An East Nashville Edible Garden

creating an edible garden in the heart of Tennessee

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The 2016 Potato Experiment.

When I started the garden three years ago, I planted what I knew and loved, which was the foods my Dad grew on his allotment at the back of our house in England. As well as having his experience at hand for those particular foods, they took me back to my childhood. The June strawberries which we would long for every other month off the year, and stuff ourselves silly when the time came around. The daily bowl of raspberries I’d collect from late summer through the fall. The leeks, peas and carrots, that were the brightest orange you could imagine. I remember gnawing around the middle core, saving that most juiciest part until the end. I still do that sometimes.

Another staple were his potatoes. When there weren’t any left in the garden once the cold set in, they would be in a huge paper bag in our garage ready for winter feasting. So, from the first year I began planting, the potatoes were in.

They’ve always done well both directly in the ground before I started mulching, and after. This year, though, I read about a no dig growing method when using mulch so am giving it a go.

Traditionally, potatoes are planted about 4″ deep in the ground and as the plants grow, the surrounding earth is mounded up around it, a little more earth being added as the plant continues to grow. The potatoes can be dug up earlier for new potatoes or left a little longer for larger ones.

This year, instead of planting in the ground I placed my potatoes on top of the soil.


Potatoes on the soil


Then, rather than the usual 4″ wood chip cover that’s on the rest the garden, the potatoes will sit under about 8″. Instead of just mounding the extra 4″, I built a border from cedar fence posts (using the same technique I used to build all my borders). That way, the mulch stays in place and I can plant other crops very close to it. Once the potatoes are ready, there is no need to dig (which usually results in a few potatoes being stabbed), just a bit of ferreting around in the chips is all that’s needed. And you shouldn’t need to weed or water either. Now to just sit and wait to see it they grow.


8" mulched Potato bed


Just a note about planting: Don’t plant store bought potatoes, you’ll need seed potatoes to begin with. I order mine though Grow This year I bought Burbank Russett, Viking Purple, and Desiree Red. All these varieties are good for both the spring and fall which will hopefully make the replanting easier, and it’s not to late to get an order shipped for this year.

My other hope for this method is that harvesting and planting happens at the same time, which means even less work. When one plant and all it’s potatoes are dug up, the best potato is replanted in the same space, on top of the soil and covered again, ready to grow when the seasons allow. That means, if this works, once the ground work is done, that’s it. A potential lifetimes worth of potatoes.


The Young Ones.

Yesterday I got a call from a friend because she has a lot of garlic growing in her yard and wondered if I wanted any. Once you start gardening, freebies are impossible to turn down so I headed over to her place to dig up a bundle. It was the most beautiful spring day. There is something magical about spring colours when the sky is bright blue and gives the new greens a yellow hue. This was the view from her garden…


Spring light


I haven’t had the chance to plant the garlic, but here’s what else has been going on in my East Nashville Edible Garden.

Peas! These are one of my favourites. I was rather reserved in 2015 so stepped it up this year and have 3 different kinds of garden pea, and then the sugar snaps and snow peas.


Young peas


The beets, carrots and salads are coming up too, and the fruits and herbs are starting to bloom. The strawberries are throwing out flowers and since each one becomes a fruit, the berries aren’t too far off.


23. The Young Ones


Although planted, the beans remain underground and there are also a few seedlings left to be planted. The kale and chard are in pots but will go into the ground this week, along with the onions, leeks and shallots, and the peppers and tomatoes will be kept inside a little while longer. It’s not quite warm enough for them to be outside all day and night.

It hasn’t all been a success story though. I had planned to grow cauliflower, savoy cabbage and broccoli but after lovingly tending them from seed to seedling in a grow box (and I mean lovingly), they were eaten within a week of being in the garden by worms munching at the stems. I begrudgingly let it go, with a plan of attack ready for the little blighters in the fall.

As if I haven’t enough seeds already this year, I just bought some more, including squash and melons, from my favourite online seed store, Baker Creek. (I’ve now banned myself from the site until the summer, knowing full well there is no chance I’ll stick to it.) There’s still time to order if you want to have a go at planting those this year.

I will confess that I’m new to growing melons and squash so that will be another learning curve.


Two Weeks Old And Blushing Already.

Beauty is often hidden away, saved for those who seek it. No where is this more true that in the garden.

Since I’ve started some seeds indoors, I’ve been able to pay much closer attention to them. I’ve been growing chioggia beets for a couple of years now, sowing straight into the garden. The first leaves were always so close to the ground that I never saw the underside, until now.


Chioggia beet blush


The flashes of colour are only on the underside of the first leaves, the leaves that initially give the seedlings all their nutrients before the true leaves (in the middle of this picture) come up. Although these first leaves are short lived, and wither away quickly once the true leaves develop, they are the most colourful. The young cauliflower blushes in purple.


Cauliflower blush


In contrast, below are the shallot and onion seedlings. The seeds become perched on top of each first leaf instead of staying underground.


onions 2 weeks


I decided to trim the tops down to about an inch as I read that helps to encourage the bulbs growth. My intention was to only trim half, and then to compare to see if the theory worked, but of course, I ended up scissor happy and chopped off the lot.

The leggy seedlings I replanted are thriving so I’ll know for the future that solution works. In another week I’m going to start to harden off the cold tolerant vegetables so I can get them in the ground shortly after. Hardening them off means that for a few hours a day, for a few days, they are left outside to begin to acclimate to the colder temperatures. This will be the beets, kale, cauliflower, brocolli and savoy cabbage (pictured below).


savoy 2 weeks


Grow Box Part II. The Problem With Long Legs.

The biggest issue when growing seeds indoors is not getting enough light to the seedlings. As they strain to find it they will grow very tall. This is called legginess. Here are my broccoli seedlings after 4 days.




They look so tall and proud at first glance, but underneath there is a weakness in them that will not be able to support the coming growth. As the plants develop more leaves the stems will begin to keel over. Compare them to ones planted straight in the garden last year.




Firstly, I wanted to try to prevent legginess from happening to the seeds still coming up so I added another light to each box. Most of the time the lid is open as shown, to allow air to circulate. I’ll probably add more air holes before using them again.


Grow box modification


I also raised up the trays by overturning some spare trays and placing them underneath. Ideally the light should only be one or two inches above the plants. Mine had been about five.  As the seedlings grew I removed the layer of spare trays, as needed.


Blog 21


Secondly, I had to try to fix the legginess problem (in the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula and kale). I very carefully chose the least leggy seedling from each cell and replanted them. I had no idea if they would survive, or whether the long stem, now buried, would rot in the ground. Two days later and all seems to be well.




Grow Box.

Every year in the garden, the see-saw tips from ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ to ‘I think I’m beginning to understand’. And then, just as quickly, tips back to ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ as the next predicament arises. In any field of learning it’s a cycle that takes you from being completely baffled, to feeling like Einstein, and then being baffled all over again. So, I’m starting 2016 having learnt so much in the two years since I started the garden, but knowing there is still so much to learn. The first lesson will start with seeds.

For the past two years I’ve sown my seeds outdoors when the weather starts to warm a little. But this year, after discovering the wonderful Gary Pilarchik from The Rusted Garden on YouTube, and his video demonstrating how to make a simple indoor grow box, I wanted to try with some starts inside.

Gary does a great job with his demo so I’ll leave that for you to watch. (The follow up is also useful.) The only small change I made in the design was to cut a round hole in the top (measuring 2″ across) instead of a long slit. I removed half of the clamp, and the other part rests on the top to hold the lamp in place.


Grow box


Another first for this year is seed soaking. For a seed to sprout, it needs to take in moisture which it does from the soil. Soaking it first is like giving it a huge glass of water in one go, instead of the sips it takes from the earth, so germination is much faster.  The general rule is don’t soak anything for longer than 24 hours, but I discovered some seeds need much less and started to swell after 12. You want to avoid sprouting before planting as the seeds as very delicate once that starts to happen and are likely to be damaged if you pick them up.  I didn’t catch some of the broccoli seeds in time so I had to be very careful when planting them.


