Karen Alley has been working with Carolina Gardener Magazine off and on for 10 years, but reading and writing about wonderful gardens doesn't automatically make you a gardening expert! While a passion for gardening has been a part of her personality since childhood, she will vehemently profess to not knowing much when it comes to the ins and outs of designing and creating beautiful landscapes, yet the desire is definitely there. This blog will follow Karen's adventures as she continues landscaping a relatively new landscape and starts a vegetable garden in a beautiful raised bed built by her husband.
 

Recent Blog Posts

Aug 26
The Summer of Rain  

Jul 18
Outsmarting the Varmits  

Jun 27
Trial and Error  

Jun 13
Second Time’s the Charm   (2 comments)

May 02
Full of Hope  

Apr 19
A Fresh Start  

Feb 25
Fun with the Birds  

Jan 25
Weather Watching  

 

 

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Second Time’s the Charm
by Karen Alley - posted 06/13/13

I had something happen this year that has never happened to me before. My bean seeds rotted in the ground. At least that’s what I assume happened.

Here’s the scenario. As I wrote in my last blog, I planted my garden and then it rained. I was very proud of myself. But it didn’t just rain that afternoon. It rained for two weeks.

When the sun finally came out, it was as if the garden had frozen in time. Nothing had grown at all, and one squash plant had turned yellow and wilted to nothing. But with the return of the sun, things started growing. All except the beans. I waited two weeks, hoping to see some sign of life, but finally gave up, took my hoe to the rows and started again.

I’m glad I did. This time the bean seeds sprouted in just one week, and now I have healthy, strong plants.

I have learned something valuable this year. Maybe it’s something I already knew, but it seems to have taken on more importance this year, with the long, cool, wet spring we had, the snowflakes that fell the first week of May and the horrible tornadoes that have ripped through the Midwest. Mother Nature is fickle. We can calculate average last-frost dates and watch the forecast to know when to water the garden and when to hold off, but in the end, there’s only so much we can control. The bulk of it is out of our hands.

Luckily I don’t depend on the vegetables from my garden to feed my family. We enjoy them, but can always buy food if necessary. But this experience made me even more grateful for the work farmers do and for our great agricultural system in the United States that enables me to buy a can of green beans from the supermarket whether it’s rainy or sunny outside.

And I’m also grateful for the long growing season in the Carolinas. Because I had plenty of time to plant more seeds and watch them grow. I’ll probably even plant a third time in late July!

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Full of Hope
by Karen Alley - posted 05/02/13

I am not a farmer by any means. I sometimes even hesitate to say I’m a gardener after I visit some of the magnificent gardens of people I meet through my work on the magazine. But I do love plants of all sorts and have a great start on a perennial border. And after this last weekend of planting my vegetable garden, I think I know the pride a farmer must feel on getting the crops in. When everything falls into place, including the weather, it's like a natural high that we gardeners can truly appreciate.

This year I wasn’t sure I was going to tackle the vegetable garden. I had quite a few disasters fall on my little plot last summer, and when the end of March came and the garden still wasn’t tilled, I tried to convince myself it was okay to take a break. Tilling the garden is one thing I can’t do myself, and my husband has been very busy at work and with his time in the Army Reserves, so I hated to ask him to do one more thing.

Then, without even talking to me, he came home from Lowes one day with a truckbed full of Black Kow and proceeded to till the garden. How could I not plant it after his efforts?

I looked at my calendar to find some days when I could spend a chunk of time in my garden and then studied the weather forecasts. On Tuesday they were calling for mostly sun all week until late afternoon Saturday, when a front was coming in that would bring rain all day Sunday. Perfect!

I sketched out a plan and picked out my plants and seeds from the local hardware store -- one of those old, locally owned stores that smells like cigarette smoke when you walk in and has everything from plumbers tape to wheelbarrows.

I was also on the search for an all-natural rabbit repellant. One of the perks of being the editor of Carolina Gardener is that I have a little say in what gets published in the magazine. Last summer I struggled with rabbits eating my bean plants, so I asked Stacey Libbert to write an article about rabbit control. You can read her article for yourself in the June issue, which should be hitting your mailbox shortly after May 15. In the meantime, I can tell you that what I learned from the article is that unless you’re prepared to build a fence around your garden that goes 2 feet deep and up to 2 feet tall, there’s not a lot of fool-proof methods, but there are some deterrants. I ended up purchasing something called Liquid Fence. The kid working at Lowes warned me that it smells bad, and boy, was he right! But hopefully that’s what makes it work.

So last Saturday, with everything purchased, I planted my garden. Both kids ended up helping, and without even being asked. In fact, they day before they said they didn’t want to. I guess the lure of squishing their toes through some freshly tilled red clay was just too much to withstand.

Then on Sunday, it rained all day. A good, solid rain, completely soaking my plants (and probably washing off all of the Liquid Fence, but I can reapply).

I was so proud of myself. I did my part, my plans came together, and then the rain did its part.

I love this time of year, when the garden is full of hope. There aren’t any weeds, the plants are strong and healthy, and I can walk out and look at it, dreaming of the bountiful harvest to come.

In the end, I’m glad I didn’t take a break from the vegetable garden this year. And probably my two little rabbit friends will be glad too!

 

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A Fresh Start
by Karen Alley - posted 04/19/13

This past weekend and for the next few, my garden project will be spreading mulch. It’s something that I enjoy because it gets me outside, but it’s backbreaking work, and when it comes down to it, it’s one of my least favorite gardening chores. In our yard it’s more than just a garden chore though. We spread mulch around our house, around the fruit trees and in a “natural” area my husband has given up trying to grow grass in. Since it encompasses much more than what I consider to be my garden, it’s a chore that I share with my husband. Thank goodness we share this one, I really don’t think I could do it all by myself.

For various reasons we never got a load of mulch delivered last year, so this year spreading it makes everything look even better than ever. The instant gratification is a nice reward for our hard work, but skipping a year also showed me just how important this early spring chore is.

I have learned a lot over the years from gardeners with years of experience planting and growing things, and now I’m starting to build up my own little bank of garden knowledge. Mulch is one of those areas where I can finally, honestly say that I have learned some important things from experience and trial and error.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Wood chips last longer than pine straw. We used to use pine straw, and would have to lay it out twice a year, in the spring and the fall. Since we moved and started with wood chips here, we only spread mulch once a year, in the spring.
  • It’s true what the extension agents will tell you: a good layer of mulch will help you have to water less and will help with weed control. I spent more time pulling weeds in my garden last year, the year we didn’t put down fresh mulch, than I had combined the two previous summers.
  • Organic mulches really do help improve the soil. When we first moved into our house, in the fall of 2008, I didn’t do much but plant things in the existing soil, which was freshly graded, new-construction yard. The next spring I mulched good, and that fall when I planted some more perennials, I found big, fat earthworms when I turned over the soil.
  • Start early. I’ve learned to get my mulch delivered in March. One year we didn’t get it until May, and it’s really hard to get it all spread when the temperatures are hot! Plus, it’s easier to put it in your flower gardens before everything starts popping out of the ground.

Another tip: If you’re resourceful, you can find mulch pretty cheap. Of course, you also can’t be picky when getting cheap mulch. Many of the larger landfills will allow you to buy it by the pick-up load. In Greensboro mulch or compost is only $20 a load. I get mine from a local tree trimmer. I might have to wait until he has a truckload full, but it’s definitely worth it for the low price we negotiated. After all, it’s just trash to him, and he’d have to dump it somewhere!

Wish me luck as I keep spreading this mountain of mulch. It will be one garden chore I’ll be glad to cross off my list!

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