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Notes from my Garden

Notes from my Garden

This year I tried a gardening technique called Square Foot Gardening and I loved it.  It made the most of a small amount of space and really cut down on the amount of work.  And next year will be even cheaper and easier because the beds are already built, filled with soil and I have seeds left over.  Overall I was very happy with the results, but there are some things I would do differently.   Here’s a summary of our 2011 garden, hope it helps!

We built four standard 4×4 beds which we laid in a row just beyond our back door.  The beds faced south and we built a trellis for the north end of each bed.  The location was super convenient and attracted a lot of attention from family and friends.  It did however get some weird shadows from the trees in the backyard and could have been a little sunnier.  I’ll keep it in the same general area next year but I’ll play around with the placement to get more sunshine and move the less heat tolerant plants to the most shaded box.  If this is your first garden, I’d recommend starting with just a box or two.  Our four boxes were quite manageable once they were built but if Marshall hadn’t offered to help build, I probably wouldn’t have been so adventurous.  You can always add more in the future.   Anyway, here is this year’s layout:

Box 1 –

  • Back row = morning glory, snap pea, snap pea, morning glory
  • 3rd row = onion, kale, chard, onion
  • 2nd row = nasturtium, dill, parsley, nasturtium
  • 1st row = basil, lettuce, lettuce, thyme

Box 2 –

  • Back row = zucchini, tomatoes (2 squares each)
  • 3rd row = broccoli, beets, kale, broccoli
  • 2nd row = cilantro, tarragon, chives, oregano
  • 1st row = marigold, spinach, lettuce, marigold

Box 3 –

  • Back row = tomato, gourds (2 squares), cucumber
  • 3rd row = nasturtium, chard, onion, nasturtium
  • 2nd row = chammomile, onion, kale, beets
  • 1st row = marigold, lettuce, spinach, marigold

Box 4 –

  • Back row = melons, watermelons (2 squares each)
  • Rows 1-3 = strawberries

Growing notes: This was my first year working a substantial garden and I didn’t want to over extend myself.  So I decided to grow my vegetables from seed but buy the herbs as seedlings from local nurseries.  I also got the strawberries as transplants from my father in law.  Seed starting was actually easier than I expected.  Virtually all of my seeds sprouted and I’ll probably go this route for all of my plants next year.  That being said, the transplanted seedlings also did quite well.  The benefit of transplants is that they were already pretty big when I got them which gave a head start on the growing season.  If you have a short growing season and/or just want to save some work, this is a very good option.  On the other hand, seeds are cheaper and give you an amazing variety of plants to choose from.  I bought most of my seeds from Baker Creek, an online retailer that carries a ton of heirloom seeds.  Their catalog is gorgeous, you could literally read it for fun it’s so pretty.  And they have some awesome and unusual varieties of plants that you could never find in a nursery.  This may sound silly, but I also cared more about the plants I grew from seed (here’s a review of my 3 favorite seed companies:  Regardless, you can’t go wrong either way.  The varieties we planted are below, along with my growing and harvesting notes.  Please note that we live near Richmond, VA which is in Hardiness Zone 7a, please adjust your timing accordingly…


