Gardener of the Month: July 2020

Burpee - Edible Gardening Team Members
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Meet our July Gardener of the Month: @thegardenvoyeur!

Where you live: St. Louis, Missouri
Day job: Content Creator for my own company, Luxe Photography @LuxePhotoSTL
Favorite color: Black
Favorite holiday: Christmas
Favorite veggie: Whatever the pests are currently eating
Favorite activity (other than gardening): Playing FIFA on Xbox with my teenage boys
Favorite movie: Love Actually

Describe your garden.
My garden currently consists of 10 raised beds that I've built over the course of eight years, as well as a giant 28' x 14' expansion area where I am using various fabric grow pots for the first time. All my growing areas on our suburban 3/4 acres are in various nooks and crannies around our property and are a collection of spur-of-the-moment decisions over time as ideas and available funds present themselves. What I lose in consistent, perfect looks (if I were able to plan and build a garden all at the same time from scratch), I gain in a bit of mish-mosh character and better thought-out ideas of how and where to grow in the various areas of sun and shade that we have.

What’s the hardest thing about gardening?
The hardest thing about gardening is the acceptance that not everything you plant is going to survive. You have to accept some loss. Try to learn from it as to how and why it happened and adjust if you can. The summer of 2019 was my worst tomato and pepper season ever. I almost got to the point I just wanted to stop doing it altogether after all the work and effort that went into it. One day I literally brushed it all aside and decided to pull it all early and just focus on working the soil. Making and adding compost. I ended the summer garden a month earlier than normal and just pivoted to preparing for what ended up being my best fall garden ever. Balancing taking in the small moments while thinking about the bigger picture and accepting everything has been a skill-set I'm working on.

If you could have one gardening superpower, what would it be?
If I could have one gardening superpower, it would be the power to self-diagnose all the little problems that affect our plants or eat them before we can. I wouldn't want the "perfect" garden if I could snap my fingers. Really the fun is experiencing it all and learning from it as best as you can. Diagnosing why my tomatoes are all dying or what is eating my peppers at night sometimes feels like a shot in the dark. All blight and holes in leaves look the same to me. I wish I could find out the specific problem and then work to address it right away.

We’ve noticed that you have quite the compost area. Can you tell us a little bit about how you started composting and what benefits you’ve seen through it?
I have to say through my eight years of home gardening, the compost area is by far my favorite place to be. Seems odd to say, but after so many years of interacting with the garden community on Instagram and watching hours of Youtube videos and reading books and articles, the one thing I'm sure of is that soil is EVERYTHING. There is a whole network of life in healthy soil that we all (and our plants) depend on, and a big component of that is what I've found in composting. Being able to "close the circle" and be a little more self-reliant and sustainable, I've been able to ramp up my compost capabilities each year. Normal kitchen trash items that previously went to the landfill are now going back into my own soil that I'm creating — for free. Kitchen scraps, wood chips, shredded leaves. My neighbors know I'm now the crazy garden guy that gets truckloads of wood chips delivered to my driveway and are now offering up their own bagged-up leaves and yard scraps. In 2019 alone, I was picking up one to two 5-gallon buckets of coffee grounds a week from my local coffee place and putting it into my compost. That's a lot of free nitrogen/carbon sources that are going back into the soil instead of the landfill. This past winter I sent my soil and compost samples in to get them tested at my local extension offices and after talking to one of their coordinators on my results, EVERYTHING my plants and soil need was in the high-quality compost I was making. And for free. I no longer need to buy commercial amendments for the most part.

What vegetable do you cook with the most? Best recipe you make with it?
What vegetable do I cook with the most is a tough one. We try to go all out with whatever is in season at the time and are working toward canning and preserving to better enjoy what we grow all year long. Right now, I'm going to highlight two things, garlic and asparagus. This is our first time growing garlic, and I can't believe it's taken me eight years to give it a go. We use garlic in almost everything and have been relying on the store-bought, often bland and mushy garlic that who knows where it comes from and how old it is. We just pulled up our three varieties of garlic that we got from a local Missouri garlic grower and I can already tell by sight, smell and feel that this is going to be a game changer in our recipes. From breakfast omelets to stir fries and salsas and an occasional bloody mary, our homegrown garlic is going to be put to good use. And as for asparagus, there's nothing like snapping off a spear and eating it right there in the garden. I have to keep remembering this isn't the veggie experience I had growing up and no wonder a lot of people hate them. But roasting fresh asparagus, with a little olive oil, pepper, sea salt and homegrown garlic? That's a combination that can't be beat!

Have you always gardened in raised beds or is this something that came about from other experiences?
I actually started out growing in a patch of grassy ground our first year. Let me tell you, that was the experience I needed to make me look into raised beds. I think seeing how much the veggies struggled in the native clay soil started it for me. The snake my wife found while weeding on her knees was the other. Raised beds were the answer to our initial garden problems. I would recommend raised beds or grow bags to anyone wanting to start out in gardening for one simple reason at first. You can control your soil input to start out in. But getting yourself up off the ground and the ease of weeding is a close second. The more you can make things easier for yourself with the work you need to do in the garden, the more you are going to be doing that work. Plus, it also helps with certain animals that come around as it makes it easier to construct defenses and protection with raised beds.

What’s your favorite part about being in zone 6a?
The best thing about being in zone 6a (St. Louis, Mo.) is that we can get in three really good growing seasons. You can grow so many different varieties that are cold hardy in the spring and fall and still have plenty of summer for your tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and beans.

As a 2020 Gardener of the Year, you’ll receive 2 sample boxes of Burpee Home Gardens’ 2021 new varieties… one for you and one for a friend! Who are you giving your second sample box to and why?
I thought about this from the beginning on what a great idea it is from Burpee in being so nice to give away two boxes of their 2021 varieties. I've sort of piecemealed different plants to go with different people that are starting up their gardens that I think best suit what they want to do and grow. That way more than one other person can get a little sample of what Burpee will be offering, and it sort of eases the pressure of giving an entire box to someone that may or may not be set up in the garden to take care of the different varieties. Most of the plants have gone to newbie gardeners because of the COVID quarantine. Focusing efforts on one kind of plant tends to make it easier when you start out.

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