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In the midst of suburban north-central New Jersey, June Harless has found a rural oasis. The house that she and her husband moved into ten years ago is relatively close to New York City (where June used to work), but the one-acre lot has the feel of the country. Adjacent to her yard are open fields, woods, and a watershed owned by the county. June has taken full advantage of this country setting by growing two 15 x 30-foot vegetable gardens that yield an astonishing amount of produce.
"The watershed land nearby provides privacy, but also it means our yard stays wet until midsummer," says June. She has remedied that situation by planting her gardens in raised beds. To keep both her plants and her soil healthy, she uses All-Purpose Fertilizer from Gardener's Supply. "I also particularly like the Weed Mat," says June, "which I use in my garden paths and around the pumpkins. It reduces the weeding and the plants stay productive," she says.
Water causes a few other problems in her yard. "We were always battling water in the basement, until we placed rain barrels under the downspouts of our gutters," says June. "Not only does it keep water out of the basement better, but it also give us rain water to use on the garden," she boasts.
June grows a wide variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, bean, peas, okra, summer squash, carrots, and radishes. "My favorites are the tomatoes," she says, "and the best varieties for me are 'Big Beef' and 'Rutgers'." 'Big Beef' is a large, beefsteak variety with good disease tolerance. 'Rutgers' is a New Jersey classic, so it's no surprise that it thrives in June's garden. "I used to grow 'Brandywine', but the fruits were always misshapen and would often rot on the vine," she says.
June has taken to preserving much of her bounty. She cans, freezes, and preserves the tomatoes, makes jam from local peaches and blueberries, apple butter from a local apples, and armloads of zucchini bread. Her chest freezer is filled to the brim by fall.
With woods all around her yard, June does have one major nemesis: deer. "I usually find five or six deer every morning out in the yard," says June. "Even though I did find some plants they won't eat, such as daffodils and sage, the real solution was Deer Fence. I've been using the same fence for eight years and it works great," she says. "It's reusable, doesn't tear, and is inexpensive." One 7-x-100-foot section fits nicely around each garden bed. "The fence is hardly noticeable, especially in summer with all the foliage around," she claims. Earth Staples help June protect her garden from another pesky garden critter: woodchucks. "As soon as I used Earth Staples to fasten down the fence, the woodchucks moved on," she says.
June grows her peas and pole beans on Bean Towers. "With the 10-inch spikes that go into the ground, they're really anchored well," she says. To get a jump on the season, June grows lettuces and other greens under garden fabric and hoops. "The greens like the added warmth and bug protection, and when we had chickens the fabric kept them from eating the greens too," she says.
Though edibles dominate her gardening hours, June's yard is also adorned with flowers. She loves irises, peonies, rudbeckias, and poppies. Plant supports keep her peonies from flopping. "I don't grow many annuals, but usually let the nasturtiums, sunflowers, and poppies reseed themselves. I have them everywhere each summer," she says.
After many years in the city, June and her husband treasure their quiet, rural life, and have a special appreciation for the pleasures and rewards of growing their own food.
Last updated: 10/24/15
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