Archive for the ‘Garden Structure’ Category

How Should the Garden Grow?

Today’s title is a play on words. I have been thinking a lot about whether to expand our vegetable garden or not, and how best to deal with what is left of our little lawn.

I could expand the vegetable growing area to replace what is left of the lawn. I hesitate to do so however because it would mean much more work for far more vegetables than we could eat. Unless I want to spend all my time canning and garden-tending I am not sure expanding the vegetable garden makes sense.

Sometimes I get this bug in my head about it, thinking how great it would be to have more veggies growing. Then I think about the work involved and how it would prevent me from doing other things I’d like to do and the idea dies.

If I gardened the space I have more intensely I could increase yields as much as we could reasonably use. That then will be my goal for 2018 – to garden more intensely. I will use the space better and add a fall garden in the same space, or at least part of it.

It will be ultimately necessary to create an automated watering system to cover days when I cannot be here. That will allow us to travel a bit more without worry that all the veggies are drying up and dying.

Then what to do with the lawn, or what is left of it? We could create a few more flower beds but leave much of the lawn in its current form. That is feeling like the best plan at present.

I want to enjoy gardening and not have it turn into a chore. Achieving that balance is the challenge. It is a challenge I welcome. My problem is that I want to do too many things perhaps. I want to do more woodworking. I want to start making Shaker inspired furniture. I want to travel a bit more. Choices must be made.

I reflect that my parents had no difficulty tending a large garden because they rarely went anywhere. There were home all the time because they could not afford to travel much. I have spoken to avid gardeners who have large vegetable and flower gardens and they admit it demands a lot of time and attention daily from spring through fall. So the question I must answer is how much time do I want to devote to gardening?

Fortunately, I need not make that decision today. It will be something to think on over the next year.

Happy Gardening,
Dan Murphy


Castles and Spuds

IMG_0310Here is another photo of the blueberry castle all finished. The last post had a photo taken before it was done.

Also I’ve attached a photo of my wee potato box. My brother gave me two potatoes from his kitchen that had sprouted. One is a sweet potato and one is a russet. I planted the sprouted eyes in one of the garden boxes. Today I created a small box so I could build up the soil around the sprouts. As they grow up I have another bottomless box that will go on top to deepen the growing area. Maybe I will get a couple spuds!

IMG_0308I cut the grass and watered today. It is hot today (89F) and muggy. It was so muggy I retreated indoors. I hate the heat and hate muggy heat all the more. I could never live in a humid climate.

We are usually spared excessive humidity here but when it comes it saps all my energy.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Blueberry Castle


Lawn & Blueberries

We have six blueberry plants in our back yard. Two are early bearing, two are mid-season and two are late bearing. We are not the only ones however who love the blueberries. We have many birds, especially scrub jays, who love the blueberries. Thus I must cover the berries with bird netting to save some for us to eat.

The first couple of years I put up PVC pipe hoops over the berry plants and draped the netting over that. That worked but was less than satisfactory. It did not look very nice and the hoops did not always remain vertical. The biggest problem was that it was hard for me to get to the blue berries.

Last weekend I replaced the hoops with the wooden structure shown in the photo on this page. It will allow for more growth of the plants, it makes it easier for me to roll up the netting to get to the berries and I hope it looks better overall. And, I got to do some wood working which I very much enjoy.

The photo of the “castle’ below is before I removed the hoops – they are gone now.

IMG_0305The blue berries have done well this year and we have had a good crop. This is their third season and they have prospered. I will actually have to prune them some this fall.

No-till Gardening


Box B

Normally every spring I till up my garden beds. I’ve read in various books over the years that this is a good thing to do as it mixes levels of soil to bring nutrients to the surface, aerates the soil to improve drainage and bring air to the area where roots need it.

I’ve also read about the advantages of not tilling the ground, so called no-till gardening. Various sources also call this lasagna gardening because it involves creating layers of mulch, compost, organic matter, etc. and then to plant on these layers. All methods of gardening have their advantages and disadvantages and one site discusses some disadvantages of lasagna gardening.

In his book, Weedless Gardening, Lee Reich advocates a form of no-till gardening. He does not advocate true lasagna style gardening which involves multiple layers created at once. Reich’s reasoning is that in nature the ground is not tilled. Mother nature naturally layers thin applications of organic matter on the ground each fall as leaves and plants dies and fall down. They rot into the ground adding all the benefits of organic matter without disturbing soil structure.

Reich writes that there is much less work involved with no-till gardening. There is no backbreaking labor in the fall or spring to turn over the soil and then till it. He suggests you just add a couple inches of high quality compost to the top of the soil each year and let nature do its work.

He cautions that you prevent soil compaction by avoiding walking on planting beds. Walking and wheel barrows are confined to pathways between the beds.

In addition to better soil structure he suggests that there are fewer weeds because weed seeds are not brought to the surface to germinate each year from tilling.

I decided to give this method a try this year. I could not fully use it on my garden boxes because I rebuilt them and had to add about 4-6 inches of soil and compost to build them up. I then raked this in well along with organic fertilizer. I did not till the boxes so to some extent I followed this method. I am also using his method in flower beds and beds that contain shrubs.

Next year I will follow the method to the vegetable beds. I will just add a couple inches of compost and see how things go.

I must admit it is a lot less work and if Reich’s theory is sound it may create healthier soil that is more natural in its structure. When you consider the ample flora that nature supports using this method it seems to make sense.

This is one of the things I love about gardening. Learning new approaches and trying them out.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Spring Makeover

I’ve been short on writing and long on work in the garden of later. In the past week I replaced the old weather-beaten cedar fence on the east side of the vegetable garden. You will notice that fence in the background of the photos here is all new cedar fencing.

