Last spring my hubby and I decided to rip out our backyard lawn (it was all weeds anyway) and plant a “practice garden”. The intent was to grow everything from heirloom, organic seed, not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and grow varieties of vegetables that we have never grown before.
The first lesson learned was how hard it is to get pepper seeds to germinate.
I tried three times to get some pepperoncini pepper seedlings, but I could never get them to cooperate with me. I had a bit more luck with the Anaheim Chile peppers, but not much. In fact, I ended up buying a couple of pepper plants from our local nursery. We had prepared the ground for at least four pepper plants, but I was able to get only two Chile plants to germinate. We
needed wanted Anaheim Chiles because we adore BBQ cheese stuffed Chile peppers and chile relleno casserole! You can see the recipe HERE
The second lesson was to not count your zucchini before they grew. Our squash started out like gang-busters. We had zucchini and yellow summer squash coming out our ears (and refrigerator) and we were giving them away to family, friends and neighbors!
I started freezing the zucchini for use in the winter. But we had so much squash that I became complacent and let some squash get soft and start to mold in the refrigerator. I thought it didn’t matter because I would have plenty of squash for the entire summer, right? Wrong!!! The squash plants got squash mosaic virus, and within a few weeks produced only shriveled, really mottled and ugly looking squash. We ate some of the better looking mottled squash, and it tasted normal (and we didn’t die), but I wish I had frozen more squash when I had the opportunity. If you would like to see how I froze the squash, along with a wonderful recipe using zucchini and yellow summer squash, click HERE
Another lesson we learned was to be wary of the soil and/or compost you use in your garden if it doesn’t come from your own yard.
When we were preparing the beds for our garden, we were happy to go to our local landfill which offered 50 gallons of free compost for each coupon! Our son gave us two coupons and we had our own, so we got 150 gallons of the stuff! Wow, we thought that was a great deal! But then our zucchini got squash mosaic virus. I did some research and found that many times the virus is already in the soil and can also be brought in with compost or mulch. Oh, great. That compost we got for free may not have been such a great deal after all! From now on, we will use only the compost that we produce on our own property – and NEVER throw in diseased plants! Those will be burned.
The fourth lesson is one that probably every novice gardener encounters – not enough space for too many vegetables! When I started the seeds for our tomatoes, I assumed that I wouldn’t get 100% germination and would plant whatever came up. Well, I got almost 100% germination. I actually planted up to 3 tomato plants on several of the mounds (silly me) and also accepted some volunteer tomato plants from my sister! Well, now I have a tomato jungle and can’t even get to most of the ripe tomatoes without trampling on, and breaking, some of the vines. I guess moderation is the key here.
Fifth lesson – don’t plant all your corn at the same time! Why? Because they all ripen at the same time. Seriously! We love roasted corn on the cob, but only got to eat it a couple of times this summer. I ended up having to freeze most of the corn before it got tough – which will be great for this winter – but shortened our corn on the cob season. The good thing I learned was that heirloom corn tastes every bit as good as hybrid corn. Unfortunately, I couldn’t save any seeds from our corn this year because two of my neighbors were also growing corn, which means my corn was more than likely cross pollinated with theirs. Oh well.
One of the best lessons we learned was how prolific bean plants are! We planted both black turtle beans and a pole bean named McCaslan 42. Believe it or not, we are still getting beautiful green beans from the McCaslan plants – and it’s October! The final tally from the black turtle bean plants was a whopping 2 pounds, 3 ounces – from only 7 plants! That may not sound like much, but remember, these are dried beans! Right now I am letting the rest of the McCaslan beans mature on the vine. Apparently they make a really good, nutty flavored white bean. I can’t wait to make some soup this winter!
Lesson number seven – grow melons vertically! Our grandchildren helped us plant two varities of melons this past spring and we ended up with five healthy melon plants on three mounds. Those plants almost took over the entire garden! Who knew they got so big? Apparently not me!
The melons, in particular, grew everywhere we didn’t want them to, including under the tomato plants. Unfortunately, they decided to grow most of their fruit under the tomato plants also. Well, if you read lesson four above, you know that getting into the middle of our tomato plants is next to impossible. Unfortunately, we realized a bit too late that most of the melons were forming in the middle of the tomato jungle, and had already started to rot before we found them! 🙁 I saw this cool trellis system for melons where the vines grew vertically up and over, and the melons were supported to the trellis with pantyhose! We will have to try that one next year, especially since I have a bunch of pantyhose I refuse to wear anymore! 🙂
Number eight is a simple one. We like potatoes. Potatoes are easy to grow. Purple potatoes are fun to eat. Grow more potatoes.
Our ninth lesson is a tricky one. We wanted to grow all heirloom vegetables in a completely organic environment. This sounds great in theory, but in truth, the caterpillars got a lot more lettuce than we did. I kept picking the caterpillars off the lettuce every morning, but it seemed like they were multiplying faster than I could get rid of them. And then the slugs and snails started eating the pepper and tomato plants. I started wondering about the concept of sustainability regarding growing organic foods. When does the addition of a pesticide outweigh the importance of organic growing? Afterall, if we had only the food we grew to eat, I think I would rather eat food that has some pesticide on it than starve to death! This is a concept I have been struggling with this summer, and something I will have to consider in future vegetable gardens. I would really enjoy your thoughts on this.
The last lesson I learned was that I thoroughly enjoy gardening. Give me a plot of weeds to pull any day, rather than washing laundry! I will tie up bean plants and tomato plants or any other plant until the cows come home (though I’m not very good at it yet) but please don’t make me clean another toilet! I will admit it: after preparing several meals for hubby and I that consisted solely of vegetables that we grew, we were quite proud of ourselves!
Unfortunately we won’t be able to plant a garden in the backyard this next spring. We have to re-plant the lawn because we are putting our home up for sale! According to the real estate agent, buyers like lawns. How sad. But the good thing is that this will be one of the last steps before my husband retires and we move up to our future homestead! Unfortunately the area where our garden will be on the future homestead isn’t prepared yet, but I will find a few places here and there to tuck in a tomato plant or some pole beans. I will also continue to research the best way to get peppers to germinate, a better trellis for growing melons on, and how to prevent squash mosaic virus!
Thank you so much for your comments, questions and suggestions! I try to respond to each and every one! Vickie
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