Vegetable Gardening

1

The people who lived in our house before we did owned a boat. It must have been a seafaring vessel, because a third of their backyard was reserved for parking it. No thank you. No ma’am. That would not do for us. When I saw that barren patch of yard, I imagined this. And when a rogue tomato plant sprouted up through the concrete (can you spot it?), I took it as an auspicious sign.

That spring was a busy one. We wanted a garden, but had moved into the house just a little too late to start one. So we waited. For every cherry tomato I plucked from the pot on our deck, I dreamed of the plant we might have in the backyard. Fast forward a few years. After an ultra-urban summer in New York, Peter and I were ready to dig in the dirt!

We hired someone to remove the concrete, leaving an oh-so-attractive hole in it’s place. Our neighbors were especially thrilled after it rained and turned into a mud pit. We planned to build a modest raised bed after returning from a mid-spring vacation (so the mud pit would remain for the time being). But when I shared our basic plans with my mom, she said, why don’t you let me build something while you’re gone?

Can you imagine my falling-down shock, amazement and delight upon seeing this in my backyard?

2

You guys, my mom and her fiancĂ© may appear to be employed in the field of dentistry, but don’t be fooled. They are actually a garden-building crack team of two. As those same miffed neighbors looked on, they constructed the most beautiful, intelligently-designed little plot I’ve ever seen, in less than 48 hours and in sweltering heat.

3

The bed is 20-feet long by 8-feet wide. The planting area is 3-feet across, which is perfect for neat, tidy little rows. Instead of laying the center path completely down the middle, they created a U-shape. A simple, but brilliant design move that left us with the perfect spot to plant the tomatoes. Our backyard faces the south, so the tomatoes are in the southernmost spot.

4

Our first year of gardening was decidedly experimental.

We started with a long list of all the veggies and herbs we most wanted to eat, I mean grow, and then whittled it down to something more manageable. Tomatoes were at the top. And then:

  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Lettuce
  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Pole Beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Bell Peppers
  • Kale
  • Brussels Sprouts (hey, why not?)
  • Zucchini
  • Herbs. Lots of herbs.
  • Watermelon (the wild card)

Some of our choices were easier to grow than others. Lettuce, zucchini and cucumbers are no-brainers. Watermelon can be tricky. Like I said, we treated this first year as an experiment. All bets were off.

5

The herbs may have been the most exciting part of the garden planting (for me). I went a bit nuts at the farmer’s market and brought home:

  • Basil
  • Thai Basil
  • Sage
  • Lavender
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Rosemary
  • Chives
  • Dill and basil seeds

Is there anything more versatile than an herb garden? With very little space you have so many options for making pestos, simple syrups, sauces, marinades and infusions. Thai basil simple syrup! Lemon verbena sun tea! Mint pesto! Can you see how I got carried away?

6

We planted a combination of seedlings and seeds. Using this very helpful book as a guide, I drew up a basic planting plan with notes on how far apart to space the seeds and the rows. It felt overwhelming at first. Should the tomatoes grow near the peppers? Do lettuce and carrots get along? With June just around the corner, we were running out of time. So we got out the yardstick and some tools and just started planting.

It’s not rocket science, it turns out.

Do you remember planting a seed in soil when you were in preschool? You watered it. Gave it enough sun. And sure enough, after a week of care, a tiny green shoot pushed its way through the dirt. I felt the same sense of wonder upon spotting our first sprouts. You mean, if I plant it, it will grow? What magic! I felt like a preschooler again.

7

Summer carried on and our garden grew.

Here’s something they don’t tell you in the gardening books: you will get a sudden surge of joy every time you notice something new in your garden. I mean good new, not bad new, like when you spot an army of Japanese beetles chowing down on your sugar snap peas. Stepping outside once a day just to “look at the garden” quickly became a favorite activity for Peter and me. I brushed my hands through the herb patch just for the wave of scents. I pulled a few weeds. I noticed a bulge of beet coming up through the dirt. These breaks were a welcome chance to slow down and get in touch with the life cycle of the garden.

8

This is what our garden looked like a few weeks ago. This may have been it’s peak! Now our cherry tomatoes are ripening daily, the zucchini plant is on steroids and the basil is going to seed. The garden has gone a bit wild, to be honest. But why not go out with a bang?

9

10

Heirloom tomatoes ripening on the vine = the stuff of winter-time dreams.

11 Here’s the garden from the other side. We lined the outside border with zinnias.

 

So here’s what I learned during our first year of vegetable gardening. It’s really not hard and it’s so worthwhile, but there are a few things you should consider:

  1. Start with good soil. My mom filled our lovely mud pit with six cubic feet of really good organic soil, amended with compost. I’m pretty sure that, as well as the plentiful sun, was responsible for our monster tomato plants. We had dirt delivered from a local nursery for a reasonable cost. It was totally worth it.
  2. Location, location, location! Be very choosy when picking out your garden location. There is no such thing as too much sun for most vegetables. Pick a southern-facing spot, if possible, with no shade. If you’re choosing a site in the springtime, be aware that nearby trees may have yet to fill out. Think about the shade a fully leafed-out tree might create.
  3. Grow what you want to eat. This is a very common sense tip and one I read in multiple places, but it can be surprisingly difficult to follow. Think about what you cook in the summertime. Do you adore pesto and caprese salad? Go crazy and plant a row of basil plans in lieu of some more exotic herbs you may actually not use.
  4. Make a garden plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy or look professional, but sketch out your garden space and think about how much space you will need for each fully-grown plant. It’s also nice to have a record of what you planted for the next year.
  5. Kill your darlings. You must thin your seedlings! Oh man, was this hard for me. If you’re planting from seed, many more seedlings than you need will sprout up. In order for your vegetables to grow up strong and delicious, you need to allow them enough room. So be ruthless and leave only the strongest seedlings in the ground. It may hurt at the time, but it’s a necessary evil.
  6. Make a harvest plan. Way before you will be harvesting them, make a list of what you want to do with your tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, etc., so when you’re swimming in them, you’ll have ideas. I didn’t do this, but I wish I had.
  7. Don’t be afraid to fail. Our biggest experiment was the watermelon. Was it a success? I’m not sure yet, but it sure has been entertaining! Gardening is supposed to be fun, right? So why not grow something a little unusual and see what happens?
  8. Keep a journal. You learn so many things over the course of a planting season. You’ll figure out which varieties work best, how much space your tomato plants actually need and what you discovered wasn’t worth the trouble of growing. Keep a basic journal with notes, because by next spring you’re likely to forget all the lessons you learned.

What about you guys? Did you plant a vegetable garden this year? In pots, in the ground? How did it go? I’d love to hear your stories. And more importantly, what did you make with all of those fresh veggies?

 

Written by Juanita

Filed in: Organic Gardening Tags: ,

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One Response to "Vegetable Gardening"

  1. Bobbi Mileham says:

    Good article. Learned a lot. Can u tell us the climate, region? I saw lots of vegetation that is similar to the PNW region of Eka, Ca. But the part on Heat, I do not have that heat here on the coast. Can’t grow a watermelon, or the tomatoes barely. but the rest I believe.

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