  • Beets, Bull’s Blood – direct seeded 4/4.  These beets had beautiful deep red leaves and purplish red beets with pink rings.  After I bought them I realized this variety is known for it’s greens, not its beets.  The greens made a pretty, tasty addition to salads.  But the beets were on the small side and had inconsistent flavor.  Some were really sweet while other were quite spicy.  If you want greens, this is a good variety to choose.  If you want the beets, I’d try something else.
  • Broccoli,  Calabrese Green Sprouting – started indoors from seed 2/22, moved outdoors 3/30.  Grew into tall, sturdy plants – much bigger than I expected.  The flavor was good but they bolted as soon as the temperature hit 80.  They got super flowery and leggy and although they still tasted good, I didn’t harvest as much as I’d hoped.  I personally think broccoli’s size is too big and yield too small to justify all that space.  If you live in a cooler area (I’m near Richmond, VA) or if you have a huge garden, this would be a good choice.
  • Carrots, Berlicum – direct seeded 4/4.  Slender, orange carrots that grew roughly 6 inches long.  Traditional carrot flavor and a nice crunchy texture.  Good choice.
  • Cucumber, Tante Alice – direct seeded 4/25.  These large cucumbers were almost a foot long with dark green skin and crisp white flesh.  They were mild and tasty and very productive.  At times our one square produced more cucumbers than we knew what to do with!
  • Gourd, Tennessee Dancing – direct seeded 4/25.  These adorable little 2 inch gourds are shaped like a bottle with green and white stripes.  They can be spun like a top and I bought them to dry and make into Christmas ornaments.  They grew very well and I was pleased with their sweet shape and high yield.
  • Kale, Dwarf Siberian – direct seeded 4/4.  Big, hardy, slightly frilly plants that were quite productive.  This did great in our garden and provided a ton of good tasting greens.  I’ll plant this one again for sure.
  • Lettuce, Little Gem – started from seed 3/14, transplanted 3/31 and direct seeded additional plants after that.  This was a great little romaine-type lettuce.  It was a beautiful bright green, had good flavor and grew pretty quickly.  It struggled once the weather reached 90, but did very well in the cooler temps.
  • Lettuce, Lollo Rosso – started from seed 3/14, transplanted 3/31 and direct seeded additional plants after that.  This was another great little lettuce.  It’s leaves were mottled red and green and had curly edges.  It’s a pretty plant, has a nice mild flavor and it grew well.  It was slightly more heat tolerant than Little Gem but did struggle in the really hot weather.
  • Melon, Early Hanover – started from seed indoors 4/18, transplanted 5/5.  Small, sweet 2 pound melons.  This was a bad year for melons (maybe all the rain?).  These grew better than my watermelons but that’s not saying much.  I harvested about a half dozen melons but they started to rot on the vine before they were totally ripe.  The rind never tanned like in the picture and the flesh was white instead of green.  The flavor was sweet but very mild.
  • Morning Glory, Clark’s Heavenly Blue – direct seeded 4/12.  This vine grew thick and lush throughout the spring and summer but didn’t sprout a single flower.  I had given up on it when I glanced outside one cold morning in October and noticed pale blue flowers.  They bloomed for about a month and were really pretty, about 4 inches and a beautiful shade of blue.  I’d plant them again but in the landscaping rather than the garden (they’re mildly toxic).
  • Nasturtium, Empress of India – direct seeded 4/25.  Really pretty deep orange blossoms and dark bluish green foliage.  I planted these because I’m fascinated by edible flowers and I thought it would look great on salads.  The plants grew pretty well and were really beautiful.  Unfortunately I just didn’t like the flavor.  They’re slightly spicy like a radish (which I also don’t like).  They’re attractiveness makes them worth having anyway.  They would look really good trailing out of a pot or window box.
  • Onions, Australian Brown – started from seed indoors 2/22, transplanted 3/22.  Small yellowish onions with good flavor, pretty strong.  I liked these onions but they were smaller than I expected.  The description called them medium sized but mine grew roughly ping pong sized which I consider small.  That being said, I liked the flavor and crisp texture very much.
  • Peas, Sugar Snap – direct seeded 3/22.  Oh man were these good.  They were very sweet, crisp and tender.  Usually our harvest didn’t make it out of the garden because we ate them all on the spot.  The yield was average and I plan on planting several more squares next year.
  • Potatoes, Yellow Finn - planted eyes 4/4.  Delicious waxy yellow potatoes.  They had really good flavor and texture.  My only knock is that they were on the small to medium size and I hoped they would be bigger.
