Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Early Harvest

My wild garden at the beginning of August

Late summer brings an early harvest. Suddenly our little garden is growing out of control, giving us small, daily gifts of salad and berries.

August Garden Protecting the Harvest

I’m not the only one who notices raspberries in my garden. The robins seem to find one in ten berries, and I’m fine with that ratio.

I’m not, however, fine with the snails eating my lettuce and kale. Most of my time this past month has been spent on snail patrol.

Because I really am not much of a cultivator, I assumed my garden would go wild. This month is the proof that neglect can still result in an explosion of green. This is why I am convinced that you can grow a garden, too. Other than putting a couple of plants and seeds into the ground, I haven’t done much. Nevertheless, look what abundant my garden brings.

Garden wall of grapes and hops

I love the architectural feel of our garden. The hops are the pillars; the grapes and berries are the canopy; and the tomatoes are the overwhelmingly dominant presence at ground level. They all frame the lettuce and kale, which we are eating regularly.

Harvest so far has given:

  • about 2 dozen raspberries
  • kale for dinner twice
  • 4 big salads

Coming up I see:

  • more raspberries
  • many blackberries starting to develop
  • grape leaves for dolmathes (though, sadly, no grapes again this year)
  • more kale
  • more lettuce, if I can fight off the snails
  • a few dozen tomatoes
  • possibly a few chili peppers

Out of the photo in another very small patch we also have cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash that are all growing well.

Tomatoes are taking over. They are so heavy that they are pulling down their wire frames. If I were a better gardener, I would probably be keeping them under control, but I’m curious to see what they do on their own. Under that mass of tomato growth I am finally seeing fruit. Tomatoes won’t grow in extreme heat, and much of the past month has been over 100 degree Fahrenheit for us. Our recent cooler weather (80s and 90s) gives the tomatoes the signal to set fruit.

Most important, since this garden is supposed to be about hops, we have little hop flowers. It does look like my husband will have hops this year.

Supports. If you built physical supports for the heaviest of your plants, they may still need more support this month. We’ve continued to guide grapes and hops along the wires we set up for structure.
Goal: adjust to the changing needs of your plants

Pests. Check for pests. I have snails. Rather than leaving snail traps (beer in lids works well, but I don’t want to deal with a beer swimming pool full of dead snails), I just pick them off and toss them far away. Depending on what you find, you can probably find a non-chemical way to either rid your garden of pests or share your garden with them (as I’ve decided to do with the robins).
Goal: find your own balance in sharing the garden space

Total Cost So Far

  • String – $0 (on hand)
  • Tomato cages – $3 for 2
  • Total for August – $0 (nada!)
  • Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
  • Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
  • Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
  • Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
  • Total for the year – $71.50

Total Time So Far

Obviously, gardening takes a lot more time up front than it does during the height of the summer. Right now, the plants are doing all of the work

  • Pest patrol – 20 minutes
  • Building supports – 10 minutes
  • Shopping – 1 hour
  • Digging & planting – 30 minutes
  • Previous time spent (research, prep, building raised bed, digging) – 9 hours
  • Total so far = 11 hours

I cruise my garden daily, but it doesn’t need me much at this point. Most of my garden time is spent on pest control, but your garden may need different care—water, stronger supports, more vigorous pest control. You can probably still get away with a lot less than 30 minutes in the garden this month.

  • Pest control – 20 minutes
  • Harvest – 5 minutes
  • Gaze – 5 minutes

The Tomato Takeover

This is meant to be a hop garden, but the tomatoes are asserting themselves. The tomatoes were added at the last-minute when one of the hops didn’t grow this year. Next year we will have a third hop plant where the tomatoes are now.

Garden growth month by month

Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Supports

Wild Gardens for Busy Parents July

Midsummer brings big growth, even to a semi-neglected garden. When your plants grow taller, you might need to add simple supports to help them grow to their full height.

July Garden Building Supports

Whether you planted seeds in the spring or bought garden store plants in June, July is the month that the plants need your support—actual, physical support.

