Jamie and I love the veggie garden, because we get to tinker with things outdoors and occasionally there’s free food. Sometimes I think it’s an elaborate game of chance, regardless of how many afternoons have gone into it, but I’ll highlight three things it’s got going for it: two DIY improvements and one particular plant that we’d recommend to anybody.
Fix #1: Simple trellising
I made a half-hearted attempt at this last year, after we built the raised beds, and with extra steel it’s holding steady all right. The steel sections can be moved up or down, like if you have baby pea vines that need a lower bar to latch onto or tomatoes that won’t quit growing. I wouldn’t call it the most charming or beautiful trellising, but it’s sturdy and should last a good while.
- Four star picket fence posts, 1.8m high (Tasmanians: Animal Tuckerbox have inexpensive star pickets, if you only need a handful)
- Four 3m lengths of 6mm galvanised steel section, cut in half with bolt cutters (found at Mitre 10)
- 6mm rubber chair tips, for the cut ends
I drove the pickets in until they were deep enough (leaving 1.2m above ground), which was accomplished by the highly sophisticated method of bashing the top of each post with a brick. Once they were level I threaded the steel sections through and popped on the end caps.
We went back and added a smaller trellis running through the middle of one bed, to support cucumbers, tomatillos and other viney crops. Man it feels so weird to look at my spring veggie garden photos with garlic shoots, beetroot and no tomatoes. (Those beetroots produced NO beetroot and plenty of leafy growth, which I’ll take any day of the week, thanks very much. Beets still taste like sugary dirt to me but the leaves can be used like spinach.)
The zucchini is about to take over that other bed outright. We still use square foot gardening spacing as a guideline… except for zucchini. It’s being attacked left and right by powdery mildew (grrr) and it does. not. care.
Fix #2: Irrigation
Jamie found a water tap at the back of the house and used it to set up a basic irrigation system throughout the veggie garden. Each bed has its own tap, and he installed mini-sprinkler kits in both of the beds. I won’t go in-depth on those, because frankly it would make for boring reading, but it’s straightforward to assemble with bits-n-pieces from the hardware store. All he needs to do is stick a timer on that thing and then we’ll feel like we have TRULY ARRIVED.
The micro-sprinkler system is lettuce-approved and strawberry-approved. That was late spring when we had the strawberries ripen all at once and BOY was that a lot of strawberries. Now we just find the occasional handful of berry goodness in the sprawling patch. Jamie calls them his “garden rewards.” You pull up a few weeds, you get to claim a treat or two.
#1 Best Plant: Tomatillos!
Tomatillos (toh-mah-TEE-yohs) are rare in Tasmania. Last year I grew mine from seed, and this year I got four seedlings from an exotic plant vendor at a farmer’s market. Fresh tomatillos have a tart, lemony flavour and are commonly used in Mexican cuisine. I’m probably just going to turn all of mine into salsa verde and dump it on everything.
The remarkable thing about tomatillos is that they are DEAD EASY TO GROW. No blights, no aphids, no powdery gunk. I don’t want to jinx myself, as I’m sure there are plenty of bugs out there that can’t wait to chew up my plants, but so far our tomatillos haven’t suffered from any of the problems that I get with tomatoes, zucchini, or kale.
They look pretty neat when they grow, too. Tomatillos are related to cape gooseberries and Chinese lanterns, and like their cousins they also produce little paper-lantern-like husks. They’re ready to harvest when the fruit fills out the husk and just before it turns yellow. That’s my first one off the vine this year!
All that stuff in the foreground is the herb garden/edible perennial garden. That might have to be its own post. Yikes.
The bush with Roma tomatoes has begun to ripen all at once, the green beans are beginning to take off and the banana peppers are slowly catching up. The back half of summer is when the veggie garden turns feral, but it’s also the time where we get to start eating our own produce. I’ll allow it.