Our Backyard "Farm"


This summer Scarlet and I have been cultivating a little backyard food garden (doing my best to be true to my word).

I have to admit a dorky sort of excitement every time we go outside. Growing food with your kid is so joyful…it just turns me into a sentimental sap.

It’s not too late to plant certain things (depending on where you live)…maybe get some winter squash going? I am a city girl and by no means any sort of farming expert so I’ll just show you our beginner garden and link you to some great info from smarter people than me. We’ve had some successes, some failures, and some complete mysteries that maybe you can help me solve?

Check out our Backyard “Farm” and help me with my questions please after the jump…

Our Backyard Farm


We live in Los Angeles, Scarlet and me. This is our yard. The big tree to the left gives up the sweetest tangerines. We grow all of our veggies on the little hill, and in the middle of the hill is a fig tree. The fig tree is beautiful and really just manages itself. Look forward to some fig jam recipes this fall! This site helped me understand when to pick them (I learned they won’t ripen off the tree). Here’s what else we’ve got growing:

Cucumbers

Total home run. We grew these from seed and three plants are starting to produce like crazy! But they have grown long and fast and are snaking all over the place now. I saw somewhere a picture of cucumbers growing on an overhead trellis, with the veggies hanging down. That would be cool. A bunch of ways to grow cucumber here.

Arugula

I guess I didn’t do it totally right because it already has flowers and I never picked it, so maybe tonight I can have like one side salad before it goes to plant heaven, but I’m going to follow this advice and save the seeds for next year: Arugula Growing Guide

Pole Beans

I thought I had made a pretty clever and cute pole bean trellis, but then I learned that it should be six to eight feet tall. So yeah, don’t know what I’m going to do about it, I’m not starting over. Ways to stake pole beans.

Tomatoes

We just picked our first batch and roasted them yesterday after taking these pictures. Truly amazing. My only issue is this:

I didn’t stake the tomatoes! Look at that mess! I kept meaning to, but I never got around to it and I totally regret it. So many of the tomatoes are rotting on the ground before I get to them! I tried tying them up with a string yesterday…is there anything I can do at this point?

Zucchini

Total success. Easy to grow and super prolific. We’ve been eating zucchini like crazy, I’ll share some of our recipes soon. Awesome beginner plant.  Child actually eats something green because she’s proud of it: “i grow this plant kini garden mommy!”

Romaine

So far so good.

Eggplant

Still waiting for a fruit to show up, but in the meantime that stem is pretty.

Peppers

We’ve got green and orange peppers. They were doing fine but now seem a little wilty? What should I do?

Jalapenos

These look great but maybe weren’t the best idea to plant with a toddler. I’m always worried she’s going to accidentally puncture one and rub jalapeno juice in her eye.

Corn

I’m really excited about corn stalks. Carleton’s family has a dairy farm in Pennsylvania with corn stalks everywhere. I can’t wait to eat fresh corn! Any corn growing tidbits for me??

Okra

This is my great sadness. What is wrong with my okra?? Why is it dying? Why did all the leaves fall off? I wanted to pickle it Texas-style. Is it salvageable?

Green Onion (Scallion)
This is my favorite thing to have in the garden. You can let it sit for a while without worrying about it going bad and just use it when you need it. It will keep multiplying and grow year after year. And you can just use one or two at a time instead of buying a giant bunch!  We grew these from seed and it was a breeze.

Strawberries

My bastard dog dug up the other strawberry plants, so hopefully we will get a few good ones off this lone survivor.

Artichoke

Just planted this a few weeks ago.  I’m excited because I learned from this site that I could have artichokes year after year!

We planted carrot seeds but the soil was too dense and they didn’t make it. We also planted canteloupe seeds which I thought never sprouted until I found this hiding under the giant tomato plant yesterday!! I was so excited I screamed!!

Basil

Followed Jacinda’s advice from her How to Grow Basil post and I have my first successful basil plant ever!!!

Lemon Thyme

I haven’t cooked with this yet because it is SOOO lemony. This recipe for Lemon Thyme Sorbet looks nice, do you guys have any suggestions?

