I mentioned my gardening heritage in the
last entry, which
focused on flowering plants. I also grew up tending vegetable
gardens and have carried on that family tradition as an
adult in several of the homes I've owned in Ohio, Georgia,
Montana, and Virginia. None of my edible gardens have been as massive as the
one we had on our Ohio farm when I was little, but I've done my
own bit to save some money, provide fresh, safe food for my
family, and have another excuse to indulge in my passion of
"playing in the dirt."
Home gardens are enjoying a resurgence in popularity this year
for several reasons. The high cost of fuel has affected every
aspect of our lives, including the food supply. The consumer
ultimately has to bear the increased costs of growing,
harvesting, transporting, processing, and packaging the foods we
eat. In addition, several public health threats in recent months
from food-borne illnesses like salmonella have folks on edge,
worried about what they consume. It makes sense to take some at
least a bit of control of the process by growing some of your
own food, if possible. It's even touted as the "patriotic" thing
"The man who has planted a garden feels that he has done something
the good of the world." --
Planting gardens as a patriotic act may have begun with the
"Victory Gardens" made popular during World War I and II.
lost some traction in the 1950s and 1960s as fewer people lived
in rural areas and their lives became easier as more and more
fresh imported produce and other goods became available in stores. A resurgence of home
gardens occurred from 1973 to the early 1980s during the first
major energy crisis and the "Mother Earth" movement.
Now here we are again with some of the same national and global
issues affecting us locally and influencing many folks to plant
their own gardens this year. Jim and I grew vegetables in our
garden in Billings, Montana the four summers I lived there in
the early 2000s but this is only the second one we've had since
we moved to Virginia. If we hadn't been gallivanting around the
country so much, we'd have had one each summer. This is a great
climate for gardening!
TOO MUCH TO HANDLE
Not only did Jim and I "inherit" lots of flowerbeds from the
former owners of our current home, we were also faced with a
daunting, freshly-plowed vegetable garden in our back yard that
measured about 45 x 60 feet -- smaller than the veggie garden of
my childhood, but 'way bigger than any I've tended on my own. No
wonder these 70-something folks admitted they could no longer
keep the place up and needed to sell it! That should have
sounded a louder alarm for us. but we were a "young" 55 at the
time and figured we could maintain the property for at least
fifteen years . . .
Not realizing just how much we'd be traveling around the
country, our original plans called for planting much of that
space with fruit trees, berry bushes, and some vegetables that
we could can and freeze. I planted several kinds of herbs,
tomatoes, and peppers that first summer. The next photo was
taken on June 14, 2004, a month after we moved into the house. I
planted half a dozen herbs on another corner of the original
garden area (also covered in weeds) that was closer to the
neighbor who mows our yard when we're gone, and his wife ended
up reaping most of the harvest because Jim and I were gone for
several weeks on two cross-country trips to run races in California and Colorado. What
Bob didn't get was enjoyed by the
deer, squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other wildlife who share
We got *real* after that. Not only do the flowerbeds not take
care of themselves when we're gone, neither do fruits and
vegetables. Duh. So there were no fruits and vegetables planted
in 2005, 2006, and 2007 when we knew we'd be gone all summer.
The "vegetable garden" became an extension of the yard and
soon morphed into the
parking area for our camper (below, as seen in early July, 2008).
Fast-forward to May, 2008. Jim and I finally decided not to
travel out West for the summer because of the high cost of fuel.
(We're still ambivalent about that decision!) I started looking
forward to all the beautiful flowers we have. It was Jim who
said, "Let's plant some tomatoes!"
<rolling my eyes>
Jim loves tomatoes. Eating them, that is. I knew from
"Let's plant tomatoes!" really means "Let's
you - SUE - plant tomatoes and I'll eat them!"
Fair enough. I enjoy eating AND growing them. Jim's grown his
fair share of tomatoes during his lifetime. I'll gladly tend the
gardens and he can mow the grass. That's a good trade-off in my
IF IT'S WORTH DOING AT ALL . . .
"The most noteworthy thing about
gardeners is that they are always optimistic,
always enterprising, and
never satisfied. They always look forward
to doing something better than
they have ever done before."
-- Vita Sackville-West
Now if you either know me, or have been reading much of this
journal the past four years, you know that many of my little
projects turn into major projects. It's hard for me to do
anything that truly interests me in a small or half-hearted
manner. Just look at my
training schedule, the races and journey runs I
tackle, the elaborate multi-volume Appalachian Trail scrapbooks
I'm creating, and other projects I've done over the years.
it's worth doing, it's worth not only doing well, but
over-doing" seems to be my modus operandi.
Even though Jim's also an *ultra* runner, he's not as bad at
upsizing other projects as I am.
You can probably guess where I'm going with this re: this
summer's veggie garden . . .
