Growing Chemical Free Vegetables

One of the top priorities since starting my garden is to grow vegetables without the use of any chemicals. I didn’t want toxins from the garden box material, pesticides or additives to leach into the soil or my plants.

Earlier this spring, we bought wood for the new garden box. To avoid chemically pre-treated wood, we used all-natural. The next challenge was to find an organic product that would protect the wood for years to come.

This wasn’t as easy as you would think. After some online research, I came across Eco Wood Treatment. It was exactly what I was looking for- a non-toxic wood stain that only needed one application and no maintenance needed. Unfortunately, it’s only available online. So I ordered and about two weeks later it arrived.

Eco Treated WoodI painted a coat on the wood we were using and watched the wood change colors as the treatment soaked in. Like infomercial guru Ron Popeil used to say, “Set it and forget it!” The wood was taken care of for the next several years. Just like my mealtime needs would have been if I’d purchased Popeil’s rotisserie or beef jerky machines. I still remember those infomercials fondly.

In other measures to ensure an organic garden, I’ve used naturally occurring vermiculite to soak up excess moisture in soil and a chemical-free oil spray to keep pests off my plants.

And look, my organic garden is thriving!

Thriving Garden

Organic garden thriving

 

 

What a Difference a Year Makes!

What a difference a year makes- at this time last year the UK still wanted to be part of the EU, no one seriously thought Trump would win the Republican presidential nomination and I was still enjoying my mid-30s.

As far as my garden, this year is a huge improvement over last. I think there are four main reasons why.

  1. Larger garden box- Steve built me a new garden box which is 24″ deep. Last year’s store bought kit was half the depth. This year’s crop has room for deeper roots, making for stronger and more robust plants.
  2. Better quality soil- This year we went the route of using compost instead of soil. The richness of the nutrients in the compost encourages healthy plant growth. As an added bonus, the compost is better at retaining moisture than the soil I used last year.
  3. Soaker hose- This is the first year I’ve used an irrigation system. In past years, I’ve watered by hand. You can imagine how fun that is on 100 degree North Carolina days. And when I neglected my garden during the World Cup or vacation, things got bad very quickly. Now I don’t have to worry about watering the garden with the use of the soaker hose irrigation system and timer. Bring on the summer Olympics and ignoring all else for two weeks this August!
  4. Putting gardening advice to practice- Thanks to everyone who has given me gardening advice over the last three years- from my father-in-law to friends to the master gardeners with Cooperative Extension. It took a while for it all to sink in, but it’s paying off! See below.

Can’t wait to see how the season turns out!

Like a Bad Amazing Race Detour

Like a Bad Amazing Race Detour

Remember how I said in the last post about how I was glad not to have to lug soil around this year to fill the garden box? Well, irony can be a mofo.

We had to get the compost delivered because we needed such a large amount. I made sure to give very careful instructions at the garden center on the precise location in the yard where the compost should be dropped off. Steve even agreed to be home at the time of delivery to direct the driver. The next thing I receive about the delivery is a text with this image:

Pile of compost in the driveway

Whaa?!?!?! My response- why is this in the driveway? Surprised face emoji, angry face emoji. Turns out, the driver couldn’t get is truck into the backyard, so he left it in the most convenient place. Can’t fault him for that.

Once that wave of emotion passed, we had to figure out how to get the compost from a pile in the driveway to the garden box on the opposite side of the house.

I love me some Amazing Race, but I did not want to recreate a hellish seeming detour, but that’s exactly what we had to do. Our tools- wheelbarrow, shovel and brute strength.

The task- to move the compost pile one shovel full and one wheelbarrow full at a time until the box was full. Steve and I took turns shoveling compost and rolling the wheelbarrow into the backyard. It took both of us to lift it over the edge of the garden box and tip in the dirt though. Luckily it wasn’t too hot- mid 80s with 100% humidity. Oh, I forgot to mention that we did this in the rain. But with teamwork, we got this done in a little over two hours on a couple of different evenings.

And look at the beautiful results!

Better soil, fewer problems

After finishing the garden box and enjoying the upgrade, it was time to head to our favorite garden center for soil and plants. I really like this place because the staff is always knowledgeable, friendly and its locally owned.

