When you have time to think: grow more food!

When I have an unexpected break in the flow of my weird days, it doesn’t take much to get me to think about gardening. Or future projects. Or chores undone as the weather threatens this or that. Or to check out the plethora of garden bloggers and You Tubers that I follow, looking for those golden nuggets of wisdom. Then I match it all against my training as a Master Gardener and all of this leads to a very long To Do List, perhaps with a wacky experiment here and there. While my heart will always belong to the landscaping of flowers, bushes, and trees, my latest focus has become a quest to GROW MORE FOOD!

Growing More Food in the Secret Garden

This simple space that was once created as a dog pen has graciously become our Secret Garden. Indeed it holds many “tricks and treats” that have come into the light over the 2022 growing season here in USDA Growing Zone 5b/6a. Here’s a list for inquiring minds that want to know with more details to follow if you comment or send me a message below.

  • Companion planting helps!
  • Tepee trellising maximizes space.
  • Grow bags work!
  • Cover crops improved soil fertility of this in-ground bed along the house.
  • Sunset runner beans are pretty in bloom and can be eaten fresh or dried for later. (Pictured here drying on a tepee in the far right back corner and draping the gate. Two tepee trellises.)
  • Tulle fabric works well as an insect cloth.
  • Saddle grow bags from Smart Pots beautify the fence.
  • Composting rocks! (Middle left with makeshift pallet gate)
  • Having a holding area (left foreground) is valuable for transitioning/nursing plants.
  • A cold frame is a game-changer for extending the growing season, starting seeds in the spring.
  • Placing the cold frame along the southern wall of the house added even more warmth when needed.
  • A Univent affixed to the lid of the cold frame regulated internal temps really well.
  • Elevating planters/grow bags deterred bunny damage.
  • Make growing spaces beautiful simply by adding mulch and annuals to enhance enjoyment, utility, and even increase pollinators.
  • Adding native plants nearby significantly increases pollination and production of edibles.
  • Use all vertical elements for growing more food! (There are cucumbers outside the fencing in the distance.)
  • Rings of “chicken wire” at ground level (cucumbers and others) are my go-to for protecting exposed plants from rascally rabbits. A multitude of sprays, hair, cayene pepper, etc. just haven’t worked for long enough even when methods are rotated.
  • Aromatic herbs help deter pests as well. (Rosemary grew between the large French marigolds and calendula.)

Overall I can say that re-purposing both garden spaces and supplies fun! Did you catch the pool noodle that elevates the drape of the green tulle fabric? Now let’s add the next chapter in the Secret Garden this fall where the in-ground bed transitioned for the colder weather.

The open ground is now covered in over a foot of leaves and will soon house sections from our GreenStalk vertical garden. (Sections are disassembled and the leaves will provide insulation to overwinter Seascape strawberries.) The cold frame along the wall has a “blanket” of bubble wrap affixed with black office clips to the poly carbonate panel in the lid to add additional insulation without blocking all of the light. I can easily access the grow bags by removing the plastic clamps purchased from a hardware store. I find that it’s important to check the soil every day or so for watering needs, uncovering the front side of the grow bags on warmer days as the soil can heat up quickly! It’s not unusual for temps to reach 80 degrees under cover when outdoor temps are in the 60s.

The plants include:

  • Strawberries and perennial herbs of oregano and pineapple sage overwintering in their grow bags.
  • Newly planted leafy greens of Red Russian kale, pad choi, spinach, arugula and romaine lettuce sprouting from seed also in their grow bags.
  • Carrots, radishes, and Mizuna mustard growing inside the cold frame.
  • Flowering calendula and French marigolds that will remain until they succumb to the cold.

I’m not sure how many of these will reach maturity but chances are good that most of them will make it through much of the winter here. If a crop looks like it is struggling then I will harvest them as microgreens! Last year I grew leafy greens in what I deemed a “Bubble Garden” made from halves of 5-gallon water jugs. (You can see the Daikon Radish cover crop next to it in the photo below.) While most plants inside the Bubbles didn’t put on huge growth over the winter and some became somewhat bitter, virtually all of them were still alive in the spring. That is, if they were not already eaten!

The Secret Garden has come quite a ways since the days of the BG . . . Could there be a green house in my future? That would fulfill the namesake of Hope Beyond, for sure. Tee hee. :JJ