One of my husband’s hops didn’t make it this year, so we filled in the space with two tomatoes and a chili pepper plant. Those tomatoes are huge and bushy, so we have surrounded them with wire cages.

Old hops are woody, but new hops are just thin vines. They need something to hold on to as they grow to 12-14′. It’s a light enough plant that string is strong enough to hold it up. We didn’t want to hurt the roots of the plant, so we didn’t anchor the string in the ground itself. We ran one string across the planter, tacked to the side; and we tied on another string to run from ground-level to the wire we installed last year for our grapes. (We actually did this last month, anticipating the need.) The hops have now reached the wire, which you can’t see clearly in the photo below except that the string stops in mid-air on the bottom wire and the grapes are creeping across the top wire.

Garden planter with hopsIn this fairly neglected, very small but wild-ing garden, you can see 10 food plants. From right: 2 kinds of heirloom tomatoes, 1 chili pepper, 2 kinds of lettuce (one from plant, one from seed), 2 kinds of hops, grapes, blackberries (mixed in with the grapes), and raspberries (the canes in front of the grapes). Not bad for a space about 3′ x 10′. Just outside this space, I have garlic that is ready, several kinds of mint, a lot of fennel, cucumbers that will probably succumb to the snails, summer squash, and zucchini. All I have are the 2-3′ wide spaces around my house and garage. I have flowers as well. I am not a gardener.

If I can do this, you can do this.

Assess the Support Need. Figure out if any of your plants need a little help. Are there any creeping vines or leaning stalks? While you are making your assessment, see if they need compost or manure.
Goal: see who needs help

Make or Buy Supports. It’s very easy to buy a tomato cage, and you can use it year after year. String is very easy when you need a minor support that isn’t meant to last. Wire provides a minor support that will last. We’ve used all three in this small space. It’s so easy, that I will probably stake a few of my heavy stalked flowers next year to keep them upright.
Goal: give the plants you have their best chance

Water? Make sure that all of your plants are getting the water they need. the top photo above was taken when it was 107 degrees outside (that’s 46.6 Celcius). It’s HOT. Don’t water your plants during the day. If the water droplets get on the leaves, the leaves can burn in the sun—and there goes your plant. It’s tough to see my sad lettuce every day about 2:00PM, wilted flat to the ground, but it perks up and firms up again every evening. Water in the early morning or in the evening. I have my sprinklers set to water every other day at 5:00AM.
Goal: keep the plants healthy and well watered

Total Cost So Far

  • String – $0 (on hand)
  • Tomato cages – $3 for 2
  • Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
  • Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
  • Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
  • Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
  • Total for the year – $71.50

Total Time So Far

At this point, it takes a lot less than 30 minutes a month to take care of plants, unless you need to water them. It’s such a pleasure to cruise around my 30 square feet every morning, that I don’t even count that time. All of the work time putting up the tomato cages and hops strings was really more like 2-3 minutes, but I added padding. Now that the garden is looking so alive, I wouldn’t want you to think it doesn’t need you. So, 10 minutes.

  • Building supports – 10 minutes
  • Shopping – 1 hour
  • Digging & planting – 30 minutes
  • Previous time spent (research, prep, building raised bed, digging) – 9 hours
  • Total so far = 10 hours 40 minutes

I said no more than 30 minutes a month most months, so this is how you can spend this month’s 30 minutes.

  • Tie a string – 5 minutes
  • Install a cage – 5 minutes
  • Gaze – 20 minutes

It’s getting easier. If you want to get in on this easy action, go buy a tomato plant at the garden store. Put it in a pot so you can bring it inside when it gets cold. It isn’t too late to create a tiny wild garden.

See the Future Garden

My husband’s intention is to create a wall of hops. These plants are a long-term investment of time. They will create shade for our kitchen as well as feeding his brewing habit.


Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Plants

Wild garden for busy parents June

Once you’ve got a few plants in your garden, it doesn’t take much to keep them alive and help them thrive. There is so little to do that you might find yourself adding more plants just to keep busy.

