DIY Gardening: Musings from a Wannabe Gardener

summer garden barren
Early spring; nothin’ but weeds.

There’s a good reason I call myself a “wannabe” gardener.  Just as I am new to blogging, I am also a gardening novice.  Yes, this is year 3 of our DIY gardening experiment and it’s coming along swimmingly compared to the first year, but trust me, while I may be able to throw a cheesecake together like it’s nobody’s business, gardening does not come naturally and my thumb is a pale yellow at best.  Come along with me on my gardening (and blogging) journey and I’ll share my success stories, as well as my epic fails of course, and some tricks and tips along the way.

summer garden herb fest booths
How am I supposed to choose?! Going in with a game plan next time, dangit.

I vaguely remember my grandpa growing tomatoes in the red clay soil behind our house in my teenage years, but that’s about it until 2 years ago when my interest was piqued, mostly thinking of it as a way to save money on groceries, but also interested in the culinary implications of having an abundance of fresh herbs and greens on hand at all times.  Buying fresh (and organic when possible) produce gets pricey, so, as my motto goes, if you can’t afford it, make it yourself!  And let me just attest to gardening’s goodness — I love love LOVE cooking with fresh herbs and greens all the time.  I’ve been using fresh dill in scrambled eggs, making iced mint tea using fresh chocolate mint and honey, putting whole pineapple sage leaves in sandwiches, chopping up lime basil to sprinkle over salads and stir-fries, making wraps using fresh greens and romaine… the possibilities are endless, and delicious!

summer garden herb festival
Herbs! Festival! Can’t go wrong here.

Asheville, NC’s Herb Fest at the local farmer’s market is what finally lit the fire under us this year.  Starting seeds indoors is out of the question for us as our house gets so little sunlight that pricey grow lights would be necessary.  We made that mistake the past two years, trying to start seeds in different windows of the house only for them to fail to sprout at all, or for the seedlings to get so leggy trying to reach for the light that they immediately die when transferred outdoors because the stalks can’t hold themselves upright.  Herb Fest was the first week of May and about as late as it’s even feasible to start a summer garden around here.  We procrastinate sometimes, it’s just how we roll.

summer garden sow true seed
Local seed supply store; click the pic to visit their website!

Since we planted too late this season to start certain seeds outdoors, starter herbs and greens were just what the gardener ordered!  We met up with a friend and hit the booths on the last day of the festival, running into a couple of other acquaintances, and many intriguing herbs, along the way.  An old friend of mine who works for a local seed supply store called Sow True Seeds was manning their booth and we talked a little about what they do and sell there.  Check out their website; you can order online and they have a great variety of open pollinated (non-hybrid, non-GMO) vegetable, herb, and flower seeds, as well as an abundance of useful info for all you other wannabe (or seasoned as the case may be) gardeners.

summer garden herb fest haul
Herb Fest haul: rosemary, chard, purple sage, red romaine, cilantro, dill, chocolate mint, arugula, pineapple sage and lime basil.

You can see our haul from Herb Fest in the above picture; not too shabby and we even managed to not kill most of them.  The cilantro and one of the dill plants didn’t make it, but I’ve since done some research and have a better idea of what not to purchase as a transplant in the future.  Hint: plant your cilantro and dill from seed directly in the ground where you want them to stay, trust me, they don’t like to be transplanted.  Luckily everything else has done great, with the pineapple sage and lime basil really flourishing, and we even got a good bit of life, and several harvests, out of the arugula before it got too warm outside.  Arugula apparently likes cooler temps and should be planted earlier, but hey, I’m learning for next year!

summer garden beginnings
Makeshift raised garden bed made from upcycled pallets, scrap wood and weed barrier cloth.

We decided to try a raised bed for the first time this year as we like DIY gardening, aka going the cheapest route possible, so MC built a garden box out of old pallets (free) and weed barrier fabric (inexpensive).  We filled it partially with soil from the garden plot that’s been worked the past couple of years, and partially with organic planting soil and compost.  The raised bed makes a big difference keeping pests and weeds at bay and helps us make the best use of the measly amount of space we have available for gardening.  The chard, red romaine, arugula, lime basil and the surviving dill plant have all thrived in the raised bed.  This one was very makeshift but it serves its purpose.  We also planted other herbs in pots and put the pineapple sage and green beans directly in the ground along with some tomato and pepper transplants donated by a friend.

summer garden harvest
Fresh harvest of greens, lettuce and herbs!

We’ll probably throw together a nicer looking, better planned box in the future and if so I’ll be sure to share the how-to.  In the meantime, a quick Google search will do if you’re looking for ideas on how to construct your own.  Here’s a good place to start; the first tutorial in the list is very similar to how we made ours and there are lots of other interesting (and affordable) ideas here: 25 DIY projects using upcycled pallets as planters.  As you can see in the final shot below, taken last weekend, we’ve also recently constructed a pretty legit trellis for our green beans to climb.  Last year’s garden disasters included pests killing our kale early and the green beans climbing and stifling our tomato plants.  No more!  They’ve already clung to and wrapped around the trellis even though we’ve had it up less than a week.  Watch out for the tutorial; we documented our trellis-making so y’all can see how it’s done on the cheap.

summer garden final
Recent shot. I’m proud of our little garden plot this year, she’s come a long way!



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