Apr 292015

Working in a small space can either be viewed as a challenge, requiring creativity to make the most of what you do have.  Or it can be viewed as a reason to whine about what you do not have.  This is true whether you are talking about your house or your garden.  I choose to view it as a challenge.

Since we live in town and our lot is not a huge one, having a large garden is not something that is possible if I still want to have room for the kids to play.  I have tried to make use of spaces tucked here and there, as well as use raised beds.  The raised bed garden has done okay the past few years, but I knew that it could be doing better.  I was missing something.

With planting season very close at hand, I was looking for some help in taking my garden to the next level.  Enter The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, grow tons of organic vegetables in tiny spaces and containers.  I have read books on having small gardens, checked out blogs about small spaces, and looked up tips and tricks.  Most have told me things I already knew – go vertical, plant what you like, tuck plants in among your flower beds, etc. Or maybe they mentioned something new, but never in enough detail for me to implement it and work around problems.  The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden takes the concept and layout of gardening in a small space further, giving me details that would help a small garden succeed in growing more in that space.

Growing plants pesticide free was not an intentional decision; it came out of not wanting to spend a lot of money on chemicals and learning just how bad they could be for you.  For a short time, I even worked for a tree care company, applying chemicals to people’s yards.  (I will not being doing that again; it really is not in line with who I am.)  One of the things I learned was that a chemical was not always needed, but of course they would not sell you the service of applying soapy water to get rid of your bugs.

Not applying pesticides to my garden has not always meant there were problems.  I lost parsley one year to caterpillars before I figured out what was going on.  Another time I have had some trouble with squash bugs and lost two of my three zucchini plants.  All together though, it has not been a difficult growing without pesticides.

Along with the decrease and final exclusion of pesticides, came the thought about fertilizers and other things added to the garden.  “Are they really good for the soil?  Should I use them or is there a more natural way to get the same results?”  I began looking into other ways to add nutrients back into the soil, ways to garden that did not require chemicals to be added in large amounts.

I have some favorite websites to look up issues on, but often I am left trying to find someone to ask or searching pictures online to see if I can figure it out myself.  While reading The Postage Stamp Garden I came across a very useful table – The Soil Nutrient Deficiency table.  This will become my quick reference for those times when I am not sure what is going on with the soil.  Rather than applying a general fertilizer or adding more compost in hope the issue will disappear on its own, I will be able to focus on what is lacking.

Another surprise was when I came across multiple garden layout ideas.  Side notes about how you can use the space once certain plants are gone or as they are growing were even included.   What a great way to help those of us who are better visual learners than auditory learners.

The Postage Stamp Garden has several other additions that I really enjoyed:

  • The comparison between various animal manures is something that will be helpful, as I am looking for some right now to add to my garden beds.  It is not all created equal and if I am going to go to the trouble of finding, hauling and applying it, I would like to know that my effort is resulting in what I am actually looking for.
  • When talking about planting, they go beyond cool and warm weather plants and talk about planting with the phases of the moon.  They do not do this to encourage you to use this method, but so that you will have the information if you do choose to use this method.
  • They also talk about planting zones being on a larger scale, not able to represent all the microclimates that exist in that every garden area.  To help compensate, there is a table that gives you clues in nature which you can look for to help pin point even closer when might be a good time to plant.  This will help take some of the guess work out of the date ranges often found in planting dates.
  • A full 93 pages of information on plants to grow!  With each plant there is information included on planting, crop stretching, recommended varieties, typical problems gardeners have with these types of plants, harvesting, storage, and growing tips.  I particularly found the crop stretching and typical problem section useful.  This is information that I feel I have been missing these past few years to make my small garden work even better than it has been.
  • Chapter 8 is titled “Controlling Pests, Diseases, and Critters”.  They even cover the soap-and-water treatment I mentioned earlier.  I have successfully used this to get rid of scale and was glad to see it included in this book.  6.5 pages were used to create a table helping you find the answer to, “What kind of control do you use for what pests?”  No more having to search online in hopes of finding the answer among all the search results.
  • The book ends with a listing of 33 various seed companies ranging from small companies to larger ones.

Karen Newcomb has made the most of the 200+ pages in this book.  Within those pages she has create a great guide to gardening when you do not have a lot of room for trial and error, but want to make the most of what you do have.

I am very glad that I took the time to read through The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden and will be keeping it within easy reach during my gardening this year.  In the next few weeks I hope to get the garden planted.  Keeping this guide on hand will help allow me to make better use of all my spaces and to think outside of what has become ‘normal’ for me.