Seeds soaking


So I didn’t have to stick labels on my glasses, I lay them on a labelled paper towel.

The seed packets will tell you when is the best time to sow your seeds indoors. I could have been earlier with some of them, but next year I’ll do better, tipping that see-saw once again from ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ to ‘I think I’m beginning to understand’,

For now though, it’s time to hurry up and wait.


Inside grow box

Lessons from 2015 and the 2016 shopping list.

You know you are a gardener when you have more seed catalogue’s delivered than home & clothing put together! It’s that time of year when all the 2016 orders have been placed, and some have started to be delivered. I’m growing almost everything I grew last year, along with a few  additions to expand the garden. Here’s a round up.

Baker Creek is my go to again this year for seeds. Now I’ve got the hang of growing most of the vegetables, I’ve added a few more varieties to some types so I can compare tastes. Here is this years stash.


Seeds 2016


Last year the parsnips, cauliflower and brussel sprouts didn’t grow, but it will take a few years of failure for me to completely give up on anything so we’ll see what 2016 will bring. I’ve cut back on lettuces since their season here in TN wasn’t that long.  The arugula did really well though, as well as the spinach and kale, so they will be my main leafs this season.

Another failure last year was my rhubarb. I love rhubarb but it’s not that easy to grow in warmer climates. Still, I ordered some more to try again, along with some potatoes, from Grow Organic.

My biggest disappointment by far in 2015, partly because it was the first thing I planted, was the death of the apple tree. It budded in the Spring and then died. Who knows why for sure, but the city was working on a sewer line not too far from it and it ended up leaking. I’ve order the same multi-variety tree, along with another one, from Bay Laurel Nursery.

Lastly, I ordered another gooseberry bush and some more early season strawberries (since I managed to kill many of mine while transplanting them!) along with a variety of everbearers which will produce berries over a longer period of time. They came from Nourse Farms.

Here’s the complete list:

Baker Creek

Grow Organic

Bay Laurel

Nourse Farm



For the last year I’ve just been throwing my compost onto a pile until I had time to make a compost bin. Anything to keep it out of the landfill but not exactly nice to look at and totally unmanageable in the grass and weeds.


Compost heap


Now that I’m back in Nashville for a few weeks straight I decided it was time to make the bin.

There are loads of ideas on the internet about how to make your own bin. Pallets make a really cheap version, but I since I love to build and design I wanted to be a bit more adventurous.  Here’s the end result….


Compost bin


I used untreated cedar fence posts (I seem to use these for just about everything in the garden). The front opening was split into two for ease of removing it when the pile needs to be turned, and the sides are wire mesh to allow air in. The box is about 3 feet square as I read this is the minimum size to get a good hot compost.

Eventually I want to understand how to compost well but for the moment, I’m just happy to have something to throw all my waste into. And if that’s all you do, you’ll still end up with some pretty good dirt for your garden. Anything else is gravy.

Fall planting.

This year was my first for fall planting and I wasn’t really sure when to do it. Wait too long for temperatures to cool after the blazing Tennessee summer heat and I was worried there  wouldn’t be enough time for some vegetables to grow before the frost sets in. I had a three week window when I was going to be home from touring mid August – early September, so I planted in August leaving enough time to keep an eye on young seedlings before leaving them on their own.

For the most part, the timing has worked. The broccoli is still only an inch across but we have almost a month of no frost here so they still might grow large enough, we’ll see. I think the only plant I would consider putting in earlier would be the garden and sweet peas. The brussel sprouts didn’t germinate at all and the few cauliflower seedlings that did come up, died shortly afterward. Some you win, some you loose.


Oct 31st 2015


The giant radishes came up in a couple of days and some ended up being 3 1/2 inches across! My first year for turnips too (now I just have to learn how to cook with them). The rainbow chard is the healthiest it’s ever been, and after the first few kale leaves were devoured by insects, it’s made a remarkable recovery as the weather has cooled.


Oct 31st 2015 (2)

You Say Toma(y)to, I say Toma(r)to.

I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes but I am a huge fan of always having some homemade tomato sauce on hand when you can’t be bothered to cook anything but pasta.

I decided to grow three difference types of tomato: one cherry, one that’s good for sun drying, and a larger variety for canning.  For sun drying ( I cheat by using the oven) I use the Principle Borghese tomato, grown from seed. It’s an heirloom from Italy, famous for that purpose. I cut the tomatoes in half and place them on a tray in the oven on the lowest heat for hours and hours. When they are dried (but not crispy) I let them cool, and then put them in jars of oil, making sure the oil covers everything. They will keep like that for months and months.

This year I was late out of the gate with my cherry tomato seeds so I decided to buy some starts. I went with the Sungold variety – delicious. I think these will be my go to from now on. Not only was the flavour fantastic but their orange colour looked wonderful against the red ones.


Sun Sugar Cherry Tomato 2015


For my larger tomatoes I grew the Tappy variety from seed, after reading some really good reviews at I also had some beefsteak seeds given to me so I decided to add one of those in the mix too.

Total plants:

  • 2 Sungold (this will give you a lot of cherries but I’m reluctant to ever grow one of anything in case one plant dies.)
  • 2 Principle Borghese
  • 2 Tappy, 1 Beefsteak.

And here’s what happened:

The cherries were first out of the gate. Those that I didn’t eat straight away, I froze to either add in the canned sauce  later or to keep for stews over the winter. The Borghese were next and almost all them were sun dried to make a total of 10 4oz cans. The Tappy and Beefsteak, being the biggest, were last. Since I only had three plants of these, there was never enough of each harvest to do a reasonable amount of canning,  so I would also add in any other ripe tomatoes of the other varieties to bump up the volume.


Tomatoes in basket 2015


The stems and any large skin blemishes were removed but since everything was going through the food mill, I didn’t skin, deseed or remove smaller blemishes. These tomatoes filled an 8 quart stock pot to the brim and were boiled for about 15 mins until they had disintegrated.


Tomatoes boiling down 2015

After running all the pulp through the food mill, I ended up with just over half the stockpot full.


Food milled tomatoes 2015


The tomato juice is now boiled until it starts to thicken. During the boiling down, I added about 1 cup of wine, salt and pepper and honey to taste (depending on how sweet your tomatoes are and how sweet you like your sauce. ) I didn’t thicken up my sauce too much before canning. It  will thicken as it cools down and I usually thicken it up a little more when I end up using it.

Canning is the same as for the strawberry jam. Boil the jars for about 10 mins, then add the sauce and boil again to seal for about another 10 mins. This batch made 5 jars and so far this year, I have 21. Along with the 10 jars of sun dried tomatoes, that’s not a bad stash from 7 tiny tomato seeds.


Canned tomato sauce

Pests and Protectors.

If this year was the year of mastering weeding and watering, next year (and I have a feeling every year from here on in) will be about dealing with pests. My spring kale harvest was my proudest achievement in 2015. This is what the fall kale looks like….


kale eaten by bugs


Some of the peas and beet tops have also been eaten before they had a chance. The problem is exasperated when I’m traveling and can’t keep a daily eye on things, so next year I’m going to have to figure out a solution.

Some bugs however, are extremely helpful in the garden. When I was younger, I hated spiders, and I mean HATED. My father had a greenhouse which he once left me in charge of for a week. I had no idea it would be full of spiders. It took me 30 minutes each day to pluck up the courage to enter this hell hole, and when I did I was armed with a can of hairspray, (an awful way to kill a spider). After the week it was a miracle any of his plants survived. It was a miracle I did too.

When I moved to Tennessee something happened. Who knows what but my arachnophobia disappeared. I’m proud to say I can now put a glass over a spider (including the wolf spider I once found in my living room) and safely move it out of my house.

This year my tomato kingdom was visited by a garden spider, also know as the writing spider. He hung around for a few weeks and the number of pests causing trouble with my tomatoes was virtually zero. One day he was gone. He might have found a new home amongst the blackberries, or maybe it was a different spider, but I was thankful he’s been on guard. Learn to love your spiders.


Garden spider 2015


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