Early this year when I was recovering from back to back heart procedures to address some major blockages that had snuck up on me over the past few years I made up my mind that I was going to plan and execute on a garden this spring / summer. Honestly, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed but just haven’t had the energy the past few years to even think about such an undertaking.

Needless to say though, it’s been extremely therapeutic spending an hour or two outside each day tending to our lawn at our residence in Conway (which I’ve also taken back over this year after hiring it out to a third party for the past few years), or working in the garden.

Given the fact that we don’t have a lot of acreage in “suburban conway” to really work with I knew from the onset that this project was going to need to be high-production with the ability to operate efficiently in a confined space, so I went to the drawing board and mapped out what I wanted to produce this season. Fortunately, I’m the only one in our household that consumes mass quantities of vegetables so planning was the easy part. I knew that I wanted to have; lettuce, spinach, kale, green onions, vidalia onions, red sandwich onions, cucumbers, brussel sprouts, banana peppers, carrots, celery, cauliflower, yellow squash, and a particular variety of tomatoes that I’ve learned to love. I’ve also planted 4 melons that I’m really excited about; black diamond, ukrainian yellow watermelon, sugar kissed melons, and a very unique hybrid that I’m hoping does well in our southern climate –it’s amazing and no one’s ever seen anything like it around here. As soon as things begin to dry down I’m planning on adding a few rows of sweet corn along our fence line.

The planning process came together pretty quickly, it’s always easier on paper than it is with a shovel or a rake in your hand.

As I mentioned earlier, I really don’t have a lot of space to work with at our residence in Central Arkansas, so I remember a really impressive “vertical grow operation” I toured in the midwest that was extremely productive in a very small amount of space. Plants such as tomatoes and even watermelons and cucumbers were growing vertically along a wall inside a controlled environment w/ the aid of a complex system of trellises and netting. It really made an impression on me. Then I also remembered an article I read recently about “square foot gardening” and how it had really caught on in places like the pacific northwest and even right here in the south. Once I had my plans knocked out, I went to work and installed two raised beds, one is actually a “double raised bed” and the other is one single raised bed (manufactured by vigoro, high quality).

Having been out of gardening for a really long time I had to start from scratch accumulating supplies, etc. Needless to say this trip to Home Depot was around $500.

Since we have had a tremendous amount of rain in the south this season I had plenty of time to work with so I started everything from seed, this gave me an opportunity to shop around online and select varieties that I preferred over what’s commercially available at the local wal-mart or home store. As I mentioned, I started everything from seed w/ the exception of cucumbers, onions (bulbs), and my tomato plant.

I even managed to get some help from Spencer and my niece, Kavanaugh, in starting out our seedling operation. I was surprised how well these starter containers work, very nice.

Obviously, when things dried up I went to work constructing our raised beds w/ the assistance of my wife (who surprisingly showed up to work alongside me, I think she’ll even admit that it was kinda fun.)

It’s funny to see this photo and remember that a few weeks ago the backyard had almost became an unmanageable space consumed w/ crabgrass and other annual weeds that were imposing upon our bermudagrass sod.

Once the beds were installed I would spend a little time each afternoon that I was in town transplanting the seedlings that were ready for the world. Eventually the beds started to filling up pretty quickly.

The idea of square foot gardening is to produce as much food as possible on each square foot of your available space. This is where the planning process paid off.
Having the luxury of more seedlings than I have space for is that I can throw them all in the bed and give them a chance to establish themselves and over time and remove the plants that have the least amount of early vigor. (see photo below)
These were just a handful of seedlings that I culled early this season.

Honestly, once the plants became established in the garden, I haven’t had to use my high-tech irrigation system that I added this year a single time, I’m sure that I’ll need it at some point when July and August roll around here in the south. In just a matter of a few weeks, everything seems to really be doing well. The photos below are some early shots of the garden when it began to take shape.

In addition to not needing to irrigate yet, I also haven’t really added very many soil amendments aside from a little 13-13-13 that I had laying around.

Once the garden was planted and as far as I could take it at the moment I began focusing on getting my lawn back into shape, especially the backyard. We had hired a professional lawn service a few years back and I’m confident they introduced every type of weed seed and invasive species onto our property, not intentionally –they just didn’t know any better, but I’ve already started the cleanup process and I hope to at least have a halfway decent lawn by the time July rolls around.

This is the most recent photo of the garden taken this past weekend. I’ll have some Kale, Green Onions, Lettuce, and Romaine ready for at least one meal this week! Notice the spot spray on our lawn (blue color marker), our dog, Bogey decided to roll around in it and turned himself into a smurf. Needless to say, that was a lot of fun to cleanup.

My plan this summer is to journal periodically to update everyone that has expressed an interest in how the garden project is working out. Also, so I can share mistakes and remember not to repeat them again next season –so, stay tuned for more updates and keep your eyes open for a special google photos gallery I will be adding soon and updating throughout the season.

This emerald oak lettuce is going to be amazing!

In closing, I will say that it’s true that gardening is great medicine for stress and anxiety, unless of course you get bit by a snake and have to endure all of that drama…