One of my goals this year is to start a productive vegetable garden. It has actually been a goal for a few years now, since living on a hobby farm in Minnesota. That garden was productive, mostly for weeds, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Those three grew like crazy. It was our first try at a full garden and I’d call it a success, a success with lots of room to grow.
If I think back on it, I have always loved being in gardens, surrounded by flowers and watching plants grow. My parents’ backyard was, and still is, surrounded by various varieties of flowers and bushes. Dreaming back on lazy summer days still makes me nostalgic for the buzz of bees in the gardens and fireflies flickering across the yard as evening fell. I could spend the whole day outside. As an adult, my first attempt at gardening was planting herbs in small flower pots on the window sill of my Manhattan apartment. I envisioned using my homegrown basil, oregano, and cilantro in what would be delicious meals. I eagerly watched the pots for the seeds to grow, checked them multiple times a day. As the little seedlings appeared I watered and watched. But instead of growing into big, lush plants, they kind of just withered away. And my cooking remained boring and mostly take out. The next step in my gardening adventures was on the shores of the Long Island Sound. Without a yard, my plants remained in containers, but with more space and access to direct sunlight, they were a bit more successful. I built a large container garden and experimented with various vegetables. I learned that cherry tomatoes grew very well…too well as it turned out for a person who did not like tomatoes. But it was exciting to finally be able to eat vegetables grown with my own hands. It was still a relatively small garden so it didn’t replace buying produce from the store, but it got the idea into my head.
As the years passed, I move to my sunny tropical island for the first time. I was back in an apartment and, therefore, limited to space. In addition, my focus was different in those days. I wasn’t as drawn to the quiet work of watching over a garden and cooking my own food was far from my priority. So, when we moved to Minnesota and my husband and I bought our hobby farm, it was almost like starting over again as a complete beginner. As I mentioned earlier, that first garden was a huge success in some ways and a big learning experience in every way. We cleared the land where a previous garden had been. Because part of our goal was to save money by growing our own food, we decided to clear the land with hand tools rather than paying the heavy cost of renting equipment. First lesson learned: weeds grow back with a vengeance. We spend the majority of our time pulling weeds and trying to keep them from taking over the crops we wanted to grow. We quickly learned that weeds are more persistent than us and that in the future taking the time to prepare a garden would be worth the effort in the long run. There were a few plants that resisted the weeds and took on their own explosion of growth though, specifically the tomatoes and cucumbers. Lesson 2: don’t grow more than you can harvest. We had so many cucumber plants that the ground was a carpet of leaves. And hiding underneath those leaves were more cucumbers than we knew what to do with. One day we would think we picked them all only to find a cucumber more than 1 1/2 feet long the next day. They looked mutant! And the tomatoes…we boiled them, stewed them, sliced them, and finally froze them simply because we ran out of time to do anything more. On our land we also had apple trees and walnut trees and raspberry bushes. We were so excited to harvest them all but so new in our endeavors that we hardly knew what we were doing. But, even so, it was very fun…
Once again, however, we had to move due to work and ended up in dry, hot Arizona. Back to container gardening. The fun thing about Arizona is that you don’t need to wait until spring to plant. Some plants grew, but the yield was small. Perhaps if we had time to experiment and learn we would have gotten more during the next planting, but before we knew it we were off again. Back to the islands. This time we have moved into a house with a yard big enough to clear a proper garden. With our goal to eventually take a hand at homesteading, we decided to start with a garden. So off we go…the adventure of planting a tropical garden begins.