My Simple Gardening Tips & Tricks for This Year.

Get a few of my gardening tips by taking a quick walk through my early June garden.  

Small pepper seedlings sticking out of a vegetable trug.

Simple Gardening Tips You Can Use Right Now.

“Never plant your peppers before June 10th”.  I’d never heard that before but that’s what one of my gardening friends said up at the garden the other day when I told him I had just finished most of my planting.  It happened to be June 10th.  Of course this would only apply to my area, zone 6b, because June 10th is when we’re pretty much guaranteed not to have any nights below 15°C.  That’s the reasoning behind not planting before then. Peppers hate cool weather.

Unlike kale which seems to thrive in any weather or conditions.  It’s so unfair.  Kale may be popular and good for you, but let’s face it – ick.

Drip system running to raised vegetable beds off of central path.

And while kale has cabbage moths attacking it, peppers have maggots.  I might have a fix for maggoty peppers, which I’ll show you a bit later on in this tour.

Above is the watering system that I installed last year. It’s already made a huge difference in the growth of my vegetables.  I was never what you’d call diligent about my watering efforts.

So I went with a drip system and my watering problems were solved.  I can even work in the garden while my plot is being watered because the water just drips slowly into the ground and doesn’t go spraying all over the place like it would with a sprinkler.

You can read my post on how to install a drip system and where to buy them here. 

Row of young squash plants with drip system on raised bed.

Most of the little squash plants you see above are now gone.  Yup.  Gone.  Eaten by something in the garden.  I’ve narrowed it down to chipmunks, voles, rabbits, cutworms, cucumber beetles, birds, mice, and my drip irrigation system since it was seen at the scene of the crime.

Cockscomb seedlings in raised border along vegetable garden.

Filling in any gaps in the garden are cutting flowers since I ran out of room in my actual cutting bed.

Now let’s focus on what a terrible potato digger I am.  Below you’ll see my potato bed. It’s not the garden ghost, the garden ghost is actually my garlic plants which I’ve covered to help protect them from leek moths.

It’s the bed in the foreground with the big holes in it.

Potato beds with new planting method of driving stakes into the ground to create large holes.

As you can see my potato bed already has a huge potato growing out of it because I missed digging up a potato last year. That potato survived  through the winter and sprouted up early in the spring.  I really thought I had managed to dig up all my potatoes last year.

I did not.

How to Plant Potatoes

This year I’m experimenting with a new method for planting potatoes which I came up with when I was borderline delirious from exhaustion.

Instead of digging a trench, hammer a 2×2 stake into the ground 16″ deep.  Then plop your potato in, press it down with the end of the stake so it’s making contact with the soil at the bottom of the hole, and fill in the hole with a few inches of soil.

As the potato grows the rest of the soil will fill in.

Planting potatoes this way eliminates the need to dig a 16″ deep trench.  Therefore you don’t need to find anywhere to put all that dirt you dug out of your trench. You also don’t have to worry about mounding because it’ll happen naturally.  If it doesn’t  you can easily fill in the holes a bit by hand.

Again – THIS IS AN EXPERIMENT. I haven’t seen it done before (although for all I know every other gardener in the world is doing this), I just came up with it out of desperation.  

Pop up potato plants from last year's unharvested potatoes in raised bed.

Behold the other potato bed teaming with potatoes that I didn’t dig up.  I really have to develop a new way of digging up potatoes.

Row cover over cabbage to protect against cabbage moth.

Cabbage moths on your cabbage?  Cover it.  Hoops, row cover and a few clips if you need them should keep the cabbage moths off of your brassicas.  I hope you notice my use of the word “should” which is a very important word in gardening.  Because this is gardening. And all hell can break loose at any moment.


Side view of large garden with hoop houses, floating row cover, and raised beds.

It looks way less sad and depressing in real life, I swear.

Small, round clay pots on worn, red picnic table.

The thing about a “community garden” is … wait for it … it’s a community.  So we trade and share information and stuff, like these pots that one gardener didn’t want anymore.  I grabbed 3.

Butternut squash seeds being planted in compost with trowel laying to the side.

I’m attempting to grow back the squash plants that Kim Kardashian ate.  Did I forget to mention she’s on my list of suspects?

Potting table in garden with plastic storage containers underneath.

Technically a potting bench but mainly I use it as a dance floor.

Beet seedlings with a mass of red roots laying beside row of planted seedlings.

