Spring Gardening for 2017

This year is my second year of veggie gardening.  While I can’t say I’m any expert, I did learn a lot last year.  A lot!

Image from Spring 2016

As a quick recap, Felix and I made 2 sub-irrigated garden boxes that are 3ft x 6ft and about 20″ high or so.  I sectioned off my boxes into 12″ squares (ie cells) so I could get more bang out of the space – as in planting more varieties since I want to grow ALL THE THINGS.

I’d walk in my backyard nearly every day after work to check in my green babies. I’d pick some lettuce for a salad, grab some herbs for my buns, see what was germinating (or not) and give some buddies an extra drink of water in the hot temps.

What I grew last year:

Box #1:

2 Spaghetti Squash plants
5 Tomato plants
12 Basil plants
8 Cilantro plants
8 Parsley plants
2 Yellow Squash
2 Zucchini
1 cell Bunching Onions

Box #2:

2 Red Bell Peppers
1 cell of Dandelions
9 – Green Bush Beans
9- Yellow Bush Beans
3 cells Red Beulah Lettuce
2 cells Little Gem Lettuce
2 cells Baby Oak Leaf Lettuce
3 cells Butter King Lettuce
2 – 1/2 cells of Arugula
1 – 1/2 cell of Spring Greens

A Few Findings from 2016:

I got a bit of a late start in sowing my seeds in for spring 2016.  It resulted in some delayed yields – mainly in the tomatoes and bell peppers.  Neither of which I am planting this year, so it happens.

The internet may shudder, but I’m not a big lover of tomatoes, nor is my husband.  So I am not dedicating any space for those.  And the bell peppers, they take so long to yield fruits and they all seem to ripen at the same time.  While I enjoy eating the bell peppers, I can’t eat 20 bell peppers all at one time and they actually taste exactly the same as store bought.  So I decided to skip those this year also.

I got some squash bugs attacking my squash plants near the end of the season.  I had things so crowded in my box that I wasn’t able to even notice the destruction of these until it was too late.  But I did get some decent yields of all my squash, so no complaints there.

Spaghetti Squash was awesome in my box!  I got at least 12 spaghetti squashes that have lasted all winter long (and I still have a few remaining to eat as I type this).

I made some slings with my knit fabric scraps for the larger spaghetti squashes.

My super favorite from last year – Beans!  I loved picking my green and yellow bush beans all summer long.  The more I seemed to pick the more the plants kept producing.  I kept finding new recipes to make with them too, which was fun.

And lettuces – they were all very good.  Between you and me – I had planted lots of lettuce in order to feed my buns.  While they got a good share of my production, I was also hoarding some of the baby oak leaf lettuce and butter lettuce for salads for myself.  :D  The buns are good at sharing with me.

While I did plant a great number of veggies for my space – I’m scaling back a tiny bit.  My squashes, tomatoes, and beans took up oodles of room which ended up drowning out some of the other plants in the near vicinity.  Okay…. I’m probably planting the same amount – but I’m just being smarter about placement and scaling back on some lettuce during midsummer’s heat.

What I’m Planting/Planning for 2017:

I’m dedicating a bit more room in my garden for some vegetables.  And by this I mean my ground space (not the garden boxes).  I have very sandy soil and I have a hunch that carrots might do well in my yard.  I worked on amending the soil near my back fence over the weekend so I hope its nutrient rich for growing some of these heavy feeders.

Back Fence Area:

3 Varieties of Carrots
Brussels Sprouts
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
tbd – I may decide to add some other items back here on a whim as this will be a work in progress

This is the space by the back fence.  It’s about 12″-15″ deep and runs the entire length of my backyard.  Please note this is my neighbor’s fence and their repair.  :(  I wish it were more sightly but hopefully soon it will be filled with green and I won’t have to look at that eyesore any longer.

Box #1:

Peas – a mixture of bush and traditional climbing peas (Spring) (new)
1 Spaghetti Squash plant (reduced from 2 to 1)
9 – Green Bush Beans
9- Yellow Bush Beans
9- Purple Bush Beans (new)
1 cell Miner’s Lettuce (new)
Slow-Bolt Cilantro (new)
Tarragon (new)
1 cell Bunching Onions

This is Garden Box #1, which is closer to the house. (seen just below)

I’m trying to garden a bit more with Spring Vs. Summer Vs. Fall in mind.  I’ve already sowed some green peas into box #1 – and when those are spent I’ll be sowing my spaghetti squash in it’s place for summer.  That way I get a bit more bang for my buck all in the same space.

