We have hit Mid-July, and we are well beyond that old farm saying “knee high by the 4th of July” for corn.  We are on the back half of Stage 2 of the 2018 Garden Season, and it is time for a Mid-July Garden Update.  There is a lot happening in the garden, and I can really see a difference in my plants due to soil treatments and plants I grew in 2017.  There is a lot to see in this Mid-July Garden Update including a discussion about the main garden, new fence, vertical garden, the patio herb garden, and perennial plants.

Keep in mind that August is just around the corner, and it is going to get very busy as we start preserving our harvest!  Stay tuned for next week where we launch into some canning operations here on Small Scale Life!

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Introduction: Mid-July Garden Update

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I will break this update down into four parts: the main garden, the vertical garden, the patio herb garden and the perennial plants on the property.

Main Garden Update

In this section, I’ll talk about how I fertilized the garden and improved the security of the garden area.  There are some new opportunities to expand my gardens in the future, and that is pretty exciting!

Plants Are Hungry Too!

To be honest, I was getting more than a little worried about the garden this year.  As I discussed in the last episode, I have been fighting some common pests and problems this season: rabbits, the cabbage worms, the digging dog and nutrient deficiencies.

My whining is NOTHING compared to what my friend Harold Thornbo from Smalltown Homestead has been fighting at his urban homestead in Indiana: slugs, flea beetles, squash bugs, sow bugs and now Japanese beetles.  He has the seven plagues of Egypt going on in his garden this year.  Compared to Harold’s struggle, I am on easy street!  Because of this, I am going to do some work on Season 3 Episode 31 a bit to reflect that change.  Check the post and podcast page for more on that.

Still, something was amiss. I got plants in the ground early this year, and I expected the plants to be taller at this point in the season.  Sure, I was using a layer of leaf mulch from last fall in my garden, but I didn’t think it could be holding back the growth of these plants.

At the same time, I hadn’t really done anything to improve the quality of the soil in Bed 1 (Alcatraz).  The Opalka Roma tomatoes and peppers were REALLY struggling, and the zucchini looked ill.  Compared to the plants in Bed 2 (Fort Snelling), everything was stunted and struggling.

I removed the excess leaf mulch, and I decided to feed the plants.  While I know some of you might cringe at this, I did give the plants a mixture of 10-10-10 fertilizer, Epsom salts and Mittleider Gardening micronutrients (available at growfood.com).  I use about a cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer/micronutrients and a half cup of Epsom salts in a 5 gallon bucket of water. I mix it together and apply the liquid to the area immediately around the stem of the plants.

I noticed almost immediately that all of the plants perked up.  The discoloration around the zucchini leaves stopped, and the biggest zucchini grew even bigger.  The tomatoes all started to grow (one cherry plant in Fort Snelling is now almost 7’ tall), and the peppers have doubled in size and are showing buds.

Since the last garden update in Episode 31, I have harvested basil, broccoli and my first cherry tomato!  I am also ready to harvest my first kohlrabi as well.

Not everything is unicorns and rainbows: I did lose the weakest zucchini plant this week, but that was to be expected.  It was struggling and pretty sickly from the start.  This is in addition to the various tomatoes, peppers, broccoli and basil plants lost during Karma’s roto-tilling operations.  Ahem!

I have to say that things have really turned around in the main garden!  I will have a video and a post about how I grow tomatoes in the near future for you.

Welcome to SuperMax!

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New Fencing Installed July 7, 2018

Probably the biggest change since the last garden update in Episode 31 was the installation of a new fence around the garden area.  I have to give credit to Julie: she was concerned that I would freak out every time that Karma the Dog jumped into the garden, and she was right.  It was ok the first couple times, but we were getting to a point of no return in the garden.  Plants cannot be replaced in our limited growing season, and if Karma dug up anything at this point, it would be a loss.

On July 7th, we installed a second fence around the garden area. It consists of 3’ tall metal posts and 3’ high wire mesh.  The gate is built from a metal post, a 2″x4″ scrap and some bungee cords.  The gate is something the hillbillies in Ohio would appreciate, but the beautiful thing is: it works!  In fact, the second wire fence works pretty well.  The posts are spaced every 50”, and we pulled the fence as tight as we could before fastening it to the posts.  I called it SuperMax because I have never had a garden this “secure.”

While this fence is temporary, it has opened our eyes to the possibilities of our future garden AREA.  This space is 22’ long by 12’ wide, and after looking at the area and the flower bed along the eastern fence line, we are thinking that this might be an opportunity to really expand the garden and use more permanent chain link fencing to keep dogs out.

Why would be do that?  Well, this week Karma jumped over the 3’ tall wire fence and pranced around the garden area.

That was a shock to all of us!

