Two years ago my husband, David and I realized our mountain dreams and purchased a home in upstate New York. The house sits in the lower Catskills mountain range in beautiful Ulster County. My obsession with this tiny swath of county began back in 2007. Our forays out of the bustling city were little and usually happend in the very off-season when prices were lowest, but we always found ourselves in this county. Something magical pervades this area. Some of the local hippies will tell you it’s earth energy, and I will agree; there is just something special about Ulster county.
Our little 1960’s ranch is not extravagant by any means and definitely needed a lot of TLC including a complete overhaul of the garden which consisted of a dilapidated fence and mounds of earth covered over with thick mat at grass. A few other projects took priority over the garden, but in the year in a half before we got to digging the new fence, I had a lot of time to research and come up with a plan for our garden.
The previous garden site
One of the first things I did was have our soil tested through Rutgers University. It was so funny to send off a sock of dirt through the mail but when I got back was invaluable: a two year plan of soil amendment recommendations for a healthy and fertile garden. I can’t stress enough how valuable this is if you’re planning on using existing soil. After the fence build we certainly didn’t have money in the budget to buy soil, but the tests came back surprising well!
Here is a snippet of the report. Luckily we were is a great starting place and I ended up just adding some nitrogen as well as applying liquid fish emulsions throughout the growing season.
November, 2014: David and I start construction. We decided to work with untreated cedar posts for their natural resistance and hardiness. (8′) purchased at Lowe’s, and locally sourced rough-sawn pine for the rails. We drove the posts approximately 2 feet into the ground and used side braces on the corner posts for extra support. We used tightly packed gravel and dirt to secure the posts into place because cement can actually act like a sponge, drawing water in and rotting the posts. We used galvanized deer fencing for the top 4′ part of the fence and 1/4″ hardware cloth (both purchased at Lowe’s) that extended down a foot into the ground the out at 90 degrees to deter digging critters.
Once the snow had melted and the ground had thawed enough, I started my first planting: April 11, 2015. All of my seeds were purchased at the local seed library, the Hudson Valley Seed Library. (In their words and I concur!) They offer heirloom and open-pollinated seeds for vegetable, flower, and herb varieties. Many are produced on their own small farm; the rest is sourced from other local farmers, farmers in other regions, and from trustworthy wholesale seed houses that are not owned by or affiliated with multi-national biotech companies. It was about this same time that I amended the soil with the organic 1-0-1 fertilizer that Rutgers recommended, while also adding some of our own homemade compost. It’s amazing that we are just now harvesting the beets I planted almost 5 months ago!
Though I started to plant in April, the ground was still frozen after the harsh winter, which made finishing the fence nearly impossible due to the frozen and heavy-as-cement mud. While waiting for the great defrost, I separated all my seeds into separate baggies with the month that I should plant them and marked if they were to be planted in succession. In the meantime, David worked on creating the perfect gate, using only hand tools and traditional wood-working methods.
A week before the gate was completed, we were able to dig the bottom part of the hardware cloth into the ground as well as finish the railings. Since all the wood was rough-sawn, we had to cut each piece by hand. Corners were cut to create nice edges (you can’t just skip this part!). I used organic weed deterrent cloth, again purchased from Amazon) to create a pathway down the center of the garden and around the perimeter, battened down with galvanized pins and covered it with straw.
Below is a photo of my planting process. One of my favorite go-to websites was Gold Harvests Organic’s companion planting guide. Two other books that were my to-to were: “Growing Beautiful Food; A Gardener’s Guide to Cultivating Extraordinary Vegetables and Fruit by Matthew Benson and “Four Season Harvest” By Eliot Coleman. Benson’s book is the book I kept drooling over in the bookstore for weeks, I am finally the grateful owner. I love how absolutely gorgeous and the photos are and how simple he approaches gardening and farming. Eliot Coleman has one of the most eloquent ways of writing about food, you’ll read any of his books like a good novel! Some of the most important tools I used in planting were:
- A small hand-seeding tool
- a sharpie (that also doubled as a seed hole maker
- sturdy plant markers
I can’t forget to mention just how much I love my Bogs Shoes (Shown below) waterproof and super comfy, I love them!
