Monday, June 10

Cinder Block Garden Update: Summer 2013

Last year I wrote this post and this post about planning and setting up the cinder block garden in our back yard. I love the garden, but I've had to make a few small changes since then to make it work. Things are looking pretty good right now and I want to show it off a little. Plus, I've got some concerns, so if you're a master gardener please keep reading and give me some pointers!

Here's the garden last August

And here it is today

Initially we set up the garden to have interior dimensions of 4 feet by 16 feet. However, our backyard floods terribly when it rains and we needed a way to let out all of that extra water. So I bought a few extra cinder blocks, picked up a shovel, and got really muddy to rearrange things. Now we have a 4x9 bed and a 4x4 bed with a little ditch in between. It drains beautifully.

The other structural change I made to my garden was the addition of trellises for my butternut squash, cantaloupe, and heirloom tomatoes. This excellent post was a huge help to me in putting these together. They used cattle panels (available from Tractor Supply Co.) cut in half as 8 foot tall trellises. I was planning to do that, but found rusty wire mesh for crazy cheap near the cinder blocks at Lowes. I think it's used for pouring concrete, but I'm not really sure. All I know is that it's sturdy, has big holes, and would eventually rust anyway. Perfect! Also, these are a little shorter than cattle panels, which means they barely stick out over our fence. Michael pounded 2x2's into the wells of our cinder blocks, then we secured the mesh to the stakes with zip ties at multiple places. Super easy.

Last year we moved into our house around this time, so we missed out on prime planting season. But after some research I found a Tennessee Extension web article saying I could plant a garden in August and expect a hearty fall harvest. This article lied! Haha. I had no success from my tomato, bean, squash, and collard seeds I planted in the sweltering heat of August. If I had started from plants I'm guessing they might have fared better.

Also, my bright idea of writing on popsicle sticks for garden markers was a total failure. The ink quickly disappeared in the sun.

Oh well... I wanted to set up the garden then anyway so that it would be ready for the next season. And I only planted seeds that I already had on hand. So it really wasn't much of a loss.

The cinder block concept has really worked well. We only have occasional bits of grass pop up and those are easy to deal with. In Memphis when it rains it pours, so it's nice to have everything raised so it doesn't wash away. The wells are really nice for planting herbs and lettuces, although I have more space in these than I could possibly use. And the four foot width is ideal, unless you're short in which case it might be a challenge. All in all, I'm loving it.

This year I was able to start planting in the spring like a normal person, so I went crazy with planning the perfect garden. I used a plethora of websites, the most helpful being This site is great for telling you when to plant seeds or transplants of each type depending on the weather in your area. It tends to be a little stingy with recommended plants per square foot, so I check to figure out how many plants of a certain type can fit in my space. There are a lot of fun planting tips on that site, too.

After failed attempts at transplanting my own tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings, here's what I ended up planting:

  • 4 Waltham butternut squash (seeds)
  • 3 Honey Rock cantaloupe (seeds)
  • 3 Black Krim tomatoes (plants)
  • 7 Pic n Pic yellow squash (seeds)
  • 3 Roma tomatoes (plants)
  • 4 Clemson Spineless okra (seeds)
  • 4 Big Early Bell peppers (plants)
  • 2 Giant Marconi peppers (plants)
  • 2 Poblano/Ancho peppers (plants)
  • 4 Ichiban eggplant (plants)
  • Various herbs

I like to squeeze those plants in tightly! While this year's garden won't be as cost effective as I would like due to my seed woes, I'll have a much earlier harvest.

Without further ado, here are some glamour shots of my beautiful bounty in progress:

Peppers of different kinds

My first experiment with okra

Eggplant blossoms are really pretty!





Roma tomatoes

Yellow squash almost ready to eat

More squash

Does anyone know how I can prevent sad, withery little squashes like the one in the background of this photo? I'm guessing it's from inconsistent watering?

Struggling Black Krim tomatoes

Pesky aphids

My Black Krim tomatoes are the only things that just aren't doing well. Two plants have beautiful, fuzzy green foliage, but aren't producing. Any blossoms dry up and fall off. The third one was barely growing and I had to prune it back due to brown spots (I'm guessing fungus?) on the top part of the plant.

I know they have aphids. Initially an organic insecticidal soap was really effective. But now it doesn't seem to be working for these plants, even though my Romas and other plants are fine. Do you have any tips for dealing with this? Since I'm pregnant I'd love to stay away from heavy duty insecticides. Thanks!



Parsley, sage, and rosemary with
butternut climbing behind them


Tiny butternut! I've got lots of these!

Butternut vines climbing on the right

One of several glossy, long eggplants

That's all, folks! I would love to answer any questions you have about my cinder block gardening experience so far. And I would really, really love any feedback you have to make my garden better. Thanks for reading!


  1. I learned this from Charlotte, who is certainly the family expert on organic gardening. Ladybugs eat aphids. She orders ladybugs mail order & when they are delivered by the post office you let them out in the garden. They will feast on the pesky aphids. Totally organic.

    1. Interesting... She would definitely know.

  2. I was going to say ladybugs for the aphids too!
    You're garden looks great. Your dill is amazing. My dill is sad and pitiful looking.

    1. Thanks! I couldn't get mine to grow from seed so I bought some from Home Depot.

  3. John and I are doing a cinder block garden this year too! So far, it is turning out well. Is that chicken wire you have your vining plants growing on? We are trying to figure out a way to stake out our heirloom tomatoes.

    1. The wire mesh I used has much bigger holes than chicken wire and isnt flexible at all. I really like how sturdy it is with little support. The tomatoes could probably use something with slightly smaller holes, but chicken wire might be too small. I have no idea what my mesh is called or supposed to be used for, but it was by the cinder blocks. Good luck!

  4. Hi! I'm thinking of starting a cinder block garden. Being in the deep south like you I was wondering if you had problems with the garden drying out fast? Did you find that you needed to water everyday?

    1. Hi! I've read that cinder block beds dry out faster than beds made with other materials, but in my experience it seems about the same as any other large container/raised bed. The outer wells (the insides of the blocks) do dry out faster than the rest, but my herbs generally take that well. I water daily now that it's really hot. I usually run a sprinkler for about 40 minutes, but that also waters my grass so you could probably do less with direct watering. Hope that helps!

  5. Do you pinch the suckers off your Black Krim tomato plants? Also have you tried shaking the plant daily to help them pollinate? Hope these help. Let me know if you have any more questions and I'd be happy to help! :)

    1. Hi Elle,
      I do pinch off the suckers, although I started doing that later than I should have.
      I don't shake the plants though. I guess I'm just scared I'll break something! Is this something I should do even if I have lots of pollinators in my garden?

    2. Shaking your tomato plants wouldn't hurt and you don't need to shake them hard. I give all my tomato plants a little shake twice a day but I don't have pollinators in my garden (not yet anyway) either.