Green Thumb Neighbor
to the Rescue

Raised Beds Rise Again

Jan Daniels
Jan and her neighbor, Bob, who helped bring Jan's garden back to life.

As the mother of two young daughters, Jan Daniels didn't have much time for gardening. "My backyard consisted of a small lawn area, a young apple tree, some leftover rose bushes from the previous owner, and a gravel patch with a swing set for my two daughters," she says. Once the kids outgrew the swing set, Jan put in a few raised beds to grow vegetables, and tore out some roses to plant boysenberries. "At that point, the kids were teenagers and I still had little time for tending a garden," she says. After a few unsuccessful attempts, the garden lay fallow.

Help Comes From Next Door

Then 10 years ago, Jan's gardening life took a giant leap forward. A new neighbor moved in next door. Bob was an avid gardener, and he filled his yard with beautiful flower gardens. Bob and Jan became friends and eventually he asked her about the defunct raised beds in her backyard. "I had given up on vegetable gardening in the beds. Bob asked if he could come over and take a look," says Jan.

What began as a curiosity became a mission for Bob. The soil in the beds was like concrete, so Bob began tapping into his gardening knowledge on how to improve it. "We started by planting fava beans," says Jan. "We'd plant in fall, harvest beans all winter and till the leaves and stalks under in spring," she says. The roots of the favas also helped break up the soil and the tops enriched the soil with organic matter.

Bob then picked up a free compost bin from the City of San Jose. For the next two years Jan and Bob would compost everything they could get their hands on and add it to the beds. The soil and the garden started to turn around. "Now the soil is so light, that when you plant a seed it seems to grow overnight," she says. "Having a Compost Crock to collect kitchen scraps really helps too," says Jan. It's attractive, functional and holds the vegetable scraps until I can empty them into the compost bin."

Vegetables Galore

After several years of adding compost and other organic matter, Jan's garden began to flourish. She and Bob started growing a variety of vegetables such as sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans and peas. They’ve recently added 200 more square feet of garden by building cinderblock raised beds faced with tile where some rose bushes used to grow. "The really amazing thing is that Bob refuses to eat vegetables," says Jan. "He may take home a few tomatoes and garlic for his great homemade lasagna, but he really just likes playing in the soil," she adds.

Fortunately, others were quick to appreciate Jan's homegrown produce. Radar, her Brittany spaniel was one of the biggest fans. She loved to eat vegetables. "Radar was very good about delicately removing ripe fruit without harming the plants," Jan remembers. "She loved tomatoes, apples, and boysenberries in particular. She could remove the ripe boysenberry fruit without getting scratched from the thorns," says Jan. Jan eventually had to fence in the garden to curb her dog's enthusiasm.

High quality gardening tools have helped make Jan’s gardening chores easier. "I bought a set of hand tools from Gardener’s Supply and I'm really impressed with their sturdiness. They have strong handles and don't corrode when wet," she says. Jan also uses Vegetable Ladders for trellising her beans. "It keeps the plants strong and upright," she says.

Jan has learned some other gardening tricks over the years. Growing vegetables in San Jose is a year-round proposition. "Many crops, such as tomatoes and squash produce from March to December," says Jan. One problem she does have is snails and slugs. "I've learned that if you put clay kitty litter around the plants, the slugs and snails stay away," she says. "I reapply it every 7 to 10 days."

The Garden Works Its Magic

Jan's garden has a positive effect on nearly everyone. Even her husband Kevin has started getting involved. "At first Kevin didn't want to have anything to do with the garden except to eat the vegetables," says Jan. "Then one day I asked him to water because I couldn't get home on time. Ever since then, he's become the garden waterer," she says. "He finds it relaxing."

Jan loves her new garden not only for the amount of delicious, healthy vegetables it produces, but for the peace it gives. "I find it amazing to watch stuff grow. In a blink of an eye I'm harvesting vegetables from what were just little seedlings," she says. "Our families have enjoyed this garden. It's really been a wonderful way to form friendships," says Jan.

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