So it turns out you can actually drop seeds in the ground and they turn into plants.
We planted our first garden this year, and all summer it was a constant source of amazement for both of us.
In previous years, we've grown herbs in window boxes at the front of our house. We love having these herbs on hand through the spring, summer and fall. We've typically grown thyme, rosemary, mint and basil, but this year our sage also came back (the plant is huge!), along with our tarragon. And we received some chive seedlings from our CSA that we planted as well. It's a happy little herb family, at least when they're not being terrorized by neighborhood squirrels.
But this year we decided to step it up a bit and plant an actual garden.
We have a small backyard that we share with our neighbors. There's a patio with a table and chairs and room for a grill. And our compost bin is hidden back there under a tree. Much of the ground is covered with evergreen groundcover that comes back year after year, but in the back of the yard there's a patch that we had for several years considered turning into a garden. It gets decent sun and is out of the way since it's against a fence.
So here's a chronicle of our first stab at gardening. It begins one Saturday in early May, when we borrowed some yard tools and got to digging.
We're busy guys; we already get so much produce from our CSA that we're struggle to get through it each week; and we buy more vegetables almost every Sunday at the farmers market.
But we're always willing to try new things, and we said at the outset of the summer that the garden would just be for fun. If it took off, great! If we planted and nothing grew, no big deal.
Our first order of business was getting the soil ready. We took what compost we could out of our bin and mixed it in with our freshly dug soil. We also added several large bags of manure into the dirt, along with some more organic compost that we purchased. The existing dirt in our garden was very clay-like and rocky, so we figured the more quality dirt we could add, the better.
So the next question: What to plant?
For several years we've received the Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog, so that's where we started. Flipping through the catalog, we were tempted to order everything in sight, but in the end we decided to keep it simple and plant beans, tomatoes and flowers.
Here's what we chose:
- Beans: We get some beans from our CSA but not an overwhelming amount. We love eating them in the summer and are always buying more at the market. Not sure, what to plant, we ordered four varieties, Blue Lake pole beans and three varieties of bush beans: Jade green, Roc d'or and Michel filet.
- Tomatoes: Our CSA keeps us in stock with tomatoes through the summer, so we went for small varieties, planting Sun Gold and Sweet Cluster.
- Flowers: Why not? Along the edge of the garden we planted dahlias and snapdragons.
So we dug our little garden patch, which was about 8 feet by 15 feet. We got the soil ready, and then planned out how we wanted the garden to look. This is where we made one of our first mistakes.
Any experienced gardener would look at the layout and see that we made a serious error. Reading the backs of seed packets, we thought that our Blue Lake pole beans would grow to be 6 to 8 inches tall.
The packet meant 6 to 8 FEET tall. The meager stakes we had purchased to support the beans were no match, and because of their height, the beans would create a barrier between us and the tomatoes, which were planted behind them. If we had it to do over again, we obviously wouldn't have planted these tall beans right in the middle of our garden.
So a few weeks passed after we planted the seeds, the pole beans were growing, growing, growing, and we began to realize that they were going to be huge. So we purchased some larger stakes and built a trellis with some twine.
The pole beans continued to grow, outpacing even the larger stakes we we had purchased. They turned into big, beautiful plants, but there were no beans. Literally, from Memorial Day to late-August, not a single bean.
There were, however, flowers on the plants, which we took to mean that beans were on their way. So we waited patiently, and then suddenly, just before Labor Day, the plants exploded with beans (left). We've read that this might have been due to our soil having too much nitrogen (aka too much manure). But others say this was just a bad year for beans. Who knows?
The smaller varieties of beans (Jade green, Roc d'or and Michel filet), on the other hand, started producing beans early on, in June, and continued to produce significantly until the plants became diseased, with a mottled look on their leaves (pictured right). It persisted until the plants were dying, at which point we replanted more of these small varieties.
The tomatoes, we're sad to report, were slower to start and even slower to produce. We didn't start the plants indoors, as many sources had suggested, so it took them a while to come out of the ground. Most of them did eventually, and grew to be far larger than we ever expected (a recurring theme, it seems).
But there were tiny tomatoes on the plants. Or at least there were until some varmint (we're guessing racoons) came into our garden and kept eating the green tomatoes straight off the vine. It was disappointing that they were being snatched from the plants before we could harvest them.
So here's what the full harvest of our tomatoes from the summer looks like:
Yep -- that's it. Two tiny cherry tomatoes.
So the beans were moderately successful and the tomatoes were all but a bust, as were the flowers we planted, which never even bloomed.
One late addition to our summer of planting is sunchockes, which we wrote about yesterday. Our friend Scott gave us some sunchokes to plant that his neighbor in West Virginia had given him. We didn't place them in the garden proper, but found a place in the yard for them.We'll dig them up at the first frost and see if they produced.
So we wouldn't call ourselves master gardeners per se, but neither do we consider this summer a total bust. We learned a lot about what not to do and made some rookie mistakes that will help us next time, when, hopefully, we'll redeem ourselves and turn our brown thumbs green.