A few answers about the garden

After my tomato post the other day, several of you had garden questions. I can’t remember how much I’ve told y’all about this before, so you may want to skip this if gardening isn’t your thing. I suppose our garden would be small to a farmer, but it is big by most people’s standards. The main garden is about 120 feet by 50 feet. Then there’s a separate melon patch (probably about 18×10), a 30-ft row of strawberries, a 40-ft row of raspberries, 6 grapes, and 6 fruit trees. (Gracious – no wonder something’s always in desperate need of weeding!)

My husband moves the tomato plants from starter packs to yogurt containers because they’ll be stunted if they stay in the starter packs much longer. But around here it can still possibly freeze at night for a couple more weeks. The varieties he’s growing this year are Beefy Boy, Romas, Prudens Purple, Brandywine, yellow pear, and Sungold cherry tomatoes.

He’s also already started cabbages, dill, melons and peppers– all indoors under lights. This year he’s also starting more trees– chestnut trees, hickory, black locust, Kentucky coffee trees, and sweet gum trees. My hubby is a bit of a tree fanatic– he can’t walk past a tree in the park without checking for seed pods. When we moved to this property, there was ONE lone wild rose bush on the entire 3 acres. Now there are at least a hundred. A few huge, many small, but when we remember the look of the place 15 years ago when we built the house it is quite the tranformation.

Since their transplant to the yogurt containers, the tomatoes got moved out from under lights to a big sunny bank of windows in his shop. There they’ll experience colder temperatures and start to harden off, which will make the move to the garden in a couple weeks less of a shock. Out in the garden, each baby tomato will be planted a little deeper than it was in the pot to develop good roots, then be surrounded with a tomato rack and covered with clear sheeting for a week or two, to prevent sunburn. By mid-July they’re usually up to my shoulder, and by early August we’ll hopefully be getting our first tomatoes.

As far as spraying fruit trees, we’ve discovered it is really necessary, esp with apples. We use Sevin, per package recommendations, with a pump-up cannister sprayer with a wand. We spray about 4 times over the summer, once soon after bloom, and about every 4 weeks after that, stopping at least 3 weeks before picking. I don’t love spraying, but the truth is that grocery store apples are loaded with spray. We spray less often than the regular growers do, and don’t get perfect results. About 50% of our apples are ‘perfect’– ie, bug free. about 30% have a small bug hole or two someplace, and the other 20% of our apples are only good for applesauce after some careful trimming. But I am content with the results we get, and am not anxious to use more spray than that.

For those of you interested in starting your own seeds, John recommends The New Seed Starter’s Handbook by Nancy Bubel. Growing your own plants allows you lots more variety and is much more affordable than buying plants already started, especially if you want a good-sized garden.

One thing that really makes this huge garden possible is the help of everyone in the family. About 3-4 days a week we all head out to work in the yard/garden for 30-45 minutes after breakfast. Working together we can get so much more done! Last night 9 of us worked on flowerbeds for 45 minutes. Add that up — that’s almost 7 man-hours of yard work complete in less than an hour. And the truth is, when we all work together, the atmosphere tends to be pretty decent. I call out 15 minute intervals so that people know that the time is ticking away. People chat, sing… and yes, they occasionally whine (but not much, because that earns bonus minutes!) The littlest girls fill sleds with weeds and drag them to the burn pile. And when we are done we can step back and see real improvement.

Anyway, that’s the scoop on the garden for now. I’ll share growing pictures later!


  1. I love that you all garden together! I want that for my family someday! We have a tiny garden now, but someday we won’t be a military family and will have the opportunity to grow much more!

  2. Mary,

    Awesome information! I believe that some of the best family time is around the weeds in the flower beds/garden! A lot of great conversation can take place. My husband says that working in the garden is a great stress reliever! Thanks for sharing…

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  4. Thanks for the info. We are moving to the country in a month, probably too late to plant much this year. But I’m planning on learning all I can this year so I can having a rocking garden next year. And fruit trees, I can’t wait. But I’ve only got 3 little helpers and they are all under 3 so I don’t I’ll get quite as many manhours out of them;)

  5. That’s fantastic! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    We haven’t grown anything successfully yet.. but that’s because my hubby insisted we didn’t need to add compost to our nutrient deficient soil….. 😀 After 2 years he’s decided he’s wrong, so we’re good there 😉

    I am trying to patiently wait for some seeds to sprout. I hope they do!! We have 52 Brandywine started, and 12 cherry tomatoes.

    If I can get my act together I’m going to try to start some more seeds before it’s too late!

  6. I am jealous–but not. I love to have a garden but they surely are a lot of work!!

    My friend’s bank gives has a “tomato day” where they give everyone free hotdogs, chips a soda and a cookie and a free six-pack of tomato plants. Actually, you are not limited to only one although we ended up with one for each of our six kids and one for me! That is 42 tomato plants! I don’t even begin to have the capabilities to grow that many but we gave three packs to my friend who has a farm and kept four (although I only wanted one!)

    I have never grown more than 4 at a time!

  7. Would you take photos of your garden, too?

  8. Hi Mary, my grandma’s solution for bug-free fruits is to to tie a newspaper around the fruit even it is still on the tree. That prevents the bugs, rodents and birds from getting to them.

    Our fruits are not small ones like tomatoes and apples though so it’s not as much work. We’ve got durians, papayas and mangoes.

  9. Thank you so much for answering the questions! I find all of this fascinating. Like others have said, I really like reading how you all work together, regularly, in the garden. You sure do have a large one! Ours is only about 18′ X 24′, although I hope to expand it a little for the fall garden. The large chicken tractor is helping with that. Now that the chickens (only 2!) are older, they are really doing a great job of clearing the surrounding area of weeds and grass, and loosening and fertilizing the soil. So I guess that will add about 3 ft. to it on all sides, ending up with 24′ x 30′ for Fall.

  10. Thank you so much for this post. I love it. I am the oldest of eight, and we spent every saturday out in our gardens that sound almost exactly like ya’lls! And I know that as a kid, I was one of the whining ones, but now I actually MISS living in the city and not having a garden. thank you so much!

  11. that’s really cool!

  12. Gardening together can be fun as you are demonstrating.