I’ve seeded both beet seedlings and beet seeds so I’ll get harvests at different times.  That’s a handy little tip for you. Stagger your plantings, space them out, so you aren’t inundated with 572 heads of broccoli (or rapini, or lettuce or corn) all at once.

That’s one of my gardening neighbours Walter. I didn’t grow him.


Picking kale in early June under hoop houses.

Here’s more of that sharing thing going on. Walter asked if he could have some kale since mine is growing so well because of my drip system and my DIY hinged hoop houses.  I said sure.  So Walter picked himself some kale.  Walter is from Zimbabwe and last year he taught me about eating my squash plant leaves.  This year I taught him about hinged hoop houses.  Read my post on how to make one yourself.


DIY hoop houses, one net and one 1/4" hardware cloth to protect kale and strawberries respectively.

I took these photos about a week and a half ago. One strawberry was *just* starting to get ripe.

Almost ripe red strawberry in strawberry patch.

Since then I’ve picked baskets of them and am now officially made up of 10% flesh and bone and 90% strawberry shortcake.

Sickly looking luffa plant.

It’s sad isn’t it?  It always looks that way to begin with.

My luffa plant.  No matter how much I take care of them and baby them, when I transplant the luffas they always end up going into shock for a few weeks. Then they usually start putting out new shoots and taking off.

You’ll notice that word “usually”.  It’s very much like the above mentioned word “should”.

Black kale in wood vegetable trug.

My caterpillar free kale.

Pepper, broccoli and brussels sprouts seedlings under cover of net hoop house.

Brussels sprouts, broccoli and … peppers.  All under the protection of a netted hoop house.

Preventing Pepper Maggots

If you want to protect your peppers from the dreaded pepper maggot, you can cover them with netting to keep the pepper fly out and prevent them from landing on your peppers.

The pepper fly has a little stinger (no judgement) and once the peppers are about the size of the tip of your pinkie they’ll shove their little stinger into the top of the pepper and lay eggs in it. Those eggs hatch, turn into maggots, which then feast on your peppers from the inside out until they eventually rot and fall off of the vine.

The reason you can do this is because peppers self pollinate through the wind. They don’t need bees.

Long row of tomato seedlings being string trained.


The Best Way to Grow Tomatoes

Want to grow twice the amount of tomatoes with half the chance of disease?  String train them.  You can plant them closer together and then just twirl them up the string as the season progresses.  No cages, no sprawling and no big deal to do. Read my post on how to string train your tomatoes.

This year I’m also going to put down bark chips as mulch under the tomatoes to help prevent disease like blight even more.

Tidy vegetable garden with black biodegradable mulch for planting corn.

How to Grow Corn

I started my corn in trays outside.  And then I waited. For 2 weeks I waited for that corn to sprout. That corn didn’t sprout. So following a tip from my gardening friend Ron, I copied what commercial growers do. I laid down black plastic to let it warm up the soil.

A week later I poked holes in the plastic (which is actually biodegradable mulch) stuck a kernel of corn in each hole and covered it with soil.  Keep an eye on my Instagram account if you want to find out when they actually sprout and how long it took.

The black plastic also keeps the soil from drying out which in turn helps with germination.

String training cucumbers.

The string method I mentioned before, for growing tomatoes is also great for growing cucumbers. You can read my post about string training cucumbers here. 

Young, green celery root plant.

First year for growing celery root!  Because it’s always nice to have an alternative to mashed potatoes.  Just kidding.  Mashed potatoes always win, but I wanted to try celery root for fun. It does make a delicious mash.

DIY netting for growing melons vertically.

Best Way to Grow Melons?

My melon patch this year is more of a melon wrestling ring with the melons growing up against the ropes. I made the netting with nylon string woven between 2 metal posts in the ground. Again – I’ve lost some of these melons already to Kim.

This is an experiment and I’m not entirely (at all) sure how well it will work. Technically it should work and the advantage is that it takes up much less space than a traditional sprawling melon patch would take. I’m also hoping with the melons growing high up a wobbly length of netting it will deter raccoons from getting their hands on them the very day I’m going to pick them.

Once the melons are about the size of tennis balls I’ll support them with nylon or maybe a bra to keep them from breaking off of the vine.

Full shot of 40'x40' garden with row cover, hoop houses and cages for vegetable protection.

It’s only been a little over a week since I took these pictures and already the garden looks far less desolate. Again, I keep pretty good updates on the garden on my Instagram Instastories, even though I hate doing them and often comment about my hatred of Instagram stories during my Instagram stories..

Black kale being carried in wood vegetable trug.

I always say I’m just “running up to the garden for a minute”.  I vow to come home after an hour.  Two at the most.  I’m often there until it’s dark no matter what time I got there.  It’s an addiction.  It’s therapy.  It’s satisfying manual labour.

When it gets dark out I eventually do go home. Where it’s so late and I’m so tired that I’ll eat a box of crackers for dinner instead of this kale.

Also because unless I’m making this salad,  kale – ick.

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←


My Simple Gardening Tips & Tricks for This Year.


  1. Cathy Marsollier says:

    I finally found a use for Kale. If you’re making any kind of hearty soup , chili or stew, chop the Kale fairly small (a couple square inches) and cook in the stew. It will soften up and add a bit of zing to the flavour. I spent so many years hating Kale so I understand if this doesn’t work for you.

  2. AmyL says:

    I was checking out your Instagram posts and saw that you were looking for a compost auger: I found what looks like – based on the wooden handle in your pic – it might be the very one you used from a site called Kaufmann Mercantile. The catch? It’s “sold out” with no indication of it being available again. However, the description *also* says that it’s made in Orangeville, ON by a retired forester named Jim Lindsay. That’s more-or-less in your neck of the woods; perhaps you can track him down?

    • Karen says:

      I saw that one Amy! I didn’t have any luck tracking it down. But … that’s O.K., as you’ll find out next week. ;) ~ karen!

  3. June says:

    Two things I have to tell you.

    As for Instagram stories, most everyone’s (not just yours) are kind of sucky. The one exception would be your recent one about the chickens eating your perennials in the backyard. While I roared with laughter, I truly did fear for that you might just pull out a roasted hen from that pot. It was fantastic!

    Your veg garden is truly amazing. Please tell Walter that I especially admire his dimple.

  4. June Reiter says:

    Two things I have to tell you.

    As for Instagram stories, most everyone’s (not just yours) are kind of sucky. The one exception would be your recent one about the chickens eating your perennials in the backyard. While I roared with laughter, I truly did fear for that you might just pull out a roasted hen from that pot. It was fantastic!

    Your veg garden is truly amazing. Please tell Walter that I especially admire his dimple.

  5. Monica says:

    Can we get a squash leaf recipe?

  6. Sarah says:

    I also came up with your potato method a few years ago – dig a hole to start, instead of trenching, etc. – and it works like a charm!

  7. Marilyn Meagher says:

    Looks awesome Karen but all I see is work I have way too much of that as it is.

  8. Nicole says:

    I always wondered if one of those rain barrels would work with a drip system so that you don’t need to use water from a well/public system? It’s all academic to me, since I only managed to plant a few seeds this year (but I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like, so I can’t tell if any have come up or if it’s all weeds). I may get out there with some more (I bought some seed mats online) but I’m coming to terms with the fact that I like thinking about gardening way more than I like actual gardening.

  9. Melissa says:

    So two things… can you not like kale? It’s delicious and makes Caesar salad you can keep for leftovers. Second thing…thanks for the tip about the tomato string. I’m totally doing that! Happy gardening/therapy. At this rate we should both be very well adjusted right?

  10. Valerie says:

    I love your harvesting basket. Totally want one. Have a pattern to make one. Just not moved it up the priority list. Your garden is spectacular. Strung my tomatoes for the first time this year. But I picked determinate tomatoes and they are not growing very tall. And I can’t get a good article on pruning those.

    • Karen says:

      You don’t really need to pinch back suckers on determinate plants. Some people will pinch off some of the suckers to allow for air flow, but that’s really all you need to do. Just make sure there’s good air flow through the plant and remove as many suckers as you have to, to allow that. ~ karen!

  11. Marie Anne says:

    You make me want to get a garden plot! Maybe next year…

  12. Heather says:

    You are incredible! Thanks for the info! I’ll share it with my daughter and her husband. They’ve started their first veggie garden this year. This will help.

    • Karen says:

      If it’s at their home they won’t have as hard a time. Not so many pests in most household gardens. :) ~ karen!

