Gardening 101

Garden 2017
From left to right we’ve got..  Watermelon and spaghetti squash. Tomatoes.  Cucumbers hiding behind tomatoes. Carrots and broccoli and tomato babies. Lettuce. Carrots and lettuce. Worlds smallest strawberry patch and the kid’s sunflowers.

I have always had a green thumb. I kept an ivy plant alive for four years while away at college, reminding my mom to water it for me while I was away for extended periods of time. It only died when I moved across the country, leaving it solely in my mom’s hands. No great loss. I had won it at a carnival.

So when the husband decided to start a garden, I was psyched. I’ve grown basil and mint in pots before, but nothing on a larger scale. Please enjoy my wordy and honest memoir of  starting our first home garden.

Step one. Putting up the fence. The littlest sister just so happened to be visiting for the weekend and we got to work installing a rickety wood fence, which has since come in handy with keeping the puppy and preschooler out.

Step two. Pulling all the visible weeds; and the ground was essentially a tiny forest of them. Tons and tons of mallow and stinging nettle. Tea anyone? (Here comes mistake number one, are you ready?) So once all the weeds were pulled we had what we assumed was a blank canvas. We were wrong. The weeds we didn’t see much of – nutgrass – took full advantage of being broken up by the tilling and the fact that they are tubers and came back in the hundreds. I could literally go out and pull 100 tiny nutgrass plants, easy. And that doesn’t solve the problem because they leave shoots underground much like bermuda grass. Let my first suggestion be, if you’re totally new, like me, and dedicating a new space to be a garden, let the weeds grow at least one full year and get them identified via an online plant ID group before doing any tilling. So not worth it. Especially since I’m not using any unnatural herbicides/insecticides because that defeats the whole purpose of a home garden.

Step three. Create the rows. The husband swears by this method and since I have zero experience growing plants outside of pots, I let him do whatever he wanted. He briefly mentioned making circle mounds, and I had not idea how this would have worked and I guess he decided against them.

Step four. Start the seeds. I’m just kidding, this should probably be done before you get the space for the garden ready. If you’re using miniature greenhouses like we did to start seeds, you’ll need to get them going about two weeks before you plan to transplant them into the garden, at a minimum. Honestly, I’m not sure when we did this all in relation to getting the garden ready. I think our baby plants were probably older than they needed to be. I also got half of my seeds from the dollar section at Target because I was really only intending to see if I could get things to grow. All of our current tomato plants, most of our cucumbers, and the watermelon plants came from the Target dollar spot. I definitely now recommend buying seeds from the garden center at any major retailer. At least then you know what variety you are working with. My husband is still a bit bothered that I can’t remember for sure if the tomatoes are beefsteaks or not. The package said organic tomatoes! I started them in a windowsill.. I guess that’s mistake number two, technically. Know what you’re planting. Also document in your phone when you start the seeds, so you know when they should be ready for harvesting. If you’re not buying them at Target, the package will tell you how many days away that should be. If you are buying them at Target, good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Step Five. Get ready to transplant and be sure to use markers! I went rogue and planted tomatoes from a cut up cherry tomato because that store-bought package had a really good taste and don’t exactly remember where I put them. Mistake number three.. I mean, I’m pretty sure because I’ve got clusters of little sprouts coming up in four places but theres also a two foot section of row on a different row that I also planted them and there’s nothing there so far. Mystery plants for the win!

Step Six. Buy cages for any vining plants and install them pretty soon after transplanting, if not at the same time. We did not use cages for our cucumbers and now the husband is saying we need to wrangle them into plant bras or else the cucumbers will rot!!! Exclamation point!! So use the cages and avoid mistake number four. We also got the cages that we did use from his mom because I wasn’t keen on spending a dollar more than we needed to. They’re old, and they are completely mismatched and a couple may be too small, but they will work for this year!

Step Seven. Water. You would think this would be obvious but after about two weeks I did forget and the poor plants went about four days without anything to drink. Thankfully still cool enough that nothing died. Keeping count? That’s mistake five and the last one I do believe.

Step Eight. Continue weeding. This never ends apparently. I mean, I knew that but was not prepared to discover a dozen new to me species of invasive weeds, a new one taking over after the last has been pulled every single time. Definitely think about going full nerd and joining that plant ID group on Facebook. They help. We will probably be trying some newspaper to cover the rows and see if that helps.

Step Nine. Prepare to battle pests. We’ve had cutworms kill two cucumbers and three watermelon plants. Just hacked them off at the base of the plant. They also pooped all over the broccoli leaves. Rude. Just rude. There’s insect ID groups on Facebook you can join. They’re pretty great at helping when all your little plants are in jeopardy and every morning you go out to find more basically chopped down. The husband also had me go out and buy thin dowels and bird flash tape to keep birds at bay. They haven’t been a problem so far, but I’m not sure they would have been anyway.

Step Ten. Harvest. This is when writing down dates can be important, but really it’s  obvious when a tomato is ready to pick. The only trouble I ran into was the carrots, because those aren’t so obvious. Husband wants to pick them now but they need another two weeks.

Baby Tomatoes – Target Dollar Spot win!
We have about 20 baby cucumbers already! Also Target Dollar Spot Win!
The only plants the four year old wanted to buy.

So there you have it. Maybe this will help you on your new gardening adventure or maybe you smiled at how many mistakes we made along the way. In any case, it’s really awesome when you need lettuce for a salad or sandwich and you can just walk to the backyard and pick a few leafs off the plant. Still waiting to be able to do that with everything else, but we did get a late start..

As Always Before,