June Garden Planting

If you planned your garden in March, prepared the ground in April, and planted hearty plants in May, there might not be much to do in June. If you want to take the easy route (and who doesn’t), garden centers have an abundance of plants this time of year ready to be planted directly in the ground. Even if you did none of the other steps this year, it’s easy to buy a couple of tomato plants and create a garden within an hour on a Saturday morning. You’re better off preparing the soil, which doesn’t take long, but in a wild garden you can probably get away with just digging a hole and dropping a plant in it.

Find the gaps. My main focus in this series has been my husbands hops. Two of the three are over a foot tall now. For those, we added a climbing string that reaches to the roof of the house. One of the hops failed to thrive and finally shrivelled. We don’t want to dig it up, since it might do better next year, and we can’t replace it this late in the season. So, we decided to plant around it. After weeding other areas of my garden, I had a few other gaps as well.
Goal: use well the space you have

Buy plants. As of last weekend, we have passed our last likely frost, so it’s time to go garden wild. That seems to have been everyone’s idea, because the garden store was very busy when I visited last weekend. You could have planted seeds indoors to wait out the frost, but the easiest way to plant a garden is to buy a plant and put it in the ground. I did both. I went to the store for tomatoes, but I bought a couple of tomatoes, a last-minute chili pepper, some lettuce, some kale, a calla lily, basil, a few seeds, and a couple of bags of manure. If you are likely to get excited by all of the possibilities and buy more plants than planned, and if you really don’t want to expand your garden that much right now, send someone else to the store.
Goal: buy a plant for the easiest garden

Plant and water. If you’ve prepared the soil, you probably won’t have to do more than dig a plant pot-sized hole. If you didn’t prepare the soil, dig it up, turn it over, add compost or manure if you have it, and then dig a pot-sized hole. Gently tip the plant out of the pot or tear the bottom and edges off a biodegradable pot, and place it in your hole. Put the rest of the dirt back, press it down a bit, water well, and you have a garden.
Goal: Plant your insta-garden

Note on the red caps. Do you see the two red spots in the garden? Those are bottle caps, beneath which are plastic bottles with holes. When I unscrew the caps, I can add water, which waters the roots of my new tomatoes. The cleverness of Pinterest showed me underground watering with plastic bottles. In the desert, it can get very hot in the summer, and soil dries out quickly. My raised bed is partially shaded by my house, but it still gets enough sun to suffer the heat. I haven’t tried this method of watering before, but I thought I would see if it keeps the tomatoes from drooping. It’s an experiment.

Raised bed is saving my plants. Snails. I have a lot of snails. Usually, I ignore them or admire them up close, since they don’t eat my flowers, but this week they have been munching on my new vegetable plants. So, out comes the eggshell moat around plants outside the raised bed, and up comes the chili pepper into the raised bed. I hadn’t planned to put as many plants around the foot of the hops as I ended up planting, but I found that the snails can’t get over the lip of the raised bed, so I’ve created a snail-free zone. Now, I want to put all of my leafy vegetables up high. As it all grows, we may end up with hops, tomatoes, chili peppers, kale, and a lot of lettuce in the same bed.

Total Cost So Far

  • 2 more bags of manure compost – $3.00
  • 2 tomato plants – $5.50
  • 1 chili pepper plant – $2.50
  • 4 lettuce plants – $2.00
  • 4 kale plants – $2.00
  • 1 package lettuce seeds – $1.50
  • Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
  • Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
  • Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
  • Total for the year – $68.50

Total Time So Far

This month, except for shopping, it really did take less than 30 minutes to make changes to the raised bed. Planting is quick. Add the time I now spend every day gazing at the splendor of my tiny garden, and I definitely take more than 30 minutes a month, but I’m not counting gazing time here.

  • Shopping – 1 hour
  • Digging & planting – 30 minutes
  • Previous time spent (research, prep, building raised bed, digging) – 9 hours
  • Total so far = 10.5 hours

Almost half of that time was spent building a raised bed.

