Tips, Tricks and Disasters from my 2018 Vegetable Garden.

An epic row by row tour of my 5 year old community garden.  With hints, tips, disasters and *new and improved* swear words.  

If vegetable gardens had beauty pageants they’d be held in July.  Every plant is young, full bodied and free of disease.  All well known requirements for any beauty contestant. Really the only difference is vegetables cannot play the piano or throw a baton.  They have a lock on the question and answer segment though, invariably wishing for World Peas.

This year my 40′ x 40′ community vegetable garden is tidier, easier to keep and more organized than ever.  It takes a lot of years to develop good habits in the garden. Like pinching suckers, remembering to reseed lettuce, keeping on top of all the pests, coming up with appropriate and innovative swear words.

I think this year it all came together. I fixed some mistakes from last year, tried a few new things for this year and so far everything is coming up roses.  Amarosa Rose potatoes to be exact.

So let me walk you through this and point out a few things.

Firstly the mulch pathways through my plot.  It is a HUGE pain and expense to mulch the walkways. Huge.  Big. Huge. Pain.  After doing it this year I said never again. But the mulch does a good job of suppressing weeds in the paths, it’s nice to walk on, smells good and retains moisture.  So I’ll probably do it again.

When you walk in the garden immediately to the left and right are beds of asparagus.  They are not dill.  They are asparagus plants.


Just in front of them I’ve planted various flowers.  The asparagus is very feathery so enough light comes through them for the flowers to grow but they’d be twice as big if I had planted them in their own beds away from any shading.  So.   Won’t be planting anything in front of the asparagus again, except maybe things that like shade, like lettuce in the middle of summer.

I really cut back on my borderline lunacy dahlia plantings this year.  It was a mistake. I want more dahlias again.  Filling in the flower bed is statice which I’ve never grown before and it’s FANTASTIC.

The statice is prolific, weird, feathery and is an interesting filler for arrangements.

I also planted cockscomb, which you may have noticed has the word cock in it.  I hate it when people ask me what the name of it is.  I mainly mumble something unintelligible and then run away. Because I’m 5.

These plants are still young, so they may produce more than I think but next year I’d like to plant about 10X as much of it.

Because …. seriously ….

The Zinnias are just getting going, once they’re all in bloom I’ll have pink, apricot and lime green zinnias.

Along my borders behind some more asparagus are red snapdragons and white snapdragons.  Lots of them.

Up next, the first bed of vegetables in the garden is squash.  NO idea what kind is in there.  I know there are some Honeynut squash in there, but the others are a bit of a guessing game.

In total I’m growing Grey Ghost, Sweet Mama (Kabocha), Sugar Pumpkins, Hopi, Thai Rai Kaw Tok Pumpkin, and Jarrahdale squash. Although I don’t think the Hopi germinated.  Sad, because that’ll only leave me with 17,893,488 squash for storage.

In the bed across the aisle from the squash is one of three potato beds I have.  This one filled with Kennebec and Yukon Gold potatoes.  

Kennebec potatoes are the potatoes of choice for french fries plus they store well.  


More squash.  Yep.

I don’t do anything special with the squash plants, other than take a quick peek underneath the vines every once in a while to make sure the guy from downtown who wears bells on his shoes isn’t living under there.

The Russet potato bed. The workhorse of the potato world, good for pretty much everything.  Also in there are Red Potatoes which most people like for potato salad because they get soft but don’t fall apart.  I’m actually not a huge fan of that for potato salad, I prefer a bit of falling apartness.

The garlic you see below  was harvested a few days after this picture was taken.  For garlic I harvest when the bottom 2 or 3 sets of leaves have dried out.


  • Pulling your garlic out too early doesn’t do anything to hurt it, you’ll just end up with slightly smaller heads of garlic.  Unless you pull it WAY too early and then your individual cloves won’t have formed and you’ll have a big blog of garlic.
  • Pulling your garlic out too late could result in heads that are dried and splitting, which also means garlic that won’t store well.
  • Store your garlic in mesh bags in a dry and dark location.  It should last at least 6 months.  And even then if it starts to shrivel or sprout it’s still fine. It won’t be bad, just not at peak quality.

Also in the bed below is a row of leeks planted very close together.  I have a leek growing technique post coming up soon and it could CHANGE YOUR WORLD.  If, you know, you’re passionate about leeks in the way most people are passionate about avoiding bed bugs.


More potatoes. Because potatoes aren’t just potatoes; they’re french fries, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, galettes, gnocchi, salad, latkes, chips, soup and more.

So one needs many potatoes.  And many potato varieties.  This is my hodge podge bed of potatoes with a bit of everything including Russian Blue, Peruvian Purple, Amarosa, Linzer, Pink Fir, and Red Gold.


  • Potatoes can be harvested any time after they’ve flowered.  You’ll get small, new potatoes.
  • The time to harvest them is when the leaves all die back and the plants look dead. Even then you can leave them in the ground until it’s cool enough in your house to store them. They store better in the soil than they will in your cupboard.

Onions!  I didn’t cover them to protect them from Leek Moths, so let’s all hope and pray and have good thoughts that my onions make it to maturity without rotting at the neck from some horrible grub living inside of it.

I’m growing Red Florence Onions, Copra and a huge onion called Kelsae.  It’s a hybrid that was developed in the 1950’s, but unlike most hybrids you can save the seeds from it.


Onions grow best from seed or seedlings.  Onion sets (which are mini bulbs) are more prone to bolting. Once an onion bolts and goes to seed, your onion stops growing.

Onions like to feed.  If your onions don’t seem to be growing as big as you’d like feed them with Bone Meal and Blood Meal.  Mix equal parts and sprinkle 1 cup of the mixture for every 10 feet of onions.


Once you grow your own corn you will always grow your own corn. It’s one of those magical crops.


Corn is a bit difficult to germinate. I got almost 100% germination this year by covering my bed to heat it up with biodegradable mulch.  That’s the black plastic you see.  Then I poked holes into the plastic and planted my seed.  The mulch keeps the soil warm and the hole allows water to drain into the well where the seed is.

Also, do NOT grow corn in rows.  To properly pollinate, corn should be grown in blocks. So instead of growing a row of 12 stalks of corn, grow a 4×4 square of them.


These are my carrots.  It’s probably hard to see them because they aren’t there.

I have started carrots THREE times this year and have almost zero success.  I believe out of the hundreds of seeds I’ve planted, I’ve ended up with around 3 carrots. It is also entirely possible that other gardeners felt sorry for me and stuck a few grocery store carrots into my dirt. Who can be sure?

My last seeding was 3 days ago which will barely give me time to grow carrots.  I’m not holding out a lot of hope.

For the carrots I did what I always do (and what normally works).  I plant the seeds, water them in, and then cover with plywood to keep the soil wet.  Dunno why the carrot Gods are against me. no idea.

Part of the reason I’m ahead of the game with my gardening this year is because of these hoop houses.

The metal mesh one is over strawberries to keep chewing pests like voles, mice, rabbits and 2 year olds out.

The lighter netting ones are to cover brassicas and peppers from flying insects that want to decimate them.

To the right at the back you can see the netting I made with nylon string for my melons to grow on.  Probably is my melons aren’t growing because of the snackelfarting (new swearing word)  rabbits that ate them all.  The same asshead (old swear word) rabbits ate all my rare bean seeds.

And in behind the mesh you can see the dill. Which these caterpillars eat but at least have the courtesy to leave me some.

I lost no strawberries to pests (except for some slug damage).  My kale, broccoli, swiss chard and brussels sprouts have no holes and ZERO caterpillars hiding in them.

You can learn how to build the hinged hoop houses here.



I will never grow brassicas without this type of hinged hoop house again.  What makes it FAR superior to just draping row cover over your plants, or even using traditional hoops stuck in the ground is the cover never flips open or blows away.  It isn’t a pain to get under for weeding or harvesting. You just flip it open and flip it closed.  You will never ever swear while using a hinged hoop house.

Along the back of my garden is where I have all my tomatoes.  Regular tomatoes on the left of the centre path, paste tomatoes on the right.

String training is my preferred method for growing tomatoes after testing about a billion other methods.

Learn how to do the String method here. It works for tomatoes, cucumbers; anything that has a stem you can wrap around a string.

The Luffa sponge plant.  Nope. It doesn’t grow in the sea.  It grows on a vine in your garden.  (If you’re lucky)

Learn everything you ever wanted to know about growing luffa plants here, in my Ultimate Guide to Growing Luffa Sponges.

Behold the caterpillarless broccoli.  Imagine gardeners.  A broccoli you don’t need to rinse, soak in water, swish in salted water, soak some more in hot water and then ultimately throw away because you aren’t positive you got rid of all the cabbage moth caterpillars.

This is my first year growing celery root and I’m pretty excited about it.


Red cabbage growing in a row of both red and green cabbage under row cover.


DON’T pull your whole cabbage out. If you cut it just above the leaves closest to the ground it’ll grow a few mini cabbages along the stem which are actually a much more manageable size than a full sized cabbage.

Clean, clean kale. No need for swearing here. At all.

I have two huge pots in my garden. In this one, I have Sweet Grass which my gardening neighbour gave me.  (Thanks Ron)

In the other I have Ground Cherries growing.

On this particular day the harvest was a single beet (donated from Leo, a fellow gardener because my beets aren’t even NEARLY ready), a bouquet of red snapdragons, scads of lettuce, some garlic and many pickling cucumbers.

Here’s my Kosher Dill pickle recipe and my Bread and Butter pickle recipe.

And here’s me. With my whack of garlic.


And my helper with a basket of raspberries, some pickling cucumbers and a few flowers to take home.

You know you’re doing something right as an Aunt when your niece remarks that the raspberries are perfectly ripe because they’re coming off the canes so easily.

A few weeks in the life of a vegetable garden is like decades for a beauty pageant contestant.  So wilting, withering and possibly disease are likely to hit soon.

Within a few weeks the potatoes will start to die back, the tomatoes could get blight, the cucumbers powdery mildew. But for now it’s July and these pretty young things are still turning heads.

Even without a bathing suit competition.


  1. Meg says:

    This is the most beautiful garden! I feel this year it’s so organized and tidy. Lovely!

    I *so* long to have a garden! Probably by the time I do you’ll have figured out ALL the problems. *perfect!* I mean – holy crap, I’m amazed at those pest-free broccoli plants!!

    I just moved, so since it’s nearly August I’m starting some herb/veggie plants in containers inside. We’ll see how they do, despite being off-season! haha! I’m not even sure that will work, but I’m going to try!

    And maybe *next* year (I say this every year to myself) I’ll be able to plant some things outside. Until then *please please please* keep posting photos of your garden. Even when it gets tired and hot in the middle of August.

  2. Theresa Johnson says:

    Overachiever. (In a good way.) Nicely done!

  3. Nicole says:

    So if you don’t like them in potato salad, what do you use the Red potatoes for? I swore this was going to be the year I actually gardened. I lied. On the other hand, I have been busy doing other things, not just sitting on the couch (although that’s where I am at the moment) and Boston’s been setting heat records.

  4. Peggy says:

    Your garden is just beautiful! My parents, sister and I share gardening pictures and stories all summer. And often in the depths of an Alberta winter as we dream and plan. Interestingly, I too seeded carrots twice this year and ended up with a barren bed with 5 lonely carrots. Bizarre. I look forward to your posts, Karen, so keep ‘em coming!

  5. Julie says:

    Beautiful garden! We are growing giant pumpkins this year. The package says you have to basically mate the flowers yourselves then pour beer down the stems for bigger pumpkins. I think we’ll just leave it alone for now, I don’t want to interfere with pumpkin relationships. I’ll let them “mate” themselves!

  6. Pat says:

    Just call them “Rooster Comb” which is what they’re named for. No need for blushing. lol!

  7. Bonnie Gutierrez says:

    I hear you, although, I can also remember the people directly next door would work together but usually it was she. In any case, I love my perennial flower garden and would like to start a vegetable garden when we move to a bigger property – tried tomatoes in a container last summer with little success!

  8. Elizabeth says:

    What the heck is wrong with the carrots this year? Mine didn’t come up either – for the first time ever. I reseeded them so we’ll see.
    I’m sure your fellow allotment growers are envious of your set up.
    You should give a garden tour IRL, for those of us living close enough….
    Oh and I love the COCKScomb! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Eileen says:

    Garden envy…! Of course if I dedicated as much time and effort as you do, mine might (might!) look something closer to this, on a mini scale. But if (here comes the wingeing) you had hardly any precip. all winter and spring, then during May/early June you had twice the normal amount, and then it stopped raining completely until Saturday when you had 4 in., another 4 in. yesterday, and more to come (possibly 10 in.) in torrential downpours all week…maybe then you’d be garden-pathetic as I am. Or you’d have started a desert/hydroponic garden….
    : )

  10. Mary W says:

    I have NEVER, EVER seen Kale, Cabbage, or Broccoli leaves with zero holes! NEVER and YES, you are a beauty queen in the gown competition and I love your bouquet! Your garden is a delight and wonderful reminder of my gardening days, so long ago. I love pumpkin and one year decided to grown a few even though people told me it wouldn’t work well in Florida – ignored them and the pumpkin seeds/plants and ended up with at least 50 gorgeous orange pumpkins – big and ready for carving. I tried again almost every year after and never, ever got another one to grow. Sorry about your carrots – I remember all the colors you showed us before. Best thing about memory is as you age, old memories seem better and better. I call my cat ‘Puss’ and my grandson ‘cocky’. To me that is perfectly fine since I’m old and remember when Gay was a delightful, happy mood. Young people just change perfectly good words into slang. My dog was named Maxi, the feminine protection bitch. Don’t know how bitch turned from a female dog to what it is today, do you?

    • Nicole says:

      Maxi! That’s awesome! I kind just want to get a dog to name her that and explain the name to everyone we meet. :D

  11. Kim C says:

    All of it looks fantastic, especially the drinking fountain! Happy harvesting.

  12. Bonnie Gutierrez says:

    Your garden is amazing and it hearkens me back to my childhood when Dad and our neighbors had lush gardens full of veggies and flowers. You could deem this year’s garden a “victory garden”…. that is victory over the pests and varmints! Enjoy and thanks for sharing.

    • Karen says:

      Where I grew up you could look down the backyards and see all the husbands (why only the husbands I have no idea) vegetable gardens too. ~ karen!

  13. Alice Woody says:

    I have garden envy…not the mean kind that doesn’t want you to have the garden, just the kind that says I want one too! Thank you for sharing.

  14. terri says:

    If you try carrots again and actually have a crop, leave them in the ground until after the first freeze. The freeze sets the sugar and they become very sweet and worth the trouble of growing your own instead of spending 79 cents at the grocery store for a whole bunch.

  15. Marianne says:

    Wait, a 40 x 40 community garden plot?!? In my Philadelphia community garden I shared a 4 x 8 plot with another family. Not fair!!

    • Karen says:

      Ours is a special garden that’s been around for 30 years. Plus it’s privately run and we have a lot of land. :) ~ karen!

  16. Lindy says:

    Best porn I’ve seen all week! Brava.

    • Karen says:

      Well it’s no garden in the French countryside but it’s all I’ve got. ;) ~ karen!

      • Lindy says:

        Pah! It’s utterly gorgeous and most important – productive. and I love how you mastered the automatic watering system. That looks brilliant.

  17. whitequeen96 says:

    Beautiful! I will never do all this work, so it’s nice to see the fruits (or vegetables) of someone else’s labors! Thanks!

  18. Ev Wilcox says:

    Your garden is a feast for the eyes! So glad you share it with us. This year I have an 8 ft x 3 ft by 18″ high garden thanks to my youngest son’s labors! The water source is only 30 ft away, so I can water from a can or flood with a hose. Rain here in northeast Ohio has been scarce, so I am doubly blessed by the deep well water. I only have a three tomato plants and 2 bell peppers + onions grown from sets, and one straight neck squash plant. Didn’t know I was going to get the bed, so I did not start any plants. I named my garden Minnie (mini!). She is doing well. Next year I hope to add another bed–8 ft by 2 ft by 18″ for tomatoes. We’ll see. Got some extensive yard work done today and hope to get more done soon. Grateful happy gardener here. I can see Minnie from the deck while communing with my cats (who so far have left her alone). Love my critters, love my garden! Thanks again Karen-it is indeed a labor of love and we thank you!

  19. Jen says:

    What an amazing garden, Karen! My carrots actually grew (albeit curved weirdly) this year. I was told that they are difficult to grow…and that planting them in sand is best.

    • Karen says:

      They aren’t hard to grow but they’re really hard to germinate. Watering the seeds in and putting a board over them almost always works but it’s been SO hot and dry here. I must have missed a couple of days of watering them and that was it. They were done for. I’ve started more, was vigilant about watering them daily and they’ve germinated. :) ~ karen!

  20. Hazel says:

    I’ve had a rubbish year for carrots too but put it down to the long spell of hot dry weather we’ve had in the UK.
    The upside of that though is hardly any slugs…

  21. Leslie says:

    I was in Kenya this year and visited an agricultural center in one of the rural areas. They string train tomatoes and were surprised I knew what it was. Actually their beds looked similar to yours, except for the corn, their corn was planted in rows. They had smallish plots just a lot of them in various stages of maturity. The produce was beautiful. It was interesting. They actually raised fish to eat also. It is something you should consider. They a portion of a chicken coop over a huge galvanized tub with fish in it. The chickens pooped in the water which fertilized the plants and alga. The fish at the aquatic plants. When the fish were big enough they were harvested and sold. A self contained eco system. I’m not really sure I would want to eat the fish but I suspect I have eaten food raised/fed under worse conditions. What you don’t know … HA HA.

    • Karen says:

      Ha! Ohhhh that’s true. We’d all probably never eat again if we saw the conditions some of our food was grown/raised in. Corn can be planted in rows as long as it isn’t a single row. ~ karen!

  22. Tina says:

    You mentioned raspberries, that’s my opening! As you know, I grew some sprouts from seeds last summer, this summer they grew like gangbusters! From 2 little plants, I was getting a pint a day now they’re tapering off. This year’s producers are getting all dried out looking and suddenly the new canes have grown like crazy! Here’s my questions
    1. Should I begin to clip away this year’s producing vines or leave a bit longer?
    2. The new canes are over 9 feet high so my builder is going to give me a new bigger garden box for them. When should I transplant them?
    Thanks! You’re the queen in my book of raspberries! 👸

    • Karen says:

      Hi Tina! I trim away the old canes at the *beginning* of the new season before new growth has started. If anything is producing, just leave it. I transplanted my raspberries in January or February when there was an unseasonably nice weather streak where I could dig them up, but any time after they’re dormant and before they start to grow again is fine. So say November – April for zone 6. ~ karen!

  23. gloria says:

    Or possibly whirled peas?

  24. Shirley Curtis says:

    Strange your carrots didn’t germinate! I tried the “board method” for the first time this year and I swear every seed germinated. I did plant in the bottom of a small trench so that the seedlings weren’t squashed flat if I was late in lifting the board. Better luck next year!

    • Karen says:

      I figured it out! It has been SO hot here that the soil was drying out faster than I ever could have imagined. I’ve started *more* carrots, lol, and they’ve germinated. BUT they won’t have time to grow now unless we get a long season. :/

      • jen says:

        My carrots were a dud too! I’m sure it’s planter error though. I will enjoy the 3 that lived (so far)!

  25. TucsonPatty says:

    Beautiful! So. Much. Work. Congratulations on winning the Miss Garden of the Universe pageant! I think the Miss Congeniality title, also!! : )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *