Better, faster, stronger!

Man, last year was a not great year in the garden. I apologize for not posting up at the end of the season but I didn’t have much to report, plus I had a lot going on in my non-garden life. I’ll do my best to not let y’all down this year. 2021 wasn’t a total garden loss, there were many wins, but the heat made it so hard to work outside!

I did get a lovely crop of blueberries! I had good amounts on both of the Duke and Elliot bushes, enough to decorate my cereal for a couple weeks and for eating out of hand.

I put a tomato in the larger blueberry pot and oh, it liked that!! These were Ace 55 tomatoes, my favorite of the heirlooms. These ended up on wheat bread with Duke’s mayo and good crispy bacon. I made an absolute pig of myself on these sandwiches when the tomatoes came in. I’m not sure what was so great about that soil, but those tomatoes went nuts.

Watermelons went buck wild. I started them too late in the season, but I did get two melons out of this sprawling mess and they were DELICIOUS. I’m growing a different kind this year, an heirloom variety with seeds, but I’ll definitely start them inside well before planting time. I find that seedless watermelon doesn’t taste as good as watermelon with seeds. It’s a small melon, they call them refrigerator melons because one will fit in the refrigerator. They’re a single serving watermelon!

I bought some sketchily marked dollar plants from the Second Impressions thrift store by my house on a whim. I wasn’t expecting much, since they were marked “squash” and “pepper” with no clue as to what kind. Soon enough, though, I had more pattypan squash than I knew what to do with and I picked bell peppers right up till the first hard frost.

I picked a good amount of herbs from the back herb beds last year. Fresh oregano and basil on a cheap Jack’s Pizza elevates that 4 for $10 junk pizza from delicious to sublime. I added two kinds of sage, a different type of thyme, more comfrey, and marsh mallow. Between the many mints and the huge stand of German chamomile in the backyard, I have the makings of a really nice tea garden. I’m overwintering my bar wall plants and a pot of parsley on the front porch. They’re still frozen, because it’s winter in Michigan, but they’ll bounce back in the spring. Due to the aforementioned heat, I did lose some of my bar wall plants, but I’ve got about six different kinds of mint left. We had some good times last summer muddling mint into iced tea and various and sundry other little things.

Last year I paid attention to what the deer tried to kill, and I found that they didn’t bother cucumbers very much. Now, they bothered the shizz out of my tomatoes in my front yard fabric pots! These pots are less than a foot from my porch, but that didn’t stop them. This year I plan to surround the things in those pots with cucumber plants. I’m doing Bragger cucumbers from Burpee for 2022. These are not bush cucumbers so they’ll sprawl all over the place. I’m hoping that they’ll give the deer pause and fool them in the thinking that there’s nothing delicious in there. Wish me luck.

I’ve got my 2022 seeds ready. I have succumbed to the marketing gimmickry of Jung Seeds this year, after years of resisting the lure. I finally caved in and bought their Cabbage Babies mix. It is a mix of small cabbages, a green, a red, and a really pretty Savoy leaf cabbage. They take about 60 days or so and make heads about softball size. I can sow this as soon as I can work the soil, since cabbage doesn’t mind the cold. In fact, cabbage gets a little bit sweeter when you leave it out to frost. I like the idea of having all the different types of cabbage in the same mix, and it will be lovely in the garden.

Another gimmicky little product they have is called Pool Ball zucchini. They’re about the size of, wait for it, a pool ball. Imagine that. This comes in a mix of colors, green, yellow, and stripey. They’re just zucchini, but the shape is nice and the color is pretty in the garden. I like to slice them up in the thin rounds and make a marinated salad with them, like the perennial summer favorite with cucumbers and vinegar and sugar. I also like to make thick slices and throw them on the grill with some basil olive oil. Delicious.

I had a rather large $80 order in my cart at Burpee. I’ve found in the past that when I place an order the very next day I get a big discount code in my email. Irritating! This year I let my cart sit right there for three weeks and lo and behold, I got that 20% code.

This year I’m doing a ton of different lettuces and other greens. I’ll start spinach and kale probably in March, though I’ll have kale that comes back every year already in the garden. I’ve been eating the same kale plants for coming up on three years now. I’ll wait till early April to do my lettuces. Lettuce is a weed, which you’ve heard me say repeatedly, so don’t be intimidated by the prices at the farmer’s market for these greens. Grow your own. I got butterhead, leaf lettuce, iceberg, and of course I got Romaine. If you have not had grilled romaine, you are missing out. A friend brought it to a potluck a couple of years ago and at first I was like uh, what? and then I tried it. It’s absolutely delicious, so thank you, Rita Blanchard, for opening my eyes.

Burpee has a new seedless sweet pepper called Peppigrande. It is seedless, as long as you plant it away from seeded varieties. I don’t eat that many peppers, but I do love a sweet pepper, particularly a small one like an Italian frying pepper. Then you can just cut it up into easy rings for salads or grilling with onions. I’m interested in the seedless aspect!

