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!

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.

Four Gardening Lessons from My Father-In-Law

My in-laws came to visit from the U.K. a couple of weeks ago. We had a great time in their week-long visit. They enjoyed seeing the small towns in central North Carolina and even attended their first baseball game. I think my proudest achievement is converting half the family into baseball fans.

Steve and Steve 25 years from now

Steve and Steve 25 years from now- Photo by Michael Torbert

My husband likes to say his dad knows everything. I didn’t believe him for years, but after this visit, I’m finally starting to think my husband is right. Even though I’ve improved nearly everything I’m doing over last year, there are things my father-in-law said I should have done or should do differently.

Compost pile- I thought my compost pile was the correct dampness. According to my father-in-law, steam should rise from the pile when you turn it in summer. It turns out mine was bone dry. I’ll need to purchase a compost solution or a worm farm to get the decomposition going.

Strawberry plant with offshoots and new roots

Strawberries- My strawberries are still growing even though there isn’t actually any fruit. I should pinch off the new growth and replant the growth and its root so as not to take energy from the original plants. This means twice as many plants or more for next year!

Tomato plant two stalks

Tomato plants– I wondered why my tomato plants weren’t growing any fruit on the bottom half. While they were first growing, I didn’t pinch off the new shoots. I ended up with at least two main stalks on each plant instead of one strong one. If I had  known what to do while the plants were growing, I could’ve gotten twice as many tomatoes. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about it now.

Deeper roots– All of my plants need deeper roots. The garden boxes are about 12 inches deep, but that is not enough. A winter project will be to build up the garden boxes so I can add more dirt and plants can have deeper roots for next year.

I was disappointed to find out I’m still doing a lot of things wrong. But on the bright side, year two is better than year one. Year three will be even better than this summer.

I hope my father-in-law’s never ending reservoir of knowledge will benefit you as it has for me.

Starting a Compost Pile in Six Easy Steps

Starting a compost pile isn’t very difficult. There are tons of resources online on how to start one. I found Rodale’s Garden Life very helpful. Here is how to build a compost pile in just six easy steps.

Location of compost pile

Location of compost pile

1. Select a location- The location should be somewhere convenient and close to the garden. You don’t want to have to go really far to add your scraps to the pile or have move compost a long way when it’s ready to use. I chose the corner of the yard closest to the garden.

Base layer of leaves

2. Start with a layer of organic materials- This could be leaves, grass clippings, straw, etc. Good thing we were too lazy to remove our leaves from the yard last fall, the decomposed leaves were the basis for my first layer.

Layer of soil

Layer of soil

3. Add a layer of soil- I added a layer of soil on top of the decomposing leaves. I used soil from the front yard in what will eventually be our drainage ditch. So I didn’t have to buy soil or pull it from somewhere it was needed.

Layer of fruits and veggies

Layer of fruits and veggies

4. Add a layer of green materials- Starting a compost pile is like making a lasagna. You keep adding layers. The next layer should be green materials like kitchen scraps. We’d been saving ours for awhile so we had a good mix of fruits and vegetables.

My completed compost pile

My completed compost pile

5. Add a layer of organic materials- This was the final layer. I added some more leaves to the top and voila, compost pile done!

6. Moisten- The final step was to wet the entire pile. The pile needs to be moist, but not wet so it can do its thing and break down the food scraps.

So there it is! A compost pile in six easy steps. In a couple months time, I should have extremely rich soil to use in the garden.

Time for Planting

I wanted to lead this post off regarding a comment I received on my April 21 article. Commenter stated, “You are no longer a gardening virgin. You’ll need to change this to Popped Cherry Gardener.” Very funny and factually accurate. But I’m still keeping the original name or the 10 people who read this blog won’t be able to find it.

There was no complicated formula for choosing what to plant; I decided what to include in the garden based on what my husband and I like to eat. In the summer months, that means lots of salads and fruit. Come summertime, it will be great to walk into the backyard and pick produce for our meals. Because I’m doing things differently this year, I’m expecting to have an abundance of peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries.

I’m growing the lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers from seeds. With the tomato growing disaster I had a few years ago, I figured it was better to go with seedlings and skip months of frustration. I don’t have any prior experience with strawberries, but they seem to be hard to grow from seeds as well. For awhile, I felt a little guilty as if I was cheating by not growing everything from seeds. But that ended once I realized my sanity was more important than whether I grew from seeds or plants.

Hooray for spring and the start of gardening season!


Getting the plants into the ground


View of the larger bed with tomatoes on the left











View of the entire garden



Getting the Garden Back in Shape

I’m already far ahead of where I was at this time last year. I didn’t even plant anything until late May/early June, which was a big mistake. I was determined this year would be different. I started thinking about what I wanted to grow in late February, picked up materials in late March and planted in early April.

In the south, the last frost is around mid-April. If you plant before then, you run the risk of having your garden affected by frigid nights. I was willing to take the risk because I’m courageous that way. And I knew that if we did have a frost, I could throw a sheet over the plants to protect them.

So off to my local gardening center to pick up soil, compost, fertilizer and seeds. The staff was extremely helpful in picking out materials based on our needs. We ended up leaving with two bags of mushroom compost, two bags of rich vegetable garden soil, four tomato plants and cucumber, pepper and lettuce seeds.


Me mixing everything together with my high-tech shovel

Once I got to the garden, I had to combine the new with the old. I added a top layer of soil and compost and then had to mix everything together. I don’t have any fancy gardening tools so everything was done with a shovel and lots of manual labor. Doing the work ended up being very relaxing.