Your June List: Plants

If your plants from May are thriving, just water, weed, and gaze. If you are filling in spaces like I was, buy a plant to fill in.

Our goal is to spend no more than 30 minutes a month. It probably won’t take you even that long, unless you include shopping time. Here is one possible way to spend your 30 minutes this month.

  • Shop (20 minutes)
  • Dig a hole (2 minutes)
  • Plant (5 minutes)
  • Water (1 minute)
  • Gaze at your creation (2 minutes)

The Rest of the Garden

Did you notice the plants behind our raised bed? A decade ago, my mother planted bulbs that would give her flowers throughout the season. You can see them green in April, tulips and daffodils in May, and now irises in June. The leafy greens you see on the far right are raspberries that we planted 2 years ago, blackberries planted 3 years ago, and grapes planted 4 years ago. They climb up a metal trellis then across a wire along the edge of the roof of our house. The hops will probably grow up to the wire as well. Every thing that you see growing green around the raised bed is generally neglected but thrives anyway. That’s our wild garden.

Monthly progress of our wild garden

Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Planting

May Wild Garden is a planter with budding plants

You want to garden but you don’t have time. Don’t sweat it. Focus just enough to cultivate one small patch, and you might be surprised how committed you become to helping your garden thrive.

May Garden Preparations

If you already followed March planning steps and April preparation of the ground, you can probably get your gardening done before breakfast on a Saturday.

  • Gather materials
  • Mix soil
  • Plant
  • Water

Gather materials. Our gathering began as we investigated mystery bags in our garage and found potting soil, we turned over the year’s compost, and we talked to neighbors to borrow a very tiny amount of paint for the trim on our raised bed planter. We didn’t end up having enough compost, dirt, and other material, so gathering involved going to the gardening store. Sad though it seems to buy dirt, we didn’t have other sources nearby. Our county sells top soil, but they didn’t have any available when we went to buy it. If you are fortunate enough to live near a farm, you might find all of the manure you need for free. We had neither easily available, and our goal is not to fret about the garden this year. So, the store.
Goal: use what you have on hand or can borrow then buy as a last resort

Mix soil. The soil mix you need depends on what you are going to grow. We added a lot of manure, peat moss, compost, and top soil.
Goal: give your garden the best possible start

Plant. If you started seeds last month, it might be time to plant out. We had snow just last week, and we may have snow again until the end of May, so we only plant hardy plants outdoors in early May. Whether you plant out or keep your seedlings in the house or garage a bit longer depends on your zone and your plants. If you look closely at our main photo or skip to the close up below, you will see our hops. They were in pots that we moved indoors during the coldest nights over the past month. Since the planter is sheltered, we think they won’t get more snow. So, we planted them today.
Goal: plant out when the zone and plant align

Water. If you plant out, press down the nice, loamy soil, and water.
Goal: wet well the first day then ignore for a couple of days—if you can

Top Soil Mix

Our chosen spot has grown nothing but the same overgrown bush for 20+ years. The dirt is not impressively rich. Building our raised bed up 16″ over an area 3′ x 6′ meant that we would need a total of 24 cubic feet of soil, so we knew we would need to add to our few inches of dry dirt.

There was so much space to fill in my new raised bed that I decided to try lasagna gardening, with alternating layers of material. After digging out my dry, sad dirt and many, many rocks, then setting aside the dirt in buckets, I put down a layer of pizza boxes for my first lasagna layer. I followed this with dry grass and other dry pieces that I hadn’t cleared out from the garden last fall. Dry was followed by green grass clippings, then dried leaves, and peat moss. This brought us up to only 6″ deep, leaving me with another 16 cubic feet to go.

We didn’t have any more dirt or compost left, so we headed to the store to buy bags of top soil, peat moss, and manure. The manure should be about 40% of the total volume, according to our helpful in-store expert. By the time I added bags of stray potting soil I found in my garage, I think we had about 30% manure. Total cost for all of the bags for 16 cubic feet was $34.

