What a Cubs World Series Win and Reality Show President Have in Common

What a Cubs World Series Win and Reality Show President Have in Common

It’s amazing how fast time flies. More than six months have passed since I closed down the garden last fall. So much has happened in that time; even a couple things I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime.

First, my beloved Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908! It took 108 years but it was well worth the wait. Even as I write this, the Cubs are barely above .500 and third to last in their division. But I’m not panicking since I’m still basking in the glow of the win and am currently wearing my World Series Champion t-shirt. Thanks for the Christmas gift Mom!

The other thing I didn’t think possible was America electing a reality show star to the presidency. Honestly, I’m still dumbfounded. This is a man who thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive, wonders why the two sides couldn’t come to agreement in the Civil War and didn’t know being president would be so hard.

But this is not a political blog; we’re here to talk about gardening! Specifically vegetable gardening. To recap last year: briefly abundant squash, very abundant cucumber, out of control tomatoes and issues with various fungi and pests.

Since this is the third year of Veggie Garden Virgin, I’m hoping to avoid the pitfalls of last couple of years and have a very successful yield this summer. You’ll have to follow the blog this summer to see if I can achieve this!

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

It’s that time of year again. Days are getting shorter and the temperature is cooling off which means vegetable production has slowed considerably. I really miss the July garden when I was picking cucumbers, tomatoes and squash almost daily.

On another sad note, my cucumbers and squash plants were slowly dying, so I pulled them up. In a fit of frustration, I also got rid of the three pepper plants. Maybe not the best idea, but I could feel them mocking me in how they continued to grow but refused to produce peppers. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have taken their failure to yield so personally.

After so much hard work this spring and summer, it’s hard to say goodbye as the garden winds down. So take a moment with me to reflect on this year’s growing season in a slideshow set to the Boys II Men classic, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye.

Thanks for following my garden adventures this year!

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!

The Gardening Struggle is Real

Basket of garden vegetables

Basket of garden vegetables

My basket is getting full! The cucumbers and tomatoes are producing consistently now. Looks like the perfect makings for a cuc and tom salad.

Sadly, I may not get many more cucumbers after this. Someone in the household who is not me or the cats (but shall remain nameless) staked poles in the ground so the cucumbers could grow upright. I thought the cucumbers would do better growing on the ground where the vines would have room to spread out.

Well, after getting to full size, the cucumber plants didn’t have enough support and started buckling. One plant shriveled like 50 Cent’s net worth, another is barely hanging on and the third appears to be holding it’s own.

It seems I have problems keeping everything in the garden healthy at this point each summer, once the weather really heats up. And to be honest, keeping my interest in the garden as well. Believe me when I tell you the struggle is real. Relaxing with a beer in the AC vs. tending to the garden. Luckily the garden has won each time.

Garden Produce vs. Grocery Store Produce

I planted my strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers in mid-April. All the labels stated the period to peak harvest was 60-90 days. While a few strawberries have been ripening here and there, my tomatoes and cucumbers aren’t quite there yet.

Basket of lettuce from my garden

Basket of lettuce from my garden

But my lettuce came in!  I was really excited to enjoy something from the garden. I had to rinse of the lettuce before I could put it in a salad. I thought a brief rinse would do it, but the dirt was hard to get off and a thorough wash was needed.

I’m so used to buying grocery store produce that I forgot that that the fruits and vegetables are cleaned and packaged before they ever hit store shelves. Produce from the garden doesn’t work the same way or look quite as perfect. On the plus side, I know my garden produce is fresher and pesticide free.

See below for the delicious salad I made with my lettuce. (Cucumbers and tomatoes store bought.)

Delicious garden salad with homegrown lettuce


My Five Reasons for Starting a Compost Pile

Compost piles are gifts that keep on giving. At least that’s what I’ve read. Since last summer I’ve been giving some thought to starting a compost pile, but that’s about as far as I got. Until now! After thinking about it for so long, I finally decided to put one in the corner of the garden.

Compost piles have lots of benefits but I wanted to share my reasons for starting one.

1. Composting is easy–  There aren’t very many steps to starting a compost pile or to keep one going. Staff at my favorite garden center told me they’re hard to mess up which seems pretty close to idiot proof. Good news for me.

2. Composting is free- There isn’t a cost to composting if you use yard materials such as decomposed leaves and grass. The food scraps come from already purchased groceries. Some people choose to buy a compost bin, but I’ve just cleared a corner of the yard and started the pile there.

3. Composting means a healthier garden- Composting provides really rich soil for the garden which means a nutrient-rich base for the plants. Yay for stronger, more nutrient dense fruits and vegetables!

