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.
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
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."
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."
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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