Green Guide to Gardening: A Summer Update

Green Living

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If you followed our Green Guide to Gardening Series this Spring, you know that I took it upon myself to plant my family’s first vegetable garden.  You also know that I attempted only to use green and sustainable gardening methods.  Despite Mother Nature’s earnest efforts to thwart me, I may just have turned my brown thumbs green.  Here’s what I’ve learned thus far… the good, the bad, and the ugly:

Green Gardening: A Summer Update

The No-Dig Approach: Um yeah, this works! And after digging a tiny patch in our lawn just for sunflowers, I can honestly say tilling is a pain. I’d never want to dig out a full vegetable garden patch. The No-Dig Approach did just what it promised.  I have virtually no weeds, and what few weeds I have are easily spotted and take seconds to pull with no effort because my soil is loamy and light.  To further combat weeds and help maintain moisture in the soil, I added a straw mulch layer. This has been essential in conserving water during this blistering hot summer.

green gardening, summer harvest
A June Harvest | ©L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

Companion Planting: So here’s the truth… I really have no idea if this works.  I know I have a large crop of fragrant herbs for cooking that I wouldn’t have if I had not planted them to bolstering my vegetables.  I also know that the borage I planted to benefit my squashes and tomatoes attracts many pollinating insects.  If you don’t believe me, ask my screaming toddler, who is afraid of bees.  I also know that I planted radishes near my zucchini and yellow squash, which are not only thriving but exploding! The summer squash has remained completely unmolested by bugs.

I also realize that timing is essential with certain companion pairs.  I planted my lettuce seeds beneath my broccoli too late, and before the lettuce took off, the broccoli plants completely shaded them out.  Lettuce likes a little shade, especially in the heat, but it does need some sun.  Also, I learned I’m never growing broccoli again.

Square Foot Gardening: Speaking of broccoli, I like Square Foot Gardening. Stringing out the orderly grid of one-foot squares was in harmony with my Virgo nature; however…

green gardening, summer harvest
One of my garden beds at the end of May, before the broccoli, mutated and tried to take over the world | ©L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

I misjudged how many “squares” certain plants would need. My broccoli plants are huge!  I mean, HUGE!  And their abundant green foliage shaded out anything growing near it.  My kale beside it looks sad and puny.  The broccoli took up a lot of real estate yet only produced small heads.  That’s a vegetable I’m resigning to purchase from the grocer or farmer from now on.

And I mentioned my squash, right?  I have summer squash coming out of my eyeballs. We eat three-course squash meals (squash entree, squash side, squash dessert) that a friend has dubbed “Squash Fest 2012.” But this bounty comes at a price, and the squash takes up far more than the 2 squares  I allotted for it.  My zucchini literally ate some nearby pepper, pumpkin, and strawberry plants. Seriously, I don’t know where they are. I want them back.

green gardening, summer harvest
Squash Fest 2012 | ©L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

Reduce, Refuse, and Upcycle:  Using a rain barrel to reduce your water usage is a great idea. The thing is you kind of need rain to make it happen. Luckily our water bill hasn’t spiked in trying to keep the garden hydrated, and the straw mulch has definitely helped.  Also, the complete and utter neglect of my lawn at the expense of my garden probably helped the water bill too.  My neighbors love me.

As far as composting goes, I like it.  We are sending much less waste to the landfill, and it’s like my own mini-science experiment watching last month’s scraps decompose.  I even enjoy the act of having to turn the pile to aerate it every so often.  That being said, I am a bit of a nerd.

Pest Control
I am pleased to report that no synthetic or toxic pesticides have touched my garden. (Pause for a smug pat on the back to myself)  Which isn’t to say that I haven’t had pests.  My broccoli leaves were being ravaged with large jagged rips and holes (see why I’m never growing broccoli again?)

First I made this Homemade All-Purpose Insecticide Spray from Frugally Sustainable.  Not only was it fairly easy and inexpensive, but it was pretty too.  Especially in a mason jar.  Gotta love mason jars. You still need to use caution around the children because of the hot peppers in it.

homemade insecticide spray
©L. Thomas | Little Lake | 2012

I soon discovered what was causing these jagged holes weren’t cabbage moth caterpillars, but the flock of birds that came twice daily to feast on them!  A string of old CD’s from my pre-iPod days was all that was needed to scare the birds away.  Maybe they were as embarrassed about The Crow Soundtrack as I am for having owned it. So I have a few holes here and there from the caterpillars and beetles that are no longer being devoured by birds, but I can live with that.  The damage the birds were inflicting was much worse.

So that’s my summer report!  Looking forward to a bumper crop of tomatoes and celebrating Tomato Fest 2012.

Do you have any organic gardening tips to share?  Do you know a better way to grow broccoli?  Do you know why my zucchini ate my strawberries? 

Share your wisdom in the comment section below.

By Loralie

When Loralie isn’t out exploring with her two pint-sized adventurers you’ll often find her in front of her computer plotting to take over the world (or at least Lake County.) She appreciates good friends, good food, expensive shoes and parents who make two lanes in the drop-off/pick-up line at school. Her spirit animal is The Hobbit. She invites you to join her on her quest for unique distractions, diversions and deliciousness in this county we call home.

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Green Guide to Gardening: A Summer Update

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