The Idjit Gardener branches out

A couple of weekends ago, this Idjit Gardener had a unique opportunity to try her hand at market gardening. For one weekend, The Idjit Gardener and her husband tended to chickens, a bunny, and a small farm stand Up-Island on Martha's Vineyard. No lives of the animal or plant variety were lost -- at least, not that The Idjit Gardener knows about. Check out the video below to share in the adventure.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

The 2011 Idjit Garden season is fast approaching

Vegetable Garden Wheel, courtesy of the Womanswork websiteMy garden planning is behind where it was last year at this time. So much for improvement at Katie's idjit garden. I'm still in the graph-paper scheming stage. I haven't ordered any seeds or started any seedlings with last year's crop.

I have, however, discovered Garden Wheels, thanks to garden design ONLINE. Womanswork creates these nifty planning tools, chock full of plant info and tips.

In addition to the Vegetable Garden Wheel (shown left), I couldn't resist collecting the Herb, Annual, and Perennial Garden Wheels too. I'm planning on mixing edibles and non-edibles in my community garden plots, so here's hoping the Garden Wheels will save me from some of last year's planting blunders.

I'm also looking to Beekman 1802 to get my square-foot gardens steered in the right direction. In partnership with Williams-Sonoma, Josh and Brent, owners of The Beekman Farm in upstate New York, are peddling a Landreth seed collection of heirloom vegetables. They're hoping to inspire 10,000 gardeners to grow the same vegetables at the same time and to share the experience at the Beekman website. I'm not sure if I'll participate, but that doesn't mean I can't learn from the conversation.

If you have suggestions for a well-intentioned idjit gardener, please share them at the Katie Hutchison Studio Facebook Page. It isn't too late to turn a wanna-be gardener, into the real deal.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Edible-garden tour

Click on this photo to see it in the KHS photo note cards/prints gallery.Generally when I feature garden tours, I focus on flower gardens and the accompanying shrubs, trees and landscape architecture that frame them. But it recently dawned on me that I’ve been leaving out a significant portion of the gardens we know and love -- those of the edible variety.

Now that I have my own idjit garden at my local community garden, in which most everything is edible (even my Mammoth Russian sunflower shown above with seeds in an early stage), I’m wishing I’d taken myself on a few edible-garden tours prior to planting. How nice it would have been to learn the various design attributes of vegetable, fruit, and herb plants from the example of others in advance.

Instead, I crowded several Sun Gold tomato seedlings into opposite corners of one, four-foot by four-foot, raised bed and then threw in a few more, for good measure, so I thought. Today, two and one-half months later, those tomatoes have crowded out the sunflower and what had been a beautiful grouping of Swiss chard and sprightly bush beans. Sure, I love the tomatoes, but now I’m the proud caretaker of a small jungle, rather than a garden.

For those interested in picking up a few pointers for next season, I suggest visiting your local community gardens. I bet a number of them are loaded with edibles and populated by gardeners happy to share their insights. If you’re local to Salem, we have three community garden locations: Winter Island, Palmer Cove and Mack Park. Take a self-guided tour. Get inspired.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Progress at Katie’s beginner (idjit) garden

At my beginner gardening class (offered free through Salem Community Gardens) I was the representative novice. Lisa, our instructor, asked me point blank, “Did you know that pickles are made from cucumbers?” Much to my embarrassment, this idjit gardener had to stop and think about it. That’s Lisa’s new litmus test for the beginner gardener.

After years of admiring the gardens of accomplished gardeners and failing to retain much of the wisdom they tried to share with me, I’m realizing anew that there’s really nothing quite like doing something, to learn about it. Bits of gardening advice I’ve heard only faintly in the past are beginning to resonant with new meaning as I plant, weed, harvest, transplant and inspect the little wonders in my two, four-foot by four-foot, raised-bed plots.

Part of the joy of it is the small scale, the limited negative consequences of the results, and the discovery of something so vast, patiently waiting for me to recognize its simple truths. The garden’s once nearly imperceptible-to-me whisper is becoming a louder and clearer call.

Here’s the latest video of my gardening experiment. Give it a look, but, more importantly, give gardening a try yourself, if you haven’t already. If you’re an old hand, keep digging, and consider sharing some tips on the Katie Hutchison Studio Facebook Page.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast

Katie’s beginner (idjit) garden week one

This week it was time to move my kitchen-window, wanna-be garden off the shelves and into raised beds at the community garden. The bean bush seedlings didn’t look like they could take another day in their undersized, peat pots, and the other seedlings seemed to be aching to get out of their confining starter tray too. 

Sadly, some hadn’t made it to transplant day; the scallions and sweet peas met an early demise. Had I read the scallions seed packet I would have learned that it is “not recommended” to start them inside. But the bean bush packet says the same thing, and they were my star performers. There was more unheeded advice to be found on the sweet pea packet; “Soak seed in water for 12-24 hours or nick with sandpaper before planting.” But who can be bothered with the fine print?

I have, only upon this writing, made the horrifying discovery that my sunflower seedlings are of the “Mammoth Russian” variety, which the packet says grow six- to ten-feet tall! I had assumed “Mammoth” referred to the size of the flower head. Score one for the idjit gardener! How ridiculous those will look in the middle of my four-foot by four-foot garden. I think I’ll transport them to my mother’s garden where they will likely be more at home growing adjacent to her sizeable hornbeams.

The lettuce leaf and baby carrot seedlings, though healthy looking, were difficult to thin and transplant.  I’m highly skeptical that any of them will survive the experience. The Italian Large Leaf basil was easier, but I may have packed too many into a square.

I have a feeling my eventual square-foot gardens will bear little resemblance to their initial appearance. O.K., I can hope. Think of the following video as the pitiful “before” shots we architects and designers are so fond of including adjacent to miraculous “after” shots. Here’s hoping for stunning “after” shots.

by Katie Hutchison for House Enthusiast