Because we didn’t add more soil to the existing dirt in the garden, I used straw as mulch. The straw created a safe environment for delicate seedlings and helped win the race for the sun against the grass and other weeds that were going to grow. Where there is bare ground, a weed will find a way…
Below: (clockwise) Baby Bibb Lettuce, Nasturtium, Radish & Corn
This was one of many of the radish harvests. One of my mistakes or lessons I learned is: succession plant, succession plant, succession plant. I ended up adding in calendar reminders to plant every two weeks, and now… into late September I am still pulling up juicy orbs of radish!
Below: Baby Kale, Strawberry, Black Beauty Squash, Rappinni and Lettuce
This photo is from mid to late summer, July perhaps. Cukes, Wax Beans, Squash, patty pan squash ( Would not grow these again…) Salads I loved and will plant again were the bibbs, arugulas and the Hudson Valley Seed Library’s Ultimate Salad Bowl. Again, all of my seeds were purchased through the Seed Library!
Here is a photo of the June garden. A couple of noteable stand-outs in my garden were my companion plants: Marigolds & Nasturtium. They are said to give off an odor that deters most pests, or hosts buggies that destroy other bugs in horrific ways, but regardless of who loves who – I really feel like these plants were a standout, not to mention- they’re edible!
Below is one of many zucchinis and the local red okra. I loved the colors and especially the flowers of this okra, but didn’t end up eating any of them really… but they looked gorgeous!
Tomatoes: these were the toughest for me, by the middle of July our seedlings that I had started indoors, were dead or withering. We went to our local farm stand, Davenports, to buy seedlings. The big surprise is that our best performing tomatoes came from rogue seeds that were most likely in the compost – they made gorgeous plants like the one below!
Below we are moving into late August and as one can see, we are into squash insanity. Again, next year we will keep the squash to a minimum…
David is in awe of the bounty!
A variety of fruit from our seedlings we purchased at Davenports and blow this image, their cozy home. I planted peppers, basil, borage and parsley beneath the tomato plants.
Below is one of my stand out favorite photos – beets that were planted in April, making their debut in September. It’s amazing how long it took for these gorgeous orbs to emerge as they did, but well worth it!
End of season 1: By October, our garden is making it’s final push for late-season growing. Winter greends were planted just a little too late, so they didn’t amount to much. The stand outs were the Swiss Chard, still giving back all the way from April. Below is another late-season chore: Seed saving & Herb preservation. Since I started the garden my vision was to get to the point where I am seed saving. The standouts were radish and dill and coriander. L->R: Radish, sage & dill.
In October, Winter Rye was planted to fix nitrogen into the soil. This is a great way to re-establish a nice nitrogen level for next year. In the spring, we will till the plants under before flowering and destroy the roots, quite a bit of work, but well worth it.
Here’s a snapshot of the final clean up and lingering greens. All of the leftover dead plants were piled into the compost, thus continuing the cycle.
Below is one of the most brilliant characters. first one in, last one out! Our one and only Brussels Sprout plant. I believe she will be ready by Thanksgiving. 8 months of growing for one dinner plate… it really makes you wonder and appreciate the bounty we have as first world consumers. At any point, we can walk into a grocery store and find multiple products at anytime in the season. This year has taught me just how much work goes into food production and how sustainability of such produce is vast and immeasurable. This process has brought me closer to my food and friends, knowing that I can feed my little family and know exactly where it came from.
2015 Plant List:
- Various Salads ***
- Radish ***
- Swiss Chard ***
- Squash *** (suffered powdery mildew)
- Strawberries *
- Tomato **
- Zucchini ***
- Winter Squash **
- Corn *
- Wax Beans ***
- Cucumbers **
- Braising Greens **
- Kale **
- Spinach *
- Herbs: Parsley (curly/Italian), Sage, Coriander, Basil, Dill ***
- Flowers: Borage, Nasturtium, Marigolds ***
*** Grew Well
** Grew mediocre
* Did not thrive