Summer Garden 2011; Sometimes Smaller is Better

I’ve written quite a bit over the last 2 years about my garden and specifically about the no-dig gardening method. This year the plan is a little different. I’ll still have a garden, but it will be smaller and use a more traditional planting method.

While I certainly believe the no-dig method works well, this year I decided to only use my two smaller garden beds (plus a piece of the larger one) and fill them with soil and compost instead of the hay, alfalfa and compost I used previously.


The first reason for this change is that our trip to Japan delayed the planting to early May (as opposed to March last year), and the second is that I just didn’t have the energy to build and maintain a larger garden this year. But rather than forgo it alltogether, I thought “smaller is better” and decided to plant what I considered the bare minimum and only my favorites. Considering that last year’s garden had its fair share of failures, if everything I planted grows, I may end up with a similar yield with less time and expense.

This year I am trying to learn from my experiences of the previous years. Due to my delayed planting season and smaller space, I’m not re-planting any of the failures, only the successes. Last year I planted 9 tomato plants, including numerous heirlooms. But out of those only the Champion and Celebrity varieties (both non-heirlooms) and Brandywine (heirloom) tomatoes did well. So this year, I planted two Celebrity and one Champion tomatoes and to get a little headstart, I bought plants in 1-gallon containers. Unfortunately, I haven’t able to find any Brandywine plants this late in May. I may plant one more tomato in June just to prolong the season.

In addition to the 3 tomato plants, I have one zucchini (really, what more does a family need?), one yellow crookneck squash, two Japanese eggplants, 5 (don’t ask) globe eggplants, and a dozen basil plants. That’s enough to keep us in tomato salad, ratatouille, and pesto well into the fall. In all, I’ve spent under $100 in plants and soil.

In addition, I was able to re-use the plastic coated chicken wire I bought last year (to help keep out the little monsters), as well as the tomato cages I built. Speaking of my monsters (and no, these are not Lady Gaga’s followers), I’ve added an extra layer of protection by lining the bottom edges of the inside of the boxes as well as covering the tops.

Do you have a vegetable garden this year? What are you planting? Are you “going big” or doing anything to make the job easier on yourself?


  • Kate @ Savour Fare

    Ours is pretty small this year – just 4X4 raised bed (compost, vermiculite, peat moss and a little soil), but it’s really going gangbusters — we’ve got 5 tomatoes (because I never get tired of homegrown tomatoes), 2 zucchini (more than we need, but one of these days I’ll get it together to harvest the blossoms), 1 eggplant, 2 peppers (shisito and anaheim), 1 watermelon (this is kind of languishing, actually) , peas (more for novelty value than anything else), Japanese Eggplant and arugula. I planted a mix of heirloom and hybrid tomatoes — Early Girl (I’ve always had luck with those), sungold, Marmara, Celebrity, and one of the black ones which I’ve now forgotten. We hit tomatomania this year at Descanso for most of our plants.

    • formerchef

      Wow Kate! Tell me you don’t have all those plants in one 4×4 raised bed? If so, how given how big watermelon and zucchini plants can get? I love Tomatomania and have gone in years past, but missed it this year. And no, you really can’t have too many homegrown tomatoes. 🙂

    • Anise Strong

      Do you know each other through me, or through the cooking blogosphere? I realize I don’t know. Kristina, Caitlin’s an old friend from college; Caitlin, Kristina is my sister-in-law. It’s a small world.

      We are looking forward to maybe having a garden next summer in Kalamazoo; meanwhile, Mac’s strawberry plants here in Mountain View are producing like mad this year (having only managed about 5 berries last summer.) There are even enough some days that he lets the rest of us partake. 🙂

  • Katie

    Nice garden! My heirlooms last year got hailed on and then flooded…this year I have 12 plants going strong..first time with Brandywine, I also have 3 Green Zebras and the rest are my favs – Purple Cherokee and my true love – Black Krim. All are about 3 1/2 foot tall already and no damage! Yay! Funny thing, I bought 3 early girls and they are only about 2 foot…

    I am trying to get hubby to till me another area for cucumbers, peppers and squash. Tried okra last year and it didn’t do well. I am so excited to have my herb garden back! I miss those lil babies in the winter months.

    Hope your garden thrives! Oh and I like the site! Thinking it might be dangerous to drink wine and redo a site on my part…ha!

