Responsible Country Living with Jim Armstrong

Country Gardening

One of the many joys of living out in the country is the ability to have large gardens that are capable of producing enough food to last nearly an entire winter. Of course picking and eating fresh vegetables in the summer is always a treat. There is nothing better than going out to the garden to harvest an entire dinner!  

This was a stellar year for the garden. The corn topped out at nearly 8’ tall and is loaded with large, well-filled ears. I cannot remember a better year for tomatoes of all varieties and the squashes are right there as well. As usual, the lettuce, spinach, peas and green beans came and went rather quickly but we still have several rows of dry beans, now almost ready to harvest. The chard continues to produce and we have started pulling a few carrots. Most of those will stay in the ground through late fall and early winter along with the parsnips. We also planted two varieties of sunflowers for the pollinators and birds. The multi-head sunflowers are still producing new flowers while the massive “Mammoth” flowers are huge and heavily loaded with seeds that will be a part of the local birds winter feed. We have been processing tomatoes for a couple of weeks, roasting and pureeing and freezing several pounds every day. And we successfully grew tomatillos for the first time. We have salsa verde in our future!  

The garden is in an area that gets full sun year around. Obviously, that is a situation where sufficient water becomes problematic during really hot summer days. Part of the solution is how the irrigation is designed.  We used only weeping hose to irrigate the entire garden. It was laid out in rows with circles around larger plants like tomatoes, cucumbers and squashes. The taller plants like the sunflowers were planted on the west end of the garden to provide shade from the hot, late afternoon sun. We have a good well that pumps 17 gallons per minute but we still feel compelled to conserve as much as we can.  It is here for us now but it is our duty to not waste it.

An unintended situation occurred that was actually beneficial when Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) appeared in the garden. Purslane is native to India and Persia and has spread throughout the world as an edible plant and as a weed. It has fleshy succulent leaves similar to a Jade plant. The stems grow flat to the ground from a single tap root forming a virtual mat of leaves. That is both a blessing and a curse as it shades the soil and prevents evaporation while covering the entire garden. That meant I didn’t use nearly as much water as usual but it can also shade out new emerging vegetables and even cover parts of low growing plants like cucumbers. I have tried to remove it from around smaller plants but even small pieces of plants can root right back into the soil. About the only remedy available to me now is to add an additional inch of soil over the entire garden this fall thus burying seeds and plants to prevent germination next spring. I no-till my garden so there is no soil disturbance other than pressing seeds into the ground so that should take care of the Purslane!  

The other primary issue for rural gardens is foraging deer. There are a lot of deer in the area along with transient elk and moose. We designed the garden with that in mind. We used a couple of tiers of concrete block as a perimeter then put “T” posts trough the block into the ground. We attached cattle panels to the posts with wire and made a gate with a 5’ panel in one corner. The imported topsoil was transported via tractor into the garden area and leveled by hand. It was a lot of work but well worth the effort. We did not have a single deer get into the garden although a couple of industrious pocket gophers did manage to get in and eat a few carrots. We have plans this fall to double the size of the garden for next year, making it almost 1,100 square feet in size. We decided that we need a lot more corn!

Past Articles

Country Living at it's Best!
Summer mornings on our farm are my favorite time of day. It’s quiet and peaceful with only the first blush of the sun along with sounds of birds drifting through the open windows MORE...

The Impacts of Growth in Spokane County
Spokane County contains 1,125,000 acres, broken into eight primary land use classifications with several other minor classifications. In 1985, there were 446,000 acres of production agriculture in the County. In 2017, there were 300,000, a net loss of 146,000 acres in 32 years, converted MORE...

On July 10, 2008, fire struck the Park Hills and Park Meadows housing developments in the Dishman Hills on the south edge of the Spokane Valley. Fortunately no injuries or deaths occurred during the fire, but the effects of that fire on the residents, their homes and properties will be felt for years MORE...

Why is Hangman Creek Muddy?
Latah (Hangman) Creek looks more like chocolate milk than water this time of year. It’s that color because it is carrying millions of tons of MORE...


Jim Armstrong

After retiring from the Spokane Conservation District in 2014, Jim Armstrong returned to work part-time for the District, working on special projects. He and his wife still live on their farm along with sheep, chickens, and dogs, with kids and grandkids frequent visitors!