How does your garden grow?

When I am not writing or editing, I’m either cooking or out in my garden making the ingredients to cook something. It’s been a while since I posted about the garden, so here’s a quick tour.

These are Jerusalem artichokes.

I had a problem area that I could not reach to weed, so I learned from other local gardeners that the way to solve it was to fill that with something that would choke everything else out. I used sunchokes, otherwise known as Jerusalem artichokes. They have, as you see, lovely flowers and if you’ve ever seen pasta made with Jerusalem artichoke flour, the roots (a tuber really) are edible. I’m not growing these to eat, but it’s nice to have the tubers in reserve.

Onions and pepper in front of the Sunchokes.

Here are just a few of the onions and peppers we have in front of the Jerusalem artichokes, in the forward position where I can reach to weed things. Those are Egyptian walking onions, and bell, poblano, and jalapeno peppers.

Strawberry patch, blackberries and roses behind that, basil to left.

One of the smartest things I’ve done in the last 10 years was to invest in some raised beds. We have absolutely terrible soil here — about an inch of sand on top of hard-packed clay — but the deep raised beds catch water from a slope, and trap moisture behind a layer of tar paper that protects our edibles from touching the creosote-soaked lumber that keep the soil from eroding. Those were just five scraggly strawberry plants that we had transplanted from somewhere where they weren’t very happy. I think they like it here!

There are three blackberry bushes behind them, the largest on a tripod trellis, and those are the Arapahoe drought-resistant variety. The rosehips are not only colorful in the autumn, but provide vitamin C if necessary. And we love basil so much that I always plant a lot of it, usually from seed that I saved the previous year. We use it as a salad green not just a spice, but have two new pints of dehydrated basil flakes to cook with.

Tomatoes by the bucketful.

We  have learned that you need to grow bacterial-wilt-resistant varieties of tomatoes, and keep the soil separate: hence, the buckets. We have also learned to plant nasturtium at the base, and marigolds. The nasturtium and marigolds protect the roots from nematodes, and both the nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible. We use the nasturtium leaves in salads; they have a peppery taste. In South Carolina we’ve had the best results with the Better Boy and Roma tomato varieties. The tomatoes will invariably get some sort of bacterial wilt, but you limit the damage to the soil, which carries the wilt, to whatever soil is in the buckets.

I like to can homemade chunky spaghetti and pizza sauce with most of the resultant tomatoes.

Lettuces galore.

I’m including a photo of our lettuce from earlier this year, even though the area is now succession-planted with cayenne and bell peppers, carrots, and onions. Head lettuces do not work in this climate: too many insects. Instead, we grow loose-leaf lettuces. Our favorites are Jericho cos, a form of loose-leaf romaine that resists bolting and is a cut-and-cut-again lettuce whose plants just keep on giving. We also like black seeded Simpson, which we grow in succession plantings throughout the spring and summer. Occasionally we liven it up with some red sails or oak leaf lettuces for variety.

Muscadine &scuppernog grapes.

Behind the lettuce as you can see the post of a grape trellis. We just have one black muscadine and one bronze scuppernog grape vine, but believe me that’s enough! We get several gallons of grape juice every year out of a trellis that we put in an out-of-the-way place where nothing else would grow. And we turn the grape skins into grape leather, as a sort of homemade “fruit roll ups,” which the grandkids seem to enjoy.

The back graden, earlier this year.

This year we concentrated on a large raised bed we have in the backyard. We eventually want to put slate pavers for the cardboard path now is, but for now we were happy to get rid of all the weeds by killing them with cardboard over the winter, and then installing four insect resistant cedar trellises for things like green beans, cucumbers, and other climbing plants.

The trellises, today.

In the above photo the trellises are covered with mature Kentucky Wonder green beans and we’ve had a simply marvelous crop this year. There is an added benefit: the vine-covered trellises make a lovely sight out of our bedroom window.

Cucubers, going up!

On the far end of the row of trellises we have some cucumber plants growing up and twining higher and higher. These are the only variety of cukes we’ve had any success with in this insect-riddled climate: West Indian burr gherkins. These are tiny cukes, but very prolific. They are spiny, but you can rub the spines off with the back of a knife and make wonderful salad and pickling cucumbers. And all you have to do is save some seed to grow them next year.

Sweet potatoes.

We do have a raised bed that we use to grow white potatoes, mostly Yukon gold or red bliss varieties. But, not surprisingly for garden in the Carolinas, we’ve had tremendous success with sweet potatoes. Like the muscadine grapes, they are something that just loves this climate and once you put it in the ground it goes on automatic pilot and tries to take that part of the garden over. Bonus! We’ve had absolutely no success in growing spinach in this hot and summer-dry climate, but sweet potato leaves taste just like spinach, cook just like spinach, and freeze just like spinach. Every so often I go out there and snip off the ends of the vines and set them in water so that we will have some sweet potato slips/starts for next year.

There is a lot more I haven’t shown you. We have a large fig tree in the front yard, a row of Indian Hawthorn bushes (whose berries can be dried, mixed with cinnamon and honey, and make something to lower your blood pressure), rosemary, creeping thyme as a groundcover, oregano, dill, two dwarf pear trees (the second for pollination), two dwarf apple trees (again, the second as a pollinator), blueberry bushes, concord grapes, an area for growing mushrooms, a huge mulberry tree, and some long-term projects like a chestnut tree and some hazelnut bushes.

Not everything has been a success. There’s been a learning curve, and this is been a long-term project over the last dozen years. We’ve done well growing kale, but still have not mastered the art of growing collard greens. We think we finally figured out where and how to grow the arugula (perennial salad green), but I’m going to have to give our little olive tree to my son who lives in Florida. We planted the blueberry bushes in the wrong place, will have to put some new ones somewhere else because they don’t transplant well. We may have to move the apple tree saplings for the same reason, but at least they should transplant better than the blueberries. I continue to try to find a variety of lavender that will do well in this climate, and I’m still trying to figure out how to grow fennel successfully. But, all in all, we are pretty happy with our garden and I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour.