After exactly 2 months, my garden has finally produced edible vegetables.
Deciding on a Garden
On April 19, I planted a garden in my backyard. The whole ordeal began as a way to clear out the previous homeowner’s flower garden. When we moved in, it was winter and everything was dead. After a year of absolutely no maintenance, it had overgrown into an ugly tangle of weeds and flowers that we cared nothing about.
As we cut down bushes and cleared out ornaments, we discussed what we could possibly do with the area. One option was just to leave it bare, or throw some grass seed down and basically reset the ground there. We definitely didn’t want another flower garden there. My wife and I are very pragmatic people, and we care very little for decorative plants.
Eventually, I considered the idea of planting a small crop garden. We’re picky about vegetables, but we definitely love a select few. Plus, growing our own crops is fresher, cheaper, and possibly more healthy than store-bought options. With seeds and fertilizer being a fairly low cost experiment, we decided to give it a shot.
We dug up all the previous plants and discarded the ornaments in the garden area. Once all the big stuff was gone, we took up the line of stones around the area and took a weedeater to all the smaller plants. After the plants were gone, we shoveled off the layer of mulch and pulled up the black fabric-y liner. Despite it being mid-April, it gets hot early in the south and this was exhausting work.
After several afternoons of yard work, we were down to bare dirt. Bare, hard as a rock, packed in dirt. I didn’t really want to invest the money to buy or rent a tiller, but there was no way we were getting seeds into the dirt as it was. I took a shovel to the ground and turned up bits at a time. Obviously, it wasn’t as efficient as a tiller, but it got the job done enough to loosen up the soil some.
With loose soil at the ready, we went shopping for supplies. Costco had fertilizer on sale, so we picked up a tub of it. Walmart had recently shifted their seasonal department to gardening goods, so we perused through the seed options and got some crops we knew we would eat. We got 2 types of corn, 2 types of squash, and a pack of spinach seeds.
I dug up some rows to plant the seeds and we tossed them in. Cameron helped, so a lot of the seeds just got thrown down in bunches. Whatever, it’s not like we were expecting much if anything to come of the garden. May as well have some fun while we’re at it. We planted 1 row of each crop, covered them over, tossed on some fertilizer, and sprayed it all with water.
A watched pot never boils, but it was hard to stay positive when the garden didn’t show any life at all. I watered it about every other day, unless we got a good rain. Several friends planted gardens about the same time that I did. I was hearing how each of them were seeing sprouts in a few days, or slightly over a week. When my seeds had been down for a week, I started to get a little antsy. As the days went on, I basically gave up hope. Guess this wasn’t my year to have a productive garden.
I continued to water the ground, if for no other reason than making a habit of it for next season. It was depressing, but I really wanted to make it work. Finally, roughly 2 weeks after I planted the seeds on May 2, Kati texted me a picture of a few tiny sprouts. It turns out, my efforts were not in vain.
At first, the sprouts all looked the same. I could only tell which plants were which crop by the rows they were growing in. It looked like we had a few sprouts of the first type of corn, about 5 of the other type, a single sprout of one squash species, about 4 of the other squash, and a lone spinach plant. Even if the majority of my seeds failed to grow, we had something coming up.
As the weeks went on, the plants looked more and more unique. The corn plants grew at an alarming rate, and were quickly much taller than the rest of the crops. The squash plants began to fan out and develop small, yellow buds. I may not be Old MacDonald, but I was sure enough growing some crops.
Unfortunately, we did lose a few plants over time. The spinach plant died off pretty quickly, and the green squash plant eventually withered. I chalked it up as less hardy breeds or just bad luck. Either way, I wasn’t too hurt that we lost plants. That’s life, they aren’t all going to make it.
Our beach trip in early June was concerning for me. I knew that crops were often able to survive for long periods with no maintenance from farmers, but a week with potentially no water might kill off my tiny garden. I watered the plants the morning before we left, and figured I would leave them in nature’s hands. When we returned, they were luckily still thriving. Somewhat wilted because of the lack of rain, but nothing I couldn’t remedy with a hose pipe. A few hours after I doused them, they were all back to their lush shade of green.
Though I did give a cursory glance over the crops each time I watered them, I didn’t look particularly closely. Again, a watched pot never boils. I’d get vegetables when the plants felt like producing. No need to rush them.
On Father’s Day, we had family over and spent quite a bit of time outdoors. My wife happened to go check out the garden and called me over. Lo and behold, we had a squash. Not just a little mini-squash that would still take some time to mature. We had a massive 9.5” bright yellow summer squash. (Please note, I am aware that the ideal range to harvest summer squash is between 5 and 8 inches or so. I simply didn’t notice the vegetable growing until it was already that size.)
From this point, I had to do a good bit of research. I currently have 4 squash plants producing veggies. If they produce at a good rate, there’s no way I could eat enough squash to keep up with them. Therefore, I had to figure out the standard procedure for preserving squash. A department at Clemson University (http://www.clemson.edu/extension/food_nutrition/canning/tips/26preserving_summer_squash.html) gives instructions on freezing squash, and I’d trust an agricultural school on agriculture. Apparently, all you have to do is chop the squash into half inch slices, blanch by boiling for 3 minutes, chill in ice water for 3 minutes, drain, and seal in freezer bags.
For the Future
Ideally, I’d like to start seed saving for next year. It would be really cool to constantly plant from my own crops, instead of buying seeds new each year. Though not as official as a Clemson source, this site (http://www.backyard-vegetable-gardening.com/saving-summer-squash-seeds.html) details the seed saving process. My concern now is whether my squash are an heirloom variety. I’d hate to bank on my own seeds and end up not getting any produce next year. However, I also don’t want to bother buying seeds if I already have plenty. I’ll have to do more research to know for certain.
Another future concern is whether I need a vacuum sealer. This year, I’m going to use freezer bags for anything I want to preserve. If I end up letting some waste from freezer burn, it won’t be a huge deal. Once I scale up my gardening, though, I want to know that my produce is going to last for a good while. Everywhere I’ve read has said that vacuum sealing is the best way to preserve produce long term. If we get a good yield this year and do the same or more next year, I may invest in one. The vacuum seal bags don’t seem much more expensive than freezer bags, and the device can be used for much more than just sealing produce.
I’m still figuring out this gardening thing. This is my first season, and frankly I’m just glad I got something to grow. Maybe next year I’ll rent or buy a tiller, sow my seeds with a little more caution, and generally do things a bit more by the book. For now, though, I’m just going to water and take care of the plants that I have and hope that the veggies we get taste good.
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