I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

This post contains affiliate links.

Apr 182013

I’m going to apologize ahead of time for the blue pictures.  These were in the shade.  As this isn’t a post about taking photos, I hope you can ignore that quality and appreciate the photos for what they are, a visual of what I am talking about.

The squirrels have really been an annoyance this year.  To start off with, they’ve eaten the majority of the bird seed I put out a month or so ago.  So much so that I stopped putting it out till I could figure out a solution.

Then they started eating the flower bulbs I put in pots on either side of my stoop.  Granted, these were left over bulbs, so I wasn’t really upset about the money lost on purchasing them.  But that doesn’t mean I wanted them eaten.  I wanted flowers.

At about the same time I realized they were eating my onion bulbs in the new garden bed.  I had hoped the squirrels would leave them alone, being that the bulbs were onions.  I’m mean, my worms will eat everything but onions when I feed them scraps.  No such luck.

To keep all the onion sets from being eaten I placed my old raised bed covers on tops of the new bed in hopes that the squirrels wouldn’t be determined enough to crawl though the small gap left between the chicken wire and the edge of the bed.  (The covers don’t fit very well and actually are hanging off three sides; I put them end to end as the  new bed is longer and narrower than the old raised beds.)  This solution seems to have worked, though it doesn’t look the best and won’t work once I plant larger plants in that bed.

Now it was time to figure how to keep my tulip bulbs from being eaten.  As these are planters near the front door, I didn’t exactly want to place chicken wire over them.  I knew I just needed to make it harder for the squirrels to dig, obstruct them if I could.  Out of frustration, and lack of time, I reach down, picked up a stick and broke it into pieces.  The pieces I laid on top of the soil in the planters.  IT WORKED!  I couldn’t believe it.  Out of the past seven days I think we have lost 1 bulb.  This one happened to be in a large-ish gap among the twigs, which I quickly closed up.  A benefit of this solution is that you can’t see it from the sidewalk.  A drawback is that you can see it when you walk up to the front door.  However, as it looks more natural than chicken wire, is free, and is renewable I’m okay with that.

planters with sticks to keep out squirrels 2

planters with sticks

planters with sticks to keep out squirrels

With this problem out of the way, I began to think about my other raised beds.  What did I want to do for them?  As they aren’t really planted yet, I didn’t think I had much to worry about.  Um, yeah.  Apparently something is really loving to dig among my new strawberry transplants.  The rest of the bed is covered in wood chips and sawdust, so I was wondering if the unobstructed access to soft earth is what was attracting them to the exact spots I planted.  Whatever was digging also like the bed where the wood chips were pulled back from the plants versus the bed where the sawdust had blown around the plants.  I was contemplating this yesterday but wasn’t sure what to do.  I walked away, hoping time doing something else would help me find a solution.  It did.

While walking back to the house I passed my rosebushes and noted that there was at least one cane that was dead and needed to be cut.  That was my light bulb moment.  I had noticed near the bird bath and bird feeder that if I threw bread crumbs among the rose bushes the birds would get them, but the squirrels would not go in there.  My hope was that this will carry over to the strawberry bed.  

strawberry plants newly planted in raised garden beds

I grabbed my pruners and set about cutting that cane, as well as a few more on another bush that I knew would grow into the yard and get cut during the summer.  Being careful not to stab myself on the thorns, I gathered up all the canes and went back to my strawberry bed.  The cut canes were laid along the rows of strawberry plants.  Since I’m not sure if the digger was a neighborhood cat (though no ‘evidence’ was found), a squirrel or another animal this should deter all of them.  No one likes to dig among thorn bushes.  That is,  unless you are a mouse, but this also didn’t look like a mouse.  Whatever was doing this was doing it to dig.  The strawberry plants were not harmed in any way, except for being disturbed and pushed out of the way.

As we are having thunderstorms at the moment, I do not have an updated picture to show you.  You’ll just have to imagine straight, green and gray canes laying along the black circles where a strawberry plant had been placed.

I’m still left trying to figure out a more permanent option to keep out the squirrels (and rabbits) from all my raised garden beds.  I could always do the method I used to do, but I’m not so sure that is the best method.  I will also need to be able to put bird netting over the strawberries (I think) once they start producing (hopefully) this summer.

Have you found anything that works great for you?  Is it something you learned about from elsewhere or did it just come to you?