Wednesday, April 20, 2011


For many people springtime is garden time. Now that the weather is warming up I see all kinds of posts from Facebook friends and hear all my co-workers talk about planting all kinds of yummy veggies in their home gardens. First let me say that I am a big fan of gardening and buying locally grown produce. I think it’s really one of the best things you can do for your body and your community. I really admire people who can grow their own food because I am, admittedly, not a fantastic gardener and let me explain why. In the past my forays into homegrown veggies have been limited to a lonely tomato plant in a pot on my porch. Granted I was living in apartments so there wasn’t much space to cultivate much of anything but my tomatoes always thrived! So when my ex and I rented our first single family home (that had a ginormous backyard) we were pumped to try creating our own garden plot. With the permission of our landlord we began the process of prepping the ground by digging up the grass, testing the pH of the soil, and fertilizing. Once the ground was ready we picked out some of our fav veggies which included tomatoes, bell peppers, and squash. I even tossed some herb seeds into the mix just to see what would happen. After reading on the internet about the best areas of the plot to place each plant (apparently some veggies prefer the east and some the north) we carefully put our little garden together.

For a while it was great. We’d water every day and after a couple of weeks I started to see little shoots where I had planted the herb seeds. Then the tomato plants started flowering and then the squash. I was so excited and got busy telling all my friends about how much my little garden was going to produce and how I was going to be so inundated with veggies that I was going to have to give them away…

Famous last words.

The first misstep to our garden plan was unintentional on the part of the guy who would come over to mow our lawn. Even though the plot was clearly marked he ran over several of the sunflowers that I had planted at the edge of the garden. I was saddened but decided that since the veggies were okay it wasn’t a big deal. The second misstep was our underestimation of the squirrels in the backyard. Our tomatoes were growing but as soon as they would even begin to turn the slightest bit of red they were snatched up by our lovely rodent friends. Our solution was to spread cayenne pepper over the plants as we had read on the internet that this would naturally keep the squirrels out. The problem with this is the tedious-ness of it. After watering every day you pretty much have to re-apply every day and that is a lot of cayenne pepper.

Despite the squirrels and our rogue lawn care technician, the plants themselves seemed to be doing okay. The squash was flowering and so were the tomatoes and peppers so we waited and watched. And waited and watched. Eventually I started to notice that everything had stopped getting bigger and that the squash plants would flower but would never produce any fruit. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was—we had fertilized, watered and done everything possible to keep the plants happy so what was the deal?

At the same time as the ex and I were conducting our garden experiment we were also members of a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we would split a box of fresh veggies every week from a local farm with a friend of mine from work. When I joined the CSA in the spring the boxes were hearty and plentiful with the last of the winter greens and root vegetables and I was promised that the summer boxes were even better (you had to pay more since they guaranteed more produce). I was excited—especially since my garden was turning out to be nothing more than a waste of space and time. But as the summer CSA progressed I noticed that the boxes were kind of puny as opposed to the boxes we were getting in the spring. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed because several others complained about the lack of decent veggies. The farm responded that due to the unusually hot weather they were having a really tough growing season. I started looking into it (thinking maybe this was the reason my garden wasn’t producing either) and lo and behold discovered that a lot of the plants in my garden would not grow in extreme heat no matter how much water and how much fertilizer was used. I felt relieved in a way but still bummed that my garden had been such a failure.

So, although I learned some good lessons and will more than likely try having a home garden again someday, for now I am going to stick with what I know works—hello lonely tomato plant in a pot on the porch. And just for kicks I bought some bell pepper plants and a mint plant (because who doesn’t like some fresh mint in the sweet tea on a hot summer day?) that I will also be potting on my porch. So as far as fresh veggies go, this year I’m pretty much leaving it to the professionals. I would love to participate in the CSA again but unfortunately it is a little too pricey for my single family household budget so I’m going to stick with attending the plethora of weekend farmer’s markets that pop all over Atlanta in the spring. That way I know I am still supporting local farmers and still eating fresh.

In the meantime I will continue to listen as my friends tell tales of their springtime gardens and hope that their garden experiences will be better than mine. Best of luck and may your gardens be fruitful!

This year's "Garden"

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