Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


Buckwheat grows next to asparagus at the Food at First community garden in Ames, Iowa.

Buckwheat possesses a dainty charm, its frothy white blossoms buzzing with bees above its kelly-green leaves. And buckwheat makes an excellent cover crop in the veggie patch once you’ve harvested your early-summer lettuce and peas.  Just a little interesting discovery I learned last weekend during the second annual Edible Garden Tour in Ames, Iowa.  The garden tour involved eight different gardens (both community and residential) scattered across town.

I had gone to reap a few ideas for my own front-yard garden. Along the way I met people passionate about edible gardening, sustainable agriculture and community involvement. I also found pretty, red-stemmed okra and masses of rudbeckia luring beneficial insects into the garden. I found tomato plants heavy with fruit and blueberries just starting to turn red.

Garden tours serve as wonderful motivators to try something different,such as cover crops to add nitrogen to your soil and suppress weeds. Which is exactly what I will do, before it’s too late in the season.

Rudbeckia swarms with beneficial insects in this lush residential edible garden.

Food at First grows, collects and redistributes food items to those in need in Ames, Iowa.

Gardening with vegetables and annual flowers is a race against time and the elements. If you jump the gun, spring frost may knock back tender seedlings. If you delay too long, yields may be reduced because plants won’t fully mature before fall freezes arrive or the excessive heat of summer stymies growth. Onions are an example of a plant sensitive to day length. Varieties adapted to the northern U.S. form biggest bulbs during the long days of June and July. Delayed planting results in decreased bulb size because they form during the shorter days of late summer.

In response to this year’s mild winter, I’m betting on an early spring. I seeded onions in the greenhouse in mid-January. The seedlings are up and growing strong, and will soon be ready to transplant into the garden. If you haven’t started onion seeds yet, you can still direct seed them in the garden, purchase transplants from a garden center, or plant onion sets.

Seedlings of onion and annual flowers grow quickly in a large box with a seedling heat mat to provide bottom heat.

This weekend I’ll be starting dozens more vegetables and annual flowers in the greenhouse seed-starting chamber. When seed orders arrive, I file away seed packets by planned start date, storing them in the extra refrigerator in the garage to prolong their viability.

Store garden seeds in air-tight containers in the refrigerator to keep them fresh longer.

I did a quick inventory of seed packets to start on March 1, and came up with the following list of things that I’ll be planting this weekend.
Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ (an All-America Selections winner for 2012) and ‘Blue Victoria’;
Dianthus ‘Parfait Raspberry’;
Celosia ‘New Look Red’;
Gomphrena ‘Dwarf Buddy’ and ‘Qis Purple’;
Baby’s breath ‘Gypsy Deep Rose’;
Lavatera ‘Hot Pink’;
Marigold ‘Hero Bee’;
Snapdragon ‘Twinny Rose Shades’;
Lobelia ‘Crystal Palace’

Tomato ‘Lizzano’, ‘Terenzo’ (AAS winners for 2011), ‘German Johnson’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’, ‘Pruden’s Purple’, ‘and ‘Pompeii’;
Pepper ‘Black Olive’, ‘Cayenetta’ (AAS winners for 2012), ‘Odessa Market’, ‘Corno di Toro Giallo’, ‘California Wonder’, ‘Gordo’, ‘Premio’;
Eggplant ‘Black Beauty’;
Basil ‘Queenette’ and ‘Mrs. Burn’s Lemon’;
Broccoli ‘Liberty’, ‘All Season’s Blend’, and ‘Romanesco’;
Cauliflower ‘Grafitti’;
Chinese cabbage ‘Little Jade’ and Michihli’;
Lettuce ‘Garden Babies Butterhead’;
Beet ‘Bull’s Blood’

I’ll wait several weeks to start quick-growing heat lovers such as zinnias, squash, and ornamental cotton. By then, I’ll move frost-hardy annuals to the covered deck or front porch to acclimate to outdoor growing conditions. They’ll grow slower there than in the greenhouse, but as the adage goes, “slow and steady wins the race”.


