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Backyard Gardening Adventures

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If you’re like me then you probably love the idea of growing your own vegetables and herbs in an effort to eat more healthfully and save money at the grocery store, but have something of a brown thumb when it comes to making a garden truly grow.

I tend to go pretty gung-ho at the beginning of the season only to end up giving up come the Fourth of July, annoyed by the fact that I have only 1-2 measly cherry tomatoes and half a bell pepper growing for all of my effort. What a pathetic salad that would make…

As I do every year, I planted during my time off over Memorial Day weekend. Steve and I made a trip to Lowes before the crowds of DIY-ers set in to buy things for their own holiday weekend projects. We ended up walking away with vegetable and herb plants; garden soil and topsoil; seed packets of swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, and flowers; and two hanging baskets, which I gifted to my mom. This year, I started off determined to change my tide of bad gardening luck.

I had a vision for how to map out the garden to make it more successful, starting with something that I’ve often ignored or didn’t know how to do: a soil test. I purchased a soil testing kit for $15 and followed the instructions. I mixed a soil sample with water and added it to the included powder in the color-coded vials to test for nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and pH levels. After waiting 20-30 minutes for the chemicals to do their jobs, I had my results.

Fortunately, the cloddy, clay soil was better than I thought it would be; the pH was in range at about 6.6, and potassium and phosphorus were both good. Nitrogen, however, was nonexistent. After doing some research, I found that low nitrogen in soil is a common problem that prevents plants from growing and replicating themselves. To remedy the problem, we ended up buying bloodmeal, a soil additive with a high nitrogen concentration, and vermiculite, to lighten and aerate the soil.

Once that issue was resolved, it was time to map out where to plant everything. I found articles about planting a 4×4 garden and planting small veggie gardens that inspired me to take some photos of my space and make a map of what I wanted to do. Since we live in a townhome, we don’t have much space to work with to have a big garden with pumpkins, melons, and other space-hogging vegetables like that. We have a rectangleish area in the back of the house near our AC box and an L-shaped area that wraps around the deck — about 15-20 feet of total space, if I had to guess.

A lot of my herbs came back strong — sage, thyme, tarragon, mint, oregano, chives, and lavender — and a random kale plant popped up near the AC box in the midst of all of the weeds that needed to be cleaned up. I’m a lazy gardener who likes to directly sow seeds outside and let nature take over, rather than starting the seeds indoors ahead of time, so the kale must have sprouted from seeds I planted last year and forgot about.

In past years, I grew vegetables in pots with little to no success, so this year I wanted to put them in the ground to see if I would get better results. I planted a yellow bell pepper, a purple bell pepper, and three kinds of tomatoes in addition to cucumber (a bush-like variety, but it still may creep so I put it in front of a trellis) and eggplant plants in the sunniest spots that I could find.

I sowed swiss chard, lettuce, and spinach seeds around the perimeter of these vegetables for ahat I hope will turn into an attractive border. I also sowed some scallions seeds near the chives to create a little patch of onions. Seedlings are already popping up, thanks to the intermittent rain and sun we’ve had — and I’m sure the extra nutrients we added to the soil helped, too

As the season goes along, I hope to have some good news and photos to share of a more successful garden when compared to years past. Wish me luck!