Gardening and I have a long history. We always had a garden growing up, and I have clear memories of picking bowls of green beans and tomatoes for dinner. Is there anything like the smell of tomato leaves and dirt on a hot summer evening? I want that back in my life.
My parents were known to make us baby food from what they had in their garden, and when we got older I remember being allowed to help decide what to grow. One particular summer I took a special interest in the cucumbers and watermelons. The cucumbers did great. The watermelons, however, proved a lot of fun to squish between my thumb or forefinger when they were the size of small gumballs, and thus never had a chance to grow into anything edible. You win some, you lose some.
In my many apartments over the years since college I've tried my hand at container gardening, with some successes and some failures. Mostly failures. Basil likes me okay. Tomatoes sort of put up with me. And everything else generally turns out to be a stubborn, dying waste of time and hope.
When my husband and I moved into our house in the summer of 2009 we were SO looking forward to finally having a proper garden. Shortly after we moved in we lovingly out together some garden beds. We clasped our little hippie hands in glee and our eyes misted over while we dreamed of piles of beautiful produce, and benevolent bushels of tomatoes and zucchini given to our friends. No! Please! Another tomato, why I couldn't! Here, take this beautiful, hand-woven basket of heirloom goodness.
Yeah, here's how that turned out:
Of the three summers we've spent in this house, we've only planted a full garden during one of them. (Why are summers so BUSY?) Generally, our herbs have done well. We've found it best to keep them in pots on the deck, else they take over the whole garden: Our basil is the size of a shrub, our rosemary is almost three feet tall, and I'm going to reconsider using oregano as ground cover and lemongrass as filler for the flower beds (Yes, we're still getting fresh herbs in Virginia in February. This insanely mild winter is, well, insane.).
Alas, chard didn't grow past the baby leaf stage and by the time we realized it wasn't going to grow, it was bitter and tough. Tomatoes? We grew four or five different kinds and the only ones to turn red were the baby/cherry tomatoes. And they turned red about 4 at a time. If you have a great recipe that calls for four cherry tomatoes I'd LOVE to have it! Nothing else really turned out, and then we were out of room. Perhaps we need more beds.
The other issue is that there is a rogue band of squirrels living in our neighborhood. I like to imagine them in teeny leather jackets and dark RayBans, prowling the streets at dusk, snapping their fingers in unison, and maybe engaging in a dance fight a local gang of raccoons. They're especially fond of climbing our peach tree, picking the most beautifully ripe piece of fruit they can find, climbing the stairs to our deck, and eating it in front of the doors to our kitchen, while flipping us the bird. If we're not around to watch, they just make sure to leave on our deck a lucious peach with one squirrel-sized nibble removed from it. They're also sure to nip buds and fruits off the plants in our garden beds.
So, dear readers, with all this in mind, I need some help. I really want to successfully grow a garden this summer. Zach and I go through a lot of produce, and it would be a really rewarding thing to be able to grow the things we love to eat in our own yard, and I see it being a hobby I could get into. Do you have a favorite gardening reference - whether a book, a podcast, a wbesite, anything - for beginner garnders? Do you have a recommendation for a place to order or purchase heirloom organic seeds that are wholly untouched by Monsanto's slimy, bioengineered arms?
Any tips on how to keep saucy little squirrels out of your garden and away from your peach tree? I'm worried that the only viable solution is building a chicken wire cage over the beds, which sounds expensive and annoying.
Vegetables we're interested in growing and/or eat a lot of that we'd love to pick freshly out of our own garden: broccoli (so much broccoli. So very much broccoli. It's in my top 5 foods.), asparagus (I know it takes four years, which is why I wish 2009 Caitlin had planted it), potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, sugar snap peas, kale, chard.
Do you have any words of wisdom you'd like to share about growing the above? And tell me, what are you planning to grow in your garden this summer?