  • Spinach, Bloomsdale Long Standing – direct seeded 3/22.  I bought this seed packet from a local nursery and it didn’t have a height listed so I just assumed that it would be on the short side… I assumed wrong.  This spinach was almost 2 feet tall and quite leggy.  The flavor was nice and the yield was pretty good, it just wasn’t what I was looking for.  It wasn’t bad but I’d like to try a different variety next year.
  • Swiss Chard, Five Color Silver Beet – started indoors from seed 3/8, transplanted 3/22.  Beautiful, colorful plants that grew mostly pink/red stems with some yellow/green combos.  This grew like crazy, looked really cool and tasted good.  The flavor was mild and not bitter.  This is definitely worth growing again.
  • Tomato, Paul Robeson – started indoors from seed 3/14, transplanted 4/20.  Medium size (roughly 8 oz) fruit that were dark red in color.  I got my hopes way too high for this tomato which was described as “distinctive, sweet and smokey” and has a “cult following”.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a tasty tomato which I enjoyed thoroughly.  But it wasn’t too much different from other tomatoes I’ve tried and it’s yield was just okay.  I’ll give it another try next year and report back.
  • Tomato, Pineapple – started indoors from seed 3/14, transplanted 4/20.  Large 1-2 pound fruits that were mostly yellow with red/orange streaks.  The flavor was mild, sweet and slightly acidic.  Produced a lot of tomatoes but only for a short window of time.  A solid, very pretty tomato, but nothing extraordinary.
  • Tomato, Riesentraube – started indoors from seed 3/14, transplanted 4/20.  Smallish 1 oz bright red fruit.  The name means giant bunch of grapes in German which is appropriate because they’re the size of a big grape and grow in small clusters (bigger than cherry tomatoes).  Surprisingly this was the best tomato I grew.  I usually don’t like  little tomatoes because they’re either tart or bland.  But these were meaty and delicious and grew like weeds.  They ripened in July and I was still picking them in early November.  If you want a smallish tomato, this is an excellent choice.
  • Watermelon, Ali Baba – started indoors 4/18, transplanted 5/5.  I was so excited about this “sweet, luscious” melon but for some reason it did not thrive in my garden.  We had a very wet summer which may have contributed.  The vine grew prolifically and had hundreds of flowers but only one melon matured.  It was very pretty with a pale green rind and pink flesh but I picked it too early and it’s flavor was bland and clearly not ripe.  I may try one more time and put it near more flowers because I’ve read that watermelons are difficult to pollinate.
  • Zucchini, Costata Romanesco -  Direct seeded 4/25.  This was hands down the most delicious zuchinni I have ever tasted.  It was meaty and buttery and so so good.  The skin was green striped and scalloped which looked cool.  The only problem was that most of them rotted before ripening.  I had hundreds of flowers but the fruits rotted on the vine while they were still too small to pick.  This year was really wet which could have been a factor.  The flavor was so exceptional that I’m determined to grow them again and hopefully get a bigger harvest.


  • Strawberries – Apparently there are two types of strawberries, the kind that produces mass quantities for a short amount of time (usually June or July) and a kind that produces smaller amounts but for a very long time.  My father in law had an unknown variety and they fell into the latter category.  We planted almost an entire bed of strawberries and my son absolutely loved them.  The fruit was small and very sweet and although we never had huge yields they literally grew from May until October which was really cool.
  • Marigolds – I planted a few squares of Marigolds because they’re supposed to offer some pest protection and the yellow flowers contrasted well with the rest of the garden.  I have no idea how much they helped but we had very few bug problems and they looked pretty, flowered for a long time and were a nice addition to the garden.
  • Herbs – I planted like 7 or 8 different types of herbs which in retrospect was too many.  We use 3 herbs all the time – parsley, basil and cilantro.  The other herbs we use very sparingly.  So our cooking over harvested the first three herbs and neglected the others.  Next year I’ll plant multiple squares of the big three and get the others from the super market on the rare occasions that we use them.

So that sums up our garden this year, I hope our experience is helpful in some way!  If you have specific questions please leave me a comment or email me directly at  I’d also love to hear about your garden and any great variety of plants you might have found.  Good luck!


Photo Credit: Tomatoes, a photo by Ajith_chatie on Flickr.

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