A little bit about me: I am Alison, wife of Jonathan, mother of Hannah (4) and Thomas (1), former high school English teacher and current high school tutor. I am originally from Atlanta, but we have lived in the North Shore area of Chattanooga for a few years. In between Atlanta and Chattanooga, I lived in NC (college), Belgium, VT (grad school) and DC, and before we got married, my husband lived for 10 years in a Volkswagen Westfalia while traveling through the US, Canada and Mexico. We both enjoyed our adventuring season of life and have also loved planting our family and getting rooted in Chattanooga (puns intended) – through gardening, and in other ways!
Before we moved in July 2016, my family lived in an apartment on a girls’ dorm at a boarding school in Alexandria, Virginia. I had a few plants in pots, but when we bought our house in Chattanooga, the thing I was most excited about was the prospect of planting a garden. I told my husband that what I really wanted was to eat a salad out of my garden, and by the middle of our first full summer here, I had accomplished that goal. I think I only had one salad before the lettuce had bolted, but after the tomatoes and cucumbers had gotten ripe enough to eat. It still felt like a dream realized.
Since that first year, my garden has grown. My husband built some additional raised beds, so I spend February and March every year planning and scheming for what I will plant in April for the summer growing season. I love the time playing and working in the yard with my kids, getting dirty and wet, eating produce off the plant. It feels like what summertime in the south is meant to be. It’s not all idyllic moments, of course. I got stung on the EYEBALL by a bee this summer while I was pruning my green beans, and I am strangely allergic to cucumber vines, so I have to be completely covered, or I end up with a rash on my arms. But, it is a wonderful hobby, and I continue to love my summer gardens. Hannah, my four-year-old, is choosy about what she will eat from the garden… she likes the raspberries, strawberries, sugar snap peas, and the okra if they are grilled. There’s not much sweeter than when she runs her hands over the rosemary and breathes the smell in deeply. Thomas, my one-year-old, will eat any and all of it (and frequently taste tests inedible parts of the garden – dirt, grass, leaves, etc.). This summer his face has frequently been stained with blackberry juice or covered in seeds from cherry tomatoes.
A friend of mine who lives in Houston has an Instagram account called “Fun in the Garden” (@fun_in_the_garden) that chronicles her gardening experiences with four kiddos. I definitely recommend following her, even though she is in a different growing zone. She has helped me to expand my gardening knowledge and has encouraged me to plant a fall garden this year. So, I thought that I would share some of what I’m planting, when I’m planting and other tidbits that might be helpful if you’re thinking about doing some fall gardening – whether it’s in pots on the porch or raised beds in the yard.
1. Expanded herb bed: I have rosemary, oregano and thyme in my perennial herb bed (and mint in a separate bed because it takes over). I also have basil that will last for a while longer, and I’m really excited to add cilantro and dill this fall. I’ve never grown either, and I know that they both go to seed quickly, but I’m excited at the prospect of enjoying pico de gallo and tzatziki sauce made with my own herbs.
2. Sugar Snap Peas: I grew these on a trellis in the spring, and they were so delicious. We would pick them as we walked in from the car and snack on them with lunch. They are easy, the flowers are beautiful, and they do well in mild temperatures.
3. Greens (Kale and Spinach): I have grown Bibb Lettuce in the spring for the past few years, and it thrives in the mild temperatures, so I am looking forward to seeing how the heartier lettuces do, and I plan to use them in my Body Back recipes.
4. Garlic: I have heard about sticking partial garlic cloves into the ground in the fall and apparently come spring / early summer they are ready to pull. I use garlic in my meals all of the time, so I think this will be a fun experiment.
I have raspberry bushes that will have fruit again this fall, and a couple of volunteer plants that are growing some sort of gourds… perhaps spaghetti squash from our compost? But most of the rest of my garden is beginning to wind down, so I’ve been pruning and clearing, and I’ve added a fresh layer of compost to prepare the beds for the next growing season.
I’ll buy my seeds (peas and greens) from Burpee (online) because I haven’t found a local seed distributor, and I appreciate all of the variety on Burpee, as well as their details about when to plant different things (for reference, we are zone 7b in Chattanooga, or 7a if you’re at a higher elevation). I’ll get my plant starts at the Crabtree Farms Fall Plant Sale (Sept 20 – 21) because their plants are always amazing, and since they have been grown in Chattanooga, they do well in our local gardens. Plus it’s wonderful to support a community farm that serves Chattanooga in so many ways.
Beyond the list above, I will also try to bring color to my garden. I’ve never left a Crabtree Plant Sale without a couple of flowers. I have loved learning about the valuable role of flowers in the garden, beyond just looking pretty. Marigolds, calendula and nasturtiums protect plants from pests, while drawing in the pollinators that are so necessary for growing. I read that “90% of wild flowering plants and 75% of food crops around the world depend on pollination for successful seed and fruit production,” but 40% of pollinators (bees, especially, but also butterflies) are threatened with extinction. My pollinator bed is filled with native plants that I have gotten from Reflection Riding at their annual plant sales – coneflowers, anise hyssop, beardtongue and milkweed. Native plants expand each year and attract local pollinators, which are crucial for my garden (and those around us) to thrive. Every time Hannah sees a bee and says, “Look, Mama, a pollinator!” instead of running scared, I feel like my garden is some small act of resistance (though I wish that the bee earlier this summer had seen me as a kindred spirit, rather than taking revenge on my eye!).
I will try to get my pea, kale and spinach seeds in the ground in early September, and then I’ll add herbs, color and whatever else I get suckered into buying at the Crabtree Plant Sale at the end of September. Our “first frost” in Chattanooga is usually around Halloween, but some of these plants can even survive a frost or two. If you’re planting in pots, you have the benefit of being able to pull them inside if you know a frost is coming, and you can also throw a sheet over top if there is an early cold night (hard to imagine in this August heat). I’m not sure if we really save all that much money with our garden, but we might if we weren’t in the “crazy busy survival season” of life with two tiny people. Regardless of money saved, the benefits of getting our hands in the dirt, watching hopefully for rain, picking and eating warm tomatoes while standing barefoot in the yard and more are incalculable.