Next I replaced all the garden boxes as the old ones were over ten years’ old and rotting away. The new ones are made of treated lumber and should last more than a decade. I also added new soil and compost to top them off. For compost I used an old rotted bail of Canadian moss. Finally, I dressed it all with organic fertilizer.

I then got some starts and you can see them planted: in Box A four tomato plants; in Box B some marigolds, lettuce and pepper plants along with one sunflower; in Box C just two marigolds as yet and Box D is yet empty.

I should mention that I tore the asparagus out of Box C. We just were not getting enough out of that little plot to justify the usage of that space and we were not eating much asparagus anyway. Now it is available for other things. (hover over photo for box letter.)

The starts in the greenhouse are still there and will need to be transplanted soon into these boxes.

Another garden season off and running. Because of weather it is starting a bit late this year but if the weather holds reasonably well the plants should catch up soon.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Micro Climates in the Garden

For better and for worse the garden is made up of areas or zones with different conditions. They are often called micro-climates. My garden has a number of them. To most effectively grow plants throughout these micro-climates you have to be aware of them and how they affect plants.

Essentially these micro-climates fall in two categories: those that are naturally warmer and those that are naturally cooler.

Warm Pockets

Certain areas of almost any garden tend to be warmer and drier than others. This is where more sun shines. It is often elevated some by using raised beds, planting on a balcony or hill, or on a roof top. They are often in a sunny corner created by fencing or the walls of a building. It can also be along a building or other solid structure that absorbs the heat and retains it. The denser the material the more heat retention. Concrete and brick will hold heat far longer than wood for example.

Cool Pockets

These are the small areas in most gardens that are naturally cooler and or damper than the rest. They are shaded, perhaps by a tree or building and do not get as much direct sunlight. They may be in a depression in the ground that dries out later. In cooler weather they may be in a place exposed to the wind more that will be both cooler and drier.

You can also create these pockets where they do not exist naturally using crop covers, wind screens, green houses, cold frames, etc.


Making best use of these pockets or micro-climates is a matter of first carefully observing where they are and how they affect plant growth. Examining your garden throughout the day can show you where the sun shines most and least for example. These observations over several seasons will give you a very clear idea of where they are and how they operate.

You can take advantage of these pockets by planting in them based on the needs of a plant. Cool loving plants, such as greens, can be planted in the cooler and shadier areas and do better. Heat loving plants such as peppers and tomatoes will do better in the warmer pockets and along buildings and structures where the sun shines often.

On our lot our first few vegetable gardens were grown on the south side of the house in an idea warm pocket. It got lots of sun, drained fairly well and was sheltered from most wind by the fence and the house.

After modification was made to the house and for various reasons we had to relocate the vegetable garden to an area to the east of the house. It got less sun and was less sheltered. This is where the primary vegetable raised beds are now. In the far NE corner there is more shade and the most shelter from wind. Along the fence on the east side there is more sun and a bit less shelter.

Cool loving plants therefore like it more on the north side of this area while sun lovers do better on the south side of these area. Although it is necessary to rotate crops for other reasons I try to uses these pockets as much as I can for the plants that are happier in them.

Below is a good brief video showing how to use these micro-climates in your garden.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Long Term Planning in the Garden

garden planning

In today’s newspaper there is a good article on fundamentals of planning the garden. The article is by Kathy Van Mullekom, Daily Press.

She discusses the importance of starting out a garden (or yard) with the “bones”, that is the permanent or semi-permanent features that give the garden structure. These include buildings, fences, other structures, trees, shrubs, pathways and other structural elements that will be there for a long time.

Long Term Planning

This is much more difficult than it sounds. To design a garden for a year or two is not so difficult. To design a garden for a decade or two is much more difficult.

I know how important this is because I failed to do it properly. I had some vague ideas about what I wanted. Over time however those ideas changed and other ideas arose that changed things.

For example when I first made over the back yard 14 years ago I had no idea that we would later remove the deck and add a wing to the house, totally disturbing the garden plan. I had no idea that we would later get a hot tub and a greenhouse. I had no idea tht the vegetable garden would have to move from the south side of the house to the east side. There was a lot I did not know would happen.

I could have hired an expensive garden planner to come in and plan the back yard (east yard) 14 years ago and all these changes would have rendered that expert’s plans just as useless as they did my plans.

That is not to say that long term planning is not important. It is. Trees and other long term structures need to be planned for as they heavily influence what can be planted and where.

Inevitable Changes

I think it was John Lennon who said that life is what happens to you while you are making plans. If he did say it he stole it because it has been said my many. Plans are important and useful, but there are things you just cannot plan for. Unless you are willing to slavishly adhere to a plan and never change your mind or never add anything new to your garden that is not consistent with the plan things will change over time.

New needs and wants force change. Unless you are content to change nothing, change is inevitable.

I am OK with that because gardens are living and growing things. Plants get bigger as they age, especially trees. Even if you know approximately how large that little maple tree will get in 20 years you do not know exactly because rate of growth and ultimate size and shape are affected by many things over time.

Rolling with Change

My suggestion is to accept that changes, sometimes big changes, will come. We can do our best to adapt the changes as best we can to the existing garden plan. However some aspects of the original plan will fail or have to be removed or changed to adapt to the changes you make.

It is not always easy to do this and it can be at times frustrating. It can also be very interesting and even exciting to see the garden morph over time into something that 14 years ago you could not have possibly envisioned.

By all means make a plan. Get the information you need to make the plan workable. But I suggest you not be enslaved by the plan. New ideas, conditions, technologies and desires will change the garden despite the plan.

And that is OK. Have fun with it and roll with it. It is part of what makes gardening so interesting.

Happy Gardening,
Dan Murphy