Garden of the Month!!

Garden of the Month!


Every month, the folks in the PB Community Garden get together to discuss old and new business, share tips, and take a look at each garden. After everyone looks at each plot, they give out awards for Vegetable of the Month, Flower of the Month, and Garden of the Month. Against all odds, we won Garden of the Month! It goes without saying that Molly and I are both super proud and looking forward making the garden even better next month!

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After a few weeks of serious growth, most of our veggies looked great and we even had a pepper!

Our first pepper!

Our first pepper!

However, not everything in the garden was sunshine and rainbows: something was eating our lettuce. At first there were just a few nibbles taken out of a couple of leaves, but before long, all 12 of the lettuce plants looked like this:

Devastated Lettuce

At least someone enjoyed the lettuce!

On the advice of our garden neighbor, Ken, we cut the bottoms off of a bunch of solo cups and placed them around each of the lettuces. The thinking was that we were probably getting beaten to the harvest by caterpillars or slugs, and the cups would keep them out. After a few days, the lettuces looked much better, so we pulled the cups off and built a larger defense:

The great lettuce barrier

Making the finishing touches on the great lettuce barrier

A couple of lettuces met their end before we implemented the initial “solo defense” and there were a couple of other casualties, so we took the Labor Day holiday as a chance to get some new things in the garden. We dug up all of the dead lettuce, the cucumber that I killed by botching the initial planting, and the red bell pepper that the previous tenants had left behind, and turned the soil over. Then we put in a new Japanese cucumber, a yellow squash, and some Gerber daisies. Here’s what the garden looks like now:

Our new and (hopefully) improved garden

Our new and (hopefully) improved garden

Everything else is doing pretty well, so head over to our Picasa Gallery to take a look!

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Initial Planting

I might have gotten ahead of myself at the end of my last post (Research and Prep Work);I posted a picture of our fully planted garden at the end of the post, but I didn’t really explain how we got from buying plants at the nursery to getting them in the ground. Here’s the long and short of it…

We picked up all of the seedlings at Green Gardens in the morning, and went about getting them in the ground after work. Truth be told, we only spent about 5 minutes talking about how we wanted to plant everything. In hindsight, that was a pretty big mistake. We started by putting the 3 tomato plants towards the back of the plot in a triangle. Rumor has it that basil and tomatoes grow well together, so we placed basil between each vertex of the triangle, creating a happy little tomato-basil ecosystem. Next, I put in the zucchini, jalepeno and bell pepper while Molly planted what was left of the basil. By this point we realized that we didn’t have quite as much space as we thought we had, so we squeezed the lettuce in some columns in the space that was left and thew the cucumber in the middle of everything. We also retroactively designated some of the free space as walking paths so that we could access everything later. Once we finished, this is what we had:

Our initial attempt at planting the garden

Our initial attempt at planting the garden

Looking back, we really should have spent some time planning the layout of the garden, like Nas and Emily did for their garden. The zucchini probably doesn’t have the room that it needs, we have too much basil, and we compacted some of the dirt by walking around the plot before we had specific walkways. But with that said, most everything seemed to be doing fine after a couple of days, so we couldn’t have screwed it up too badly!

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Getting Dirty

Our first big decision came long before any planting took place. Believe it or not, soil is more than just dirt, and you have to decide exactly what that means for your garden. This decision gave me the same anxiety that I used to get in calculus class; it really sucks to get to the end of a page-long math problem only to learn that you screwed up in the first step. Gardening is much less exact than calculus, but you get the idea…

So, in order to prep the soil you will need fertilizer. There are two very different ways to go: organic matter, and synthetic fertilizer. We entered this particular discussion with contrasting biases. Coming from a town and family of staunch organic gardeners, I was 100% for organic matter. Sean, being an engineer, tended toward the built-by-man synthetics. This lead to a research battle with each of us trying to prove the other wrong. After a considerable amount of time and countless lackluster articles, we found that both methods are acceptable and it really boils down to choice and resources.

It is universally agreed upon that building healthy soil is the key to having a healthy and productive garden, so the question is how do you want to get there? Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium are the three main elements needed for a happy garden. As long as you find a fertilizer that has a good balance of the minerals you want, it should be ok. We ended up using organic matter with some synthetic fertilizer tilled in. Was it the right choice? If this were a calculus problem we would only be a quarter of the way down the page. So far it looks good, but if we made a mistake in the first step we won’t know until we check the answer!

Here are some pros and cons, and a few links that we found helpful

Organic matter:

(+)  releases nitrogen more slowly and lasts longer

(+)  large amounts won’t hurt the plants

(+)  supports microbial life in the soil

(-)   generally more expensive than synthetics

(-)   can be messier and more laborious

(-)   more variable in composition

Synthetic fertilizer:

(+)  less expensive than organic

(+)  comes in a bag ready to spread

(-)   can burn plant roots if applied in too high of a dose

(-)   chemicals leach out and expire more rapidly

(-)   does not support microbial life in the soil

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Research and Prep Work

Believe it or not, starting a successful garden isn’t as easy as just throwing a bunch of seeds in some dirt and showering it with water once in a while. We tried to do some research before planting, and we thought it might be helpful to other potential gardeners if we shared some of the info that we found.

Before I get started, I’ll briefly touch on why we wanted to start growing our own vegetables in the first place. A lot of the inspiration came from friends and family; Molly’s parents maintain a HUGE and diverse garden in northern California, and my friends Nas and Emily pretty much run the gardening scene in Poughkeepsie. On top of our desire to flatter them via imitation, an article by Michael Pollan on the virtues of a nutritionally dense, locally-sourced diet really resonated with both of us.

First and foremost, we needed a place to plant some veggies. I initially thought about planting in my “yard”; the previous tenants had a couple of tomato plants before they moved out, so I thought that might be the ticket. I realized pretty quickly, though, that the patches of dirt around my house were out of the question. The soil’s pretty much nothing but sand, and the sunlight is really limited by fences, trees and the house itself. We had all but given up on the idea of gardening until I got a call from Gillian Ackland, the coordinator for the PB Community Garden. I got myself on the waiting list for a plot back when I first moved to PB, and 2 years later something opened up. The garden is great for a couple of reasons – the plots get a ton of unimpeded sunlight; everyone there is super friendly and helpful; and they provide tools, water, and compost / manure. If you’re in San Diego and interested in gardening but don’t have any space, take a look at this list of community gardens in the area.

Once you have some ground to work with, you need to know what you can grow! We checked a couple of different sites to get a sense of what grows in San Diego at this time of year, and here they are:

Aside from those, we got a ton of advice from folks at the community garden and Molly’s folks. After all was said and done, we planted some basil, rosemary, Stupice and cherry tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow bell peppers and jalapenos. I’d like to say that these choices were based on loads of research, but the truth is that we paid a visit to Green Gardens in PB and grabbed whatever seedlings they had. We figured that if they were selling it, it’d probably grow.

Here’s our garden after we got everything in the ground!

Our veggies after we first put them in the ground

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Hello World

I figured that instead of agonizing over the task of writing a first post that’s witty, eloquent and informative, I’d just put up a brief explanation of what we’re trying to do. After spending 2 years on the waiting list, I finally got a 10×10 plot at the PB community garden! We’re in the midst of doing a whole bunch of research and prep work, and we’re going to try to keep the blog updated as we go.

While you’re waiting for more posts about our garden, I’d HIGHLY recommend that you head over to to read my friends’ Nas and Emily’s blog. They’re doing a bang-up job of sharing some great tips and recipes, so check it out!

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