One awesome thing about our new “normal” is that I’ve managed to find time to garden. I’ve spent countless hours in the yard preparing a place for a vegetable garden, cleaning up the jungle that was our front yard when we moved in, and potting flowers.
Some of my fondest memories are from playing in and eating vegetables fresh from my grandparents’ massive garden. My cousins and I spent many a hot summer day playing under an old farm shed making gourmet concoctions using what was available: dirt, water, and the fruit and vegetables that had fallen to the ground and weren’t edible. Now, you must understand that we needed regular old garden dirt AND the “good” fine dirt that came from the road where we weren’t supposed to go. We also sometimes had a slight difference of opinion from Granddaddy as to which tomatoes weren’t fit to eat and should go into our “pies” and “cakes”!😂😂❤.
I could go on and on about the wonderful times I had in the magical world that was created by my grandmother. How she found the time and energy to do all the chores that she tackled each day while still being fun and playing with us amazes me. Every morning there was a song, every night made up fairy tales, and in between all sorts of adventures such as making “ice cream” while defrosting the freezer; cooking homemade carmel popcorn; playing hide and seek, I Spy, and paper dolls; and having tea parties and watermelon picnics on a pallet right beside the garden!
A vegetable garden full of my favorites has always been on my wish list, but I’ve never found the time until now. When we moved to Houston I determined that our backyard was the perfect place for a “starter” garden, and so my adventure began! I really had no idea what I was doing. I just did what I always do….decided to do it, found a book at the library, and jumped right in.
Using bags of dirt to lay out the garden was one of the recommendations from my book and seemed like an easy way to start. I did this about two weeks before setting out plants.
When I got ready to start planting, I cut the tops off the bags and used a stake to punch holes through the bottom of the bags. I also added some organic fertilizer.
So, then I started digging. I got my plants and seeds at Buchanan’s Native Plants here in Houston. WONDERFUL place!! I planted 3 types of lettuce, cucumbers, green onions, 2 types of cherry tomatoes, 4 varieties of tomatoes, black-eyed peas, lady cream peas, Scarlet runner beans, 3 types of peppers, okra, and yellow squash. Since I wanted my garden to be as chemical free as possible, I put in lots of herbs and flowers to keep bad bugs and critters away while attracting ladybugs, butterflies, and bees. Because Houston has a mild climate, I planted everything before the end of March which means I have been harvesting fresh veggies since early May.
I planted caladium bulbs, hostas, and a few other plants in the front bed after cutting back the nandina and other bushes, and clearing out all the vines and weeds that were threatening to swallow the house when we moved in. The brick planter now holds happy begonias, Gerber daisies, and herbs. I’ve got 6 different hanging baskets and several large pots filled with petunias, geraniums, and various other blooming plants on the front porch and back patio.
Now that I have a little (very little) gardening experience, here are my takeaways so far:
- Even though I spent quite a bit of money getting my yard into shape, it was worth every penny!
- In my opinion, garden tomatoes are just about the best tasting food in the whole world!!
- I already have quarts of pickles, frozen okra, tomatoes, and peas all ready for a time when we no longer have fresh available.
- Marigolds, lemongrass, rue, rosemary, mint, basil, lavender, sage, catnip, and oregano not only smell fabulous, they also attract ladybugs and help prevent bad bugs including mosquitoes. Plant as much as you can!
- Egg shells make great mulch to keep worms away.
- Fertilize every 2-3 weeks.
- Soaker hoses are a great investment.
- Flowers make me happy. Seeing things grow makes me happy!
- I should have spaced things out more. 6 tomato plants were WAY too many for the space I had! Don’t underestimate your green thumb. Things WILL grow!
- Buy strong, tall tomato cages/stakes.
- Bamboo teepees work well for pole beans, but they need space.
- Because my plants were too close together, and Houston is very humid, some of my plants got blight! 😩
- Blight is hard to control. Be vigilant about cutting off blighted leaves and stalks. Don’t compost these. Throw them out, so the blight doesn’t spread!
- The chemical free fungicide I used to help control blight: Mix 1 Tbls. Baking soda with 2 Tbls. Vegetable oil. Mix in 1/2 tsp. Liquid Castille soap. Add 20 drops tea tree essential oil. Add this to a gallon jug of water. Shake well. Spray onto infected leaves early morning or late evening.
- Planting wildflowers and sunflowers behind the vegetable garden to encourage butterflies and bees was a good idea; however, I should have left more space between the tomatoes and flowers.
- If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves, long sleeves, and shoes. Gardens are itchy! I tend to just wander out and start pulling weeds or picking tomatoes kind of randomly. Luckily, my skin isn’t sensitive, so when I go inside, I can wash up and rub on a little lavender essential oil wherever I’m itching. Lavender oil is the BEST for soothing itchy skin!
My favorite ways to eat tomatoes:
- Like an apple 😊
- Sliced with a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Sliced with sea salt, pepper, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil with a drizzle of good olive oil and balsamic vinegar
- Sliced on a sandwich with mayonnaise using fresh French bread
- Sliced and added to thick cut crispy bacon and green leaf lettuce with mayo for a BLT
- Variations of the BLT that I love are adding or substituting any of the following ingredients: avocado, sharp cheddar cheese, fried egg, arugula, green olives…..
- Roasted cherry tomatoes tossed with olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and pasta (add olives, roasted onion, mushrooms, artichoke hearts for variety)
- Salads….so many
- Margherita Pizza or flatbread (olive oil, tomato, basil, and mozzarella)
- Stuffed with chicken or tuna salad
- For breakfast, lunch, and supper!