Soil test results

With fresh soil test results in hand, I spoke with staff about what was best for the garden. Based on what the results stated, they recommended compost to fill the bed, calcium nitrate to provide additional nutrition for the plants and Vermiculite to absorb excess water. We were set!

Being the mathematical genius I am, I consulted on online calculator to figure out how much cubic feet of soil we’d need to fill the new and improved raised bed. I was trying to figure out how to get 36 2.0 cu ft. bags of soil in my gas efficient sedan, but luckily the garden center delivers bulk orders. Yay! No lugging around heavy bags of soil to fill the garden box like last year.

Year three is not going to have any of the problems as the nutrient lacking soil of year two.

Steve picking out vegetables

The only thing left to do was to pick out what to plant. To keep things simple, we decided to plant what we like to eat- lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, squash and three varieties of tomatoes. What can I say? We love tomatoes.

Off to a great start!

 

Waiting for Test Results Like a Maury Guest

One of the great tips I received from North Carolina Cooperative Extension at the Ideal Home Show was that I could send a soil sample from my garden off for free, wait a couple weeks and find out the results. The first thing that came to my mind was that this must be how Maury guests feel when they submit DNA to find out/confirm the identity of their baby daddy. Sending off a sample, waiting anxiously  and not knowing what exactly the results would show.

I guess the main differences are that I wouldn’t receive a free trip to New York City and there would be no dancing around in joy at the receipt of the results while someone else breaks down in tears.

Soil sample for mailing

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provides the no-cost tests. The only thing I was required to do was pull a few samples from my garden according to their explicit directions (collecting the samples incorrectly may affect the accuracy of results) and mail off the sample. Two weeks later, magic! I would know what my soil was made of and what I needed for a successful, vibrant garden.

Find out what the results said in the next blog post.

On a side note, I would like to add that despite that I think reality television has contributed to the decline of civilization, I can’t be mad at Maury. He found his niche and went with it. I was amazed to find out he’s been on the air for 25 years. You go Maury.

Fixer Upper: Garden Edition

Fixer Upper: Garden Edition

Before we get into this post, Veggie Garden Virgin now has a Twitter account! Follow for additional gardening insights and other stuff you won’t find on the blog. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Welcome to the garden edition of Fixer Upper! Instead of gutting and renovating homes, this husband and wife team takes out old garden boxes and builds new and improved ones!

Sad, tiny carrot

One of the lessons I learned from last year was my raised bed wasn’t deep enough for vegetables to establish strong roots. Hence the small, sad carrot I pulled from the garden.

So what to do? In true Fixer Upper style, level the old structure and start over. Preferably, watch someone else tear down and rebuild. Like Joanne, I’m perfectly comfortable putting on the finishing touches once most of the work is done.

See my Chip turn the old into the new.

And time for the big reveal! Unfortunately there are no large panels to roll back, but you can see the changes between last year’s box and this year’s in the slideshow below.

Strudel, Beer and Gardening Advice

Strudel, Beer and Gardening Advice

IMG_0967Veggie Garden Virgin is back! I know people gave me grief last year about the name, but I don’t feel like a veggie garden veteran quite yet. But I’ve taken what I learned over the last two years to make this year the best one yet.

I started off the season by attending the Southern Ideal Home Show in Raleigh. My goals were to possibly pick up some new tools and some gardening advice. I got so much more!

Stop 1- Strudel
First we spotted the Helmut’s Strudel stand. Never one to turn down a good pastry, Steve and I picked up an apple strudel to share. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best strudel I ever had- light, flaky and delicious. Steve had no interest in getting another one and deep down I knew I didn’t need a second. But that didn’t stop me from gazing longingly at the booth as we walked away.

Stop 2- Beer
Two guys with a table of glistening beer bottles somehow talked me into signing up for their beer delivery service. Do you love Netflix? Do you love beer? Well, Brewpublik combines the two! You tell them what type of beer you like and each month a case magically appears at your home that matches your preferences. It took a lot of arm twisting (meaning almost none) to get me to sign up. Hello beer on my doorstep each month!

Stop 3- Gardening Advice
Now this was the reason I attended the event. No longer distracted by mouthwatering strudel or fresh, craft beer, I received great advice from North Carolina Cooperative Extension staff. Cooperative Extension’s master gardeners can answer any gardening questions you may have by email, phone or social media. They’re like gardening superheroes, rescuing doomed plants and solving problems. Exactly what I needed.