Once that was done, I finishing readying the garden by forming rows for the seeds and plants. I thought that was the correct strategy until I read online that for smaller gardens, you should plant in square zones that you can reach from either side of the garden. Planting in rows wastes space and should be used for very large gardens. The space between rows for walking on can compact the soil and impact plant roots. Oh well. This seemed to work okay for me last year so we’ll see what happens this year.

Check out the final results.


Ready for plants and seeds!

Six Gardening Lessons Learned

This will be my last post about my garden for the year. I’m not planning on doing a fall or winter garden. Thanks for those of you who have stopped by and taken the time to read about my gardening adventures. I did this mostly for myself and to help others who were gardening virgins like me, but it was nice to know that others read the blog too.

I will start again in the spring, although I won’t be a veggie garden virgin anymore. A quick rundown of what I learned this summer:

1. Start early- You can start planting after the last frost of the spring, which in North Carolina is around mid-April. I figured I still had plenty of time after that because it didn’t start to get warm until mid-May. Due to procrastination, I didn’t really get started until the end of May. Next year, I will start a lot easier so I get more produce out of the garden.

2. Root vegetables are evil- I will stay away from root vegetables. I had long carrot tops in my garden and picked them figuring  the carrots would be several inches long. Wrong! The two carrots together probably added up to two inches. When I told someone about my underperforming carrots, she admitted that she had the same problems of being able to tell when root vegetables were ready.

3. Watermelons will take over the garden- I planted watermelon because I enjoy them and thought they would be great to eat throughout the summer. Unbeknownst to me, watermelons grow on very large vines that like to spread out and up, taking over everything in its path. Much like the blob. Fewer watermelon seeds next year.

4. Fertilize more- I fertilized very few times over the summer. I bought rich soil and thought that would be enough. This is probably the reason why my produce was rather anemic. I will fertilize more next summer and hopefully start a compost bin.

5. Beds need regular maintenance- I made sure to do regular weeding, watering and all the typical maintenance but once the heavy rains came over  a week to one and a half week period, I dropped the ball. The mini floods caused the garden mounds to flatten out. I didn’t rebuild them because I didn’t want to disturb the growth process. Now I realize that I should have rebuilt the mounts to improve drainage.

6. Take no prisoners when it comes to garden creatures- I knew I had a problem with creatures in my garden for several weeks before I took action. The fence proved to be very effective. Lesson learned is not to wait so long next time. Take decisive action and don’t put up with creatures eating your vegetables and pooping in your garden.

I’m sure there are many more lessons I’ve learned throughout the summer, but these six immediately came to mind.

Thanks for reading and see you in 2015!

Garden 2.0

Okay, after last week’s disaster, I’m back on track. No more neglecting the garden. I’ve been on top with watering and weeding. I would’ve planted more seeds, but I figured that was pointless until I got the fence up.

Fence supplies

Fence supplies

Off to the local big box hardware store for supplies. I decided to use metal stakes and chicken wire about three feet high. I watched this video on how to build a fence. He used a sturdier material but I’m hoping the chicken wire will be strong enough.

I’m glad I watched the video because my first thought was to dig a few foot deep holes around the garden, insert posts and hook the fence between them. The guy in this video hooked the fence between the stakes and curved the fence at the bottom so animals couldn’t dig under. He then staked the fence along the ground. This seemed like the easier option, so of course I went with it.

Fence stakes in the ground

Fence stakes in the ground

I started by hammering the stakes into the ground with a mallet. One of the posts required digging out rocks underneath the surface. Once those were out of the way, no more problems. The other posts went in pretty easily. I put four posts around the corners and two in the middle. Should I have measured to make sure the posts were equidistant? Yes. Did I? No. I know, I know. If I’m going to do something I should make sure I do it right. But this was after mowing part of the backyard and most of the front. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do on a nearly 90 degree day but no one’s ever mistaken me for a genius.

Next, I strung the chicken wire between the posts. The posts had handy notches on them where I could hook the chicken wire into. I was pretty pleased with how the first side looked. Then I realized that I didn’t have stakes to root the chicken wire to the ground or zip ties to make sure the chicken wire stayed tight against the posts. Back to the home improvement store. But on another day. I was quite tired from all the yard work so I’ll have to finish later in the week. But take a look below! I think the fence looks pretty good so far.

Fence with one side complete

Fence with one side complete


Who or What’s Been in My Garden?

Last post I wrote about some animal using my garden for their own personal bathroom. I guess the garden’s location and aesthetics appealed to whatever animal plopped down and marked their territory there. My assumption that it is indeed a what and not a who. I really hope I’m right on that one.

If I want to stop this animal from getting into my garden, I have to figure out what it is so I can choose the best strategy. I don’t want to go all Taken on whatever it is; I’d rather deal with it humanely.

Entry to the home of my garden pest

Entry to the home of my garden pest

There is a hole about 10 feet from my garden. I put out an appeal to find out what it could be and my good friend Becky sent me this site.  Thanks Becky! The page helps identify animals pests by what their ground holes and waste look like. The ground hole in my yard is to the right.

Our backyard is wooded and near creek so the possibilities are endless. By using deductive reasoning and the above guide, I’ve narrowed down the possible critters to a  raccoon, rabbit or woodchuck.

I’m thinking the best strategy is to build a chicken wire fence, 2-3 feet high around the perimeter of the garden. I haven’t seen any evidence of burrowing, just damage on top of the garden.

If anyone has any other ideas on how to stop a garden pest, I’d love to hear them.