We're proud to be one of the eight gardens selected to be part of the 2019 Porter County Master Gardeners annual Garden Walk on June 29, 2019 - 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT (Chicago Time). Tickets are available here, but if you miss it, you can still stop by during one of our weekend "farmstand" events and take a tour. Like us on Facebook to be notified of when we're having an event.
The rest of this page is intended to provide some interesting details about each planting area and can be used as a self-guided tour. Page sections are in order if you enter through the wooden gate and start with a left turn and then follow the outer perimeter around.
Our first attempt at growing fruit trees started in 2011 with a purchase of eight trees from Edible Landscaping. We originally had planted these trees down the road in between our 2009 Arbor Day foundation free Norway Spruces but learned very quickly about deer browse and overcrowding and moved them to this location in 2015, so they aren't as established as they should be after eight years. Original purchase included two each of Harrow Diamond St Julian Plum, Korean Giant Pear, Pristine Apple, and Enterprise Apple. Lost one of the apple trees and one of the plum trees to overzealous pruning, and supplemented with a Kmart clearance red delicious and two Tractor Supply peach trees a couple years ago. Interesting to note, until I looked up my online order receipt this year to see what year we planted these, I thought I had ordered peach not plum - which explains the tulip shape and most certainly explains the excessive sap. It fruited for the first time last year and that's when we learned that we have to spray our fruit trees with Neem oil before we spray the grape vines to save the fruit from Japanese beetles.
Kohlrabi was an experiment that stuck. One year when equal areas of one raised bed were planted with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and kohlrabi, we were overwhelmed at both the devastation of cabbage moths, and just how little edible food you get with cole crops. Kohlrabi is the strangest looking but the most efficient of the bunch. The moths leave the bulb alone, you get ten times more edible per square foot, you can make slaw and kraut with the leaves, and kohlrabi sticks with ranch dressing are one of the best summer snacks. A total pain to peel but totally worth it!
Swiss chard freezes well if your goal is to make green smoothies all winter - which is what we do to keep from getting scurvy on the off season and don't want to pay a premium for store-bought lettuces. This year for some reason I got a much better germination rate than normal so there's actually a second bed of swiss chard over by the lettuce. Waste nothing!
Minnesota Midget Cantaloupe are by far the best melons ever. In fact, I almost forgot what they're called since the seeds we save every year are just labeled "Best Melon Ever." We love these so much we have 150 feet growing on our other property. They're a daily surprise because you can see one that's big enough but not even close to ripe one day and the next day it's just detached from the vine - they pick themselves when they're ready.
Growing peas as a companion plant to melons this year to provide a little extra shade and a little extra nitrogen to the soil. Peas rarely make it to our kitchen since a favorite pastime is to just go on a garden walk every day around lunchtime and eat peas fresh from the vines.
Sugar Baby Watermelons only grow 6-10 pounds so they are one of the few varieties of watermelon suited for vertical gardening. If we get a very large one pollinated higher up eventually we have to make a sling for it out of an old t-shirt to keep it from falling to the ground and cracking open when it is ripe. These are incredibly sweet and juicy and we've saved seeds year to year from the best ones. We have five 50-foot rows planted on our Calumet property.
Since watermelons are one of the last vining plants harvested each year, they are also the place where squash bugs hang out after they've eaten their way through zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, and cantaloupe (that's their order of preference, by the way). Nasturtium repel squash bugs - and are a lovely and spicy edible flower addition to a summer salad.
Propagated annually from a 12-pack of Georgia Jet slips purchased from George's Plant Farm in 2013. This variety is prolific and a great keeper. We're still eating from last year's 300 pound harvest, which is why we only grew six plants this year. We still expect close to 75 pounds. We highly recommend Alton Brown's sweet potato pie recipe. You will never settle for pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving again. We make ours with our own honey and eggs and homemade yogurt and we skip the pecans because that overwhelms the wonderful flavor of these potatoes.
