I am of course referring to gardening season. I wait all year for this. The kids and I pore over seed catalogs January and February. While Winter rages outside our dining room window, we are inside at the table dreaming of getting our hands in the dirt again. Of the smell of tomato plants. Of the hot sun beating our backs as we nudge new seedlings into the earth. And then, all of a sudden, that time comes.
It’s a time of mixed emotion for me. Planting a garden brings back good childhood memories for me. I always try to instill some fond memories of gardening together in my own kids. They’re hard little workers. This week they helped me plant tomatoes, snap beans, and corn. One day, when they are grown and perhaps have kids of their own, I want them to remember these times fondly. When Springtime comes and the earth warms, I want them to say, “When we were kids, this is the time of year we would be working outside with Mom.” And maybe they’ll miss it. Maybe they’ll go to a nursery and buy a tomato plant for old time’s sake.
Along with that warm happy feeling, this time of year always brings me a fair amount of stress. Mostly because that’s just my personality. If I spend months planning something, I don’t want my effort to be in vain. But I think gardening always comes with a certain amount of stress. If you’re willing to go through the work of putting in a garden, you have invested a certain amount of yourself in the venture. So you care if it does well. And if it doesn’t, well, usually we don’t even want to entertain such a horrible thought. This year, the stress was somewhat amplified.
At the end of April to the beginning of May, we had our vacation for the year. Four days after we got back, my husband’s brother and his family came to visit. That weekend we had a family reunion at our home for my husband’s side of the family. All these things were awesome and lots of fun. But the garden was due to be put in that following Monday. That was May 12. It’s the first date you can safely put your garden in up here because the threat of a frost is over by this time. But I was EXHAUSTED.
And then it began to rain. Which made my heart sink down into my toes.
Last summer, we got so much rain that it literally drowned our plants. The tomatoes got over soaked and couldn’t dry out in between showers. Tomatoes like water, but not that much. The green beans would’ve done fine, I believe. Only the hot sun would quickly follow the rain and scorch the delicate plants. Green beans like the warmth, but not the blazing heat and humidity.
So you can understand why sudden large amounts of rain worried me. Would the same thing happen this year? Oh please, please, don’t let that be. How could I go through all the work of planting an entire garden, only to lose it again?
I came so close to just putting it all off. In the end, I didn’t. I took one look at my seedlings and knew they were yearning for their permanent home in the ground. They were outgrowing their pots. The longer they stayed there the less healthy they would be. Although we did get rain showers every day we planted (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), we had enough gentle sunlight and breezes to dry things just enough to get the work done. The dirt never got too soggy, the plants were sufficiently watered, and the sun encouraged their growth instead of halting it.
The kids even planted their own little container gardens. They will care for it this Summer, and they can sell the produce for some extra spending money. I also suggested that they set some aside to give to older sisters in our congregation.
Here is a picture of what the garden looks like now. Kind of empty. But that’s because we planted seeds in most of the garden and the tomatoes are still quite small. I plan to post picture updates of the garden as the year progresses. Let me outline what we planted. All the way to the left, along the fence line, are the English peas. We planted over 200 seeds. Looks like they all came up. I love tasting them raw right out of the garden. We even had some sunflowers voluntarily come up from last year. And a couple of potatoes I must have neglected to dig up came up this Spring.
To the right of the peas, we have several 5 foot by 5 foot plots of assorted greens. We have spinach, leaf lettuce, arugula, and turnips. In these plots, I am trying succession planting to have a continual harvest through Fall. With the greens, I can “cut and come again”, harvesting from several plants but leaving enough of the plants so they can regrow. I planted a few rows of each green, and then a couple weeks later I plant another couple of rows. And voila! Continuous salad!
To the right of that, I am employing the “3 Sisters” method. Squash, legumes, and corn are planted together. They support each other, and the legumes replace nutrients in the soil that the corn plants use. Corn is a heavy feeder, which is why I have never planted it here. I’m always afraid it won’t get fed well enough. And I don’t like using commercial fertilizer. But this year, the kids so wanted to grown corn. So we are growing corn! For the squash we planted dark green zucchini and yellow crookneck. We started off with several plants of each, and planted seeds so we can have a steady harvest of squash through Summer. Mmmm. My mouth is actually watering thinking about that squash. I love crookneck squash smothered down with butter and onions, salt and pepper. We also planted heirloom snap beans and butter beans for the legumes. A lesson learned: beware of blackbirds. They will eat up all your corn seeds. So this morning I will make a dollar store run to buy some aluminum pie plates to tie to the fences. The noise of them hitting the fence coupled with their reflecting the sunlight will keep critters away.
To the right of that, we have our tomato “grove”. I call it that because by the time Summer is over, we will have tomato trees instead of plants. We planted 24 Amish Paste tomatoes. I will use those for sauce, which I will can. We also planted 2 Trophy tomatoes (good for sandwiches), 2 Red Zebras (I got them because they are pretty, and there’s nothing wrong with having pretty food), and 2 Mortgage Lifters (these suckers will get HUGE, up to half a pound or more each!). The good thing about all these varieties is that they are heirlooms, so I can save the seeds if I am careful to not cross pollinate them. More on that in an upcoming post. Below are pictures of something new I tried this year with the tomatoes. Dig a deep hole for each tomato, add a banana peel, a spoonful of old coffee grounds, and a couple crushed eggs shells. Cover with a thin layer of soil. Place tomato plant in hole and cover. You also can remove all the leaves from the plants except the top three. Then plant most of the stem in the ground. Why? Because the tomato will root all the way up that stem, making it sturdier.
To the right of that is the radish and carrot bed. The radishes and carrots are planted close together because the radishes can be harvested before the carrots need more space. It’s something new I learned this past Winter and wanted to employ ASAP!
I saved some room at the end of the radish bed for all our pepper plants. We have hot banana, jalapeño, and habanero. I made some salsa last year using a ton of jalapeño and several red chili and habanero peppers. It may be the best salsa I’ve ever had. So I definitely want to make it again, and when I get the recipe written down, I will post it. It’s pretty hot, but it is the best thing on tacos and burritos! I eat it with chips, too, but my mouth burns. Worth. It.
And finally, along the fence line, I have planted cucumbers with sunflowers. I’ve always had trouble with growing bitter cukes, and I read somewhere that growing them with sunflowers makes a sweeter fruit. So I tried it, because bitter cukes are almost useless. It was a success! So now there is always room in the garden for some sunflowers. An unforeseen benefit: Goldfinches love sunflower seeds. Our flowers attracted two mating pairs last summer. They really are beautiful to watch!
And tucked away, on the other side of our green onions, a couple of acorn squash plants. I’m hoping to make some yummy casseroles and soups with them this winter, while the cycle of planning next year’s garden begins again.
And so it begins. From now till the first frost will be a constant circus. Weeding, pest control, mulching, harvesting, and preserving will be daily chores for us as a family. But that is what I love about this homestead life. And I wouldn’t trade it for all the gold in Fort Knox.
Thanks for visiting again. Till next time!
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