Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Front yard vegetable garden: The beginning

In January, I posted (here and here) that I was going to turn my front yard into a vegetable garden. That area gets at least 9 hours of sun each day and I thought it'd be a great spot to plant edibles. The excitement! The designs! The ability to feed my husband and I off the land!

It's not that I've never grown veggies before. I have and have done so for most of my life. But I think the snow and cold this year added a layer of forgetfulness to my noggin that I'm only now starting to shake off.

In March, we borrowed a rototiller and went to town on one side of the front yard. This was the end result:

Which quickly turned to this during the rains in April:

This would be a great home for a pig

My neighbors kept asking what I was up to. They seemed a bit horrified at my mud pit. 

In late April, I threw my original design plans out the window when Neighbor M drew up, in 2 minutes, a new design for me. It included a curve and some anchor bushes (like boxwoods). Well, I managed to get the curve in with some old Belgian blocks we had lying around. I still haven't figured out what I want as the anchor bushes, if I want anything at all. They'll need to come later on as there's something currently planted where they would go (next to the curve).

Sugar snap peas are currently taking up the place where one of the bushes should be (see bullet point at the bottom about a plan). I decided that everything in the vegetable garden would be non-GMO and organic if I could help it. I bought seeds from either Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or Cubit's. These peas were the first direct sowed seeds to germinate.

Sugar snap pea seedlings

I also direct sowed carrots, turnips, and three varieties of beets. I started them in April and nothing happened. About two weeks after my first sowing, I tried again. Still nothing. It took a conversation with my mother to realize that they're all root vegetables and so it's probably my soil (common sense is not my forte). When it cools down in the fall, I'll amend my soil with some sand and try them again.

Sugar snap peas today

In February/March, I started some seeds indoors. I started Black Cherry tomatoes, Bonny Best tomatoes, Butternut-Waltham squash, and California Wonder peppers. I think I learned a tremendous amount about vegetable seed starting this winter thanks to other garden bloggers and look forward to an even more productive indoor growing season this winter. What I didn't count on with my seedlings was my schedule in May. I was out of town four of the five weekends in last month, including one 10-day stint in Mexico. It was still pretty cold in May and I felt like it was definitely not time to put the tomatoes in the ground. Hardening off did not happen, unless you count hardening off for two days. After those two days, left my seedlings at the mercy of Neighbor M to water while I went south to frolic (aka, read) on the beach. She left them outside. They survived. They're doing well.


My tomato patch, pre-stakes. They're flopping over but alive.

I do want to figure out a different way to stake the tomatoes. The cages are ugly and as they're all in my front yard....I'm not a fan. But for now, they're helping the plants grow upright instead of parallel to the ground like the picture above.

Clearly one of the things I didn't take into account was the weeding. Plants take time to grow and in the mean time, weeds sprout up everywhere in barren soil. I'm constantly weeding. Or at least, I should be constantly weeding. The picture below shows some greens (spinach and arugula) in front of the curve and then some peas and weeds behind it. The crabgrass makes my eye twitch every time I walk out the front door.

Butternut-Waltham squash and weeds. The squash plants are on a little bit of a slope so hopefully they'll enjoy growing downhill.

Despite my best intentions to keep everything natural and without GMOs, sometimes one's partner steps in and buys plants you don't necessarily want. To wit: The pepper plants and strawberry plant below.

The California Wonder peppers I grew from seed didn't do well (my fault, I think, as I didn't give them a deep enough container in which to grow roots) so J went and bought some peppers. He buys pepper plants every year and then doesn't eat them. It's a vicious cycle.

Lessons I've learned so far with my front yard vegetable garden:
  • Though I often garden without a plan, a plan would be best here. I was wandering around without any real vision about what to plant and where which resulted in some seeds being planted haphazardly. I had a basic plan but could benefit from a more detailed one in the future.
  • My intentions may be good, but it's okay if there are some non-organic, GMO-style plants in there my first year (or even my second, third....).
  • Don't bite off more than you can chew! Pace yourself. I had the option of tilling the other side of the front yard but didn't because I knew it'd be too much to manage in my first year.
  • Figure out a better method of weed control. Cardboard, perhaps?
  • It's okay if my front yard perennial beds still haven't been moved from the vegetable garden. Do what you can. In any case, they add interest for now.
  • Watering is definitely easier in my front yard than in the community garden. One point for positivity!


  1. I have two pieces of advice rolled into one from my limited experience growing vegetables: Lay down a drip hose, then mulch heavily on top of it.

    This will help water get directly to the soil, help retain the moisture, and cut down on weeding. I left the end of the hose accessible, so whenever I needed to water, I just hooked up another hose, and turned on the faucet. It's so easy, and the mulch makes the garden look pretty too.

    I love that you have your garden in your front yard. The previous occupants of my house built a nice raised bed, but it's in the shade. I'm experimenting with tomatoes in my front yard this year, and if it goes well, I'll buy some nice decorative pots for next year.

    1. Thanks for the advice. I've definitely thought about a drip hose, but the water spigot is on the other side of the house so the hose would ultimately stretch across the front walkway and/or stairs. I can't figure out a way around it. I've had mulching on my "to do" list for about... um... 6 weeks now. Good luck with your tomatoes!

  2. Mulch! Straw is a great mulch for veggie beds. Be careful about adding sand to the soil. If you have clay soil, the sand will just turn it into concrete. Add LOTS of compost. Then add even more. I've discovered plants with long tap roots can be started indoors in tall, narrow 32 oz plastic drink cups. Or consider growing root veggies in pots and adding other seedlings to the planting bed. If you plant seedlings instead of seeds, you can immediately mulch, which will cut down on the weeds.

    1. All great advice - thank you! And yes, the soil is clay so thanks for preventing a soil disaster.

  3. Very cool idea! I am very inspired to do the same with my front yard! It will be really nice! Thanks you for sharing!