Knee high by the fourth of July....we hope. This year we planted on Memorial day and less than four hours later, the tornado rolled through the area dumping so much water that the street overflowed and sent a river right through our garden. This sort of thing has happened before, which is why we invested our time and effort into raised beds. The only things lost/damaged were the corn field and the hot peppers and garlic along the north edge...along with two flats of unplanted bell peppers which floated straight through the west fence to the bridge across the creek bed (which also floated downstream). We also lost most of a truck load of wood chips to the torrential downpour. We fully expect to be finding corn and peppers growing in our ravine later this summer.
This video is from 2016, but this year's devastation was only slightly less spectacular due to the retaining wall built at the corner in 2017.
Our first two plants were a gift from neighbor Laurie Wellman, but they never fruited - then we learned that they like acid soil and this area is nothing but clay and rock and incredibly alkaline. We dug out this area, filled it with pine tree trimmings from our Calumet Avenue property, leaf mulch, peat moss, and pine bark and added 12 more Northern Assortment plants purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in 2017. We enjoyed our first blueberry pancakes last year! Looking forward to seeing this turn into a six foot tall hedge row in years to come!
This row of 20 concord-like grapes started as one stick brought to us from neighbor Chris Robert's dad's property in 2013. The only area where we invested in new lumber, the trellising is assembled from 21 free standing posts since we can't sink them above the gas line. The entire row is held steady by two boulders on either end. Last year's harvest was turned into 7 gallons of wine.
No matter how early in the winter I start my eggplant seeds, they never seem to be big enough to go out in the garden in May and stay incredibly small until magically one day they're overwhelming the planting bed and covered in flowers. One of our annual experiments was a package of Little Fingers eggplant seeds and we discovered that these are the tastiest and easiest to prepare. They don't need to be peeled or sliced and drained before cooking and are wonderful just roasted as a side dish.
Every year we like to try something new, so we reserve about a third of one our 24x3 raised beds for little tests. Sometimes the seeds are free gifts with an order. Sometimes a neighbor is helping a parent clean out a house and drops off a bag of random seeds...but one way or another we end up with seed packets of things we don't normally grow. Neither one of us even knows if we like Beets, Rutabagas, or Turnips but we're going to give them a try since we had the seeds. We also thought it was worth giving Kale and Spinach another try, since the last time we attempted to grow them, our soil wasn't as good as it is now. We're also giving chamomile a try, since our son loves to make tea and he's a fan of the peppermint tea we made for him last year. Another experiment is He Shi Ko Bunching Onions since we found we went through too many of our storing onions pulling scallions for salads, it only made sense to grow perennial onions for that purpose. If this batch succeeds we'll likely move it to our herb garden since that's where it's easier to install winter covers on the smaller square beds. There's also a small batch of unlabelled unrecognizable seeds somewhere in here that may or may not be lima-like beans and mung beans.
I made the mistake of labelling my saved seeds "James beans" so I'm not completely sure but I believe this variety is Contender Stringless Bush Beans. He loves these because as they are named, they are stringless. You don't even have to snap both ends (but the chef makes me do it because he likes symmetry in his presentation) since there's no string to pull.
Sugar Pie Pumpkins only grow 6-8 pounds so they are a great variety for vertical gardening. Each pumpkin makes about two cups of puree which is exactly the amount needed to make a pie...or a batch of pumpkin muffins...or Alton Brown's Whole Pumpkin Pie Soup which we've modified and made our own and call Christmas Tree soup. We use broth we made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass in our steam juicer, homemade yogurt instead of heavy cream, cream cheese instead of goat cheese, dehydrated garlic and onion powder we make ourselves, and fresh rosemary (which has moved indoors for the winter and gives it the flavor of Christmas Tree).
We grow most of our pumpkins at our Calumet property but grow some here to provide shade to our leafy vegetables during the hottest months of the summer.
