Monday, December 7, 2009

Seed Giveaway Contest!

What is this random rectangle?

It's the new vegetable bed! Tech Support graciously constructed this beauty to my specifications, and now its soil, compost and topping of leaves (hidden under the snow) are mixing and hopefully making a rich base for next year's veggie crops. (I didn't fill the entire raised bed because I got worn out by hauling 40-lb. bags of topsoil and compost, so it's still a work in progress and yes I am lazy.)

Until now my edible gardening has consisted of containers, my herb garden, and a failed attempt at growing peppers in the spot where the rain garden now resides. It failed because that location is way to shady to grow any vegetables, especially bell peppers, but it was our first year in the house and I hadn't thoroughly evaluated the sun situation around the whole yard. Live and learn!

But for the past few years I've been watching how and when the sun's rays sweep across different parts of the garden and how long they stay there in the various seasons. Not surprisingly, the south side of the yard has the most light, and hence we literally squeezed this raised bed into this little patch of the yard. My containers of vegetables grew well on the south side of the house this past summer, and that was in a weird summer with relatively few sunny days, so I'm fairly confident I'll get adequate light here.

What does this have to do with a seed giveaway contest? I'm getting there. I'm already voraciously planning what will grow here next year and how I can maximize this bed, which measures 9x3. I have a trellis for the cucumbers and summer squash so as to get some plants growing upwards. (It's getting put in after the winter so it is not pictured.)

I am focusing on vegetables that I am confident my family will eat, so some decisions were pretty easy. For example, neither of my kids like peas or beans, so I am not growing either of these popular crops next year. Rather than try to heroically turn them into legume-lovers, I'm going to wait until the following year and maybe by then they'll be so excited to eat what they grow that I can slip some peas past them. Plus by then the soil will really need the nitrogen-fixing. But for this year I'm devoting the space to carrots and broccoli, which I know will get consumed and which I spend considerable money on at the grocery store.

Of course there will be bell peppers, but the chili peppers will be relegated to the containers where I can make sure they're in the absolute sunniest spot. I will probably only grow 2-3 tomato plants (gasp!). Why? Because they take up a lot of space, and in general I'm trying to follow the maxim of starting small. I don't want to bite off more than I can proverbially chew. Spinach, onions, Swiss chard and various lettuces will likely round out the menu, although some beets may make a random appearance as the outlier plant.

So, what does this have to do with a seed giveaway contest?? The folks at Renee's Garden sent me two lovely seed collections for two lucky readers, which you saw pictured above. One is the Rainbow Kitchen Garden Collection.

It contains Bright Lights Chard, Tricolor Bush Beans, Garden Candy Cherry Tomatoes, Jewel-Tone Sweet Peppers, and Monet's Mix Mesclun Lettuces.

The second is Basil Lover's Bonanza, which includes Scented Basil Trio, Italian Pesto Basil, Mrs. Burns' Lemon Basil, Salad Leaf Basil, and Green Windowbox Basil. Fabulous!

So here's how it works: leave me a comment with your best vegetable-growing tip, and I will draw two numbers on Sunday, December 13, to decide the winners! Your tip can be general advice about edible gardening, or it can be something specific to the plants I discussed. What should I know about growing and caring for those particular vegetables? What pests or diseases could really get them? Or what's the best variety out there that I should choose? I mentioned I'll only have a couple tomato plants, so what are the downright best heirloom varieties that you just couldn't live without? Or, is there a glaring omission in my choices? Is there something I must grow that I'm not thinking of? Let me hear it!

I will close the contest at 7pm CDT on the 13th, choose the numbers and announce the winners. Your comment will be assigned its number by its order, obviously. Only one comment per person will count for the contest, but you're welcome to keep telling me other ideas if you want!

So let's hear what you got! And you might win a nice present for yourself, just in time for Christmas!

(Many thanks to Nellie and Renee of Renee's Garden for our lovely prizes!)


Jean said...

Here's my tip - well drained soil! How simple is that? Your new bed will have just that (it looks great, btw). So nice of you to have this contest but since I'm not much of a from-seed grower (I don't have a lot of room for it), you can skip me in the drawing.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I'm so jealous of your raised bed. If it's by the fence around the corner from the rain garden, then you should have plenty of sun. My sole tip for veggie gardening is this: if you grow corn, plant them in a triangle for best pollination. Long straight lines works only if you have a large field of them.

Gail said...

Rose, I've known several Square Foot gardeners who have lots of success...They jam pack a small space and get loads of veggies. gail

rambleonrose said...

Jean--Thank you! Simple is best! And if you change your mind about the drawing just let me know and you will be number 1!

MMD--Yes, it's right in that corner! Thank you for the tip; my son really wants to grow corn, and I will remember this advice!

Gail--I'm hoping for similar success! Wish me luck!

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

My best tips you already know, raised beds and full sun. Jean is right about the well-drained soil too.~~Dee

Kim said...

If you grow corn and beans, use the corn as the pole for the beans to climb up. 2 crops in one small space.

rambleonrose said...

Dee--Thanks! I agree that drainage will be key.

Kim--That's a great idea! Not only would it really maximize space, it would help the soil since beans are legumes and corn is a nutrient sponge! said...

I used a raised box to grow vegetables with my grandson for Cub Scouts. We grew 3 types of lettuce, carrots, 1 small tomato. It worked out just great-in full sunshine. We had lettuce the whole time, you just picked what leaves we needed.

Ahyoka said...

I have the slightest of grades in my back garden and since I recycle just about everything, I created a bog for my lobelias, culver root and calla lilies from my irrigation runoff of the raised beds in my veggie garden section. In the summer the hummingbirds so appreciate it, and so do I!

rambleonrose said...

Menunns--I am planning on multiple crops of lettuce and growing various kinds. I am a big fan of salads!

Ahyoka--My rain garden is right next to this bed, so I may try your method of diverting excess water! Thanks!

Miss Nessa said...

Look up companion planting. For example, planting borage near tomatoes will make the tomatoes taste better. You don't want to plant corn nearby necessarily, because corn earworm really likes to munch on both.

Commonweeder said...

I don't suppose you want tips like - live near a farm so you can easily get lots of manure. I was happy to discover a horse farm in my town, and he'll sell a load of composted manure for $5. If you have children you might want to think about starting a worm farm to have that valuable worm manure - castings - for your raised bed. I wrote about setting up a simple worm farm on my blog. My grandsons were a big help. I love your blog and just added it to my blogroll. I love Renees Seeds too.

rambleonrose said...

Miss N--I have been learning about companion planting, and I heard that growing carrots and onions intermixed can help to avoid some pests that go after carrots. Thanks for the tip!

CW--Thank you for your kind words, and I've got you on my blogroll too! My son loves worms, so the worm bin is a good idea. Although I don't live close to a farm, a family friend of mine works on one that's not too far, and they have a fantastic compost operation.

Deanne said...

This past year I tried out companion planting and was very pleased with the outcome, although only having one year in the books I cannot wait for this year to see what will happen. When we planted our tomatoes I put a handful of broken egg shell in the hole first, to add a slow-release calcium to the soil; then planted basil and peppers nearby to enhance the tomatoes flavor (according to research). We also planted sunflowers and marigolds in the next row to draw in more bees and naturally fight some pests (some bugs don't like marigolds). Can't wait for this new crop year! Good luck!!

Rose said...

Rose, sounds like you have an excellent plan already! Planting only those vegetables that your family actually likes is smart. Every year I plant bell peppers, which my husband and I eat only in small portions, so I wind up freezing the rest. But I just can't resist those four-packs each spring!

I don't want to discourage you, but I do have one little tip concerning broccoli. Broccoli is very prone to little cabbage worms, or whatever they are. I finally quit growing it because I detested having to carefully inspect every stalk I picked. You can use Sevin to kill any pests, but if you want to be organic, make sure to plant it early (the caterpillars don't come out until it gets hot) and check various sources for some organic pest control methods. I would also soak mine in salt water when I brought it in to kill any possible pests left behind.

I know many people successfully grow broccoli with no problems, so I hope yours does just as well. Looking forward to seeing all your yummy veggies next season!

rambleonrose said...

Deanne--I like the idea about the egg shells! I also had heard about marigolds helping with pests, so some of those seeds might get sprinkled in there!

