what to do with all of them, so I learned how to home can them. I’ve not had as good of a crop with any thing else yet. I’m trying some heirlooms as well, this year, so I hope to see if they’ll do well. I bought some yellow pear tomato seeds, and the Brandywines. The German Johnsons are supposed to be good too, but I haven’t tried those yet. You can generally plant tomatoes down south anytime after March 15th. Cover them with a two liter coke bottle cut in half if you have a late freeze. Watch out for tomato hornworms, which are a green caterpillar like insect with a horn on it. Add crushed egg shells around them for added calcium. The indeterminate tomatoes can be cut down by one third after fruiting and they’ll sometimes produce a second crop in the fall. I covered my plants last year with white plastic garbage bags and still had tomatoes in December. But you have to take the bags off on hot days or they’ll die.
Cucumbers – Cucumbers are my next favorite salad veggie and they make great pickles as well. I like to slice them fresh in my salads and pour a little ranch dressing on it and have a summer garden feast. I tried many kinds of cucumbers and they’ve all done pretty well, though I had trouble with squash bugs last year. I’m planting Straight Eight and Sumters this year. National pickling is another good one. Plant them along a fence line if you can or provide a good support for them to climb on. Use toilet paper rolls cut in half to put around the stems if you have a cut worm problem. Cut worms are a curled up grayish worm that come out at night and cut off the tops of your plants.
Green onions and onions – I have a perennial green onion that never dies. A nice neighbor gave me some a few years back and I’ve had them ever since. I think it’s a type of Egyptian onion because it produces baby onions on its top instead of flowering like most onions. These are great for salads and just about anything else. I add them to casseroles, soups, and chicken pot pies. I’m also trying some tradition onions this year, but I’ve not done well with them before. I think my soil is too acid, but I’ve added lime so maybe it will work out this time. Onions can’t compete with weeds so you must keep them frequently weeded. Add plenty of compost between the rows and it’s easier to keep them down. Interplant onions and carrots to keep damaging insects away.
Carrots – Carrots are a good addition to the garden, but you need deep fertile soil to grow them. If your soil is not right they won’t do well. Add plenty of compost and fertilizer to the soil and mix well. Interplant with onions to keep damaging insects away. Parsnips are similar to carrots but they are a perennial vegetable and can be grown in winter down south. Plant them like carrots in deep fertile soil.
Squash – is one of my favorite vegetables, so I usually try to plant at least one or two kinds every year. I love the little black acorn squash, as they taste much like baked potatoes when backed. Fill them up with asparagus tips bacon bits and cheese and they are delicious. Another favorite is the crook necked yellow squash. I use it to make a yummy squash casserole. My next favorite is zucchini squash, which I love to fry. There are many other kinds you can try, so pick one or two of your favorites and get growing.
Pumpkins – Pumpkins are in the squash family but they are a different fruit all together in my back yard. I love to grow pie pumpkins to can, so I can make pumpkin cookies, muffins, pancakes, and bread all year long. You never tasted anything so good. But pumpkins need a lot of space, so I planted some out in the field this year. We’ll see how that goes. Some one told me a trick to planting them too that’s supposed to help them grow better. He told me to plant them four inches deep, rather than the usual two inches. He said it helps the root reach the water better in our hot summers down south. I’m trying it this year to see if it helps any.
Beans – No garden is complete without some kind of bean. Beans produce their own nitrogen so you can generally plant some kind of beans first before you plant anything else in the soil. You can interplant beans and corn, and sometimes even squash. This is how the American Indians did it. They planted the corn first, then a little later planted a bean beside it, and then a squash beside the bean. The bean grows up the corn stalk and both of them shade the squash a bit. Peas are a good cool weather crop and can be planted in December and January in the lower south, where I am. Most young peas are hardy though you can offer them a cold cap on the coldest days. Little marvel is a good pea, and there are many kinds of beans to enjoy. Lima beans, purple hull peas, and black eyed peas are good for the lower south. I also like speckled butter beans, and rattlesnake beans.
Corn – Indian Corn is may favorite but I’ve tried several other kinds. I generally try to stay away from hybrids, though. Corn needs to be planted at least four rows deep to help pollination, as they are wind pollinated. They are heavy feeders so plant them with beans or fertilize well. Corn is ready when the kernels are at the milk stage. Prick a kernel and if a milky white substance comes out, they are probably ready. I use the husks to make corn husk dolls.
Watermelons – Watermelons are my all time favorite summer fruit. I’ve tried several kinds but I like theCharlestongrey best. I’ve tried sugar babies, and yellow meat melons as well. They need to be planted deep like pumpkins so that their roots can reach the water during hot dry summer months. Dig a whole about six inches deep and six inches wide. Add compost to the bottom of the hole and plant seeds about 4 inches deep. Watermelons planted around the first of April should be ready by the fourth of July. They won’t ripen off the vine so don’t pick them too soon. They should make a good deep thump sound when thumped with your fingers. If you not sure, try one to see if it’s ready. If not, make watermelon pickles out of it, so it doesn’t go to waste.
Okra – is another good southern vegetable. Plant it around the first of April as it does best in hot weather. It will generally produce all summer long until the cold kills it off. It is a perennial in its native land. Okra seeds are hard to germinate, so soak them overnight before planting. You can also file the seed coat a bit to help germination.
Peppers are another heat loving vegetable. There are many different kinds but I generally plant bell peppers and chili peppers. Bell peppers are great for salads, pizza, and to stuff. Chili peppers are great for making homemade chili beans and a multitude of other zesty dishes. Peppers prefer hot weather, so don’t plant them too soon. Never plant them before April 1st. They will generally produce all summer long. I had so many one year, I made chili pepper vinegar for Christmas presents. They looked beautiful in their clear jars topped with a Christmas fabric and ribbon.
- Ten Gardening Skills for the Survivalist (prepping101.wordpress.com)
- Five Things For Better Results Planting Your Garden (backyardgardeningtips.com)