    • formerchef

      Brandywine are my favorites. I just found one and bought a Lemon Boy to go with it. Now I have to figure out where to put them! I think 5 tomato plants may be it for me now, but who knows?

  • Torrie @ a place to share...

    Were going pretty big this year… cucumbers, squash, peppers, chilies, tomatoes, strawberries, honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon, basil, pumpkins, green beans, peas, radishes, carrots, green onions, lettuce, arugula, and lots of herbs!

    This is our second year of using our ‘new’ raised planter beds, and we’re definitely still learning as we go. So much trial and error, and MANY trips to Armstrong, Home Depot, and other nurseries (& more money that we would prefer to spend!). I haven’t yet written an official post about it, but here’s some pictures if you’d like to see.

    We have some type of critter (not sure what!) eating our strawberries. Would you recommend covering the plants with chicken wire?

  • Kim

    Beautiful garden boxes. 🙂

    We’re headed into our third summer at the house. The first two summers, we planted a lot. Maybe too much. So most of the stuff, we never ate. This year, we’re paring down a bit, only putting our favorites, and TRYING to eat or share everything that comes out. Some of the stuff grows so fast (radishes and lettuce) we just can’t keep up!

    Kudos on using chicken wire, too. We have a dog who likes to trample over our raised beds; so about half of our beet rows never made it. 🙁

    You’re also inspiring me to get a good “garden” category goin’ on my own blog. Let’s compare notes!!!

    Happy weekend,


    • formerchef

      Kim-I hear you about sometimes planting too much. Sometimes even one zucchini plant can be “too much” for two people, LOL! I hate having to put vegetables I’ve grown back into the compost bin.

  • Katie

    By the way…why do the Brandywine leaves look so dif from other tomato plants? I keep looking at them and thinking…are these REALLY tomatoes?

  • Katie M.

    I love the boxed gardens you’ve put together. Unfortunatley, my husband and I move ever few years for our jobs to places not so condusive to good planting. We’re currently on Long Island and while we have a nice house, I don’t think the owner would appreciate it if we dug up his manicured lawn! I’ve attempted a full potted garden this year (as opposed to my normal one tomato plant). As you might imagine, soil and the biggest pots I could find certainly added up, so I will save no money on our plants this year. Still though, we have 5 tomatoes :a 4th of July, a celebrity, a big beef, and 2 big boy beef. They are all looking great so far and have small tomatoes but I’ll have to see how the big beef and big boys are doing in a month when they are huge. We’ve also got a cucumber, a yellow pepper, red pepper, green pepper, poblano, jabanero, 2 cilantro, thyme, mint, 2 parsley, 3 basil and a cherry tomato plant. The plants have taken over the deck the last few weeks- but my six year old step son is loving finding the new tomators, peppers and cucumbers that have started to grow. My only regret (that I know will get worse!) is that I didn’t plant any squash (It just seemed to be getting too big at the time!). I’m going to try to rectify that this week, though I won’t be surprised if I’m a bit late. I might also pick up another basil plant or two because I love it so much! I threw in a few more seeds to see if I can get them growing from scratch but I don’t want to take any chances at this point!

    • formerchef

      It sounds like you have quite a garden in those pots! It’s already getting very hot here, so my basil is starting to bolt. It certainly can’t hurt to try and plant more!

  • Rosemarie

    I have been a gardener for many years, in fact I was a Master Gardener for some years, so I know what I am talking about when it comes to vegetables.

    I find it interesting that you talk about a smaller garden this year as I almost took that stance this year myself.
    I live alone and usually plant enough tomatoes to feed an army and freeze them for the entire winter.
    I finally made some nice raised beds and all my veggies are growing better than last year. I experimented with tomatoes without staking, and frankly I do not notice that much of a difference. I just did not to bother with the staking.
    I give up, I am going to make a much smaller garden next year, I will stake them with some wire as you show since I have some left over wire from the making of my chicken coop. This brings to to my other dilemma, I have chickens, chickens love tomatoes but they do not just eat one they peck at every one in the garden and leave them to rot. I then have to pick the rest half ripe. Also I have a dog that must have seen the chickens enjoying the tomatoes and started to join in on the munching.
    So next year I will be planting more Sunflowers (for the chickens) and less tomatoes, or a better kind, I will still plant watermelon and cantaloupe since I love them and they do well here I have plenty of room for them. I also enjoy planting containers such as Tiny Tim or Tumbling Tom, and potatoes in sacs. Other than that I am going to clean up and have more room for me.

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