We are gathering ideas for the future garden area, but right now we are enjoying some relative security compared to the 2’ high chicken wire around the beds.

Vertical Garden Update

As I discussed in the How to Build Vertical Garden Planters post and podcast, I planted onions, basil and a variety of peppers in the two vertical garden planters.  This is a great little experiment this year.  I want to see if I can actually grow any onions in these planters because I have struggled with onions for years.  When I wrote my last articles about vertical planters, onions were one of those crops that apparently did not do well.

One tip for you that are considering this method, you do need to stay one top of watering. Check the soil daily: these planters dry out fast, and you can end up with rock hard soil and fried plants in a matter of days, especially with intense sun.

My planters have a good amount of shade due to the shadow from the house next door, but I do have to check the soil and plants almost daily.  Because of this, the gutter garden method is probably not the best for people who travel a lot!

Overall, I think the plants are growing well at the time of this mid-July Garden Update.  The onions are getting taller, and the peppers and basil are growing.  As I discuss in the Vertical Garden Update Video, I also fed these plants since I used garden soil right out of the bag and added some vermiculite to it.  There isn’t much life in the soil, so you have to feed the plants using the 10-10-10 fertilizer, micronutrients, Epsom Salt and water mix.  The plants perked right up and have gotten bigger and greener after this application.

I am watching the peppers for buds, and I am waiting for the onions to run their course.  After clearing the onions, I am going to plant greens in these planters for the fall.

Patio Herb Garden

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Patio Herb Garden – July 2018

Julie wanted to have some fresh herbs for cooking this year, and since room in the garden was limited, she planted her own herb garden on our patio.  She used a planter given to us by our neighbors in St. Louis Park before we moved.

In the planter, she added thyme, rosemary, cilantro and lemon peppermint.  I also started some herbs from seed, and we planted dill and oregano in a galvanized steel bucket next to the bed.

The cilantro grew well and then bolted.  I could not save it by taking off the flowery tops.  Julie replaced the cilantro with sage, and it is growing well.

The dill is a loss.  Someone thought the dill was a tasty snack, and they chewed off the tops of it.  Even though Karma roams the backyard, rabbit still find a way to visit and eat from the patio.  Go figure!  As my neighbor said yesterday, “This is quite the year for rabbits.  They are everywhere in the neighborhood!”  Yes, I agree with her!

Overall, the patio herb garden is growing REALLY well at the time of this Mid-July Garden Update, especially the mint, rosemary and oregano.  It is really nice to have fresh herbs at your fingertips, and we will need to preserve and dry them before winter.

Perennial Plants: Comfrey and Rhubarb

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Comfrey – July 2018

One of the things we will be doing to this property is growing more edible and useful perennial plants in our landscape.  Currently we have rhubarb plants that were started from my rhubarb plants in St. Louis Park (loved those two plants).  We already took one cutting from these plants and made some delicious rhubarb-strawberry crisp.

The plant is putting out another crop of rhubarb, and while it is growing, Karma the Dog laid on the plant to cool off while I checked the garden.  I’ll harvest what I can and let the plant grow for the rest of the season.

I received a package from Greg Burns at Nature’s Image Farm that included eight comfrey crowns!  I planted these along my western fence line.  Unfortunately, Karma the Dog dug up most of the plants (5 of the 8 plants).

I did get 3 plants to grow, and I am pretty pleased about that.  While I was getting a little nervous that they weren’t getting very big, so I talked with Greg about them.  He assured me that comfrey is really hearty, and once they get some full sun next spring, they will take off and get pretty big.

Greg suggested putting some wood mulch and compost around them, and I will do that.  Two things I have been finding with the soil in this yard: it is root bound (from the trees) and does not have a ton of nutrients.  We’ll see what we can do about that!

With a new garden space on the horizon, I will have a great opportunity to put some more perennial plants into the garden area.  I think the area could use some asparagus, and I could break up and replant that rhubarb.  We’ll see what trouble I can get into next year!

Putting It All Together

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As I read back through this Mid-July Garden Update and think about the 2018 Season, I have had moments this year where I have not been patient.  Plants grow when you provide them with sun, soil and water, but sometimes they need a little food too.

Still, I have to relax and be patient as plants “do their thing.”  They are growing; you cannot grab them by the stem and make them grow faster, taller or produce more fruit.

Everything will happen in its own time, and when the plants do bear fruit, you will be hustling to preserve the harvest!

Instead, enjoy the process and the moment.  Until next time, continue to learn, do and grow!

Gardening Gateway

If you want to know more about gardening, check out the Gardening Gateway page here on Small Scale Life.  There are a lot of resources about starting plants, blight and pests, vertical gardening and a host of other topics for you there.

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