I’ve been planting container tomatoes and various kinds of flowers for years, but this is our first time planting a vegetable garden. It’s also out first full growing season with a backyard of our very own. We can dig it up, rip out ugly plants, put in new plants, and otherwise do as we please without a landlord making a fuss. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding and, usually, fun.
We decided to go with raised beds for the garden. I’m not sure I can satisfactorily explain this choice, but it seemed best given our very wet soil, my lack of ambition for digging into that soil and encountering lord-knows-what (we seem to have an abundance of roots, rocks, and mysterious concrete under our yard), and the fact that I like the look of raised beds and figure they’ll add a little much-needed interest and order to our otherwise uninteresting and rather disorderly backyard.
We looked at various kinds of kits from Plow and Hearth, Home Depot, and the like. These were fine, but they didn’t quite suit my husband’s vision for the beds. I had no vision. I wanted boxes of dirt to play in. He wanted something that looked nice, was relatively deep, and was an appropriate size so as to offer enough room for a modest harvest without overwhelming our small-ish yard. He’s smart. He decided to build the beds himself. He bought the wood, the screws, and a circular saw (we are do-it-yourselfers-in-training, so we have yet to accumulate a full complement of tools and just buy ’em as we need ’em). He used an old kitchen cart as a work bench, turned our screened porch and garage into his work rooms, and set to it.
He built two 4×6 cedar beds that are 12” deep. They’re pretty great, right? He gave them a flat finished top, which really makes them look nice. We got a delivery of top soil and compost from a local garden supply store, loaded the beds with dirt, and set to work.
It was so quick and painless to write that last sentence. Filling the beds one wheelbarrow-full at a time from a heap of dirt in our driveway…that was neither quick nor painless. But it’s done, and I have boxes of dirt to play in.
We planted zucchini, squash, and cucumbers in the bed on the right; carrots, beets, peppers, beans, peas, and an heirloom tomato in the one on the left. It sounds like a lot, and I’m pretty sure I have already made gardening mistake #1: overcrowding. But I couldn’t help myself. I wanted it all. I did try to give everything enough room. We’ll see what these photos look like in August.
The above photo was taken in mid-June just as everything got going.
We also did six containers of tomatoes. This sounds like a lot, and indeed it is considering that my husband dislikes tomatoes. If I try to sneak tomatoes into a salad, he calls them contraband. To be fair, he’d like some onions in the salad, but those are contraband for me. I hate raw onions. When we go out to dinner, he gets the onions from my salad, I get the tomatoes from his. We’re like an octegenarian married couple with unspoken rituals that involve passing food between our plates in restaurants.
It doesn’t matter how many times I assure him that these beauties will taste nothing like grocery-store tomatoes, which themselves taste more or less like nothing. Or, more accurately: they taste like slightly acidic cardboard. He’s promised to try them, but I may have a whole lot of tomatoes to eat all on my own. This said, he is a bit of a tomato conundrum. He will eat them in guacamole, salsa, or (mystery or mysteries) bruschetta, provided they’re diced up really, really small. So I may get him to eat our harvest after all. I have sharp knives and the ability to dice.
I planted several varieties: Mr. Stripey heirloom, Early Girl, Better Boy, Grape, Cherry, and Yellow Cherry. I always plant a variety of tomatoes because I’m never sure how they’ll do. I rarely have luck with the Better Boy or Early Girl. Their vines are sturdy, but I often get end rot before the tomatoes ripen. I tried a different kind of plant food this year. Supposedly it will prevent end rot with calcium or some such thing. We’ll see. The heirlooms tend to do better. They aren’t big producers for me, but what they do produce is far superior to anything else. The little varieties are some of my favorites, but they aren’t always as abundant as I’d like.
My theory is: grow a lot of tomato plants so as to increase my odds of actually having tomatoes to eat. Seems logical, right? And anyway, half the fun is in the growing.
Speaking of growing, here are the garden beds today. This photo was also taken about nine days after the previous shot of the garden beds. Once the warm weather hit everything really took off!
The zucchinis are loaded with blossoms. Dozens of them appeared seemingly overnight. The zucchinis are destined for a vegetable parmesan or a big pot of minestrone soup.
After the cucumbers croaked twice this spring and had to be replaced, they are finally doing something. Just look at the itty bitty little cucumbers. I was so excited to see this little guy this morning.
My thriving row of beets. I think they’re just lovely with their vibrant purple stalks. This is another vegetable my husband claims not to like, but when he tries a baby beet from our own garden maybe he’ll become a believer.
My carrots were some of the first seeds to sprout. I have no idea how one knows when to pick a carrot, or any root vegetable for that matter. I expect the carrots will find a way to let me know when they’re ready. Or I’ll pick one too early and learn the hard way.
The peas, a carrot’s best friend (at least, that’s what Forrest Gump taught me). They also sprouted early and seemed not to mind the cold, wet spring. They’re well on their way, and they claim to have self-supporting vines. We’ll see. These babies are destined for a batch of parmesan-and-pea risotto. Or sweet pea and basil soup. Or quinoa pilaf with peas, peppers, tomatoes, and parmesan. Or stuffed baby peppers with pancetta and peas. We eat a lot of peas around here.
A green pepper last week.
The same pepper this week. Granted, I zoomed in a lot, but man did this sucker grow a lot in just a few days. This may be the first thing we eat from the garden, but I’m more excited for their mini yellow pepper brethren. Yum.
I also did a container herb garden: basil, parsley, thyme, cilantro, oregano, mint, dill, rosemary, tarragon. I love when herb-gardening season returns. I really hate buying those $2 packets of sad herbs in the grocery store all winter long.
And of course, the annual “wall of sunflowers,” complete with a Schnauzer-proof fence. Having a wall of sunflowers has long been my husband’s one garden request. This little bed has a variety: 10-foot giants, 6-8 footers, and 4-6 footers. We’ll see how they all do. We’ve already lost one to an unwieldy weed whacker, and another mysteriously disappeared, but I managed to keep the birds from devouring the rest so I’m calling it a victory.