We used to always grow our onions from sets, but they often bolted which made their stalks hard to braid and they weren't very good for storing over the winter. This may be the first year that I am truly successful starting from seed. If it's a good crop, the trick is to NOT start them indoors. Spring weather in the area is so random that hardening off that early invariably kills them from either extreme heat or killing frosts. The same seeds direct sown at exactly the same time of year thrive no matter what Mother Nature throws at us. They still need to be transplanted into better spaced rows once they're tall enough, but they don't mind it as much as indoor seedlings.
We always like to grow at least 6 varieties of carrots. We haven't found our absolute favorites yet, but we do love the red and purple varieties. They're somehow sweeter. Still haven't successfully saved seeds and with the amount of work for the amount of money saved, I'm not sure I want to try again.
Opposite "problem" that I had with carrots, the seeds saved from bolted heads seem to have a much better germination rate than packets I purchased. The only risk is that I wasn't very particular about how I picked the flowers and I haven't cleaned the seeds out of the pods very well, so I have to have a "nursery" across the aisle and pick out the seedlings for the varieties that I want to keep growing to transplant to their final home. Still, I hate to waste anything so I always end up with way too much lettuce.
No, I have no idea what variety these are - and in fact I'm pretty sure there are probably seven varieties here. I used up a lot of gifted seed packets and then used very poorly labelled saved seeds when the germination rate was low on some of the older packets. It's ok...there's nothing better than a home grown cucumber no matter what the variety. We can grow a LOT of plants vertically, and they provide excellent shade for the lettuce.
Extra space - extra plants. I am so bad at thinning. I never want to throw away a seedling that germinated. So there are kohlrabi thinnings between the beans and an entire section of "extra" swiss chard right next to the lettuce. Randomly throughout the garden are pots that contain plants I didn't have space for but didn't have the heart to discard...and often it's lucky that I do. With so much organic matter in the soil, sometimes pill bugs devastate one of its flat-mates and I have a replacement at the ready. If they don't get used, when friends visit I try to rehome them. Excess sunflower seedlings from the chicken fence had to find new homes behind the shed and up on the hill in the ravine. In the herb garden I know I have cilantro, basil, and parsley planted too close together for full size plants, but I bought four inch pots for gifting mini kitchen gardens later in the season. And of course, there were 100 extra tomato plants, 50 extra pepper plants, 600 garlic, and 300 potatoes that found a home up on Calumet.
Whenever I have extra space, I have to grow radishes because, well, radishes are easy...and fast. They're nice for breaking up hardened soil and if you let them bolt the flowers scare away the squash bugs.
This was the very first raised bed we built after we lost the majority of the strawberries we had planted in 2012 to massive flooding of the garden. Built from our old pool fence panels and extra pieces of lumber from building our first chicken coop. As with all our raised beds since, the soil was built up from Amazon boxes, weeds, grass clippings, leaves, chicken coop litter, and a topping of purchased topsoil so we can plant right away. We've learned a lot about bed construction since and will probably need to rebuild it once we can source some more discarded decks since fence boards don't last very long. There is nothing more soul-satisfying and delicious than homegrown strawberries macerated with backyard honey poured over homemade yogurt!
24 each of California Wonder, Kaleidoscope Blend, and seeds saved from a really beautiful sweet red bell pepper we got at the grocery store (unknown variety). The one store bought pepper actually yielded over 100 viable seedlings. We lost about a quarter of them during the Memorial Day flooding when the seed flats floated the entire length of the garden, through the west fence, and down the hill. 48 of the extra seedlings were recovered and immediately planted up at our Calumet property the next day to try to save them.
We're not sure what variety we'll get or whether we'll even get a decent crop...potatoes are harder than you'd think when you garden in the Valparaiso Moraine. Rocky clay soil and random flooding has made this the most frustrating thing we've tried to grow for the last 12 years. We started with store bought Yukon Gold, Russett, and Red and we keep the runts in a brown bag in the fridge each winter to try again. We chitted them in an indoor greenhouse for a month before planting for extra insurance. This year the plants look healthy and beautiful but we've been fooled before and never know what we'll find when it's time to dig them up. To hedge our bets, we have four 24-foot rows here and another five 50-foot rows at our Calumet property.
