Gardening for Dummies

Gardening is a relatively new thing to me. Growing up in Florida, I remember just one year my mom grew tomatoes even back before my little sister was born — so I must have been 5 or 6. I still remember, very distinctly, the smell of a tomato vine. It is incredibly powerful and transports me back in time. And I don’t know if it was just us, but gardening in Florida doesn’t seem to be much of a thing. It’s too damn hot.

Anyway, I always thought it was a totally romantic notion, this idea of a garden, walking through the yard barefoot before dinner to pluck a tomato from the vine, inhale deeply, and smile. Real people don’t do that, do they?  After moving to the DC area, I realized, they do. And I wanted to become one of those people so badly. I mean, previously I haven’t been able to keep alive a basil plant. But hey, I like a good challange!

I had my very first garden last summer, and it went so very well. And when it comes to eating real food, well, it doesn’t get much more real than something you planted and harvested yourself!

Beginner’s luck, I’ve come to realize.

Actually, it didn’t all come up roses last year. My squash plant died after I got just a couple delicious lovelies off it (after I started hand-pollinating since the bees weren’t doing such a good job). So I planted new seeds, they are such fast growers after all. Yeah, that one died, too. My bell pepper plant produced tiny, tough, tasteless peppers that I basically forced myself to eat. I got a grand total of two hot peppers from another plant. My parsley never even sprouted; I think a squirrel or bird must’ve gotten to the seeds.

And what I thought was an eggplant turned out to be another tomato. I had a *lot* of tomatoes last year. But no problems with my basil or cilantro!

This year, I told myself, I would learn from my mistakes and my garden would be ah-maze-ing. I’d also plant more, because, duh, why not? Never mind that I live in a townhouse with no backyard and only a 8×10 patio (already holding a large grill and table and chairs).

So I started some seeds in mid-February, and gave them all the love and care they could ever hope for. I left a light on them after dark. I made sure they stayed warm, but not too warm. Moist, but not too moist. Happiest seeds ever! And then we went on vacation at the end of March, so I actually had a friend babysit my seeds. Yes, I am not making this up, folks. When I picked them up after our trip, they looked so happy! Little leaves! And the weather was really warming up, they even spent a day outside! Well, they looked so healthy, I left them outside for another day.

Except that day ended up being 90 degrees. My little babies were fried to death while I sat around drinking beer (and getting a bit of a sunburn myself).

No worries, I thought. It’s only April! I shall plant new seeds and they will be even happier than those poor little ones who met such a cruel fate. So I planted new seeds. These looked even more robust, owing to the warmer air and longer days. Everything was going so well!

And then a cold front came through. And I forgot to bring my new babies inside for protection. I didn’t realize at first that anything was wrong. I thought maybe they just needed more time to strengthen up. But another week passed with no signs of improvement. They didn’t look bad at all, actually. Just stalled. So I kinda forgot about them.

And then we had a ridiculous storm. I came home from work to find the peat pots completely submerged in their tray, pots starting to crumble. Whoops, that certainly wasn’t what they needed.

Post cold snap and crazy storm...still alive? Who knows.

Post cold snap and crazy storm…still alive? Who knows.

So I bit the bullet — I went to Home Depot on Friday and bought established seedlings. It cost $35, which is only about a billion times more expensive than seeds, which are about $1.50 for enough seeds for two or three years. But I justified this by remembering it’s a hell of a lot less than spending a dollar per tomato at the farmers’ market (though I’m sure I’ll manage to do that several times, too). Plus, if I waited for more seeds to sprout, that’s even more time I’m losing on the growing season. So I bought the plants, even though it kinda felt like cheating.

And wouldn’t you know, today my little seeds showed signs of renewed vigor. Teeny tiny leaves. And I’m just thinking, “You’re killing me, Smalls!” But I will hold on to them and see what happens. I mean, you can’t have too much basil or cilantro. Maybe those squash will work out better than last year.

But anyway, here is my garden for this year. As I said, we have an incredibly small amount of space to work with, and only have full sun for about 6-7 hours a day, which is really the bare minimum for most of these plants. Containers are great because you can move them to where the sun is. Plus pests are much less of a problem — I hardly had any, except the possibility of borers in my squash, I never figured it out.

Left: Homestead tomato and basil Front: Red bell pepper and Japanese eggplant

Left: Homestead tomato and basil
Front: Red bell pepper and Japanese eggplant

Spinach (left) and mixed lettuces

Spinach (left) and mixed lettuces (I’ve already harvested one very large salad’s worth)


Left: Cherry tomatoes and jalapeno Middle: Early Girl tomato and basil Right: Raspberry bush (a Christmas gift from my best friend!)

Left: Cherry tomatoes and jalapeno
Middle: Early Girl tomato and basil
Right: Raspberry bush (a Christmas gift from my best friend!)

Left: Chocolate mint Center: Flat leaf parsley Right: Rosemary

Left: Chocolate mint
Center: Flat leaf parsley
Right: Rosemary

I also planted another row of spinach — you can never have too much! And hopefully I will be able to get some squash, cilantro, and sage from my seedlings…if they make it through another night.

Do you garden? What works for you, and what doesn’t?


One comment

  1. […] use). I can’t wait for many happy returns this summer, to supplement what’s growing in my garden (I will have an update for you soon, […]

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