Thanks to the Ideal Home Show for giving me what I needed gardening-wise and for providing a couple of things I didn’t know I wanted, but needed in my life!

Goodbye to Another Growing Season

Well folks, this is a post I meant to write six weeks ago but never quite got around to. I can’t blame it on the World Cupfootball or anything else. Just my pure laziness and procrastination. Its several weeks late, but this is my farewell until next gardening season.

This year has seen both good times and bad. The good- lots of fresh tomatoes and a few cucumbers, some lettuce and strawberries here and there. The bad- realizing I could’ve had way more tomatoes if I had pruned the stalks properly, bugs and bacteria killing the plants and my non-functioning compost pile.

Since this is my last post for this year, I suppose I can make a confession hoping you’ll forget about it by next spring. Last month, we had about two straight weeks of rain. During this time, I assumed all the plants in the garden had died from oversaturation. Imagine my surprise when Steve walked in shortly after the rain spell ended with several red, ripe tomatoes in hand. At that moment I felt like the world’s worst gardener, having abandoned my plants which were still very much alive.

I realized then I still have a lot to learn when it comes to gardening. Year two was much better than year one but I know I have a ways to go. No worries though, I plan to turn this year’s mistakes into next year’s successes.

And to answer a burning question from commenters on my first blog post- I’m not a gardening virgin anymore, but I still plan to keep the name. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my blog this spring and summer and encouraged me with kind words while doing so.

Tune in to next spring to see how it goes for this Veggie Garden (somewhat) Virgin!

Winding Down Another Year in the Garden

I realize I’ve been very slack the last few weeks on my blog. I kept telling myself I would post and then something would come up like watching college football or watching pro football or looking at slideshows of dresses worn by actresses at the Emmy Awards. (And so happy to see Viola, Uzo and Regina all won big awards Sunday night! It’s about time the Emmy’s got with the program.)

As an aside, your weekends go by quickly when you watch college football all day Saturday and take in multiple pro games on Sundays. I know, I know, my life is rough.

My sister-in-law’s beautiful tomato plants

Since the days have gotten shorter and cooler, I’ve noticed that my tomatoes aren’t ripening as frequently. It doesn’t help that I saw a picture of my sister-in-laws voluminous tomato vines and realized that’s how mine were supposed to look.

It seems like I’ve had the same green unripened tomatoes on the vine for several days now.  I am in the South, so I suppose I can fry them up for a delicious treat. But I’d rather have juicy, red tomatoes for sandwiches and salads. On the bright side, I have another cucumber on the vine so all hope is not lost.

I know I still have time and my garden can keep producing into the first frost; sometime in November in North Carolina. But my thoughts have already turned to what I need to do to winterize my garden.

 

 

Round 2 with the Garden Pests

It’s not to the level of Ali-Frazier, Cubs-Cardinals or even Nicki Minaj-Miley Cyrus, but the battle is on. The garden pest I struggled with last year is back. In case you need a refresher, here’s last year’s post on the pooping bandit.

Rocks in Hole

Not so foolproof plan

At the beginning of the Spring, the ground near the garden was sunken in from the tunnels or home the pest had dug next to the garden. I figured we outsmarted it when we (okay Steve) filled in the area with stones and multiple layers of dirt. Problem solved!

It took most of the summer but the holes and sunken area have returned. I have a feeling the pest will keep coming back so I’m not sure whether to just worry about protecting the garden or to try eliminate the pest completely.

NC Garden SpiderAnother pest I’ve been dealing with late this summer in the garden and around the house is the guy to the left. It looks very scary and dangerous and possibly even poisonous, right? That’s what I assumed when I saw it camped out over the garage side door a couple of weeks ago. The web got so big and thick that we could no longer use that entrance into the house. We had to use the automatic garage door instead.

After a few days of not being able to enter the house where we wanted, one evening I turned the hose on and pointed the jet and all my fury directly at the spider for several minutes. Finally it fell out of sight. I was proud I had taken use of our door back. Later I did find out the spider was harmless.

Sam was staying with us and the next morning when he came out of the side door he asked where the spider was. And he asked again that evening. I told him the spider had found a new home. He concluded it was just out hunting for prey and would be back. I was impressed that he knew about the predatory habits of spiders but felt bad about lying to a small child. Who knows, maybe spider did find a new home in my garden.