Reclaiming the Garden & Re-designing the Veg Patch

August 25, 2017

Hello, remember me? It has been a while. I think this is one of the the longest periods I’ve ever gone without writing here since I started this blog in 2007.

I’ve felt guilty, but at the same time, I’ve known that I needed to step away and sort a few things out.  I’m not entirely sorted (who ever is?). But, through taking a break, I’ve recaptured something. I am ready to be back, navigating a path that (hopefully) won’t lead me to the same burn out that I’ve been suffering from.
If you follow me on instagram, you know that while I was away, I’ve been traveling (nearly 6 weeks in Italy).  I’ve shared a bit, but I have so many more ideas, stories and thoughts from that trip. It was an adventure that will feed me creatively for a while.  I can’t wait.

Painting the house black

But now that I am back at home, I’ve also needed to focus on our house and garden that both went untended in my absence. A painting crew just left after painting the house black and white- and it looks so good (more on that in a future post)!
Crazy things happened outside while I was gone. Apparently it rained a lot in July and early August here in Boston and now I live in a certifiable jungle. My trowel is not cutting it, I need a machete. 
The grass is so long!  I’m on the third round of cutting the grass in just a few days. I wish I had a bag for the mower!  You really need a bag when the grass is this long. Otherwise you have to rake the endless rows of cuttings that will suffocate the lawn beneath.  My arms hurt. 
I do however have a new tool in my garden arsenal.  I am testing out the new 4×4 self propelled mower for Troybilt.  It is good, I like it and it has already come in handy in a multitude of ways.  
For starters it does have a bag. When my arms get tired of raking rows left by my bagless ride-on mower, I switch to pick up cuttings with the small mower. Using the 4-wheel drive means it pushes itself and my arms get a break. 
troybilt 4x4 mower
Knowing that I would be away for a while, I didn’t plant the vegetable garden this year.  It is now a shocking and unspeakable eyesore.  I don’t understand how the weeds can be so huge (taller than me!) in just 6 weeks.  
I’ve been pondering a re-work of the veg garden for a few years. Seeing what happens when I don’t spend endless hours weeding paths all season has now cemented my plan.  I need it to be a much lower maintenance area.   The garden, as it is, was installed about 12 years ago.  It is fenced, has raised beds in a grid with gravel paths between and in the center is a strawberry tower.  In redesigning, I’m hoping to correct a lot of issues that I didn’t think about the first time around. Here are some of the considerations I’m pondering as I sort out a new plan:

  1. Raised beds are great in some situations, but they aren’t everything.  When you have a huge garden like mine, I’ve started to think that they are actually more of a pain in the butt than a help.  Raised beds make it harder to amend the soil.  They are also limiting in size, meaning that I have a lot more path area than I need.  More path means more maintenance.  They don’t move, and make it harder to rotate planting.  The new design will rely on them a little less.  I am also thinking that I might re-use the wood from the existing beds to make fewer double high beds and then add more ground planting areas. 
  2. The paths really need to be thought about – they can be tricky. I’m pondering the best way to remove and reuse the pea gravel that exists now.  I will never again do gravel paths in a vegetable garden.  They are a hot mess.  Literally, they get too hot to walk barefoot on, which does little to help the mulching efforts of nearby plants.  And they are always filled with weeds. No amount of weed barrier will ever control the weeds in a gravel path. Don’t fall for it. I’ve been crossing off possible places where weed barriers might be helpful over the years. The list is now empty – I honestly can’t think of a place where I’d recommend using weed barriers.  I’m removing mine and the new paths will be grass that I can easily mow.
  3.  Right angles are over-rated.  The new garden will take into consideration how hard it is to turn a garden cart or a mower at a sharp angle. Taking into consideration how you move around with tools like wheelbarrows, carts, and mowers can make gardening much less of a hassle. Consider the turning radius of these tools.
  4. Grass is good.  The new garden will allow me to use better tools. I can rototill if I need to (rather than turning by hand).  I will plant grass or cover crops over the whole thing on years like this one when I plan to be away. The grass can be mowed and then tilled and it will prevent the ticket of weeds that otherwise takes over.  And it will help me to build the soil.

The new Troybilt 4×4 mower is big part of my new plan as well.  The deck is twenty-one inches, so guess how wide the new paths will be.  If you guessed twenty-one inches, you are smarter than I was when I originally planned this garden 12 years ago.
I’ll continue to share the progress as I wrangle this beast of a garden back into shape.  But for now, I wonder – is there anything you wish you had thought about when you planned your vegetable patch?  Something you’d do differently or change if you started over?
This post is sponsored by Troy-bilt.

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  1. Cynthia says:

    I’m with you on thinking about turning radius of carts and barrows. But as for grass it creates an edge that wants to creep in. I am working to reduce edge in my garden.

  2. Cheryl says:

    Glad you had such a rested and re-engerizing time away in Italy. Thanks for the insight on your vegetable garden as I’m hoping next year to combine with my cutting garden a vegetable garden.

  3. Lorraine Lee says:

    Love your beautiful magazine since I first discovered it at Tower Hill. Did you feel at home in Italy? My mother lived it and many years later our daughter did too. ‘So glad you had such a special Summer. Don’t worry about your home garden and yard-just enjoy the sun and relive those happy memories.

    • Rochelle says:

      I did love it – though I can’t say I felt at home. I have been keenly aware of that ‘at home’ feeing while abroad for some time as we have been considering moving back to Europe. I get that ‘at-home’ feeling in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, England (which was home for me at one time) and sometimes even Denmark or Northern France. A couple years ago it came to me a little bit in Barcelona too. It is interesting where that feeling comes to you. I love italy – and could stand to spend a whole lot more time there — but ‘at-home’, nope – not in italy, not for me.

  4. Kevin Hughes says:

    This is the first I have seen your blog.
    I agree with your comments on weed barriers

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