Followers of mine on Twitter have no doubt seen photos and periodic reports from “Croy Family Farms,” the tongue-in-cheek name of my backyard garden. I’ve not written or chronicled some of the experiences in any amount of depth, despite this (2014) being the third growing season I’ve been gardening. Unlike previous years, this year I’m keeping much better track of what is growing well, what isn’t, and what different plants are yielding (with photos).
The farm is unfortunately smaller than I would like, but is composed of five above ground planting boxes. The boxes measure six feet by three feet with about a foot of height (6x3x1ft) and are filled primarily with Kellogg Garden Soil for flowers and vegetables. Many of the boxes have had assorted kinds of top soil, manure and fishy smelling fertilizers mixed into the soil. Unfortunately the natural soil in my neighborhood is very hard, dense and of very poor quality. Prior to the first planting season, I had actually evacuated the planting boxes of all the refuse soil and refilled them in their entirety with the higher quality soil.
My location however couldn’t be more perfect for growing vegetables which require a lot of sunlight such as cucumbers and tomatoes, which I’ve grown with great success three years in a row.
The layout of the 2014 crops is as follows, note the boxes are numbered extending from the house:
Box 1 (Corn)
Box 2 (Tomatoes)
Box 3 (Cucumbers/Basil)
Apologies for the wonky formatted table which was exported from a spreadsheet.
I have a single broccoli plant in box #4 which bloomed before I could harvest; now it only provides nectar to bees who I’m hoping are pollinating the other plants.
There is also an immature avocado tree, a crab apple tree and an amazing heirloom apricot tree (believed to be of the Moorpark variety) which produces delicious fruit towards the end of the summer.
Finally there are three pots with:
- Genovese Basil
- Cilantro and Parsley
I planted a mix of sprouted plants (purchased) and grew some plants from seeds.
- From seeds:
- Carrots (none sprouted!)
- 1 of 3 basil plants
- Cucumbers (originally from seeds, until cats ruined them)
- 2 of 3 basil plants
- From last season
- Pre-existing on the farm
- Apricot tree
2014 Mid-season Yield Report
The true dates for the growing season in the bay area is unclear to me. Most of my plants went into the ground around late April or early May, I can’t really remember at this point.
The following data is for the season to date:
- Starting 2014-06-15
- 4 baskets (roughly 2 cups per basket)
- Starting 2014-06-15
- 28 cucumbers (21.8lbs/9.8kg)
- Starting 2014-07-04
- 46 sun gold tomatoes (roughly 1.5lbs/0.68kg)
- Starting 2014-07-19
- 6 ears of corn (4.6lbs/2.1kg)
Finally a loose collection of notes, learnings or things I’ve found interesting this year:
- Growing corn is one of the coolest things to do in a small garden! The height of the corn plants is impressive and the resulting harvest of corn is quite exciting to see.
- Broccoli leaves are hydrophobic
- Growing bell peppers from seeds is rather difficult and time-consuming. I managed not to get any to mature enough to transplant to the outdoors. As a result, I have convinced myself that growing bell peppers is a waste of time and energy.
- Using those cone-shaped tomato cages is worth the effort when planting cucumbers. Unlike last year, this year’s harvest of cucumbers has been very easy. As a bonus side effect the gravity of cucumbers growing down from the cages results in slender cucumbers which are a bit easier to store than the short fat ones I used to harvest.
- The difference between box #3 and box #4 as far as plant maturation and growth is dramatic. Boxes 1-3 should have “needs full sunlight” vegetables planted in them, while in box 4 only “needs partial sunlight” plants succeed.
- Air-drying basil in my area doesn’t seem to work. The leaves don’t manage to dry out enough to crinkle and disintegrate into bits of basil.
- Given the right quantity of gin and sun gold tomatoes my co-workers can make quite a tasty summer cocktail.
- Animals love to lie in the stringy redwood-mulch covering I used to protect the soil in the planting beds. Fortunately, lying some pipes or garden stakes in the beds is enough to dissuade most farm animals.
- While more time-consuming than using a garden hose, relying on the watering can to water the plants has resulted in pretty consistent amounts of water being delivered to the plants. The planting boxes retain water a little too much, so use of the watering can has helped prevent me from accidentally overwatering any plants this year. The first year I nearly killed some tomatoes by overwatering, so this is progress.
Overall this has been a highly rewarding hobby, not just because it literally rewards you with tasty food. At the beginning of the season there’s a modicum of planning followed by working the soil and preparing for planting. Then through the pre-harvest part of the season there’s relatively little effort that needs to be expended on a daily basis; pulling weeds, watering, monitoring the plants for bugs or other signs of pests. Finally once you can start to harvest there’s a very direct reward for the work. I find myself wanting to work more in the garden every time I harvest a few more cucumbers or tomatoes.
Sometimes as my mind wanders I think about having a larger, more appropriately named, farm in the future. I imagine what kinds of plants I might grow if I had much more than just a few planter boxes. Debating whether I would need a green house as well. Thinking about what will happen when my imaginary harvest becomes too big for just me and my friends, and instead will need to be taken to the local farmer’s market.
For now though, I’ll have to make do with the 60 square feet of earth that composes Croy Family Farms.