The email popped up in my Inbox a few months back. The subject line read “Peterson Garden Project: Happy New Year for Gardening.” I knew what it meant: sign-ups for our little community garden were coming up. Last summer, I ponied up 45 bucks to rent my little corner of the earth and grew some stuff. Being a novice gardener, I had fair to middling success, depending on the month, learned a ton and laughed hysterically through the whole thing. Perhaps you read my past posts, chronically my trials and tribulations. At certain moments, usually while I was lugging something heavy and dirty or yanking yet another diseased plant, I wondered “What was I thinking?!” At other times, usually as I drove home popping Sun Gold tomatoes in my mouth, still warm from the day’s heat, I thought “Isn’t everything just awesome?!?” The sheer power of those little tomatoes turned me into a tree hugging 12-year old girl.
So it was with a little trepidation perhaps that I clicked on that email. Did I really want to garden again? Let’s think about this. Sure, I faced some challenges last year. The location wasn’t ideal and I had trouble working visits into my wacky schedule. My plants didn’t exactly flourish – tomato blight, powdery mildew, pests of infinite varieties. The effort-to-harvest ratio was low. It wasn’t exactly the garden experience of my dreams but I have to tell you, the enthusiasm of those garden organizers was contagious. Reading that email and then the newsletter, I was getting twitchy. Within minutes I was searching for my wallet. Big surprise. Truth is, in those few short months, I’d grown rather attached to that little 26 square feet of dirt. After all, I put it all there. 10 wheelbarrows worth. I wasn’t about to hand that off to someone else so easily.
I had shown some glimmers of promise, afterall. I grew some pretty fabulous salads and that one carrot I managed to produce was outstanding. Once I got the tomatoes going (on round 2), there were rather spectacular if late to the party. To be true, Zelda the Killer Tomato Tree was an absolute beast, destroying every tomato cage in her path but a prodigious producer. It truly pained me to pull her at the end of the season and I had a clipping in a jar of water on my windowsill well into November, clinging to that last little bit of optimism. That night I had to remind myself that I did learn a lot along the way- water more frequently and those tomatoes won’t crack. Plant densely – higher yield and it’ll cover up the mistakes. Don’t get attached to things and don’t take it personal – yank ’em if they look squidgy and just call it a day. Oh – if nothing else, fertilize, fertilize, fertilize. And maybe this year I’ll look into powdery mildew and figure out how to combat it.
Where these garden folks really excel is the information they compile for our use. The Facebook page is a wealth of information – seminars, seed exchanges, fund-raising events, garden planning tools, seed sources – and a great example of how to use social media to wonderful effect. It’s great. Too bad I don’t take advantage of it all but it’s nice to know it’s all there is I need it, as are gardening experts ready to help out.
So what to plant this year? I made a list, very practical, of what worked well last year. Tomatoes, greens of all kinds, radishes, peppers. Then I added the stuff I really wanted that didn’t work so well last year for various reasons. Carrots, cucumbers, beets, fancy pants melons. Next because I’m a visual kinda gal, I mapped it out and made a plan. Looked good. Sounded good. Stick to the plan, chickadee.
I went online and found a lovely heirloom company recommended by the Garden folks – Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I started searching for the items on my list, adding them to my basket one-by-one, sticking to the plan. Then, as I tend to do, I went off on a few tangents and added some other things … like beans. Why don’t I try beans? My plot neighbors had a great trellis; I want one of those. Eggplant, I love the long skinny Japanese eggplants. Click. Chinese 5-color peppers? Click. All kinds of nifty tomatoes. Click, click and click. Oh, add the Lettuce Leaf Basil too. Click. Tomatillos – how great would my own salsa verde be? Click. And cilantro for that too. Click. I may have added a few other things that caught my eye. Whoops. The plan expanded a smidge.
The seeds arrived a few weeks ago and I’m rather excited about it all. The packages were beautiful! How could I not be excited looking at them? Last weekend, on the sunniest day in recent history, I got them started in little compact soil do-dads and promised to pay more attention to them than last year so they thrive. (And survive. Minor detail.)
The garden is now open part time but I decided to wait to plant anything. I’ve been burned far too many times by a fickle Chicago spring. My little pods would be just fine on my dining room table until it was safe. My caution was justified. It snowed this morning. On April 18th. Good lord. I will probably wait until last frost (5/15) then direct sow some carrots and radishes with the rest to follow. (If nothing else, I’ve got the lingo down.) Certainly I’m going to add some rich soil enhancement stuff but I need to research that first. Maybe I’ll get a rake. Or a shovel. Or both. And definitely sturdier tomato cages. Another Zelda and those flim-flam ones from last year are toast.
So we’ll see how this goes. Right now I’m cautiously enthusiastic about the whole thing. A little bemused perhaps. Of course I’m already planning out the fabulous meals I’ll make with my bounty. Assuming that is, that I’m able to grown more than one salad at a time.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: PRETTY LOW KEY. This is the easy part, where you dream up visions of sugarplums and everything is possible – and clean – from the safety of your laptop. I have a rather what-the-hell attitude about it all. Put it in and see what happens. For me, that’s the best way to go about things anyway. I’m optimistic about everything but cautious with the melons … the fancy-schmance variety I adore are notoriously difficult to grow so we’ll get ’em started, pop ’em in and see what happens. For some reason, I’m feeling good about this. Easy for me to say from the comfort of my couch.