Rose--I am concerned about those broccoli worms too! You are right to caution me and I want to know how Illinois gardeners cope with them! I will definitely plant the broccoli early, and the one organic method I read about was to place little "collars" of fabric or paper around the base of broccoli to keep the bugs from burrowing into the soil, roots, stems, etc.

Rose said...

Rose, I had to come back and see if you had replied to my comment. I thought about what I had said here later, and thought, "Gee, why did you have to say something so negative?" But we do love broccoli, too, and I just wanted to warn you. I always planted mine too late in the season, so if you plant yours early, that should really help. I've heard of those "collars," too-- sounds like a good idea. Good luck and happy planting!

rambleonrose said...

Rose--Please don't ever apologize for honest feedback!! What you said wasn't negative, it was a valid concern, and besides, I specifically asked for information about pests and diseases. Thank you for providing helpful info!

garden girl said...

Hi Rose, congratulations on your new vegetable bed! Growing veggies is so much fun. My kids learned to like so many veggies they wouldn't touch before, including peas and beans, by letting them pick and eat them right out of the garden. My middle daughter called broccoli 'trees' when she was little. She'd snap them right off the plant and eat them with gusto, but wouldn't touch them on her plate.

My girls enjoyed having their own small space in the garden where they could choose what veggies to grow.

If you have space, save some fall leaves in bags - they make great mulch for a veggie bed. Lawn clippings do too, especially when combined with leaves. If you use lawn clippings, make sure they're dried and brown before putting them in the bed, otherwise they compact and prevent water from reaching the soil. Mulching veggie beds keeps the moisture in the soil, keeps it cooler, and helps keep weeding to a minimum.

If possible avoid walking or stepping into the bed and compacting the soil. Your veggies will be happier and healthier. If you do need to step into it, use a board to stand on, as this will help distribute weight and minimize soil compaction.

You can build up the height of your bed gradually over time by adding additional layers in the fall. Layer dried leaves and grass clippings alternately with compost. You can dig holes in the garden and add compost material in them - it will break down quickly and enrich the bed.

Rows can be spaced much closer than seed-packets recommend to maximize space, ala Square Foot gardening.

Rotate 'crops' each year - don't plant the same veggies in the same space. This is more challenging in a small bed, but worth the effort since different veggies enrich and reduce different soil nutrients and present different disease challenges. Even every other year will help if you can't avoid the same spot for a particular veggie every three as is often recommended.

Hoop-and-fabric row covers will help keep cabbage butterflies from eating brassica/cole crops like broccoli. Cut broccoli florets when mature, and they'll produce smaller side shoots. Pollinators LOVE broccoli flowers.

Ok, more than one suggestion - I'll stop now, as you've gotten lots of good ones already and more will likely be added.

rambleonrose said...

GG--Thank you so much for all these wonderful suggestions!! I am definitely planning to mulch well and save a lot of the fall leaves. I hadn't thought about drying out the grass clippings, so thank you for pointing that out!

Anonymous said...

I just came by to say someone is going to get some awesome seeds--I don't need any plenty. What a very nice gift! Love your raised bed. I want to do that too.

rambleonrose said...

FGG--Are you sure?? Can you really have enough? If you change your mind just let me know and I'll include you in the contest!!

Ariel said...

Heirloom tomatoes - my kids love ghost tomatoes (have to eat them right off the vine, they're so fragile) and zebra's.

AmyO said...

Hi...When my kids were small I always tried to include things with large seeds such as Nasturtiums, you can eat the flowers & leaves, the seeds are easy for small hands to plant, they add a bright spot of color and the kids feel like they're contributing so they might open up to trying veggies they wouldn't otherwise.

Brandywine tomatoes are my favorite heirloom type, their flavor is the best!

Adding a tipi or A-frame of large bamboo poles would add more room by growing vertically, I grew our cukes on an A-frame last summer and we got so many perfect cukes.

Whatever you do gardening with children is so much fun.

rambleonrose said...

Ariel--Ghost and Zebras, got it! Thank you!

Amy--I've heard lots of good things about Brandywine, thank you! And letting the kids plant the nasturtium seeds is a great idea. I think I will eventually use a tipi, not just for the space-saving but also because I think that creates a lovely potager look. Even if I don't build on this year, by next I bet I will! Thanks so much!

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