My Lasagna Layers:

Top Soil Mix
Peat Moss
Green Grass
Dry Grass and garden litter

Total Cost So Far

  • Wood for raised bed – recovered from siding
  • Paint to match our house – borrowed from neighbor (since we all use the same paint)
  • Compost – homemade
  • Soil – $34 for manure, top soil, peat moss

Add this to previous $18 for 3 hops plants for a total of $52 so far.

Total Time So Far

We have not been spending just 30 minutes a month. I think we would have been a lot closer if we had chosen a smaller spot and not built a planter. The planter took most of a Saturday afternoon. My husband and son did a beautiful job building and painting our raised bed to blend in with our house and small yard. Apart from the building, we are spending about 30 minutes every two weeks.

Research and planning – 15 minutes
Ripping out old bushes – 15 minutes
Mapping out the area – 15 minutes
Sorting out materials – 30 minutes
Planting hops in pots – 20 minutes
Building raised bed – 5 hours
Painting raised bed – 30 minutes
Digging bed – 15 minutes
Lasagna layers – 10 minutes
Shopping – 1 hour
Mixing top soil – 15 minutes
Planting – 10 minutes

Total so far = 9 hours

Bonus, several of our neighbors have come by to see our raised bed. The siding matches our houses, and they asked how to make a planter like this for themselves. Maybe they were being polite, but we had nice conversations about our gardens, our dogs sniffed one another, and we had an all-around good time.

Your May List: Planting

How much time you spend this month depends on how well you prepared the ground last month. If you already dug in compost to create soil that is ready for the plants you started last month, you will have plenty of time to gaze at your garden in your allotted 30 minutes. Here is one possible way to spend 30 minutes on your garden in May.

  • Gather materials (10 minutes)
  • Mix soil (10 minutes)
  • Add plant (5 minutes)
  • Water (5 minutes)

If you didn’t plan or prepare yet, you still have time. Set aside a Saturday, and you’ll be ready to cultivate your tiny patch through the season. Easy.

The Hops

Centennial Hops

In the time total, I didn’t count all of the time my husband spent fussing over his hops in their pots over the past month—poking the soil, watering, taking the plants in the house or garage at night, and so on. He has been babying his plants, and they are now 1-3″.

He bought Centennial (pictured), Cascade, and Nugget. The Nugget is the most bitter, so he carefully placed it in the center of the less bitter two in hopes that he will be able to tell them apart when it comes time to pick the hops and brew the beer.

Progress of the wild garden from March through may

Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Prepare the Ground

Even a busy parent can plant a wild garden

This is the year we are letting go of our ambitions for a perfect garden and creating a garden that fits into our busy schedule. We are planting wild gardens for busy parents.

April Preparations

If you follow last month’s easy steps, you already started small, shared your plan, and set your goal. This month, we prepare the ground and the seed or plant. If you are just starting now, it’s easy to catch up.

  • Prepare the ground
  • Prepare the seed or plant

Prepare the ground. Dig the dirt in the area where you are going to plant. How deep you dig depends on the plants. About 6″ average will be fine for most plants. For carrots or potatoes, dig at least 12″. For my volunteer pumpkins, I don’t dig at all. They just grow in the hard dirt next to my sidewalk where my kids carve pumpkins each year. How you prepare the ground depends on what you want the dirt to do.
Goal: dig a little

Add organic matter to the dirt. If you made compost over the past year, its time has come. Dig in about 50/50 dirt and organic matter. If you don’t have enough compost, you can add shredded leaves. If you still don’t have enough, go to a garden store, tell them the condition of your soil, and buy a bag of whatever they recommend. If you have clay, you might need sand (though be careful adding sand). If you have sand, you might need peat moss or topsoil. You’ll pay, sure, but it’s a trade off between money and the time it takes to make enough compost.
Goal: add organic matter

