Adventures in Gardening: Part 1

I’ve never considered myself a “gardener.” Growing up, my mom had a medium-sized, square garden with pumpkins, zucchini, tomatoes and other vegetables, but I didn’t have much of a hand in growing it. All I can really remember is getting up early to pick pumpkin blossoms for mom to fry later (you have to pick them before they close in the sun). When I successfully grew three tomato plants in the flowerbed behind our last house, I was amazed. If we had lived there longer, I might have put a little garden in the backyard, but there wasn’t room for anything very big.

Our current house, however, is out in the country. We have a field on two sides and our property line goes out into the field about 25 feet or so. There is plenty of room for a garden. I didn’t think I needed much, though. After all, my husband generally hates vegetables, so I would be the only one eating them. I was excited to till up a portion of the field and start a small garden.

A small garden!

Somehow, I now have a huge garden filled with just about everything you can think of. The amount of work that will need to be done continuously is more than a little daunting. This spring was very rainy here in Ohio. I think it rained about a month and a half straight, so the ground was too wet to till. The garden had to wait until just recently.

About two weeks ago, my husband tried to get it ready. First, we had to mow down tall weeds and grass. Then we used the rototiller. It was still pretty wet and clumpy. There were also a lot of rocks that needed to be removed, so we now have a fairly substantial rock pile at the corner of our property. My husband asked how big I wanted the garden to be. I didn’t know, but I wanted enough for a few plants each of a few things. It ended up being a lot bigger than I thought it would be.

As the ground dried out, we were able to re-till a big enough section to plant a few tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. I figured I’d plant some beans, a couple plants each of a few different pumpkins, and maybe some watermelon. I knew it would be hard to keep up with even a small garden.

Then last Wednesday, my husband’s parents came to help plant the garden. They are professional gardeners who sell at a farmer’s market every Saturday from spring to fall, so they know what they’re doing. They also had a bigger tiller they could drag behind the tractor to really work the soil. I was ready to learn some tips and tricks when it came to gardening. I had no idea how much I needed to learn.

By the time I got home from work, the ground was mostly tilled and they were ready to plant. I went in and changed into old clothes and came out, ready to get started. First were the potatoes. I had a bag of old russet potatoes with plenty of roots that my mother-in-law said were good to plant. I didn’t know if I wanted to plant potatoes or not, but figured it would be fine. First, though, she planted red and white potatoes she brought along.

I didn’t have the first clue about potatoes. Apparently, you have to dig a trench, place them root side up about six inches apart, sprinkle them with fertilizer, and then cover them to form a hill. We used pieces of old mini-blinds and a permanent marker to mark the different plants. I kept asking questions along the way, like how many potatoes each seed potato would grow and how would I know they were ready to dig up. She said they should each make a few potatoes and that I could dig them up when the plant part dies.

Next, we planted Derby green beans and Oregon snap peas down long rows with a planter. When they start to grow, I will need to put stakes and strings along the rows so the plants can grow up on the string. Things were getting complicated. We then planted sweet corn, starter plants for strawberries (they won’t produce for a year), watermelons, cantaloupe, sweet corn, multi-colored decorative corn, broom corn, beets, zucchini, butternut squash, and sunflowers.

We also planted pumpkins and gourds. We did not plant a few like I had imagined. Instead, we planted row after row of multiple types of pumpkins and gourds. There were medium-sized orange pumpkins, small orange pumpkins, small pumpkins with stripes, red warty pumpkins, and white pumpkins. There were large swan gourds and a mixture of other gourds. Some were plants that my mother-in-law had started at home and brought with her; others were seeds. The pumpkin plants needed water in the hole before planting, which meant me making several trips back to the spigot with a bucket, since I didn’t feel like dragging the hose way out there. The seeds needed dried manure on top (which is not as gross as you might think; it didn’t even smell).

Every plant had its own special instructions and requirements. I tried to keep it all straight, but I was getting confused. I had to take notes, but I’m still not sure I have everything down. I was supposed to water certain things the next day, but leave other things alone. I was supposed to mix a tablespoon of fertilizer with a gallon of water and water the pumpkins, but until they are bigger, I shouldn’t get it on the leaves. I was told to use certain mixtures for bugs and fungus in a week, unless I saw any bugs before that. There were all kinds of things to do that I had no idea I would need to do. That’s not even counting the weeding!

For a complete novice like myself, I felt like someone had just dropped off twenty kids for me to baby-sit when I was planning on two, each with very specific rules. “Okay, Timmy needs to eat every two hours or he will die. Emily needs to drink a mixture of warm milk and honey every hour, except on Tuesdays, when she needs to drink it cold with a bite of pickle. Oh, and Michael here can’t even look at peanut butter or he will break out into hives, but his twin sister needs to eat it every day for lunch or she will not take a nap. Make sure to let Samantha out to play for at least three hours a day, but her brother is allergic to grass and the sun. Good luck! I’ll see you in a few weeks!” I’m pretty sure some of these “kids” aren’t going to make it.

I later planted a few more things to fill in the empty spaces. I planted cucumbers, blue-grey pumpkins, and some huge type of pumpkin. I also planted zinnias on a hill at the corner of our property. After about a week, I am seeing the start of the zinnias and the sunflowers, but nothing else yet. Although there is still a chance I could kill it all or that the many creatures around my house may eat it, I’m thinking I just turned into a gardener overnight. I will spend the next several months tending to my plant babies and learning about gardening successes and failures the hard way. If nothing else, it will be a good workout. It will also give my husband and I a shared hobby and more time outside.

Assuming most of this stuff thrives, I think we will have to sell the extra harvest somehow, either by the road or at a local farmer’s market. I didn’t know I would be going “pro.” I was really only planning on a few things! The “Oakleaf Nature Preserve” is now becoming the “Oakleaf Farm.” Then again, I better not put the cart before the horse. This should be interesting to say the least. I’ll keep you posted. I’m definitely thinking there needs to be a fried-pumpkin-blossom party at my house this summer or some sort of pumpkin-carving party.

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