Actually, I didn't over-plan how much I'd plant. We haven't
ended up totally inundated with produce we can't eat or
preserve. This time my "problem" was under-estimating how much
space we needed for the plants I put in.
May 1, 2008
I mentioned previously that we built and planted a 4x16-foot
raised veggie garden this spring. That seemed quite manageable. I put in four tomato
plants, three pepper plants, ten ever-bearing strawberry plants,
five different kinds of herbs (total of eleven plants), and half a dozen marigolds
as "companion plants" to keep bad bugs away from the veggies.
I'll show a sequence of what the bed looked like from May to
May 1, 2008: Tomatoes and peppers on
one end (L), herbs and strawberries at the other end (R)
Still under control on May 31
June 26: Everything is bushing out.
This is what I envisioned the "mature" garden would look like.
Who knew how well those plants would thrive -- 'way beyond our
expectations -- with lots of top soil, compost, fertilizer, water,
and sunshine?? Oh, my! They've been totally out of control for
several weeks. We should have made the bed at least twice as big,
spaced the plants farther apart, and used much taller, sturdier supports for the
tomatoes. Even the peppers are sprawling and should have been
July 20: Tomatoes and peppers (even
the basil, left) starting to get out of
First the four little cilantro plants grew too fast and I eventually just dug
when they had more frizzy tops than edible leaves. Then the
tomatoes grew faster than I could tie them up and nearly killed
the oregano and thyme in front of them. Transplanting killed the
large oregano; I'm still looking for a replacement plant
at nurseries and the Roanoke Farmer's Market. The thyme likes its new location but is again in
shade as the adjacent tomato has sprawled even farther. The rosemary
became a bush and two kinds of basil (four plants) are flourishing despite the
overhanging tomato branches. The basil and peppers simply
spilled over the wooden side of the bed by one to two feet in
their search for sunshine. They adapted!
The strawberries have also done well even though I broke
the rule about plucking the blossoms this season and waiting
until next summer to let the plants bear fruit. I love
strawberries and just couldn't wait. Besides, I know how many
berries they can have in the first season. Over the years I've more often let strawberries produce fruit
the first year than not, due to my impatience. There are worse
sins, after all.
Mmmm . . . ripe strawberries (May 31)
Jim and I have been able to keep up with the
berries as they ripen, partly because we're sharing some with
birds and maybe rabbits -- not exactly by choice, mind you. I
like to let the berries ripen on the stems but some get sampled
before I pick them. I either leave nibbled ones on the plants or
give them to Cody. He's like
"Mikey" of Life cereal fame --
he'll eat almost anything! That's why his nickname is "Hoover."
By August 6, the strawberries were in a
thick mat and spreading
beyond their boundaries (foreground).
Notice the overflow of
tomatoes (left background) and peppers
The pimiento (Fajita Bell) and red bell peppers have been
producing well for about a month. We can keep up with them OK,
Tomatoes are another thing entirely, as any experienced gardener can tell
you. They're as prolific as zucchini squash -- there are always
extras to give to neighbors!
We started picking ripe cherry tomatoes in early July. The
cherry tomatoes (Husky Cherry Red) are very tasty and have
produced heavily for several weeks. We eat them like candy for
snacks and with meals. The plants got MUCH larger than any
cherry tomatoes I've ever grown before, so they soon escaped
their cages, too.
L: Cherry tomatoes in foreground, Big Boys in
rear (not very big yet!) on July 20
R: by August 6, the Big Boys are
We're able to keep up with the little tomatoes better than the
large ones (Big Boy and Better Bush) that have been ripening at
the pace of five to ten a day since early August. I'm just not
in the mood to can them this year. It's a hot, time-consuming,
messy job. We've got all the equipment
but we don't want to heat up the kitchen to process them. We're sharing them with friends
in town and neighbors who don't have
their own supply. Since we're out in the country it's
hard to find folks who do NOT have their own tomatoes. Neighbor
Bob planted tomatoes but the rabbits have been stealing his, so
he's been happy to take some off our hands.
One recent day's tomato harvest
We've been enjoying lots of salads, BLT sandwiches, kabobs, and
other dishes with our
tasty herbs, peppers, and tomatoes. I don't know that we've
saved much money but just having ripe-from-the-garden produce
makes the whole process worth it to me. The garden will become
more cost-effective in future years (if we're here to plant it).
The main expenses this year were for the lumber, soil, and
compost. Starter plants are pretty cheap and I used only a
little bit of generic commercial fertilizer. Our well water is
All of our seedlings came from Lowe's this year and they have
done well. We haven't had any bug problems, diseases,
blossom-end rot, or soil deficiencies. Other than the unsightly
sprawl, I consider the garden a success.
