Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vegetable Patch Facelift

The first time I saw the house I’m living in now, it was on the internet.  I scrolled through pictures, ignoring the 70-year-old kitchen and the random placement of the laundry machines right next to where the TV was hung on a wall, and I landed on pictures of the backyard.  And then I immediately e-mailed my wife and the real estate agent demanding (nicely) that we schedule a viewing.

One of the things that struck me about the yard was this picket fence vegetable patch.  I have never been much of a vegetable grower.  What I have grown has almost exclusively been done in containers.  

Although I was enchanted by it initially, I quickly realized that there were some problems.  For one, it hadn't been attended to in a long time.  It was filled with weeds, grass, and a struggling patch of strawberries.  I left the strawberries alone and even got to enjoy a few bowls.

I tried smothering the rest of the weeds with the leftover moving boxes and piled a couple inches of compost on top.  I have used this method with some success in the past, but I wouldn't try it again.  At least not for an area that I intended to plant in within a year's time.  For one, I found that even when I dug holes through the cardboard to plant my tomatoes, they all limped along.  I think the cardboard restricted water penetration and I've since learned that it also deprives the soil of oxygen.

After I gave up on this year's crop of tomatoes, I pulled up the cardboard and abandoned the vegetable patch for the remainder of the summer.  Many of the weeds had been killed, but the surrounding lawn was starting to invade in the absence of the weeds.

Unwanted grass.  Is there anything a gardener despises more?

In the picture below you can see that I have a rose bush planted in one corner.  I originally put it there along with a couple other plants just as a holding bed until a permanent home could be located.  I have since decided to leave it be.  I figure that the blooms might help attract pollinators to the veggie patch.  You might also notice along the edges that I tried placing stones as a border to keep the grass from encroaching.  It worked okay, but the irregular shapes of the rocks created gaps.

Around September I decided that I would try to solarize the remaining weeds and grass.  September is a little late for most people to do this but when I installed the plastic it was still well over 100 degrees here which is more than sufficient for solarization to work.  Unfortunately, the hot weather didn't last long enough and the process was only marginally successful.

In the picture below you can see that most of the grass is gone.  Of course, there's still some lingering beneath the ground and it'll surely rear it's ugly green head in the coming weeks.  I also switched out the rocks in favor of a border of bricks.  I think the bricks will work better to keep grass out from growing through as long as I keep up on the edging.

I scrapped my initial plan of making a pathway in the shape of an X and laid out the form below.  It probably doesn't make the best use of space but I don't need or want a huge vegetable patch anyway.

I filled the middle portion with pea gravel and tamped it down to form a permeable place to walk.

And then I decided to paint the fence "Sweet Molasses" Brown.  The vegetable garden is in a prominent place in our backyard and is visible from nearly every window that looks out on it.  I wanted to dress it up a little bit and also to have it blend in a little bit.  I think the brown will produce a nice foil for the green vegetation and when that white rose starts poking out of the pickets I think it will really make a statement.

I also added finials to the square posts to dress it up a bit and better mirror the shape of the pickets.

Finally, after all the painting was finished, the sand swept between the bricks, and the drip irrigation was installed, my daughter and I planted fava beans and a mixture of field peas and hulled oats. I figured that after the abuse this plot has taken I should give it a good start by planting some nitrogen-fixing cover crops this first go 'round.

I'm happy with the way it all turned out and I'm really happy that it's finished because now I can move on to the next project knowing that I've actually succeeded in finishing something.


  1. Chad I love what you have done...this garden is now transformed into a wonderful spot well thought out and pleasing to the eye...and the nitrogen fixing crops will certainly enhance the soil. Looking forward to seeing your veggies next year.

  2. It's looking great, Chad -- and I know what you mean about actually having some project finished. (I tend to get to the 90% mark and then have trouble getting that last 10% done.) Your daughter is growing fast! -Jean

  3. The garden looks wonderful, I really like what you've done with the space. The fence color is very nice, and you're right, with white roses peeking through, it's really going to make a statement. Your garden helper is really growing up, too!

  4. I like the assymetical/interlocking squares of your walkway, and think that in a non-farming-operation-type vegetable garden the 'negative space' is just as important as the gardening space: vegetable gardens, as a landscape design element, can be an aesthetic detraction (I have one myself, and apart from siting it for sun exposure and making the soil as rich as possible, I spent way more effort on how it looks than how it produces). Roses and vegetables together, I'll wager you'll spend more time in that small square than the rest of the garden altogether. Good thing you have a tiny assistant.

    I hope it is a magical time around your new house right now...a joyous holiday season to you!