Mint

This picture just proves my point.  It’s a great plant and so convenient for garnishes.  I have been saying “mojitos” for a year but still haven’t made them. I need someone to bring over a bottle of rum and force the issue. Erin? Kelly? Asia? Sherri? Felice? Kristen? Someone?? Anyone??

Dill

Gotta have it to make some pickles!

Parsley

I love this parsley pesto.

Joy.

So I can’t wait to hear your tips! Especially about my sad, sad okra.  And remember, your comment could win you a 1/2 yard of Nicey Jane oilcloth, as could any comment you leave this week.  Because we love you.

by

44 Comments

Sara

Yeah!! I have been too scared to start my own garden, so I joined a CSA instead. Maybe next year. BTW I love the snappy toddler top and made one for each of my girls (as dresses). Thanks for the tutorial.

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Leah

I am so impressed. You garden is much more organized than my first little attempt. Very little and I tried to cram too much in the space. Don't try to put cantelope, watermelon, and pumpkins together in one small space they take over. :) Good luck with your harvest. Don't worry about the strawberries they will take over next year.

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Tong

Wow, I love your little farm! I finally decided to try my hand at growing a small veggie garden myself, but it's only container gardens right now, and I only have pole beans, basil, and green onions growing (I tried growing thyme from seeds but they didn't come out). Great job!

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Sarah

You have a lovely little garden. We live in FL, so I'm looking forward to the fall and winter, which is when gardening is really good down here. I tried a summer garden, but the humidity just rots everything, and now the growing season is practically over. We also had to overcome our yard that is too sandy to even sustain grass by making a square foot garden box.
I'm surprised by your okra – it seems to be one of those things that can overcome infertility and heat stress fairly easy.
The arugula is likely just "bolting," since it is stimulated to flower by summer heat. Try planting it again late in the season and just keep it from freezing, and you should have some later this year. Don't forget kale, spinach and carrots this fall. They shrug off cold, even a light freeze with finesse. (Sorry for the long, nerdy comment – I'm a plant scientist at the Univ. of FL and it's easy to get going…)

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Katie

I am so jealous of your garden! I live in Boston and we have a little porch, so I have a couple plants going. But I can't wait until I have a nice large yard like yours to grow lots of things. I bet it is more fun with a little kid.

Oh, and I get really excited when I find veggies growing on the plants too.

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Shannon

We live in Kansas and have a little 8×8 section that we dedicated to our garden. Our biggest problem? We planted WAY too much. Pumpkins and Cucumbers (my DH made used chicken wire to make a trellis for it to climb…worked out great) around the back, then a row of carrots, a row of leaf lettuce, and a row of potatoes (that never grew..the rollie pollies ate them up). Along the sides there are 2 tomato plants, 3 pepper plants, and the other side is herbs: green onions, cilantro, and basil.

Overall we were really excited and our 3 boys love helping! Watering, picking and planting have all been pretty successful.

Oh and when I discovered a pumpkin a little bigger than a softball, I FREAKED out with excitement. Like you would have thought we won the lottery. I can't wait to have our whole stoop covered with pumpkins this fall :D

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The Whelan Family

We started a garden this year because our daughter started a pumpkin plant at school. We also started sunflowers (3 times…none made it!) and we have a couple of jalapeno plants too. The pumpkin is taking over but we only have one pumpkin on it so we are not the experts to be asking about gardens!! Hopefully we will plant more next year. It has been fun watching our daughter growing her own pumpkin.

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Genevieve

Hey there. You are going to have to do your best and get those tomatoe plants up. Get some garden stakes and twine to tie those babies up. If not then they will begin to root where they are touching the ground. They might be starting already. You can tell by looking at the underside of the stalk touching or really near the ground. If it has things that looks like spikes then it's trying to start to root.
We just got back from a road trip to find out tomatoe planting doing just that. It's so neat how plants adapt but what a pain it was.lol We are growing Cherry, Roma, Cherokee purple, and German Johnson tomatoes. Yum. :) Good luck!

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Bluestripe55

I live in Arizona and it is not growing season here but i have been drooling over all of the pictures of gardens around blogland and yours are especially nice. I have big plans for a garden but am also a novice so i like all of the advice i can get.

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awholelattelove

What a wonderful garden. I'd try to get those tomatoes up too. We can only have a container garden and our tomatoes are doing the best so far. We've learned that zucchini just don't work in a container :( I love gardening with my two year old too, she picked her first tomato yesterday and couldn't wait to eat it :) Good luck!!