If you look carefully you can just see my pea sprouts coming up.  *yay*

Box #2:

1-Yellow Scallop Squash (new)
1- zucchini
1- Yellow squash (tbd)
1 cell Mache (new)
Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce (new)
Brown Winter Lettuce (in the Fall) (new)
Lunix Lettuce (aka Red Oak Leaf Lettuce) (new)
Triumpheter Lettuce (aka Green Butter Lettuce) (new)
1/2 cell Arugula
1 cell Endive (new)
1/2 cell Spring Greens

Box #2 already has 8 Mache and 5 Endive lettuces transplants and I sowed some spring greens and arugula seeds over the weekend.  These are happy in cooler temps – and are fine with 40 degree F.  So once these bolt in late spring, I’ll replace them with some herbs or other heat tolerant lettuces.

If any space remains I’ll add in some of these lettuces I used last year:
Red Beulah Lettuce
Little Gem Lettuce
Baby Oak Leaf Lettuce
Butter King Lettuce

Sub-Irrigated Planters:

One of my lovely readers noted that I never gave a recap last year of how my sub-irrigated planters worked out for me.  These were very time and labor intensive to build, and costly to boot, but I have no regrets.  When I was researching self-irrigating systems I was torn between a soaker hose style box and the sub-irrigated box.  They both have their pros and cons – but decided that a sub-irrigated would be best for us.

I work a normal 9-5 schedule, as does my husband.  So we can’t tend to our garden all the time – nor do I want to be restricted by a strict watering schedule.  I want to be able to go out of town for a week or weekend without worrying that all of my hard work would die if we don’t get any rain.

There’s a water table at the bottom of my boxes along with an overflow pipe when we get lots of rain.  So if it rains – my job of watering is done.  And if we have a dry spell – I can fill up the reservoir with my garden hose.  I can count on less than 10 fingers, the number of times I had to fill up the reservoir last summer!  It was pretty amazing as these boxes are in full sun.

I still needed to water my seedlings and seeds in the spring until they were established.  But once they’re looking happy my main task of watering is done.

The downside to these boxes is the soil composition.  In order for water to travel upwards for the roots – the soil needs to remain light and airy.  So NO compost or manure is allowed in the box to nourish plants.

What I do is to start all of my seedlings off with some worm casings and organic fertilizer (red bag below from Happy Frog).  And throughout the season I also have a granular and/or liquid fertilizer for my heavy feeders like tomato, bell pepper, and squash.

Beyond that – my boxes are maintenance free!  I’m quite happy with my decision to go this route and I hope they hold up for at least 10 years.

Happy Spring!  And please – don’t hesitate to ask me any questions.  I feel like I only scratched the surface with this post so I’m happy to chat about more details in the comments section.

In: Gardening House Adventures

Blogger for 6 years and counting, I am a passionate creator who loves to tinker.

Comments (16)

  1. That looks amazing! Doesn’t look like I’ll get my veggies in this year because we still don’t have a way to keep the deer out of our garden, but that won’t stop me from admiring yours in the meantime!

    1. Liz April 11, 2017 — 10:21 AM

      Aww I’m so sorry you have a deer problem Erin. I was recently reading a gardening book and it talked all about deer and crops getting eaten during the night. Crafty animals… But I do have to say your scenic backyard is something to behold! :D

      The only thing we have here in the city is squirrels, rats/mice, stray cats, and a periodic possum. With the appearance of our stray cats the rat/mouse/rabbit population has seriously decreased. I’m not really worried about my boxes, but I do worry about planting IN the ground… I don’t want little critters eating my carrots or strawberries.

      I may try to do some row covers back there to keep any pests & insects out. We’ll see…

  2. Ben April 11, 2017 — 12:48 PM

    Great recap and plans for this year! I know Allison is intrigued by your planters so maybe building one is in our future. Miss you guys!

  3. MayravB April 11, 2017 — 12:49 PM

    This is so inspiring! I had dreams of raised beds this year, but it’ll have to wait. It’s nice to see you could get such an awesome yield.

