A vegetable garden for (by?) dummies

A few posts back we shared our progress in building some raised beds in our backyard, and alluded to our hopes for a vegetable garden.

Happy to share with all of you that it’s in!

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And I just want to say right now, before we go any further with this, in big bold letters, that:

We don’t know anything about gardening.

So, if you decide you want to do what we’re doing, you’d best read our disclaimer first. We have no idea if this is going to work out. (But regular readers know that’s our usual modus operandi and that lack of knowledge doesn’t usually stop us from blundering forward.) This all started a few months back, when I found this at the library:

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Fritz Haeg is on a quest to replace front lawns with edible gardens. Only a few pages in, I was waving the book in front of Cane’s face and declaring:

“We need to tear out the front lawn!”

He was not really on-board with that. He’s rather fond of the lawn.

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And–as he reminded me–I don’t know anything about how to grow an edible garden. Considering how much work we’ve done to improve the curb appeal of our house (painting the exterior, painting the front door, tearing out and putting in a new garden), neither of us wants to do something that would make the front of our house look all janky.

So we decided that the backyard–which was already quite janky, thank you–would be the perfect place to experiment with growing an edible garden.

(Why was the backyard janky? Well, it started like this:

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This is what the backyard looked like when we bought the house. We were none too fond of that giant, boxy hedge. So last year, in the midst of our long summer of painting, we up and tore it out. (The hedge was right where we needed the ladders to go, a great excuse for getting rid of it.)

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Or rather, we attempted to tear it out. After working on that root ball for a really long time, we conceded defeat and realized it wouldn’t come out without some kind of major equipment. At the end of the summer, we just left the yard with a big, scabby-looking bare patch in it. So that a few weeks ago, it looked like this:

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We were able to kill the roots of the other shrubs, but you can see that first one down near the door, growing back.)

So:  a  vegetable garden. Not only could we grow some of our own food, but we could cover up the stumps and root balls that we never got out. Win-win!

While I liked this solution to the backyard problem, I quickly became overwhelmed with all there is to know and do:

  • What to plant?
  • When?
  • How?
  • What do we need?

We decided to make it simple by creating a pretty narrow scope for the garden:  Our goal is to grow the ingredients we need to make our own tomato sauce.

This project may have gotten its true start back last summer, not when I found the book at the library. That’s when we made jam for the first time.

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We couldn’t believe how much better our blackberry jam tasted than any jam we’d ever bought. I think it was then that we began thinking about how we might bring more real food into our lives.

Tomato sauce seems fairly simple. We just need to grow some tomatoes, onion, oregano, and basil. We also decided we’d grow some carrots and peas, at the request of one of the kids. And that’s what we planted:

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We bought starts for most of our plants.

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But we put in seeds for carrots and beans. (We’re too late for snow peas.)

We know there’s lots to know to be a good gardener, and we know that we don’t really know anything.

We’ve done a little bit of reading, and we talked a bit with a person at the nursery where we bought our starts. We know the soil needs to be amended, which we did with compost and minerals with trace elements. We also know that we’ll need to separate and move the onions as they get bigger, and that the tomato plants will need some cages as they grow taller. We know they’ll need to be watered.

That’s about all we know, right now, about making our garden grow.

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But what we also know about doing any of our projects (in our yard, our house, our life) is that  if we wait until we feel we truly know everything we need to know, we might never start anything. We also know that we tend to learn best by getting in and doing and seeing what happens and learning what we need to learn next.

This approach wouldn’t necessarily work for really big things (like a kitchen remodel, or tearing out the whole front yard to turn it into an edible garden), but it feels pretty safe for something small like this.

Worst case scenario? Everything will die and we’ll rent some equipment to tear out those stumps and we’ll throw down some grass seed. We’ll be out a few weekends (that we really enjoyed regardless of the outcome) and a little bit of money.

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Yep, we’ve still got some stumps in there. We’d have to really deal with those.

We’re not sure if we’ll really be able to make our own tomato sauce with our own tomatoes. Or if we’ll be able to make very much. We’re OK with that, though. We know we’re going to learn some stuff in the process of doing this. (Maybe that we’re not cut out to be growers of our own food.)

As with almost everything, for us the process is more important than the product.

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The important thing for us is to get in there and get our hands dirty.

And so far, the process has been all good–which is good enough for us. (And we’re liking the way the product is going.)

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We had a lovely little light rain the day after we planted.

Your turn!

We’d love to hear your thoughts, tips, stories–about growing gardens, trying new things, leaping before you look a whole lot. Hope you’ll chat with us in the comments.

(Sharing with The William Morris Project at Pancakes and French Fries.)