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Bonnie Michelle

We have a small garden this year too! I love it! Except yesterday we had The Great Zucchini Plant Massacre of 2010. My zucchini got mold and stopped producing :( I had to cut about half of the leaves off. So I know how sad it can be to have a sick plant like your okra. I hope you find the cure. My tomato plants are also going a little crazy, but they are caged so they are slightly contained! Hope you enjoy the fruits of your labor!

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Marylea

Bless my husband – he lets me plant and kill a whole crop of flowers and veggies every year. We both know that I will forget to water them (or just get too lazy to do it), but he schleps through the garden center with me every spring without complaint!

I think that a cute scare crow would be a great addition to your garden. Maybe a female one with a fabulous dress?

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Lise

I find that the generic word "hot" works well for toddler warnings; tell her the peppers are very hot and will hurt, and she won't touch. I'm impressed; it looks great!

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Melissa

Those all look great! I wish we lived in CA. You can grow almost anything there. We have okra but I'm not sure how I've kept it alive. Sorry not to be of any help. Thanks for the links!

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Jmom

Thanks for posting about your garden. Itís too bad you canít read sarcasm in print because it is just oozing out of that last statement. Your post has reminded me, AGAIN, that I didnít put a garden in or even clear out our garden spot. Oh the guilt, it is eating me up. I watched Food, Inc. and was fired up about doing a garden and then I looked out the window. When we moved into our house almost 7 years ago there was a nice garden area with a low fence just ready for me to plant. Fast forward to today and there is a forest. Iím not kidding you, there are 6 foot tall shrub-like weeds that have taken over. I dug out 2 of them in March during my daughters nap and I came away with numerous scratches and a migraine. In my defense, I have a 15 month old who thinks ďnapĒ means to do the Jane Fonda workout in her crib (while screaming at the top of her lungs) and then fall asleep for 45 minutes. You canít do anything in 45 minutes!!

Anyway, I am jealous of your beautiful garden but inspired as well. My goal is to have hubby use the chain-saw to cut down the forest and then Iíll spend the rest of the year digging up roots. Oh joy! One final note, kill the okra, nothing good can come of it!

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pkal4

New to Prundent Baby and love it! My girls and I did a raised bed with veggies this year in our LA backyard and it is great. We are growing cherry and grape toms. They are bountiful and ripen fast. We like instant gratification even from our garden! Next year try them as they aren't so heavy therefore do not bend to the ground. If you do want bigger toms go for the "determinate" varieties. This means they will be bushy not grow to an "indeterminate" height. As for your corn. I have never grown it but my Aunt has and she says you need to "shake your silk" to, get this…"mate the stalks". Right or wrong she has produces abundant cobs from a few plants year after year. You may be thinking do real farmers do this, no they don't. The wind and the zillions of stalks swaying in the breeze in their fields do it naturally. So you need to kind in vitro your corn. How about a mojito mint party with silk shaking….? I'd come for sure!
Kelly W

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jessica

I hope your corn turns out! Last year my corn became inhabited by really big nasty black ants and their gajillion little white baby eggs. GROSS!

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Sabr

Your garden looks so good and weed free! You can still salvage the tomatoes – have someone hold the plant up, stick a 3-4 foot stake in the ground near the base of plant, tie some heavy duty string or fishing line around the plant at 8" or so intervals and secure it to the stake. That should keep the plants off the ground and you in the sauce business!

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jenna

Love your backyard garden – we actually have a garden in our FRONT yard (which is crazy b/c we live in the city & it's our FRONT YARD). I'm not a fan of gardening at all but my husband has quite the green thumb. I appreciate all his hard work and the yummy goodness that we get to eat!! Check out my blog: http://houseofcurls.blogspot.com
because I have a similar post and a great pasta salad recipe that enables you to use all that garden yuminess!! :)
Love this prudent baby blog – Great posts and wonderful tutorials!!

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Lauren

Love your backyard garden! Wish mine was so successful! I attempted planting a bunch of veggies this year, but most of them had an untimely death by gopher, squirrel or heat (we live in the inland empire here in So Cal). I'm planning to try again next season with some mesh cages around the roots.

