Category Archives: urban agriculture

Any and all things related to growing my own vegetables and flowers inside the city limits.

cucumber, watermelon, and some arugula

As I get older I absolutely love my early mornings. Don’t think I’m one of those people who walks around going, ‘I’m so old’ all the time for saying this: but one of my favorite things is getting home early {like 10:30 or 11} from having a couple of drinks, going to bed, and waking up at 8am on Saturday morning to stare at my vegetable garden. I love to look at it. I’ve put a lot of work to make it produce. There’s also something so rewarding about growing your own food.

Until this point, stare is all I could do since I had no fruit. Now is not the case. We’re getting a good yield from the tomatoes so far. We’re finally getting jalapenos. I’m still waiting for the bell peppers to come on. They’ve taken a little longer than I expected. But, who cares. There is enough fruit all over the place at this point.

I’m excited about everything. But I wanted to showcase a few veggies that have been producing later than the tomatoes: cucumber, watermelon, and arugula. The cucumbers vine over the edge of the raised garden. I’d never grown them before, so I was skeptical as to how much they would actually produce. Fortunately, there was no need to worry. These ‘Elite 8’ cucumbers are producing like crazy. I picked three off the vine this morning, as well as one last week. They are a very mild, sweet flavor. They’re not a pickling cucumber. However, I’d like to make pickle slices out of them and can them.

The watermelon are planted in a large ‘pot’. When I say pot, I mean a huge aluminum light shade from the oil field. They make awesome planting vessels. I’ve never grown watermelon either. I figured they would fruit. But my main concern was planting them a proper distance from the cucumber to avoid cross pollination. I guess we’ll find out if it worked soon enough….because the vines are busting out with little tiny, baby watermelons. They’re a ‘Sugar Baby’ variety. The melon is small compared to normal sizes like a ‘Crimson Giant’, and very sweet. If all of the fruits get to full maturity, I envision a lot of chilled watermelon soup, watermelon ceviche, and watermelon gratinata in my future.

Last, but certainly not least: arugula. I planted a small patch next to the tomatoes. I harvested all of it this morning because the tomato plant is so huge, it’s blocking all of the sunlight. I love arugula. I love it in salad, I love it as pesto, I love it on sandwiches, I love it. That nutty, mustardy, spicy flavor, goes with anything. I’ll kind of let it be for now until fall. Once we take our tomatoes out, I’ll plant a giant row if it as well as other greens. I see things that need improvement for next year. But, for my first attempt at a very large raised bed, I think this has been a pretty good yield.

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when water is scarse…

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For those of you won’t aren’t aware, Oklahoma has been under the thumb of a severe drought for the past three years, or so. The first year was oppressive. That’s the only way I can describe it. Triple digit temperatures, no rain, and expansion joints literally breaking in the roadway. This spring, we’ve experienced record amounts of rain. People are declaring the drought to be over. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Texas and parts of western Oklahoma are still in a stage of severe drought. Central Oklahoma is still technically in the drought area ‘with lessened effects’. This means that just because we get lots of rain in spring, does not mean that summer will be as water logged. Beyond that, I wholeheartedly believe these drier weather patterns are here to stay…for good. Water rationing, conservation, and xeriscape are the way of the present. People just haven’t accepted the facts yet.

This brings me to my broader point. People in central Oklahoma are not going to be able to maintain giant gardens full of Boxwood, Hydrangea, and thousands of annuals anymore. Working in the design industry, it was so important that we incorporate as many evergreens as possible. If it’s not in a constant state of green, people freak out. I agree, evergreens have their place. However, if weather trends continue, we simply will not have the water to support them on a large scale.

Enter wildflowers. 

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I have tried to push the use of wildflowers in residential, commercial, and civic projects for YEARS. Sure, they aren’t evergreen. They appear unkempt. You have to seed them twice a year. But, they are extremely drought tolerant, and in many cases native. The deal is, you have to be strategic with where you plant. You also have to avoid any weeding until the flowers actually bloom. It is worth the work. Once these flowers bloom, it is the most incredible seasonal show. You have flowers that arrive in early spring. Those die back, and a wave of summer flowers appears. It’s a dynamic display of color and foliage. Our mix includes Larkspur, Poppy, Cosmos, Blackeyed Susan, in addition to many others. The cool thing is, certain seeds may or may not appear in a mix. So you may have the same performers for a couple of years. But have a completely different show the next. It’s pretty amazing, really.

You have to wrap your head around the fact that in the late fall and winter, the bed will be collage of dormant stems {or empty if you cut it all down}. The prospect of that may scare some people. Believe it or not, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. It’s amazing how much I look forward to spring when everything is semi-bare in the winter. It makes the appearance of the wildflowers that much more exciting. If you’ve got some empty space to work with, try wildflowers.

through it all, gardening.

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This is the garden that almost wasn’t. By my count, this garden has survived six or seven adverse weather events in Oklahoma. First, it was the frost that lasted until the second week of May. That’s almost unheard of in my state. Second, it was the tornadoes. (By the way, I consider myself very fortunate that my only great concern was my vegetable garden. It would be a small price to pay compared to the devastation most people experienced. My thoughts are still very much with the victims of these violent storms.). The wind, rain, and hail completely thrashed this little plot of land. The picture above shows the revised garden. We originally had two kinds of radish, and sorrel starts. Those were pounded into the ground. So we replaced them with bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, and arugula. It’s definitely not the end of the world. But nevertheless, frustrating when you work to grow things…..from seed.

Now we’re having these violent thunderstorms that almost look like rain bands in a hurricane. The other night, the wind was blowing so hard, the rain was coming in sideways. I woke up (which is a very rare occurrence during a storm) at 4am, thinking “there goes the garden”. Once your plants are large enough, they are in danger of sustaining mass amounts of damage. We had thinned our tomato plants out by at least twenty five percent due to broken stalks as a result of the last tornado. They couldn’t take another hit.

Today, I finally made it out there to assess any damage. Amazingly, everything is in tact. The only exception was a tomato limb on one plant. I couldn’t bring myself to cut it off, so I tied it up to the cage. Sometimes, plants survive anyway. We’re finally at the point where the plants can continue to grow, and produce fruit (weather permitting).

After all the hard work and stress, I still wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think everyone should at least try growing their own herbs. You do build up a lot of sweat equity. But, you waste less, eat cheap, and produce a better quality of fruit. Our bed is a monster, twelve feet by twelve feet. Most beds don’t need to be that large. You can start with a four by six, or even large pots. Right now, we’re also growing watermelon and basil in large aluminum pots. As long as you have some sort of rubber barrier around the edge, vining plants like cucumber, pumpkin, squash, and watermelon will grow over and fruit.

I will continue to post on the progress of the garden. I’m very passionate about plants. I love to grow them, and am happy to share my success with other people. If you’re a gardening novice, start with your USDA Hardiness Zone. Once you know that, you can research veggies and fruit that will grow in your area. If you’re local, the zones for Oklahoma are 7a and 7b. Things like lettuce, radish, kohrabi, corn, spinach, kale (Dwarf Siberian is the only one that will really grow here), beans, etc. are typically planted in the fall. Tomatoes, cucumber, squash, melon, asparagus, peppers, herbs, etc. are typically planted in the spring.

I hope this inspires you to try it out. The work you put in is very much worth the product you receive in return.