We closed on our house two years ago today, and with the house came a decent-sized vegetable garden. It was all a bit intimidating. I had only been a homeowner once before and never got around to doing much in the way of gardening. Throughout Lance’s military career, we lived in a lot of rental homes. I had container plants – mostly flowers. Two years ago, before we moved, I grew grape tomatoes and mini eggplant in containers, but that was about it. I didn’t even have a lot of experience with houseplants.
Could I do this?
I mean, you can lay sod over a garden, I suppose, if you didn’t want to make that kind of commitment. However, our garden plot is enclosed by a wall made of brick and wrought-iron fencing (the previous homeowner was a professional landscaper). Removing it would be somewhat difficult and require a lot of work.
So, I was resigned to learn how to garden, even though I wasn’t sure how interested I was in it.
We moved in early in August, when it was too late to do anything about the garden. But it did give me some gifts in those first few months. The previous owners had neglected it for some time, and it was essentially a compost heap with various tomato plants and zucchini running amok. Some of the zucchini was monstrous, several weeks past the time it should have been picked. A lot of the tomatoes rotted on the vine, but I harvested what I could. We had purple and yellow onions. Sunflowers stood tall and cheerful along one side. We had a raspberry bush in one corner. I ended up with gourds as well, which decorated the fireplace in the fall. And then there was another plant in another corner that friends later identified as asparagus.
When the garden was done for the season, Lance pulled up the asparagus (or so he thought) and tilled everything over. The raspberry bush was severely pruned back, ready for next spring. During the colder months, my stepdad and I made plans for what we would plant and where.
April 2017: Ready to plant!
Spring came early the following year. I noticed a tall, thick asparagus shoot before we even planted anything. We yanked that out and planted strawberries, 12 tomato plants, carrots, two blueberry bushes, two more raspberry bushes, and onions. Given how fertile the soil was from all the compost the previous year, everything did just fine with very little help from me. I watered and weeded. I did my best to manage pests (damn Japanese beetles!).
The strawberry plants, still young, spread out but yielded little fruit. Asparagus continued to shoot up through the soil within the strawberry plants. The raspberry bushes filled out nicely but didn’t provide as many berries as I’d hoped. I got a few blueberries, but those need a few years to really get going.
The tomatoes, though. Good God.
Remember I said 12 tomato plants? That’s about 10 too many. The plants grew as tall as me and merged into one giant plant.
I spent the summer making and freezing tomato soup and sauce. My stepdad canned some – a task, I admit, that I have no desire to undertake. I took endless boxes of tomatoes to work to give away. (One friend, who probably took more tomatoes than anyone, gave me some walleye that her husband caught. I consider that a fair trade.)
The onions did great and the carrots did, too. But 2017 will always be the year of the killer tomatoes.
It was a relief when the garden was done for the year.
The cold season came again, and it was time to plan this year’s garden. Obviously, we were keeping the strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. However, I insisted on zucchini and fewer tomato plants. I talked my stepdad down to six this year (still too many) because he wanted to do more canning. I wanted carrots and onions again, too.
Spring came late, and planting took place several weeks later than the year before. That didn’t matter. The soil is still fertile, and in early June, I had an abundance of strawberries. Then the strawberries stopped for several weeks, but they just started coming back again. The damn asparagus is still coming up, one spear at a time. The zucchini is out of control (and I bought three plants – the minimum amount). The raspberries did not do well and I think the blueberries are dead. And something keeps eating my tomatoes before I can pick them, so I don’t have as many as I should. I sprinkled animal repellent around the garden today, so let’s see if that helps.
The carrots have been in the ground much longer than they are supposed to be, but I picked one about a week ago – puny. I don’t have high hopes for them this year. The onions and garlic are doing great.
After two years of tending this garden, I’m learning a few things.
For starters, a weed-free garden is utterly impossible, which clashes with my perfectionist tendencies. I do the best I can, but the important thing is that I’m able to grow food. I have to let the idea of a perfect, pristine garden go. Besides, pulling weeds can be a great stress reliever. There is something deeply satisfying about digging in the soil with my CobraHead tool and ripping them out by the root.
Try a tomato other than Better Boy. Not that Better Boy isn’t delicious, but a little variety never killed anyone, and Better Boy has been the tomato of choice these past two years.
Allow more spacing between plants.
Plant more carrots.
There is a limit to how much zucchini I can tolerate. I have zucchini bread in the freezer and I’ve eaten more zoodles than I care to think about it. I also have a gallon-sized bag of diced zucchini in the freezer to throw into soups this winter. And I’ve given away more zucchini than I’ve actually used.
Finally, I love gardening. It’s a lot of hard work, yes, but it is so very rewarding to be able to go a few steps out your back door and pick things that you can eat. You know exactly where it came from and what’s been done (or not done) to it (all organic for me).
In the winter, you can pull some homemade sauce out of your freezer or add a jar of home-canned tomatoes to your chili, and it gives you that fresh summer taste to help make those cold, short days more bearable. Knowing that you grew that yourself – well, for me, at least, I get a true sense of accomplishment from that.
Plus, it’s fun to share your bounty with friends and family.
I take a lot of pride in what I’ve done in just a couple of years. I may have had my reservations at first about having this garden to care for, but now I’m so grateful for it. If we bought a house that didn’t already come with a garden, I’m not sure I’d be doing this. And I would never know what I was missing.
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