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IndigoElephant :: Sash

We love our home grown tomatoes too, they're so much nicer than bought! Just a little tip (learned the hard way)…watch that mint, it could take over your whole garden. Mine spread over the whole veg garden and I pulled it out but new shoots keep appearing all over the place!

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Amy

great garden! Love to garden with my kids too and I am always thinking the same thing about the jalepenos and out little girl.I do know that you have to grow corn in rows. One plant by itself will not produce corn. Also, A really fun plant to grow with kids is bottle neck gourds. They grow in weird crazy shapes and are cool to watch growing.

As for your beans… that trellis is fine you just have to keep training the vine to stay on the structure that you made.
Tomatoes… I have done that as well. know I put cages around them when they are small…. You can carefully try to stake them up there is a soft tape that =garden centers sell around here and you can by bamboo poles shove them into the ground and try tying them up….

Good Luck & Happy Gardening

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Melissa

I am super excited about my first real garden in our new house this year. And this summer has been perfect for growing in here in Maine, so nature is doing much of the hard work for me. I used our compost mixed in with the dirt and have got lots of mystery plants that sprouted up as well, leftover seeds from our household scraps. I let them grow just to have the suprise of what they are. Mostly they are viney things that I was hoping to be pumpkins but they seem like they may be turning out to be the ornamental gords I had at Halloween time last year! I would have never guessed it.

Biggest battle has been slugs and snails, they're eating up all my broccoli and pea leaves and are not falling for my beer traps-maybe I'm buying too cheap a beer for their tastes!

I've got mint too. I love, love mint and have been doing all kinds of great things with it to keep cutting it back so it doesn't take over. A fruit salad with grapes, cherries, nectarines and minted sugar was awesome! My dauther really liked mint water, I just soaked freshed picked leaves overnight to keep them fresh, but insted of dumping the water poured it in a pitcher. But speaking of mojitos…I used a recipe from betty crocker to make a mojito cake which was also a hit here's the link:
http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/mojito-cake/ad6ca84c-89a6-4313-b42d-52988d3118ee

Thanks so much for sharing I barely know what I'm doing (like are there really potatoes growing under that giant pile of hay?) and seeing other's successes and failures just helps us all. And remember every season is different. Last year nothing grew for me becuase summer was pretty much a was out.

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Catherine

Great garden – isn't it fun? I'll second the "get those tomatoes off the ground" comments. Also, if you pinch the suckers then your plants will put more energy into growing tomatoes, instead of leaves. And it will air things out which will make the plants less likely to get wet & then diseased. I've never grown okra, but if you see anything untoward (i.e. aphids, etc.) on your plants, blast them with neem oil or insecticidal soap. Both are natural and great at catching problems before they start.

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a happy wanderer

i'm so excited you wrote this post! we are just about to move into a place that has space for a garden… and we live right in santa monica! i have never gardened before, and am in desperate need of some guidance! i can't wait to use this as a reference… i don't even know where to begin! thank you for the great post…and beautiful pictures!

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Erin

2 things, the pepper plant looks like a bug ate the leaves. The first year I planted peppers I saw that beginning to happen and I flipped over the leaves and there were tiny bugs. I just wiped them off and kept an eye on them and they were just fine.

As for the jalapenos, I didn't think about that my first year gardening and planted all kinds of plants in galvanized tubs on my deck (which is all gated and fenced in before everyone calls CPS) I went upstairs to rock my baby to bed and my 18 month old was playing in the garden dirt. She came upstairs crying and I couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. When I went out on the deck I found a habanero with a bite out of it. Oh yes, a habanero. She is now 4 and is doing just fine. She survived the terrible tragedy, but kudos for being a mom with foresight because it never crossed my mind.

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Jaimie

I have no advice, as I have no garden, but I did want to say that that cucumber is really freakin me out.. Never seen one like that before!

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Lil' Bit and Nan

We have so many apricots and plums and peaches right now, if you want some I would be more than happy to send you a bag full. My step-mom and I have been making jam out of the fruits we have. You want some of that too? As for veggies, I haven't planted any but I do have chives and mint growing. I love making mint lemonade with the lemons from our orchard and I add mint to plain yogurt to dip meatballs in as a party appetizer.
Bethany

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K. Fox

Arugula: Just snip the plant off at the ground. It'll come back fresh soon after! My husband makes an amazing arugula pesto which is crazy delicious.

