Early this spring, I wrote about how I was spending long days removing our grass and xeriscaping our front yard. I promised a few readers that I'd share a post once all was said and done, so here it is!
Above: Our front yard, with grass completely gone. Mulched, rocked, and raised veggie beds in. We planted two trees last year (to the right of the veggie beds: a clump of Aspens and a Ohio Buckeye), which are still quite small but hopefully will grow tall and provide us with lots of shade. You can see our corrugated metal garden beds with squash arch, and a small xeriscape garden patch where we're growing native flowers (like echinacea, candytuft, primrose, yarrow, blanket flower, lupine, etc) and herbs (mint, sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, chives, oregano, and tarragon). Next year -- or perhaps this fall if I'm feeling motivated - I'll add some flowering bushes (like Russian Sage), along with other native flowers on the righthand side of the yard. And ultimately, we'll put in a path going straight up to the front door with flagstone.
The first thing most people say when they walk up to the house is, "I didn't realize you put your vegetables in your front yard!" It is a bit different, I know, but our backyard is almost completely shaded so the front yard is much better for veggies. And so far, I like how it adds a focal point to the yard!
My favorite thing all summer has been getting out in the garden before the heat hits. The lighting is beautiful, and I can see how everything is doing without burning up.
Above: Sugar snap peas in early morning.
Below: First spaghetti squash in early summer. This year, I grew several type of winter squash -- Spaghetti squash, Kabocha, Delicata, and Acorn. Of those, the spaghetti squash and Kabocha squash plants had the most epic harvests -- just one squash vine would reach from one end of the 16-foot squash arch to the other and then onto the ground. Their leaves created a canopy that offers lots of shade and even protection from rain… by the time late summer rolled around, you could hide in that little tunnel through all sorts of weather!
Above: Squash tunnel in mid-summer.
Below: I grew tons of basil this year, most of which we used fresh in bruschetta, but I’ll be making a big batch of this pesto which I highly recommend using in this zoodle recipe! I also grew a patch of Thai basil, which we added to stir fries and curries all summer long -- we still are!
My adventures in tomato growing were slightly less successful -- the bed where the tomatoes grew had terrible issues with blight. I removed a few plants, including a Black Cherry Tomato and a Striped Roman Tomato. In part, this is because I planted too close together… lesson learned. What remained: Brad's Atomic Grape Tomatoes (the prettiest!), some simple La Roma Tomatoes, Blue Gold Berry Tomatoes, and Yellow Pear Cherry Tomatoes.
Below: Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes, green on the vine. Below that: Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes harvested.
The Roma tomatoes were best for carpese and cooking; the Brad’s Atomic Tomatoes were best for eating straight with just a touch of salt, and the Blue Gold and Yellow Pear Cherry Tomatoes were best for salads. I’ve already vetted a list of super blight resistant tomatoes for next year… as I wander around the neighborhood, I see virtually every other garden had similar issues, likely because of our super wet June.
Below: An Antigua eggplant on the vine. Below that: A basket full of eggplants.
I went crazy when it came to planting eggplants. There was just so many varieties to choose from! We eat a lot of eggplant around here (it’s Oliver’s fave), so it seemed fine in May, but since July hit not a week has gone by with less than 5 eggplants to harvest. This copious harvest lead to this Eggplant Cannelloni recipe, but we also made this Harissa Roasted Eggplant, grilled eggplant, and this Roasted Eggplant Salad. In need of more recipes…. please comment with your fave!
One thing I’ve barely touched yet in the garden are the hearty greens. While other items in the garden reach a “ripeness point,” the greens just keep growing and growing and I’ve let them go. The Swiss Chard is at least twice as big as what’s shown in the picture below now! And the kale, to the right, is super tall. Just last night I used it to make a Chopped Kale Salad with Dates, Bacon and Pecans (recipe coming soon!).
Below: Dragon Tongue Beans on the vine.
Our bean harvest this year was epic — since the plants started fruiting, I’ve had a salad bowl full of beans on the counter that I just can’t get through… they are growing faster than we are eating! This week’s to do list: Pickle some beans! The dragon tongue beans are my favorite because of their colors, but our giant pile of beans is from the Blauhide Poles Beans we grew.
Next year, I’ll add some yellow and green beans into the mix. 🌈
Below: Chamomile flowers in bloom. After the big hail storm in June, I replaced a few plants that I thought were never going to make it with seedlings I found on super sale at a nearby homestead. One of these was a little chamomile plant.
As the flowers bloomed, I plucked them and dried them. From just this one little plant — which was a bit smothered by an eggplant that took over the space - I got enough for about 2 cups of tea, but BOY do they smell amazing.
Peppers! I planted a few types of peppers this year — Jalapeño, Shishito, Thai chili, Pimiento, and Poblano. Quite a few got wiped out by hail, so later in the season I added some Big Jim and a Red Bell to the mix. Far and away my favorites so far this season were the Poblano and Big Jim, which I stuffed (Poblano recipe coming soon! Big Jim recipe here).
Below: Biggest pepper harvest yet this season.
One of the largest losses in the garden this summer was my corn.
I babied the corn from the get-go, though I also learned I did quite a few things wrong. Turns out, corn doesn’t like to be planted in a row, but in a block. Despite my ignorance, the stalks grew tall — 8 feet! So I hand pollinated them, and they went to town making corn ears.
Some time in July we got a massive wind storm that blew a branch off out cottonwood tree and onto the corn, bending the stalks in half. Still, the corn recovered. I tied each stalk to a big bamboo stake and they continued to grow.
And then, one by one the ears disappeared. Darn squirrels! I hope they appreciated all of the work that went into it. Below: I snapped a picture of one ear they left on the ground — a red an purple ear, not quite ripe. So beautiful! This is called Painted Mountain Corn, which does well at higher elevations, and the ears show a variety of colors. I am a sucker for off-beat varieties you can’t find in the grocery store.
I haven’t decided if I’ll plant corn again next year — I want to - but it’s all a matter of space.
One of my most exciting harvests all summer was just this week: a sugar baby watermelon!
It went from baby (below) to all grown up (below that) in just a month or so!
I also have a muskmelon plant with about 5 melons (not ripe yet!) and a honey dew plant that I put in after the hail. I’m not sure if the honey dew will ripen before our first frost — it’s still only half the size of my fist.
We don’t see many hummingbirds in my neighborhood, but at the peak of the squash blooms one took a liking to the yard. Every time I saw him, I would stay very still and just watch.
In the end, creating this garden was the most therapeutic, rewarding, beautiful thing I did all summer. Watching everything grow from seed and then actually fruit was delightful, and spending the early mornings amongst the bees and the birds was so relaxing, even when life was not.
Below: Happy place.