Being a farmer who grows flowers (and previously vegetables, in what feels like a past life) straight in the dirt of the field, I have to admit that I haven’t always been the best backyard gardener. I would often let plants at home wither and die, outgrow their pots, or just generally beg me for some TLC.
This year at home, however, we have a thriving veggie garden in gorgeous aged wine barrels lining the side of our house. But I can’t take any credit for it. My talented chef boyfriend Matt Elias of The Bodega food truck set out this spring to plant almost everything he’d need to cook our dinners at home. That’s right folks, he cooks at home too (my luck isn’t lost on me!). With summer in full roll, let me tell you, we’re positively feasting.
Here’s what I’ve gleaned from keeping a great wine barrel veggie garden.
Tip # 1: Plant what you love, not what you find on sale at the garden center
I remember when I first started gardening, I grew summer squash, summer squash, and more summer squash. It was easy to grow from seed, garden centers always had potted plants of it in a pinch, and I knew it would produce even with some neglect. Well, as you can imagine, I still can’t really handle summer squash after eating it every day that summer. I could have planted ¼ as much and still had enough to eat. The moral is, plant your favorite things, in manageable quantities, and stop there!
Tip # 2: Cram your plants together
I find that most home gardeners leave more space than they need between plants. If you’ve got tons of planters to work with, there’s no real harm in this. But why not get the most bang for your buck by cutting your spacing in half? Many veggies will do just fine planted 8-12” inches apart. Try it out!
Tip # 3: Stake, support, and trellis
Growing on a super small scale probably means that you’re using great soil mix and lots of compost, meaning lots of nitrogen. Nitrogen leads to tall, bushy, green growth and big plants. And big plants topple over once they set heavy, delicious fruit. Be prepared! Make a plan for staking and trellising your tomatoes and beans and peppers long before they need it.
Tip # 4: Squirrels
Need I say more? Get crafty. Cover up your most precious plants.
Tip # 5: Make friends with your neighbors
Most of us either have super busy summer seasons (as in our florist and chef household) and can’t be home to water our plants as often as they need it, and the rest of us have downtime in the summer and want to get out of town for vacation. Either way, who is going to take care of your precious plants while you’re gone? Invite your neighbors into your garden in spring, orient them to what you have growing, and ask them to kindly be open to watering at times during the season. Most people are amenable, especially if they get free reign to pick what’s ready for dinner.
What tips would you add to this list? Let us know!