When you have a semi-wooded lot, you sometimes have to find creative uses for dead trees - especially when the emerald ash borer takes out most of them. During a garden expansion in 2015 we dug out a 100 square feet of sod and dug it down one foot deep. Then we hauled 24 feet of 36 inch diameter ash logs up the hill and into this spot and covered them with the removed sod and soil, wrapped the whole thing in landscape fabric and planted pumpkins on it. In 2017 we discovered someone had dumped a bunch of doors on our Calumet property and we repurposed them as a mostly decorative border around the whole thing and switched to Zucchini. Every year we have to add a little soil in places where the breakdown of the underlying logs creates a minor sink-hole effect.
We get some interesting fungi including a beautiful, colorful annual chicken of the woods display.
Normally our choices of tomato varieties are geared completely to making sauce with a handful of cherry tomatoes to make summer salads interesting. But since my kids graduated college and we've gone low-carb we've got about 50 quarts in storage. This year we've decided to play with more variety. This is our first year growing Baker Creek varieties Sub-Arctic Plenty, San Marzano, Black Vernissage, and Tzi Bi U (Violet Jasper).
Of course we're still growing our old standby cherry tomatoes that I've been selecting and saving seed from since I started gardening on this property in 2007, and the variety my father started propagating since a coworker gave him some seeds in the early 1960s that we call the Calafati Wonder (or Grandpa Frank tomatoes).
These "beauties" are so meaty it's hard to get enough seeds from them each year - even though they average one pound in size. Every year we try to save seeds from the biggest and prettiest one (hard to do because while delicious and perfect for tomato sandwiches and sauce they are incredibly ugly). We always get at least one 2 pounder...once we were an ounce shy of three!
In addition to the ~100 plants here growing up a six foot wide arch made from five 16-foot cattle panels, we have another 100 plants of random varieties growing on our Calumet property.
Started a flat of Baker Creek Connovers Colossal seeds in the winter for a brand new asparagus bed. Soil for the new bed was carted over from our chicken run and is incredibly rich (but not very weed-free) thanks to our girls. Once the bed was built and it was time to plant out the seedlings, it was discovered that this larger, thicker variety did not meet with the culinary requirements of the resident chef, so the chef picked up a 10 pack of Mary Washington bare root at Menards on sale half-price. With ~20 plants we'll be up to our elbows in asparagus in about three years.
This mini orchard of apple trees was a surprise birthday gift of six Stayman winesap trees in 2016. Purchased two additional Honeycrisp trees for cross pollination. Flowering was underwhelming this season so we don't expect much of a harvest. We're still learning about proper pruning, but since I killed older north border trees with knowledge acquired from Youtube, we're probably not as aggressive as we should be. If you're an expert, come talk to us!
The polar vortex hit our perennial herbs pretty hard this year, so we had to cheat with a trip to Reed's Nursery & Garden Center to replace our thyme, oregano, lavender, sage, and rosemary. I'm not sure if anything can kill chives...they seem to be the hostas of the herb world. Silver lining though - shopping expanded our perennial collection to include lemongrass (the main ingredient in bee swarm lure) and fennel. Annual herbs cilantro/coriander, basil, parsley, and dill were all started from seed indoors in late winter. Except for a cute little boxwood basil that I couldn't resist on my nursery shopping trip.
Have a seat on our bench and just enjoy the view (either direction is good). If you want to build one of your own, you can get the legs here. I'm looking forward to having picnics with my grandchildren here some day. If my sons could just get on that, that would be great.