In April, Better Homes and Gardens teamed up with Triscuit to create the ultimate Home Farming challenge for three bloggers {who’d never gardened before} to create their best home farm.

Triscuit Bloggers

Annie, Catherine and Peabody accepted said challenge and frankly…dominated it! Each blogger had different conditions to grow their vegetables in–balcony, typical residential lot and a rural setting, thus creating a variety of challenges. But overall I’m quite impressed with how well their home farms flourished!

Here’s a look at their finished products:

Annie Mama Dweeb

Annie Mama Dweeb

Catherine Davis

Catherine Davis

Peabody Rudd

Peabody Rudd

To get a feel for where they started–check out the progress pictures for Annie, Catherine and Peabody. Or read up on how they overcame their struggles and managed to eat from their garden throughout the summer.

And then help us decide who created the best home farm by voting here {psst….just by voting you are entered to win $1000 yourself!}

The following is a guest blog post from Helen Yoest–owner of Gardening With Confidence where she is a garden designer, garden writer, and field editor for Better Homes and Gardens, Country Gardens, Traditional Home, and many other magazines.

A tomato, ripened on the vine, still warm from the sun, then sinking my teeth deep into the meat of the mighty ‘mater, pegs my pleasure meter. I can think of nothing better to measure summer’s success. But, did I grow tomatoes in my garden? Nope; not then, but I do now.

It wasn’t my idea to have a vegetable garden; it was my kids’. I was perfectly happy with beautiful flowers and foliage to keep me amused. But then, late one summer, my 8-year-old son, Aster, wondered why we didn’t grow tomatoes. I didn’t have a good reason, but I answered, “I thought you liked going to the Farmer’s Market each week?” His reply was “I do, but I wonder what it would be like to grow my own.” So we did.

We made short work of figuring out where to put our vegetable garden. Co-planting in our packed, wildlife habitat was an option; however, I was more keen on commandeering some turf. We found a small, 20- by 20-foot piece of yard, that seemed like the perfect location — in full sun and right in front of our driveway.

Covered with composted leaf mulch

Despite my son’s need for instant gratification, I was able to curb his enthusiasm to wait until the next growing season for planting. In the meantime, we covered the new garden space with 4 inches of composted leaf mulch, allowing the earthworms do the hard work for us, while we planned our future garden.

We also thought we needed to name our garden, so it was dubbed the Le Petite Potager. At the time, I wasn’t sure if the name related to the size of the garden or the size of my kids; either way the name seemed to fit. (Full disclosure, only 2 of my 3 kids thought this garden was a good idea. The teenage was the holdout.)

We weren’t serious vegetables gardeners, not like those admirable ones in search for the most coveted heirloom varieties, we just wanted a few home-grown tomatoes, big and red; cucumbers, long and straight, and yellow bell peppers. We also added hot peppers in hopes to interest my husband in our new gardening foray.  Our thinking was if he was interested, he might share in the care.

The next summer, we were swimming in success.


Lily’s cucumber crop was measured in feet beyond her body length, with arms stretched forward.

JulyGBBD 037

Aster’s tomato crop was measured in the number of tomato sandwiches he could eat in one sitting; Lara Rose’s (the teenager) success was measured in how little time her nose was parted from her book.

My success was measured in perfecting the most delicious fried green tomatoes, with the least amount of effort. We each also relished in the taste only a vine ripened, red, homegrown tomatoes could provide.

Lily and BeanOh and yes, my kids successfully lured their father into the garden, who declared himself the one in charge of adding kitchen compost to Le Petite Potager and taking credit for the number of earthworms present, which he boosts as the reason for the garden’s overall success. Ah, Cest le Vie, it’s a good thing the kid’s and I have other measures of the garden’s success.

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