Part of the cherry tomato sprawl beyond the
If I get real ambitious, I might dig up a spot nearby to plant
some spinach, sugar snap peas, and other cool-weather plants
that we can harvest in September and October. We'd also like to
wine berry bushes so we'll have our very own supply.
"A garden is never so good as it will be
next year." -- Thomas Cooper
That's another quote that can translate just as well to running.
I can identify with this! Many gardeners dream of having a
bigger and/or better garden the next time, just like runners
dream about having a better race the next time -- whether they
met their goal in the last race or not. If they did well, they realize
that maybe with better training they can do even better next time. If
they didn't meet their goal, they have even more incentive to
regroup and do better next time ("unfinished business," Jim and
I call it). Some folks are just wired to try to make improvements.
By now, the marigolds are trying to
take over the strawberry bed!
That's just one marigold plant on steroids
to the right. I've never
Will we have a bigger, better vegetable garden next summer?
Maybe. We currently plan to be gone most of July and August in
2009. The strawberries are perennials, so they'll remain where
they. I might let them take over most or all of this 4x16-foot
bed. We'll enjoy some
strawberries before we leave for Colorado and
Bob can have what ripens while we're gone.
I'll probably plant
more cool-season crops and perennial herbs in the spring so we
can enjoy them before we go. If it's another dry summer the herbs
might not make it till we get back home; we turn off the water
when we leave so it's not practical to ask
Bob to water anything. I might just dig up the herbs and take
them with us as I've done on previous camping trips. I love
to cook with them.
If we end up at home most of next summer, I'll probably plant
tomatoes and peppers again -- but I'll make another bed for them,
space them much farther apart, and provide adequate support.
I've learned my lesson! And maybe I'll plant some squash, too
. . .
BTW, all this goes to show you don't have to devote much real
estate to a garden to reap copious amounts of vegetables. And if
you use the
"square foot" method of
gardening, you can get even more in less space.
ADDENDUM AUGUST 28: WE'VE GOT RAIN!!!
You know how I've been whining in the last two entries about the
drought? I should have heeded the saying, "Be careful what
you wish for."
Or, as Jim says much more succinctly, "I hope you're happy
I'm not the only one concerned about our drought. Plenty of
folks in southwestern Virginia have been wishing mighty hard for
a good soaking rain. We've finally gotten one, in spades. For
some people, it's good news. For others, it's bad news.
The Roanoke Valley and where we live near Smith Mountain Lake east of the city has been
eight to twelve inches below normal rainfall this year. Most of
the deficit has occurred this summer. Only one
town has had water restrictions so far because its river was
historically low, but both Carvin's Cove and Smith Mountain
Lake, which supply much of the region with water, have been
getting lower and lower. I was getting tired of watering our
gardens so much (from our own well water) and concerned about
the health of all the trees I couldn't water. Lots of
leaves have been dropping already from the stress, and weaker
trees don't fare well in wind storms.
Now I have a feeling of deja vu. Our first summer here in 2004
we had two six-inch rainfalls, one in August and one in
September, that caused major flooding in Roanoke and other
parts of the valley. They were remnants of two hurricanes that
wrought devastation in Florida.
Deja vu all over again: 8-28-08
We just received a good soaking rain, six inches of it so far (per our
own rain gauge, above) over the last 48 hours. There is more
predicted this week. Most of it has been light
to moderate at our place, but some areas are flooding and that
situation may worsen in the next few days as more water flows
downstream from the Blue Ridge Mountains.
These are remnants of last week's Hurricane Fay, which didn't
have as much damaging wind as a lot of hurricanes but dumped up
to 30" of rain in some areas of Florida. Fay set a precedent by
making landfall in Florida a total of four times -- it just
wouldn't go away! It took several days for the storm to dump
more rain on Georgia and the Carolinas before finally reaching
Locals have apparently forgotten how to drive in the rain. (Just wait for
the first sleet or snow!) Jim's 911 radios
have been busy summoning rescue squads and fire departments all
over Bedford County. It's the same scenario throughout the valley.
Jim's been out on calls to a couple of the wrecks. Some roads are
flooded, and the creeks and rivers continue to rise.
Brown lawn starting to green up near the
pink dogwood (L) and peach trees (R) 8-28-08
But there are positives, too. On the third day of rain and
can see our front yard getting more green (photo
mentioned that it was crunchy brown in the last entry. The rain
should help some farmers with their crops, if it isn't too late.
When the sun comes back out tomorrow, we'll be able to see new
growth and less leaf wilt along the trails when we do our long
runs. Water supplies and aquifers should be in better shape and
we'll worry less about our well running dry.
Hopefully, this will be a drought-breaker and not just a break
in the drought.
Next entry: trying to outwit the critters who share our
The happy ultra gardener,
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil