The Cranky Gardener

3 Conversations

The Cranky Gardener
Flowers in a watering can

Adopt, Adapt and Improve

Life is filled with crossroads of one sort or another. As I get older I find that those crossroads are appearing with greater frequency. We are often unable to control the events happening in our lives, but we can control our reactions to them. And it is better to take a course of action, even if it isn’t what you wish it could be, then to just sit and brood.

At various times over the life of this column I have alluded to the fact that I am finding it harder and harder to maintain my garden. This is due to both time and health considerations. In the past five years I have gone from a position of having so many plantings that Mr. Cranky and I could just keep up with it all to being on my own with an impossible number of garden chores for one person to handle. Especially when that one person works full time, has a bad back, and has to find time for h2g2.

Decision time. Something has to go. The logical thing is to get rid of the vegetable patch altogether and take out the high maintenance fruits like the grapes and figs. But I enjoy growing edibles. Really enjoy it. So, do I eliminate my perennial beds? After all the money I have spent on them over the years, I certainly hate to do that. And I have already started replacing hybrid ornamentals with native varieties of plants that are more drought tolerant and disease resistant.

For decades Mr. Cranky and I argued about gardening methods. He was a superb gardener, but definitely of the old school. I convinced him that wide row gardening was a good thing, but was never able to sell him on some other things I wanted to try. We ‘discussed’ building permanent raised beds in the vegetable garden for years and I always wound up throwing up my hands and letting him have his way. Did I mention that Mr. Cranky was a tad stubborn?

My solution to not being able to manage my traditional vegetable garden is to construct raised beds and fill them using a method of alternating layers of mulch and compost. I decided to take this summer and fall to convert my vegetable patch to this lower maintenance method of gardening. I plan to sell the tiller. Never again will I dig or till a bed for planting.

I mulled over what materials to use to construct the beds, the size, the location. Then fate took a hand and I was offered enough concrete blocks to do the job for a little bit of nothing. So, although they are less than beautiful, I have concrete block beds.

The next decision was size. Did I want a lot of small beds or a few large ones? I counted blocks and then got out the old graph paper. It soon became clear that I could gain more growing space by having larger beds. This also let me make them two blocks high. Considering the state of my back, beds two blocks high will be wonderful. It will eliminate a lot of bending. Plus, the concrete blocks are wide enough for me to sit on the side of the beds to harvest things like beans and peas and to do the very minimal weeding that will be required with this system.

This left the location of the beds in the garden. The men who delivered the blocks did so while I was at work. They piled them in such a way that it became difficult to lay out the beds the way I had originally planned. I didn’t have the energy to move them across the yard and then move them all back. So I needed a new design.

I constructed one bed in an area bordering the old veggie patch. Then I came up with a rambling design for the remainder of the blocks. It is one large bed that starts off traveling east – on the south edge of the patch – turns north across the east edge of the patch, and then turns back east again into another uncultivated area. The zigzag was necessary to get around my peach tree. I refer to it as my Great Wall of the Ozarks bed.

This has left a large chunk of my former veggie patch open for use. What to do? What to do? I have decided to cover the entire area with a weed mat and mulch and turn it into a container garden. Finally an actual workable, labor saving plan has emerged.

I had already decided to put my culinary herbs into containers, so they will go in this area. And since I have always had problems with blueberries, I will give them one last try – as container plants. I will add ornamentals, of course, and some succulents. A birdbath will finish it off. I already have a lot of pots and containers of various sizes and materials. I’ll start off with them, even though most have seen better days. Then I can replace the old grungy ones over time with ones of better quality.

And, this project has given me material for another series of Cranky Gardener columns. For the next few weeks we will talk about container and raised bed gardening. What types of containers to use for fruits and vegetables, how to make your own potting mixes, which varieties of plants grow well in containers and which ones don’t, light and water needs in container gardens and some basic design principles.

I hope this series will inspire those of you with too little time or too little space for traditional gardening to become gardeners anyway.

It is definitely too hot outside to do a lot of cooking. I like to cook with my microwave in the summer because it doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Those of you who only use your microwave ovens to reheat things are missing out on a great way to make easy, tasty meals in a hurry with ordinary ingredients from your cupboard.

The following recipe uses the new no-boil, oven ready lasagna noodles.

Easy Microwave Lasagna


8 no-boil lasagna noodles

1 large (15 oz.) or 2 small (8 oz) cans of tomato sauce

1 can (15 oz.) of zucchini (courgette) in tomato sauce

1 small package frozen spinach (squeezed dry)

1 small (4 oz) can sliced mushrooms

1 egg

1 pound ricotta cheese

1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 or 5 cloves of garlic minced through a garlic press

1 Tablespoon of dried Italian herbs (or make your own combination with oregano, sweet basil, thyme and parsley)

Salt to taste

Take two mixing bowls. Mix together the tomato sauce, zucchini, mushrooms, garlic and herbs in one bowl and the egg, ricotta, spinach, and half the mozzarella in the other one. In a square (8 inch or 9 inch) microwave-safe dish, coat the bottom with some of the tomato sauce mixture. Place two lasagna noodles on top of the sauce. Spoon on one third of the cheese mixture, being sure to completely cover the noodles. Add one fourth of the remaining tomato sauce mixture. Repeat until you have used all of the noodles. Top the final layer with the remaining sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on high until the noodles are nearly tender. Uncover, and put the remaining mozzarella and the Parmesan on top. Cook uncovered for 5 –7 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the noodles are tender. Let sit for 4 or 5 minutes before serving.

The Cranky Gardener


21.07.05 Front Page

Back Issue Page

Bookmark on your Personal Space



Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Written by



h2g2 is created by h2g2's users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the Not Panicking Ltd. Unlike Edited Entries, Entries have not been checked by an Editor. If you consider any Entry to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please register a complaint. For any other comments, please visit the Feedback page.

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more