Prepare the seed or plant. When you plant outside depends on your weather and your plant. Look at your projected last frost date. You will probably not plant until after that date, but you can make exceptions if you are willing to put in a little more time to do research. Add the frost date to your plan, if you’ve been taking notes. (Gardeners take notes. If you are more wild than that, fine.) That is your target planting date. If you have to order a plant, place your order now. If you need to grow seedlings, check the seeds to see how quickly they grow. Plan your seed start date so you have a seedling ready on your plant date. It could be time to start the seeds now.
Goal: have the seed or plant ready on the planting date

To check your projected last frost date, you can look at these frost charts for Canada, which give you only one date as a broad estimate, or enter your zip code for this very cool frost chart that gives you the chance of frost by date and spring temperature.

If you have chosen your one tiny patch to nurture for this year, preparing the ground should not take you more than 30 minutes.

What I did.

We prepared the ground the difficult way. Preparing the ground is not such an easy task with my ground.

Shallow. My soil is generally shallow, since my house is built on what used to be a stone quarry. I remember one year when my mother planted carrots that all came out bent at 90 degree angles. (I live in the house I grew up in.) After about 8″, we just have rocks.

Dry. I live in a desert. The soil dries out very quickly and easily, so I don’t want to make it even easier for water to drain.

Depleted. For at least the past 20 years, the spot I chose has had the same old bushes, with no improvements at all in the soil. You can see the stumps that we finally pulled out in last month’s post.

Visible. Because my space is along the sidewalk leading to my front door, I also want it to look nice.

Because of all of this and the fact that my husband is very attached to the success of his hops, I planned a raised bed. A raised bed gives us a lot more flexibility in soil quality and depth.

Ground conclusion: preparing the ground did not take 30 minutes.

I presented my husband with the idea of a raised bed. I showed him instructions and pointed out the pile of painted wood in our backyard, left over from replacing the cedar siding on our house. In my mind, I can see how I would do it in 30 minutes, but his fussery has resulted in approximately 1 hour of planning, 2 hours of him deciding where to put the bed (in a space that is only 2-4″ larger than the bed on each side), and I assume another 2-12 hours of him putting the pieces together and filling them with dirt. As you can see from the photo, he isn’t done. I hear the hammering as I write, so I am confident you will see the result next month.

The expected result is a 6′ x 3′ x 1.5′ cedar-sided raised bed that matches the color of our house, with hops that shade the wall of our kitchen, making that room ever so slightly cooler in the hottest part of summer.

Because the hops we are planting are my husband’s babies, intended to be used for home brewing, he is fussing over them and their bed. That’s fine, of course, as long as he has the time to fuss. In last month’s post I suggested that one of the essentials of your wild garden is to share the gardening or the planning. I shared the idea, and my husband took over. I love this. I just need to give him gentle nudges every once in a while, like researching raised beds and pointing to already painted wood in the yard.

You could also have your children do supervised planting, though that probably takes longer than just doing it yourself. It depends whether your goal is the process or the product.

We prepared for the plant. Three hops rhizomes arrived this week. We need to plant them as quickly as possible, but we also need to avoid frost. We had 8″ of snow last week before the two 80 degree days showed up and melted it away, so it’s warm but we aren’t past the threat of frost quite yet. According to the zip code frost chart above, we still have a 90% chance of more frost. So, part of our gardening this week involves planning to protect the plants on cold nights.

Hops can sometimes grow 12″ a day, though 24″ a week is more usual. We have a space 8-9′ then we will train them to grow out. To give them support as they grow, we are running a wire up from the bed to the wire where our grapes and blackberries grow along the edge of our roof.

If your plant will need support, plan for that as you prepare the space.

Hops rhizomes
Your April List: Prepare the Ground

You can do it! Spend 30 minutes on your garden in April.

  • Dig the ground (10 minutes)
  • Add organic matter (10 minutes)
  • Start the plants (10 minutes)

If you have less than ideal soil to start, you might want to spend extra time preparing the ground, though you don’t have to go so far as to build a raised bed like I did. This is definitely the month to spend a little extra time if you want your garden to perform well.

Progress of my wild garden