We started our garden, and then we started over

Things were going great until a garden invader on four legs ate up weeks of hard work

Adventuresingardening LogoEditor’s note:
Photographer, and novice gardener, Kendal J. Bush, and her partner with the green thumb, Nate Laing, are taking readers on an adventure this summer via their southern New Hampshire garden.

0j9a6030

Nate loosens the roots of our store-bought replacement plants. Photos by Kendal J. Bush

About 12 weeks ago, my partner Nate purchased a collection of seeds for us to sprout and later plant in our garden. Since my thumbs have never been green, it made sense that Nate start the sprouting process.

In April, a trip to grab gardening supplies at the local store was a bit of a challenge due to the shutdown so we tried to work with materials we had at home. While our methods will hardly resemble a Martha Stewart spread, we worked with what we could find around the house to create seed starts.

To sprout the seeds, we used wet paper towels and sandwich-size plastic containers with lids. Once the seeds sprouted, they were transplanted in a random assortment of plastic cups we found hiding out in the basement.

If you were wondering where all the toilet paper was this spring, it is possible that folks were hoarding it so they could make their own thrifty seed start containers by recycling the thin inner cardboard of a toilet paper roll. Tip: If you made the transition to a bidet, no worries, you can also use half an eggshell as a seed start container. Just be sure to poke a small hole (a sewing or embroidery needle works well) in the bottom of the shell so excess water can drain off easily.

Six weeks in, so far so good. We have a nice assortment of tomato, pepper, basil, squash, strawberry and broccoli plants doing well in a rainbow assortment of solo cups.

Out with the old, in with the new

0j9a5965

Below, the container garden on our deck flourishes with mint, basil, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini and strawberry plants. Photo by Kendal J. Bush

The “old” garden — the one I had set up a few hundred feet from the house — was a little too far off and suffered from the out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem.  It was gangbusters when I initially set up the space. I had compost delivered. I tilled and raked the dirt, pulling out rocks and weed roots. I surrounded the garden area with a fence and I covered the ground with landscape fabric that I cut open in select areas where I placed seeds.

Since this was my first attempt with a vegetable garden, I popped seeds right into the ground and tried to remember to water diligently each day. Things started out pretty good. I had some success with small tomatoes, zucchini and basil. But a few busy weeks with work and a bit of complacency meant that I wasn’t on top of the watering and care of the plants.

Ultimately, I found myself with massive zucchini that may have worked well as medieval clubs, but did not work well as a tasty side dish for dinner. My basil revolted by bolting and my tomatoes appeared to suffer from blight.

With Nate’s help this year, we decided a garden close to the house that we could easily see from inside would be harder to neglect. We turned a former flower garden — which was in a great spot for sunlight, but was mostly overrun with weeds and wild strawberry plants — into the new, improved vegetable garden.

We weeded out the junk and tilled the dirt. When the time was right, a few days after Memorial Day, we brought the plants that had been thriving under LED lights outside to acclimate for a few days before planting.

After transplanting the plants into the garden, we were sure to pay close attention to the plants as they can suffer from shock. We were vigilant about watering the garden every morning and we installed some DIY irrigation which allows us to connect a hose to an efficient system of watering the soil at the root level of the plant.

An invader in the garden

For the first few days the plants seemed to do well in their new environment. But a few days later, I noticed that the broccoli plants looked like the tops had been eaten off.

The following day, I noticed that the tomato and basil plants had been trampled.

Since the garden was small and fairly close to the house, we hadn’t put a fence around it. I was surprised that a deer or other large animal would have gotten into the garden. After all, our pair of Weimaraners, who find great pride in barking at anyone or anything at any hour of the day or night, usually let us know if anything is awry.

But apparently, our full-figured canine, Molly, assumed the plants were for her. Our strange pups do salivate for broccoli and cauliflower treats in the kitchen pre-dinner time. The indoor rule with the dogs is if it’s on the floor it’s yours. Unaware that the “indoor” rules don’t apply outside, Molly thought the broccoli plants in the ground were a treat.

She had walked atop and among the tomatoes and basil a bit before deciding which plants seemed the tastiest. Weeks of sprouting, transplanting seedlings, acclimating plants and planting went all down the tubes to Molly’s belly.

Intro Photo

A guilty Molly owns up to her behavior. Photo by Kendal J. Bush

We reclaimed fencing from the “old” garden and dragged it down to the new spot. While it’s not a rabbit-proof fence, it is dog proof. We dug holes for posts and recycled fence materials from the old garden and the now-abandoned chicken coop.

Although the fence was now in place, the plants it would protect were gone. Knowing that I’ve had minor success with squash and tomatoes, I bought several varieties of squash and small tomato plants to fill our sad, enclosed space. My rationale is that squash will keep going until fall and it can sit on the shelf for a while after it is harvested, which greatly extends the usefulness of the garden and the food it is producing.

I removed the landscape fabric in the previous garden and put the tractor to work digging up soil. I mixed the soil with coconut coir. We had several bricks of the coir in bags that we had purchased B.C. (Before Coronavirus).

The great thing about the coir is that it is compact in terms of storage. One 11-pound brick of coir mixed with nine gallons of water yields two cubic feet of natural, renewable, organic material.  I mixed soil and coir together to create small mounds where I could plant the squash.

After aerating a hole, adding soil and transplanting the store-bought plants, I gave the base of the plant plenty of water in hopes of minimizing the shock from changing the plant’s environment.

The fence is up, the plants are in and the dogs are frustrated.

A garden contained

0j9a6101

It might not be beautiful, but our final garden is very functional. Photo by Kendal J. Bush

While the garden bounces back from devastation, the plants that were transplanted to multi-gallon buckets for our “container garden” are thriving.

Mojito mint, zucchini, basil, carrots, strawberries and tomatoes are surprisingly happy living within their constraints on the deck. While it seems unnatural to keep the plants restricted by a rigid planter, Nate convinces me that I should trust his judgment and gardening skills.

Here’s what this novice gardener has learned: Let someone with a green thumb do the gardening (kidding). I’ve learned that the quality of your soil, choice of plants, location of your growing area and proper, routine watering and feeding are key.

I’m optimistic. It looks like I will be making a lot of Mojitos, pesto, and tomato and basil salads, as well as a variety of squash dishes this summer. Who is up for a socially responsible backyard barbecue this season?  I’ll be back with a “garden” update soon. Wish us luck!

Kendal J. Bush traveled the world as an editor and videographer for the National Geographic channel and NBC before moving to New Hampshire. She combines years of experience as a photojournalist with her film school education to yield colorful and creative portraits. Her work has been featured on the cover of ParentingNH since 2009, and also in sister publication, New Hampshire Magazine. View more of her work at www.kendaljbush.com.

Categories: Adventures in Gardening