I’m also trying some new kinds of basil this year. Burpee had two that intrigued me, Everleaf Thai Towers and Emerald Towers. I absolutely love Thai basil, it’s a little spicy and a very distinct flavor. These have a columnar habit, growing up instead of out, so I’m thinking I’ll plant these in the backyard flanking my rosebush. It will look cool, and I’ll plant them far enough away from each other that they don’t get in each other’s way as far as flavor. Plus, if I’ve got my grill out there, I can just clip some basil and throw that on whatever’s grilling.

I’m trying again with On Deck patio corn. Burpee is the only one who does it. It is, as you might expect, corn you can grow on the patio. I have a 4 foot by 4 foot apple storage box that Kelly VanderKley gave me in the front yard full of dirt, and I can plant about sixteen seeds. I’ll do a row of four every week for ongoing harvest. I think I’ve figured out how to protect it from the deer this time! It only makes about one ear of corn off each stalk, but it’s gimmicky fun.

I’d like to grow an actual block of sweet corn, but to grow it successfully you need four rows. Given my rapacious wildlife, that would have to be inside the fenced garden. That would take up an entire raised bed and I’m not that willing to give over that much space to sweet corn. Besides, I live in Southwest Michigan and when sweet corn comes into season, it’s pretty cheap and beyond amazing. I got a large packet of an heirloom corn free with my Burpee order, though, so I’m going to give it to the Garden of Edison. This is a really cool community garden project in Kalamazoo’s Edison neighborhood that got started last year. I brought them blueberry bushes and got acquainted with the folks who are making it happen. Their mission is to feed the people, and I can get behind that. Check them out!

I have tomato seed to use up from last year, and I might start some seeds if the package is almost empty. Starting seed is fun but it can be kind of a pain in the rump. I won’t be doing trays and trays of starts like I usually do, I’ll likely buy plants from my favorite local greenhouse, Schuring Greenhouse out in Portage. Supporting a local business makes me happy, and besides that, buying plants means someone else is taking the risk of damping off or viruses or whatever else might affect a small tomato seedling. Plus, and most importantly, I’ll get earlier tomatoes.

I started a strawberry bed last year after admiring the one that the BSE and Gadgetron accidentally started. They had a small pot of strawberries get loose and now their entire front flower bed is full of strawberries. I have bold deer and they don’t, so that’s something to consider, but I’m going to plant another 25 plants in there this year and see what happens. We’ll see how many of the 25 I planted last year make it through the winter.

I’m thinking I want to start up a blackberry patch again. I’ve cut my current blackberry bed down to nothing, because I’m concerned that some virus has gotten in there. The last few years my blackberry crop has been quite poor, deer notwithstanding. I’d like to do a small patch in a new location and keep it contained by mowing around it.

I’m considering growing potatoes again, but potatoes are still so cheap. Everything else is getting ridiculously priced, but potatoes have been pretty reasonable. I may do some for the novelty of it, since they’re pretty when they’re blooming. I do mine in five gallon buckets and it’s super easy that way. No digging, and at the end of the season I just kick the bucket over and look, I’ve got potatoes. I have previously talked about this process in a post from 2018 called Growing Potatoes For Lazy People.

So yeah, I’m ready to grow food again this year. It’s great to pick and eat things that I grew myself. There’s nothing in the world like fresh vegetables, which is why you feel so cheated when you buy a tomato in January, or a head of tasteless iceberg lettuce. Picked fresh from the garden both of these have outstanding flavors that you’ll crave again and again.

Is anyone else plotting a garden plot? Let me know if I can help you figure things out! I’m no expert, but I’m willing to share what’s worked for me and what hasn’t.

Author: Amy Crabtree Campbell

figuring it out as I go, since 1967

6 thoughts

  1. Love reading these! I garden, but with much less variety. I have 3 raised beds. Sounds like you plant a lot in buckets and such. I need to investigate how to do that successfully. Keep up the good gardening; you’re an inspiration!


    1. Man, raised beds are the way to go, aren’t they? Check out the post on potatoes in buckets, it’s ridiculous how simple it is. I see people building “potato planters” and I’m like, just get a bucket. I also use fabric pots in trays, it’s way easier to water the trays and the pots wick the water up for me. I’m all about easy. #lazygardener


  2. Amy, I enjoyed hearing about what worked and what grew together well, looked pretty. Your back yard sounds like such a pleasant oasis of life!
    I had a tiny garden (about 6×6) last year and I may increase it a bit more this year. I am going to try growing
    a few melons- I like your description of refrigerator Melons. Also, I might try a special Honeydew, called Honey Orange.
    Looking forward to hearing what’s happening as spring gets closer.🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The backyard is my little social oasis. I’ve had my two pod besties over several times and we had dinner out back and solved all the world’s problems. 🙂 I love honeydew, but not enough to devote the garden space to it. Thank God we live where we live that we have so much abundance in the growing season!! I’m going to keep an eye out for the Honey Orange. That sounds really fantastic. I’ll expect an update!


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