Ah yes my young grasshoppers…it is with fondness that I look back and remember my first garden. I was so young and terribly excited, probably about 12 years old. I knew with certainty that my garden would be amazing. It would impress my friends, family and the neighbors. My vegetable business would be famous, and make enough money to buy my dream car, a ’65 powder blue Ford Mustang with powder blue leather interior. Yep. Just like the one my babysitter drove. At night laying in bed with a big smile on my face, I told myself this garden would be more successful than my past ventures. Goodbye yard sales, lemonade stands and craft fairs. THIS was the big time.
Like all smart gardeners, I created a list of what to grow. I drew a stunning landscape on paper, complete with beautiful rows and illustrations. I was on cloud nine. Except when I was done, I forgot to do a reality check. The garden school of hard knocks was headed my way, as every gardener finds out.
My parents took me to a local feed store filled with plants and animals for sale. The first thing that caught my eye was the fluorescent pink corn seeds, coated with who knows what. I needed those for sure I thought, as I scooped up handfuls into a bag. My excitement knew no bounds as I picked out the seeds (beans, pumpkins, watermelon and squash) and plants (tomato, pepper and eggplant).
Looking back, I suppose I could describe myself as a very independent, somewhat stubborn kid. No help needed, thank you very much. I didn’t want to split my profits. Our family had about a sixth of an acre behind the house, with beautiful, fluffy soil. I dug 15 rows for the corn, each 20 feet long. I fashioned moats for my other veggies. I planted everything and watered it, and was probably outside for over 6 hours. I was very proud of my accomplishment, and could already see dollar signs growing on corn stalks.
Every morning for the first few weeks I was up early to check on my plants and look for sprouts. I watered, weeded and tended my garden and was dedicated, motivated and excited. I soon realized it took a really long time to water 15 rows of corn planted 20 feet long, but found ways to amuse myself while watering. One of my favorites was walking between the rows and squishing my toes in the mud. Or making mud pies. Or mud sculptures.
But summer is, after all, a time for fun, and after a while I got busy with activities like camping, swimming and playing volleyball. At one point I realized I hadn’t watered in almost 2 weeks. I rushed out to take a look. The zucchini and melons were wilted, some weeds were beginning to out compete the corn, and there was a squash bug problem. I pulled most of the weeds, watered the plants and squashed all the bugs I could find. All seemed well in my garden world.
However, this was not the first incidence of garden neglect. Because of my random intervals of garden care, the results of my labor were not as hoped. The corn was stunted, (about 3/4 of normal size), and the cobs were puny and often missing kernels. They reminded me of someone who had lost a few teeth. Darn it! I couldn’t sell those. The peppers suffered from sun burn, which was unsightly. The plants hadn’t developed enough leaves to shade/protect the peppers, (b/c I didn’t water them frequently enough). The eggplants also had sunburn, and the tomatoes dropped fruit or had ugly watery spots on the bottom, a disease I later learned was called “blossom-end-rot.” This problem happens when tomato plants are unable to absorb calcium in the soil, because of sporadic watering. My squash plants were invaded by a hideous squash bug army which also stunted the plants (they suck plant juices). The pumpkins, I realized too late, would not be ready in time for Halloween. I counted 100 days back from October 31st, instead of October 1st, which is a much better date to sell pumpkins.
It was a wash!! My disappointment turned into teenage angst and despair. At this rate I would never own my very own Mustang. I gave away most of the food to people who weren’t choosy. The pumpkins decorated our house and my grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. The corn was actually quite delicious, but to this day is one of my uncle’s favorite stories. He made fun of my corn until I was red in the face. Needless to say I was rather sensitive about my garden of failure, which he made witty joke after joke about to the amusement of the rest of my family.
Ahh, to be a kid again! Despite my disappointment I learned something that tragic summer. Excitement is wonderful, never squelch that, let it flow. But be realistic and take a good hard look at your list. Start small and plant easy-care veggies like bush beans, peppers and squash. Water on a schedule, you can tell how often by observing your plants. Water deeply and infrequently, avoid using sprinklers. Be careful with fertilizers, because if you use too much, you’ll end up with a lovely green plant but no “fruit.” And squash all squash bugs as soon as they appear.
If you have a favorite garden story, please share it with me! I’d love to post it as a blog. Send me an email at email@example.com I hope to soon blog in more detail about planting vegetables from seeds and transplants.