    1. Liz April 11, 2017 — 12:57 PM

      I know they have pre-made subirrigated planters. I believe they’re called Earth Box. It’s not too late Mayrav! :D

  4. Carla April 11, 2017 — 3:30 PM

    Liz, your garden sounds like it will be amazing!!! I am so lazy about my garden start, I need to light a fire under my butt, as I want some carrots and green beans. I think those boxes will be a good idea, I’ll look into them as we have LOTS of gophers in our area, and my moms garden was ruined by them last year.

    Carla, Tiny Angry Crafts

    1. Liz April 11, 2017 — 3:39 PM

      Gophers! Poor you. :( Even if you don’t build a garden box, I know there are some sub-irrigated systems you can buy; same thing on a smaller scale. I bet you could do beans in a container as I don’t recall the roots of mine going super deep.

      P.S. Love your blog & your new suit is amazing! :D

  5. K-Line April 11, 2017 — 7:28 PM

    I love this! You are going to have the most wonderful time eating this summer!

    1. Liz April 12, 2017 — 9:22 AM

      Thanks Kristin. :D I’m an impatient gardener… I want to be outside picking lettuces and peas yesterday. heh But it is fun to watch my new little seedlings grow.

  6. Sox April 11, 2017 — 7:39 PM

    Your peas are sprouting already. Wow! I know peas like cooler weather but at this time of the night it still goes below freezing.
    Do you start the squash you will plant in the pea patch ahead of time or do you have a long enough season that the plants will grow to maturity if you plant the seeds in the planter?

    1. Liz April 12, 2017 — 9:16 AM

      Hello Sox. :D I sowed my pea seeds like 3 weeks ago – and once the temps got warm here, they germinated. The (projected) last frost date in Chicago this year is April 20th. And on the back of the package of my English Peas – they are to be sowed a month before the last frost date. Everything revolves around the last frost date. But I’m always prepared for the surprise frost and can cover up my seedlings at night with sheets.

      But again – I did some research and found that Mache and Endive my two early lettuces enjoy cooler temps and can do well down to 40 degrees F.

      We’ve been having a warm spring here in Chicago. I’ve looked ahead and our temps never dip below 40 degrees F for the next few weeks. So if all goes well… my peas should do a-okay. But this is also my first year doing peas so it’s always a learning experience.

      For my squash – yes I do start those indoors. Checking my calendar – I started my seeds indoors on March 6th this year. But… I think I started my squash a bit too early as they’re already a decent size. heh Squash generally get planted two weeks after the last frost date since they can’t survive the cold like peas can.

      I do think I have a long enough season for spaghetti squash even if I started it from seed directly in my garden after the last frost date. I like to get a jump on starting seedlings earlier so I can eat my veggies earlier. :D

      What I started inside this year:
      All herbs (basil, tarragon, cilantro, parsley)
      All of my flowers
      Spaghetti Squash, Zucchini, Yellow Scallop Squash
      2 Broccoli (for now)
      Bunching Onions

      Any of the root vegetables like carrots don’t do well if you start them inside. So I’ll sow those directly in the garden.

      Happy to answer any more questions you might have. :D

  7. Sox April 11, 2017 — 7:40 PM

    I mean ‘at this time of year it still goes below freezing overnight’. Eesh -my brain was all giddy over the peas. ;)

  8. Laura April 12, 2017 — 2:04 PM

    I too want to grow ALL THE THINGS. But my husband says our balcony already looks like a jungle. For the strawberries, watch out for snails. I’m currently hoping my spicy peppers will sprout so I can plant them outside.

    1. Liz April 12, 2017 — 2:46 PM

      Thanks so much for the tip Laura. We don’t have snails by us but I certainly have slugs!! I’ll have to sprinkle that special powder around to prevent their attacks.

  9. Kathy April 23, 2017 — 11:16 PM

    Do you have any books or other sources you can recommend to educate myself? I am also in the Chicago area and you have inspired me.

    1. Liz April 24, 2017 — 4:26 PM

      I actually only have one book on the subject of gardening: The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour. She lives in the same zone as us in Chicago but lives in Nova Scotia. So I feel I can trust her gardening solutions given she’s in the same zone and has a longer winter like we do.

      I do like this book and I reference it a lot. But… I spend a lot of time on google searching on ‘how to grow X from seed’. That gives me a lot of useful info. For all of my remaining questions… I turn to my mom who’s a chemist & biologist & avid gardener.

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