The Backyard Garden in May

May 11, 2009 at 8:25 am

Brad Moldofsky

It’s spring, or so I’m told. As the weather warms up I’ve finished building an 8” raised Square Foot Garden filled with soil and an unattractive but cheap cage of discount-bin wood and plastic chicken wire.


I’ve sewn the disparate patches of green netting together with kite string and twine lying around the house. It’s as likely to give the squirrels fatal splinters as it is to keep them from actually invading the garden. Unbelievably, though, the varmints began digging in the soil before anything was planted in the box! Perhaps they’re honing their pest skills in anticipation of a feast. As always, I shook my tiny fist at them in consternation long after they’d left the scene of the crime. Perhaps they’ll remember that the soil is not worth digging in. Or perhaps they’re dumb enough not to remember, but still smart enough to outwit me. My wife Kim says the entire effort is a waste, since a dedicated squirrel will happily chew through kite string or plastic to reach my soon-to-be delicious tomatoes.

In any case, building the vegetable prison was a fun job, and both boys helped operate the power drill and hammer in the nails. They helped mix and rake the Mel’s Mixture of peat moss, compost and water-absorbing rock-like material and tie string to demarcate the squares in which the plants will grow. Because we have so many seed potatoes, we buried many of them in ceramic pots and discarded food containers ranging from pints and quarts to two-gallon urns. These sit in full sun on a raised platform near the barbecue grill. As of this writing, their leaves are already poking above the surface. What happens when you grow potatoes in a quart yogurt container? I’ll find out in a few months. If they start poking up above the surface (which can render potatoes toxic) I can always bury them somewhere else. Also, if you’ve ever wanted to know what happens when you leave seed potatoes in a dark bag in the kitchen for a month, check out this photo:


It looks like the spud has turned three and grew its own birthday candles. The boys were creeped out by the flesh-colored tentacles, and I threw the entire tater in the yet unprotected second Square Foot Garden.

The indoor seedlings in the bay window are not what you’d call thriving. Generously, you might say they’re sleeping. More pointedly, Kim says they’re a waste of money. Odd that she was the one who goaded me into trying seeds this year. I’ve supplied them with as much water and sun or artificial light as they could ask for. I say they’ve no one to blame but themselves. And me, perhaps, for not keeping the house at a toasty 75 degrees all winter for the sake of some prima donna seeds. Now that the temperature is up, I better see some improvement or it’s off to the compost bin with the lot of ‘em.

Two of the original 50 eggplant/tomato plantings have sprouted into something green: a yogurt cup of tomato seeds looks healthy and one eggplant appears well. But it’s sad to think I leave a fluorescent light on all day long for this pair. Some dark grey alien-looking thing had sprouted in the broccoli pots. But since all its siblings were lying dormant, I killed it before it could grow.

I also mowed down the mesclun/spinach tub and threw in some pepper seeds. Many pepper seedlings are coming up, and I suspect the fact that the relatively large mass of soil (as opposed to a tiny peat pot filled with a quarter cup of dirt) is able to hold in heat better and the peppers appreciate it.

None of my broccoli, cauliflower or brussel sprouts seeds worked out, so I bought seedlings at a garden store and divided them between the Square Foot Gardens. The boys planted asparagus crowns as well as spinach, parsley and pea seeds.

Finally, to protect the brassicas in SFG #2 until I can build a cage to top it off, I sawed the bottoms off of several plastic water bottles and made cheap cloches. Open at the top to let out the heat and let in the rain, these seem to be doing a pretty good job of creating mini-greenhouses that also discourage pecking and nibbling.

Total Costs: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but about $250. If I earned minimum wage for my labor, I might add another $350.

Total Benefits or Savings on Vegetable Expenses: Still hovering at about $5, plus the pleasure of puttering about in the garden on a nice day. So maybe $20 total.