  13. Teri Shaw says:

    I grew up in zone 3 with a father who gardened. As a child and teen I paid no attention but years later, finding myself in zone 8b (the tropics by Canadian standards) I started a garden and found out it is either genetic or osmosis was doing its job in my youth. I remembered all manner of garden tips and one of them was to plant seedlings through cans to defeat cut worms and to aid watering (for those without a drip system).
    These days it isn’t so common to have soup cans where you can cut off both ends so I use whatever cans I can and then sub in garden centre 1 gallon black plastic pots where I can cut out the bottom. Plant the seedling right through the can or pot and leave the ‘collar’ standing proud above the soil. This not only stops cut worms from getting to my tender ‘Kim Bits’ (Canadian humour there) but later I can train my hose or watering can into that collar and keep leaves dry.
    Also, I always bury an empty gallon pot beside every tomato plant and kale plant. Then I just fill each pot with water once a day and the watering is done.
    Hard to believe that out here on the ‘Wet Coast’ we actually qualify as a desert in the summer and in recent years have been on stage 4 water restrictions by Late June or early July.
    We have to be creative with our scarce resource so someone had the bright idea of using 4 gallon milk jugs as ollas. There are probably YouTube videos but essentially you fill an empty jug with water, freeze it, take it out and use a pin to poke wholes in the ridged plastic and bury it between plantings, bottom down. The water will melt, the soil will not collapse the container and you can fill the containers every day or so and they will slowly release the water into the soil through the pin pricks.
    No waste water, no burnt leaves from the sun shining through water drops. When you only get to water for one hour per day using a hand held device this is fast and simple once you have done the prep work.
    I also use the vertical method for cucumbers. Helps the long English ones stay straight.
    A couple of ideas for Karen’s Handy Garden Tips…

    • Karen says:

      A friend sticks toothpicks in beside the plant stems that cutworms attack. That way they supposedly can’t cut through. I haven’t tried it myself though. I needed some cans to keep bunnies away from my new cantaloupe plants the other day but I’d need reallyyyy tall cans to prevent bunnies, lol. So I caged them in chicken wire. So far so good! ~ karen!

      • Teri Shaw says:

        Aw yes, bunnies. We have a plague of feral bunnies as well as a large population of deer who have no natural predators. A letter to the editor in our local rag asked everyone to send in their favourite recipes for the, soon to be published, ‘Bambi and Thumper Cookbook’. Partially tongue-in-cheek.
        Bunny fence has to be strong, buried a few inches down and out about a foot. And it has to be surprisingly high as the little critters can jump quite high. Sigh.

      • Agnes says:

        You are right – lots of people read your gardening posts, but here is a comment as well! I use 2l pop bottles instead of cans to defeat the cutworm. Cut off top and bottom, plant through the ring. They can be reused for years. I can get two collars from each 2l bottle. They also work well as slow waterers with just the top cut off and small holes in the side to let water out slowly. Living on a dug well makes water conservation a high priority!

  14. Deb says:

    I am using your string training method on my tomatoes this year and love it already! One additional tip I discovered last year has to do with pollinating. We seem to have a lack of pollinators here in the Detroit area, at least at my house. After a little internet research last year I discovered that you can pollinate the blooms yourself with just a little flick of the bloom. Now, everytime I am in the garden I twitch the blooms with my finger and nearly every bloom results in a tomato! I can’t believe I didn’t figure this out earlier.

    • Karen says:

      If your tomatoes are on strings you can also just pluck the strings as you walk by. This shakes the plant enough to help with pollination. Of course if you only have a few tomatoes it doesn’t make much difference, but if you have 30, 40 or 50 tomatoes plants the string plucking takes less time. quick note! I’ve been using natural string for my string method but have given up. Even sisal has a tendency to rot so I’ll be swapping out my strings with nylon string in the next week or so. ~ karen!

      • Deb says:

        Great idea! If it helps I actually used soft coated wire that I had on hand. I had ordered it in bulk years ago. Each spool is 16 feet I think. I wrapped it over a bamboo pole at the top and twisted it. That makes it easy to let out a bit of slack when twisting the stems. It is working great so far. At the end of the season you can just wrap it back up on the spool and re-use next year.

  15. Melody says:

    We have used a bug zapper light to get rid of moths and it worked well. You can use a timer with it so it only comes on at night.

  16. Erin says:

    Eating squash plant leaves? That is something I’d like to know more about. Guest interview with Walter?
    It’s great you’ve got your systems in place. That’s sometimes more than half the battle.
    I’m re-thinking everything after reading The Lean Farm…mid season, oy.
    Carry on – thanks for the update.

  17. Jane says:

    You are an amazing worker! I had never heard that line about peppers. Here is Missouri the one rule I remember is to wait until Mother’s Day to plant tomatoes.
    And when you said your gardening zone is 6b I couldn’t believe it! that’s like southern Missouri, and you are so much farther north I guess in Canada.
    But I looked it up. Gardening zone 6 creeps up in the weirdest places far north. What an amazing world!

  18. karin says:

    Damn. Now I have to go weed. Seriously though, where are your f-ing weeds?

    I’m super excited about my tomatoes this year. I strung ’em up high too. Your’s look like the string is at a slight angle, not perpendicular with the ground. Is this on purpose or just an optical illusion?

    • Karen says:

      I did it this way because I wanted to use existing T posts that were in the ground along my fence line to support my wood 2x2s. So the supports run right along the fence and planting my tomatoes straight down would have put them right up against the fencing which I didn’t want. So I just planted them out a foot or so and that’s why the string is on an angle. :) ~ karen!

  19. Cheryl Young says:

    Do you have a family of six hidden somewhere? Cause that’s a crazy big garden!! 😀

  20. Sideroad40 says:

    It’s kind of sad that these gardening posts get much fewer comments than…say the fake eyelashes post. Says something about our society :) (not judging)!
    You’re a blogger and need to appeal to the masses – which you do in such a amusing variety of ways. It’s amazing how you can write about installing lighting one day followed by tampons the next.

    I totally ‘get’ the therapy comment…. same same….love a good garden. Beautiful post Karen!

    • Karen says:

      Oh, some posts just get less comments if there isn’t something dramatic to react to. The gardening posts still get a lot of readers. :) ~ karen!

  21. ev Wilcox says:

    Thanks for the photo tour of your lovely garden. I can see why you spend a lot of time there. Though the major work of getting it how you want it is done, the maintenance must take a lot of time. It is beautiful. Enjoy!

  22. Pippa says:

    Instead of being ‘a terrible potato digger’, you could try the ‘no dig’ system. My Dad (an amazing gardener) has been doing this for years and it works really well. I’m forwarding him a link to your genius hinged hoop house!

    Here’s a link about ‘no dig’:

    • Karen says:

      Well, I actually do use no dig (and follow Charles Dowding). But no dig just means you don’t dig your soil and turn it over. You leave it as is, with the natural structure intact. It doesn’t mean you don’t dig your potatoes out of the ground at the end of the season. :) ~ karen!

  23. MrsChrisSA says:

    I would gladly leave the Kale for the Kim’s and bugs and critters of this world to eat. It must be the most disgusting stuff I have ever tasted – triple ick!

  24. Cheryl says:

    Kim Kardashian ate my squash plants too! :(

    Loving that drip line! We’re on a well, so I’m notorious for under watering. Thinking it’s time to automate.

  25. Paula says:

    I planted my melons like that (including watermelons) last year and used pantyhose (which I had to buy because I don’t wear them) to form a sling to hold them up. Worked really well.

    I haven’t had any issues with pepper maggots so mine aren’t protected, I hope my luck continues! The brassicas…well that’s another story – everything is covered. My sweet potatoes will be going in tomorrow, I prepped the bed last week with lots of compost, put the irrigation in place and covered the bed with the biodegradable black plastic to warm up the soil. My zone is 5a so I am behind you. Just going to search for your post on sweet potatoes so I can decided on spacing.

    My tomatoes are strung up, too and I have also covered them to stop the rain from splashing the soil and causing the dreaded blight. Gardening is my life this time of year, quite literally (I love it), I am out there until dark every night and dinner is usually whatever I have snacked on in the garden and a sandwich or soup. lol

    My irrigation is the best, too. I just love turning it on and going about my other gardening chores. My strawberries are a bit sad this year, I have tons of them but I think that cold snap we had at the beginning of June stunted them.

    Please do more gardening posts! Happy gardening.

    • Paula says:

      I forgot to mention that I had to cover all of my squash, beans and kale as something was eating them or snapping them off the stem. Every morning, there was another tragic loss. :(

      • Karen says:

        Rabbits. They ate ALL of my rare bean plants that I was generously given by Crystal at Wholefed Homestead. I’ve also planted my cantaloupe 3 times this year for the same reason. Sweet potatoes are 1 per square foot, even slightly further apart if you can, 18″ is my favourite spacing for them. NEVER any closer than 12″ though. ~ karen!

        • Paula says:

          Thanks Karen. I surrounded my plants with 12″ high ‘circles’ made of 1/4″ hardware cloth until they got bigger and that worked. It sure was a pain making them though. lol

  26. SuzanneLH says:

    Wow. Make’s me tired just looking. Good luck fighting off Kim, and her cronies.

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