I've had trouble growing my lawn since we moved in to our home. There are many bare spots in the backyard that are very sandy, and some other spots where water tends to pool because of poor drainage. The ground is very hard here and requires some willpower to dig in to.

In the bare spots I resolved in 2024 to dig a few garden beds so there would be something pleasant to look at instead of the dry, bare ground. Raised beds were an option here but doing an in-ground garden seemed it would be more fulfilling to grow in, and felt more connected to the farming tradition of my county. Plus if I could grow anything in this ground that was a sign I could grow in very poor conditions with a chance of success. Finally, I knew nothing about plants or gardening; this was a chance to fix that with hands-on learning.

With just a shovel I dug out 2 rows of 3 garden beds, each 4'x8' and about 8 inches deep. The process involved a cumulative ~5 hours of digging and hoeing, spread over two days because I work outside in the late afternoon after the sun slips behind the house. It was miserably hot still, even at that time of day, but it was weirdly fun. I enjoyed working and sweating outside as much as I enjoyed coming inside to the cool A/C. Male privilege is being able to work outside without a shirt on and I used it to the fullest those two days, ostensibly because I had just had my nipples pierced and wanted to avoid extra friction / sweat but also because I wanted to / could. Anyhow, I amended the soil I removed with 1 bag per bed of off-the-shelf topsoil and deposited it back into the bed. In retrospective the beds could have been 1' narrower as I can barely reach the middle without stepping into the bed.

The idea with digging all the dirt out just to dump it back in was threefold:

  1. Better define the bed
  2. Aerate the soil
  3. Amend the soil

I went back over all the beds with a hoe, watered the ground some with a watering can and called it done. Some people would use a tiller here.

The next day into 3 of the beds I planted seeds for spinach, kale and radishes; the day after this I planted seeds for turnips, basil and cucumbers. These were all in-season for late April here. I referenced a handbook provided by NC State to learn about vegetable gardening in North Carolina and to find these vegetables. Over the next week I diligently watered each bed with about a gallon of water each once per day using runoff collected in a rain barrel attached to the house. This was very tedious and soon I ran a bar sprinkler out there attached to a very long hose.

After two weeks, half my beds had germinated: the first leaves of the cucumbers, turnips and radishes poked out of the ground but the remaining crops didn't even try. This was interesting and slightly vexing, but thinking more on it I realized a 50% success rate at growing vegetables from seed in this sub-par soil was a great start. I let the empty beds get overrun with weeds and focused on the beds that were growing vegetables.

Radishes (bottom) and turnips (top) growing in my yard

On June 6 I harvested the radishes. They are surprisingly quick to reach maturation, 21 to 28 days, and I likely could have harvested them a few days earlier than I did. To harvest, grab them at the base of their greens and pop them out of the ground. The top of the root of some of the larger ones may be visible as they mature in the ground, as below.

The radishes were quite small, some barely had any edible root at all. I blame this on the heat, as when it gets hot some vegetables tend to “bolt”, or prematurely flower. They also tasted quite spicy, another symptom of heat stress. Finally, I neglected to thin them out, resulting in some seeds merging together into one radish which is not optimal but in this case those radishes turned out fine.

I ate the radishes with salt, pepper and olive oil over a few days. They were not substantial but wow, they grew so fast. If I planted some every week for just three weeks in a row I could have a harvest every week for the three weeks after that.

Radishes sliced on a plate with salt and pepper

About three weeks after I harvested the radishes I pulled the turnips out of the ground in the same way. Turnips are cooked more similarly to potatoes than to radishes, which I didn't know before I researched this as I had never bought or cooked with a turnip. The greens are also edible, as with radishes. I cubed and tossed the radishes in salt, olive oil and rosemary from a huge bush outside. I layered in rosemary sprigs also tossed in the same oil and salt in hopes they would be tasty but they did not take kindly to being cooked at 375°F for as long as the turnips needed.

Turnips and rosemary (bottom) and greens (top)

For the turnip greens, I sautéd them as I would mustard greens with oil, red pepper flakes and a fuckload of garlic, adding crumbled bacon over top at the end. It took a lot of time to actually prep all these vegetables, probably longer than they were cooking on the stove and in the oven.

Overall this was a more substantial meal than the radishes were; it was fulfilling to eat a dinner made mostly from things I grew. There was very little waste this time too as I cooked both edible parts and all the turnips were healthy.

Turnips, greens and Mogul