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Small Yard Yields Abundant Harvest

Susan and Dennis Slevin
Susan and Dennis Slevin make the most of their small, urban garden. Each year, the plot is home to 80 tomato plants.

While taking a river trip near Vienna in 1993, Susan and Dennis Slevin noticed that each of the houses along the river had a small vegetable garden. Although Sue had been an avid flower gardener for years, she had never had a vegetable garden. The idea of a small edible garden really appealed to her. In 1994, she convinced Dennis to build an 800-square-foot vegetable garden in their small, urban yard. It's been a rousing success and over the past 13 years they have expanded it an additional 150 square feet.

Unexpected Competition

Once they began planting vegetables, the Slevins discovered there were many four-legged critters, such as raccoons, woodchucks and deer, eager to share the harvest. So they surrounded the garden with a fence to keep the wildlife at bay. In the area outside the fence, they grow vegetables that have proven to be unattractive to deer, such as zucchini and summer squash.

Tomatoes Galore

Inside the fence, their tomato crop is their pride and joy. The Slevins grow 25 different types of tomatoes and a total of 80 tomato plants each year. They garden organically, and, being in Pennsylvania where mushroom compost is plentiful, has made it relatively easy to enrich their poor soil. The tomato plants grow very large and keeping them upright was a real challenge until they discovered Tomato Ladders.

Tomatoes supported by a Tomato Ladder
One of the 25 tomato varieties that the Slevins grow.

"We used to stake and tie our tomatoes or use tomato cages," says Sue. "The cages weren't very attractive and neither the stakes or the cages held up well during storms," she says. "The Tomato Ladders are wonderful," says Sue. They have 75 of them now. Some are eight years old and yet they show no signs of rusting. "The ladders keep the plants standing up in any weather," says Sue. "They also help us keep our paths open so we can still walk through the garden in late summer," she says.

Dennis and Susan's grandkids help them plant the garden each spring and they encourage the children to suggest varieties to grow. "Our 10-year-old twin grandkids love 'Snow White' tomatoes. This heirloom variety produces small, pale-yellow fruits that are a little bigger than cherry tomatoes and sweet and tasty," says Sue. Their garden includes a number of other heirloom tomato varieties that they give away, freeze or dry for winter use.

Growing Veggies Vertical

The Slevins also grow many other vegetables, such as beans, broccoli, pumpkins, gourds, cucumber, lettuce and peppers. They particularly like the Vegetable Ladders for keeping their peppers and broccoli upright. "The veggie ladders are a perfect size to prevent our peppers and broccoli from blowing over," says Susan. The Slevins plant intensively, and their 40 veggie ladders also help keep plants from flopping over onto each other and taking up too much space. Lately they've begun using the Tomato and Vegetable Ladders on other plants as well. "We've found the Vegetable Ladders are great for protecting young tree seedlings and ornamental grasses from the wind, animals and the lawn mower," says Sue.

Susan Slevin working among the Tomato Ladders
Susan Slevin works among the Vegetable Ladders.

The Slevins prefer to spend their time harvesting and eating rather than weeding, so they use black plastic mulch (Pro Weed Mat) to help control the weeds. "We're past the point of wanting to spend time a lot of time weeding," says Dennis. The black plastic also helps to warm the soil for their favorite warm-weather crops, including tomatoes, peppers and squash. They keep a special nursery bed in the front of the garden for volunteer seedlings. Every year they select and transplant self-sown flowers, such as sunflowers, cleome, and cosmos to this area. They've even tried growing some tomato seedling volunteers to see what kind of fruit they produce.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers and to encourage them to stay around, Sue has put up a hummingbird feeder. "The feeder we purchased from Gardener's Supply is a work of art, yet very functional," she says.

With the help of Vegetable Ladders, plastic mulch and a number of other innovations, Susan and Dennis Slevin are finding new ways to enjoy the beauty and bounty of their garden with less effort.

Last updated: 7/9/19