4. Composting is better for the environment- The food waste doesn’t end up in a landfill and decomposes naturally. Composting is better for the environment and I’m sure it will greatly cut back on the amount of garbage we generate.

5. Compost can be used in landscaping- Compost isn’t just for a vegetable garden. It can also be used in flower beds and landscaping. It’s good to know that the pile I’m starting now can be used for next year’s landscaping. I haven’t had much luck so far in growing flowers in the yard since we’ve been here, so hopefully the compost will help.

If you have other reasons or benefits for starting a compost pile, please share!



Getting Rid of Pests Organic Style

Even though I addressed this a few posts ago, I’m still getting grief about the title of my blog. I decided to keep the name because I still feel like an amateur gardener and because I feel like veggie gardening virgins and newbies could really benefit from some of the stuff I’ve learned. Plus I like the alliteration of the name. So sorry folks, the title’s not going anywhere.


Organic pesticide

So back to the evil slugs eating my strawberries. I needed to figure out a way to get rid of them but still keep everything I use in the garden organic. Off to my local garden center. I asked the staff about the best organic pesticides and they recommended Bon-Neem spray. It uses tree seed oil to suffocate bugs and pests.

The instructions were pretty simple, even I could handle it. Make sure it’s not windy out when applying and make sure it won’t rain for up to 24 hours after application. The spray has to be able to stick to the leaves.

Since I visited my local garden garden center, I’ve gotten really good advice from readers of the blog- from planting mint, making sure the mint is planted in containers around the garden to using eggshells. Thanks for the tips, you all rock! I plan on using these in the future as well in a multi-prong pest removal approach. The pests don’t stand a chance!

See my plants post-application below. We’ll see how well this strategy works!

Plants sprayed with Bon-Neem

Plants sprayed with Bon-Neem


Plant post-application




Blame it on Flat Stanley!

Flat Stanley in downtown Raleigh

Flat Stanley in downtown Raleigh

A good friend of mine asked for help with her daughter’s class project on Flat Stanley. My role involved taking pictures of him in various locations and sending the pictures back. I admit that I had a great time with the assignment.

Flat Stanley in the garden

Flat Stanley in the garden

Flat Stanley even helped me in the garden. Unfortunately, since he was so new to gardening, he made a fatal error with one of my tomato plants.

Tomato plants need extra support when they get to a certain height or they won’t grow upright. My plants had flopped over so I knew it was time to get out the stakes and anchor the tomato plants with string.

In his excitement while tying the first support, Flat Stanley stretched the tomato plant a little too much and snapped the plant in the middle. So my pretty tomato plant ended up looking like this:

Broken tomato plant

Broken tomato plant

Blame it on Flat Stanley! If you don’t want the same thing to happen to you:

1. Be very gentle when pulling the plant towards the stake.

2. If you feel any kind of resistance, stop.

3. Hold the plant very carefully with one hand and tie with the other. It’s even better if you can get someone to help you either hold the plant or tie the string to the stake.

4. Don’t let Flat Stanley help you garden.

Predictably, the top of the plant died. I had to cut it off, so now it’s half the size of the others. I’m hoping the plant will grow back or at least produce some fruit from what’s left.

Veggie Gardening Virgin lesson learned.




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



Veggie Garden Virgin is Back!

Like vaccine-preventable diseases, Veggie Garden Virgin is back! Last year’s first-time experience was a mixed bag, but I learned a lot.

I took a break from gardening over the winter, telling myself I would use the time to work on growing readership of my blog. I would start a gardening-related Twitter account, become active in the online gardening community, do lots of gardening research, etc.ID Channel

So how did I spend my winter? Mostly getting more addicted to the ID channel and starting a new addiction to HGTV. The important thing is not how I spent the winter- even though I’m pretty sure I could remodel the heck out of a house and run a murder investigation by now, but that Veggie Garden Virgin is back.

I know that technically that since this is the second year, the blog name shouldn’t include virgin in the title. But I figure I can add something new each year- this season it’ll be a compost pile. That and it’s too much effort to think of a new name.

I had to make a visit to my local garden center to get the garden back in shape after a rough winter, which for North Carolina means more than two snow and ice “incidents.” They can’t be called storms because the accumulation is generally less than a couple inches of snow and less than 1/10 inch of ice. But everyone still empties the bread, milk and eggs from store shelves as if we were expecting Boston 2015 type snow.

But back on topic, more about getting the garden back in shape in my next post.

I’m just glad that the dreariness of winter is over and spring is back. In celebration, enjoy the photo below of  azalea blooms!