I've been growing a few select vegetables in my herb garden for years now - things like peas, tomatoes, hot peppers and eggplant - sort of tucked into a corner of the garden as an afterthought, but never really had a separate garden dedicated to the 'roving' veggies, i.e. melons, cucumbers and squash. They take up so much room that I didn't dare plant them in my herb garden. I tried growing some in our compost pile, but it doesn't get much sun and the deer or rabbits ate all the blossoms, so that was a bust.
But when my husband got a new tractor this spring with both a rototiller and front bucket loader attachment, I made him promise that the first job we would tackle with it would be rototilling a corner of our horse pasture so I could plant some squash and melons. He agreed and I couldn't be happier with our new garden! Come take a look!
We chose a corner of the horse pasture, roughly 20 feet x 24 feet, that gets full sun nearly all day as the spot for the new garden. It's a fairly large area, but not unmanageable. Then we put the rototiller to work.
In no time at all, the soil was turned over, aerated, and the grass and weeds tilled under. Since this spot been 'fertilized' with horse manure for more than a decade, the soil was super rich, but we went ahead and added a few bucket loads of composted horse manure just to be sure our garden would flourish. (Of course we decided this AFTER the fencing was already partially up, but no matter, the bucket loader was up to the task!)
Since two sides of the garden were already fenced in, all I had to do was sink a few more fence posts (salvaged from a scrap pile out back) and then attach some welded wire fencing. Then I ran chicken wire around the bottom two feet or so to keep the rabbits out. I installed Nite Guard solar predator lights to keep the deer and raccoons from even thinking about going over the fence. Of course they don't deter our cat who has already made a few quick trips into the garden to explore.
I lined the inner perimeter of the garden in front of the gate and down one side with some cut-up cardboard boxes and then covered them with chopped straw to not only keep the weeds down around the edges, but also allow me a path to walk around the garden to water, weed and harvest the vegetables.
I made a gate out of more salvaged wood (although I did splurge on some wrought iron decorative brackets (actually shelf brackets from Lowe's). I grabbed some pavers that weren't being used to make a little 'stoop' at the entrance and hand painted an old piece of fence board to make our garden a sign (because, after all, what's a garden without a sign?}.
I carefully hand planted each seed, leaving plenty of room in between. Thirteen rows of melons and squash. Then I watered them daily until I saw sprouts poking their heads out of the rich, moist soil.
I didn't bother with any fertilizer or plant food considering the soil these babies were growing in. In no time, we had seedlings that quickly grew into plants with leaves, vines, blossoms and those curly-q trailing things.
So here's what I planted in the new garden:
Sugar Baby Watermelon
Golden Midget Watermelon
Crimson Sweet Watermelon
Honey Dew Melon
Small Sugar Pumpkins
Burgess Buttercup Squash
Striped Curshaw Pumpkins
Boston Pickling Cucumbers
Bush Crop Cucumbers
I also planted a row of sunflowers across the back for a bit of color and because the chickens love the seeds [read how I harvest the seeds HERE]. And I planted nasturtium in the two wooden buckets on either side of the garden gate to provide another splash of color and to help repel squash bugs and striped pumpkin beetles, and also to feed to the chickens [they act as a natural wormer, read more HERE].
Additionally, I have rehomed at least a half dozen toads from other areas of the yard to the garden to help with pest control, since I garden organically and don't use any pesticides. This little guy actually showed up as I was planting! Hopefully he'll stick around to help out.
I really, really love how our new melon/squash garden turned out. And even better, our only cost was the four brackets for $16 and a can of clear polyurethane to spray the sign with. Oh, and the new tractor of course! Everything else - boards, fencing, barrels, screws, even the door handle on the gate - was repurposed. That is such a good feeling.
So stay tuned for the second part of this post in a few weeks to find out how the harvest progresses!
Note: Most of the seeds I planted were courtesy of Seeds of the Month Club. Click HERE to find out how to join or to buy individual seed packets. Some seeds were also from www.rareseeds.com.
A great resource if you are new to gardening and want to learn the difference between good and bad bugs and identify the bugs eating your garden, as well as learn how to fight the bad bugs organically, is this book Good Bug, Bad Bug by Jessica Walliser (St. Lynn's Press, 2008). It's is a wonderful resource with full color photos of dozens of bugs you may encounter in your garden.