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.



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.

End of the Road

I had high expectations for this blog when I started this venture- I was going to post twice a week, build a community of gardeners and the blog was going to catch on. Well, that didn’t quite happen or even come anywhere close. Due to summer travel, the World Cup and taking on a couple of new volunteer projects, I’ve barely managed to keep up. Such is life, I suppose. Unfortunately, this is going to be the end of the road (Boys II Men chorus going through my head) for the blog this year. Well, maybe one more post after this. Gotta tell you what I learned!

Cucumbers in produce basket

Cucumbers in produce basket

Let me start off with the good. I finally got edible produce from my garden! I pulled two cucumbers from my garden which you can see on the right. One is a healthy green and the other is yellowish. That’s because we got a TON of rain over a week to week and a half period. Too much or too little water can cause the yellow color.

I didn’t care; I finally got to use my produce basket! On the other hand, with all of the money I put into the garden, the cost for each cucumber averages out to about $100. Not exactly cost effective. I cut up the good cucumber and put it in a salad. Delicious if I must say!

That was the mostly good. The bad was that one of my watermelons split open. I believe that this was a result of the heavy rains as well. The garden became saturated and the soil didn’t drain well. I’m down to one watermelon. I’m waiting for it to fall off the vine. I’m sure it will be delicious though.

Next up- telling you what I learned from maintaining my first garden

Salad with my garden cucumber

Salad with my garden cucumber

Split watermelon

Split watermelon

Tricked by a Carrot

Things in the garden are still going well; the watermelon and cucumbers are getting larger and I’m seeing new sprouts each week. This post is focusing on another vegetable in my garden- the carrot.

A couple months back I planted a row of carrot seeds. Weeks went by and I didn’t see any results. I figured they just never sprouted. In this post, I asked if the green things were weeds or vegetables. The consensus was that they were vegetables. The group was right, but I was oh so wrong.

CarrotsThe greenery sticking out of the garden was about a foot high. I thought if these were the carrots I planted, they would be pretty large by now. So, I went ahead and picked what I was sure were flourishing orange carrots. You can see the results to the right. The long, green tops fooled me. The bigger of the two carrots was barely
a nub and very very thin. The other wasn’t even worth taking a picture of. But I did want to put this very nice produce basket (a lovely gift from my mother-in-law) to use. Even though I made a judgement error on the carrots; I’m sure I will soon have enough produce to fill the basket.

On a brighter note, check out the cucumber below. Almost ready to pick!

cucumber 82014


Weed or Vegetable?

I made an error last week and scheduled this post for publishing before I got it done. Below is the post in its entirety.

Weed or Vegetable?

Weed or Vegetable?

I know some of you were probably thinking that I was referring to a certain type of weed in my title. No, this isn’t Colorado or Washington; I’m referring to a typical garden invader. I’ve got something growing in my garden and I’m not sure if it’s a carrot I planted or if it’s just a weed that needs pulling. See picture on the right.

So, new game- weed or vegetable? Anyone who can tell me which it is will receive fresh produce from the garden! Well, when the produce comes in. Looks that might still be a few weeks away. I’d go ahead and pull whatever it is but I’d be upset if I pulled a carrot before it was fully grown. The garden is not exactly spilling over with produce.

On the other hand, my cucumber and watermelon plants are growing like weeds. They’re starting to take over their corners of the garden. When I went out there to check on how things were progressing, I noticed that one of the cucumber plants had reached out and had twisted one of its tendrils around a stake. I thought it was pretty cool.

Watermelon taking over a corner of the garden

Watermelon taking over a corner of the garden

Cucumber plant twisting around a stake

Cucumber plant twisting around a stake

My Top 10 Reasons for Starting a Garden

I’m starting a garden this summer so I want to share my reasons why. My top 10:

1. Prove I don’t have a black thumb- My husband tells me I have a black thumb because I manage to kill almost all the plants/flowers I bring home. At least I’m pretty sure that’s the reason why he tells me I have a black thumb. I want to grow a garden and do it well.

2. Save money on food- You can’t get much more cost effective than buying seeds and then doing the rest of the work yourself. If done right, you’ll end up with a variety of fruits and vegetables that last all summer, for much lower than grocery store prices. Like a lot of people, I eat a lot of produce during the summer months.

3. Learn more about gardening- Since this is the first time I’m growing a vegetable garden, I expect to learn a lot this summer. I’ll use what I learn this year to have an even better garden next year. Although if I’m no longer a veggie garden virgin next year, I’ll have to rethink a new name for the blog.

4. Develop a new hobby- I’ve been a competitive runner for over half my life, until earlier this year. I’ve had knee problems on and off for the last couple years and few months ago, my knees told me enough. (Cue the sympathetic violin music.) So I have to find a new hobby. I don’t know if there’s competitive gardening, but vegetable gardening will do.

5. Make good use of outdoor space-I lived in a townhouse with an 8 X 8 concrete patio for several years. Since moving last summer, I have an actual yard! Now I’ve got enough room to make a go of a proper garden.

6. Exercise- The bending, pulling and movements needed to till, weed and tend to a garden are all good exercise. The best kind in fact- exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise because it’s something you enjoy doing.

7. Enjoy the outdoors- Gardening is a great way to spend time in the sun and enjoy the warmth of summer. Although June through August in North Carolina, summer warmth is really blasts of a hot furnace blowing on you combined with the humidity of a wet blanket thrown over your head.

8. Relax- Gardening is a great way to relax and get lost in what you’re doing. It’s also relaxing to listen to the sounds of nature like birds chirping. And hopefully not the sounds of the non-stop barking dog that lives behind you. Just me?

9. Easy access to delicious, fresh foods- You can’t get fresher than your own backyard. I’ll have access to fresh foods all summer that will be perfect for salads or the grill. All I’ll have to do is walk a few feet from my back door.

10. Take on a new challenge- I don’t know if I’ll be successful at this or not. It will be interesting to see if I can solve problems that come up and become a full-fledged gardener.

Welcome to Veggie Garden Virgin!

Welcome to Veggie Garden Virgin! So MJ… what’s up with the name? No, this isn’t a fetish site for vegetable enthusiasts. I chose the name because I’m growing my own vegetable garden for the first time.


Photo by Sheila Brown

Since moving last summer from a townhouse with a tiny concrete patio to a house with more land, I actually have room to try what
I’ve been wanting to do for years. Hopefully my efforts this summer will go better than when I tried to grow tomatoes from seeds a couple of years ago. Let’s just say that I started the seeds in March and didn’t get any fruit until November. And that was only because
a neighbor took enough pity on me to give me large pots and high quality compost. And then help replant the tomatoes. After that, I had a few juicy, although small tomatoes just in time for winter.

I’m using this blog to track my gardening trials and tribulations. Hopefully others will find this a useful tool (or a guide of what not to do.)

My husband has graciously offered to help, although I think it’s more for a front row seat of all the ways I could potentially mess up this summer. I’m hoping to have some friends with experience offer some tips and guidance as well.

I’ve done my research, which mostly consisted of reading a few gardening articles and looking at pictures of pretty gardens. Let’s see what happens this summer as a veggie garden virgin!