Every once in a while, the age difference between us is painful. Like when I made the sign for this bed and just labelled it "Scarborough Fair" and James just gave me a blank stare. This is for anyone who like my husband is under 50 and never heard of this song
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
Tell her to make me a cambric shirt (On the side of a hill in the deep forest green)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground)
Without no seams nor needlework (Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain)
Then she'll be a true love of mine (Sleeps unaware of the clarion call)
Tell her to find me an acre of land (On the side of a hill, a sprinkling of leaves)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (Washes the ground with so many tears)
Between the salt water and the sea strand (A soldier cleans and polishes a gun)
Then she'll be a true love of mine
Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather (War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions)
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (Generals order their soldiers to kill)
And to gather it all in a bunch of heather (And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten)
Then she'll be a true love of mine
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine
Garlic was planted in the fall from the biggest and best bulbs we harvested last summer. By early spring, most of our saved braids had sprouted so those all got planted at our Calumet property (about 600 plants!)
Hot peppers were started from seeds we collected when we processed all of our dried ristras into pepper powder. This row of peppers started the season nicely organized and separated, but almost half of them had to be salvaged from the bottom of the hill after the Memorial day rain storm, so I'd be surprised if I accidentally got them all back where they belonged. Approximately 60 plants here - twice as many as last year's harvest - which gave up over a gallon of dried pepper blend.
The retaining wall on Johnson street was the most significant effort put into making this garden possible. Prior to building it, the lawn was nearly impossible to mow as the slope to the street was very steep. It was backfilled with all the river rock landscape stone that made up the house's foundation gardens when I purchased the house in 1996. Over the years it's been planted with mums, rose of sharon, and hostas, but every few years we try something new. Since the grape vines voraciously eat anything tall planted there, we're trying creeping phlox this year. Starting out from very small bare-root plants, it's not much to look at right now but we envision incredible color come spring - if not next year, the year after that.
The problem with the retaining wall blocks we chose, is that if you don't plant something in the gaps at the base, something will invariably plant itself. We've rehomed some yellow stonecrop sedum and a small patch of hens and chicks and an occasional hosta into some of the gaps. We're waiting to see what works best and will split and expand the plantings into the remaining gaps - and will continue to weed anything else that volunteers in those spaces until then.
We also rehomed our roses from between our property and our neighbors to the north to the more sunny locations on either end of the garden. They're much happier here. Joining the roses on the east end are some bearded irisis, one happy hosta, and around the stop sign a mix of daffodils and orange daylilies keep the color going throughout the season. On the west end, the other half of our rehomed rose garden, more daylilies masking and surrounding a poorly placed manhole cover, our first attempt at growing fruit - a lovely tree but some of the worst pears, and a clearance Japanese maple that started out making Charlie Brown's Christmas tree look healthy, but is finally coming into its own and looking like an actual tree.
We buried a garden hose under the lawn which connects up to a Orbit Dual Valve Digital Watering Hose Timer. The valves connect up to two 35 foot radius lawn sprinklers mounted to the south ends of the melon hoop and the tomato hoop. With a total garden length of 123.4 feet, this ends up with only a small amount of overlap on the center beds. We have these set to water early in the morning as close to sunrise as possible to reduce evaporation and to give the leaves time to dry out. Minimum one hour per side - usually two with a day in between.
The sprinklers attract hummingbirds and finches every morning. Sadly, the finches bring along with them undigested bits of viable thistle seed that a neighbor or two put out for them. If I were to ever become politically active, I would lobby for a complete ban on the sale of viable thistle seed. Since that's not something I want to do, I just want to take a moment to encourage you to BAKE your thistle seed for 20 minutes at 200 degrees before filling your feeders! Those of us who love birds do not love pulling thistles.
To help with weeding direct-sown plants early in the season, we use mason jar rings to mark where the seeds were planted. Many of our weeds look exactly like a seedling and this keeps me from missing unwanted volunteers and from accidentally pulling out plants that I want to keep.
Why, you wonder, is the garden 123.4 feet long? Well at 36 feet wide, that makes it exactly 4,444 square feet.
Yes, I'm a geek.