Pole Beans: They aren't hurt by not having six feet to climb. They will most likely just keep trying to vine up, then "figure out" that they can't and the vines will fall back down to the trellis and revisit previously conquered areas. We made a pole bean tepee that's big enough to put our son in to protect him from the sun while we're gardening. It's pretty sweet, but we'll have to make a taller one once he's bigger. Scarlet would LOVE it, I'm sure.

Tomatoes: Could still (VERY VERY carefully) stake them by taking any sturdy stick and stabbing it a free spot then tying the tomato with jute twine or any twist ties from farmer's markets or whatever (the thicker the better). Tie underneath a strong section (like a stem with two or three strong offshoots). The tomatoes are heavy and the stem surprisingly breakable, so be real careful!

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shelby valadez

the corn! we have corn growing too and my best tip is to find some type of pesticide (we use an organic one from Home Depot) on the corn because the ants really like it and your corn will never fully flourish if the ants get to it. we are in southern California and a lot of our stuff is going crazy now too. we have about 30 eggplant that we need to harvest and cook!

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Patricia

Lovely garden! As everyone above has previously stated-
1. Stake those tomatoes.
2. Plant the mint in a container or somewhere you don't mind it spreading and multiplying.
3. Pinch off the buds of the basil when it starts to flower (except for a couple plants so you can save seed for next year).

And some other stuff…
4. Save seeds for things you can (corn is really difficult due to the way it's pollinated, but tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash and herbs are easy).
5. Native Americans are awesome gardeners–they know to plant their corn, beans and squash together and call it the "three sisters." The beans grow up the corn stalks (no pole needed) and add nitrogen to the soil for the corn; the squash covers the earth and keeps it moist and weed-free, requiring less watering.
6. I would caution against any pesticides. They are harmful to all garden insects, good and bad. If they attack the nervous systems of insects, what are they doing inside of our bodies? Farmers and migrant field workers would definately tell you the same after they have poisoned their own bodies working around this stuff. The nice thing about growing your own food is you know what is going into your (and your child's) body as you eat it.

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Kalen

I had great intentions of planting a garden this year. It didn't happen. But I did plant several types of basil and now have to figure out pesto making. Can you can it?? I'll feel guilty if it goes bad before I use it!

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Hannah

Holy crap you are amazing!
I wanted grow my own SOME kind of food this summer, but I chickened out when I read about all the possible pests and diseases it could get. how are you warding all this off?

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dearliza1

We have a big yard, but most of it is to shady to grow anything. So, I've used all my available pots for basil and tomatoes. Since we just built a new circular driveway out front, we now have a planting bed just off our front porch. Our major/long-term landscaping plans are expensive and have many parts. So, I commandeered the new front bed and planted another 8 basil plants along with rosemary and mint. It's the one place in the front yard that gets enough sun to grow anything. Plus, it'll keep the soil from continuing to wash over my front walk & steps! Good for you! I wish we could do a whole garden!

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Mel

Impressive garden! Nice variety. Sorry I don't have any tips — I too forgot to house my tomato plants in a cage until it was almost too late!

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ZoŽ Yule

Love your little garden! Kids love to eat what they grow – as you've discovered :o) Don't know what's wrong with your okra, since I've never tried to grow it, but I'll second the comments on getting those tomatoes off the ground (very gently!). You could chop the flower off your arugula plant and it will continue to grow – you don't have to pick the whole plant at once, you can pick the leaves as they grow – "cut and come again" we call it! Just don't denude the entire plant all at once. When you think it's done growing for the year, when it gets cooler, then let it flower and seed – you can keep the seed, or let it self-seed and come up on it's own next year. One last thing, in small crops, corn grows better in blocks rather than rows – the pollen appears on the flower at the top of the plant, and has to get on the silk down lower in order to pollinate the cob – so shake it, yes, but wait until the top flower is "dusty" with pollen, and then try and get as much of it all over your silks as possible! As you might realise, rain at this crucial time is disastrous. Good luck, and keep trying next year even with the things that don't work out this year!

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