I absolutely love growing my own food. I personally have grown my own vegetables for three years now, but I grew up with grandparents that had a giant backyard garden where they harvested everything under the sun. My memories of my grandfather are inextricably linked with that garden. I can't think of him without thinking of his tomatoes, okra, corn and everything else. And my grandmother was always hard at working shelling beans, canning preserves and creating amazing Sunday dinners out of the food that came straight from their backyard. When I was young, I didn't realize how amazing and wonderful that was... but now, those same traditions make me happier than almost anything in the world.
And now, as hard as it is to believe, it's already time to start planning out my 2013 summer vegetable garden. I actually started some of my seeds yesterday, and it makes me so happy to see my seedstarter system sitting in my window in the kitchen. It's a nice little reminder that warmer weather will be here before we know it!
I had high hopes of expanding my garden so that I'd be able to plant more veggies this year, but because there's a possibility that I'll be moving in the next few months, I don't want to go through the trouble of building out a new raised bed. So everything that I grow will have to fit into my two existing 4x8 ft raised beds, and my herbs will have to be grown in large pots on the patio.
So just in case my experience (both successes and failures) can help a beginning gardener, here's how I roll...
This is my second year starting my own seeds, and the entire process is made so much easier because of my APS Starter Kit that I purchased from Gardeners Supply Company. It self-waters, keeps everything nice and tidy, and comes with a removable plastic dome that traps heat to help encourage germination. You can buy the starters separately but the kit also includes handy wooden markers, water level indicators and a little jar of fertilizer.
I'm also really into the idea of growing heirloom varieties of all my vegetables. I consider it my little contribution toward making sure these older varieties stick around and aren't lost in favor of the crazy, genetically-engineered, mutant varieties you find in the supermarket these days. So all of my veggies are heirlooms, and while it does sometimes mean they're a bit more susceptible to disease and pests, I think it's worth the little bit of extra care they need.
I've always purchased my seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange, and they have a huge variety to choose from. At first, I got very overwhelmed, but as I've become more sure of my abilities and knowledge, I've learned how to choose varieties that will work well for me. But please keep in mind that everything I'm going to show you next is based on my climate here in South Carolina, so if you live in a hotter-than-heck, super steamy summer locale as well, then you're in luck!
I went with two varieties of bell peppers this year. I'm a total wuss when it comes to heat, so I'm not into the super spicy varieties, but if you are, there are plenty of choices out there. In my opinion, peppers are the prettiest vegetable. They come in so many shapes, sizes and colors... and last year I chose to grow red and yellow bell peppers. This year, however, I'm going with a Clemson theme, and I chose to start seeds for both orange and purple peppers. I can't wait to create a fun dish for tailgating using these guys!
Eggplant... YUM. This is actually one vegetable that my grandfather didn't grow, but it's one of my favorites. Last year, I grew the Rosa Bianca (pictured above left) and the Listada de Gandia variety, but they turned out to be very similar. So this year, I'm planting the Rosa Bianca and trying a new variety - Pingtung Long. I cook eggplant every way under the sun... I grill it, I use it as a substitute for lasagna noodles, I saute it... delish.
This next veggie might be a foreign substance to those of you outside the South, but y'all... this stuff is so good. I only grow one variety of Okra - Clemson Spineless, and it's pretty much the only variety you find these days. It's an heirloom that has actually been developed to be hardier and disease-resistant, and it loves the heat. I only have space to grow a couple of plants, but I can't wait to have a larger garden so that I'll have okra, okra everywhere!
Before I began growing my own tomatoes, I wasn't particularly enamored. Those things you buy at the grocery store are seriously ho-hum compared to the heirlooms you can pick straight out of the garden. I've tried lots of different varieties the last few years, but this year, instead of trying new types again, I'm going with my three tried-and-true favorites. Cherokee Purple is one of the more common heirlooms but it's popular for good reason... beautiful color and delicious flavor. Pink Brandywine is another favorite. It's a beefsteak type tomato that is good for slicing and they get huge. And my third tomato for the year - my all-time favorite - is Gold Medal. This is the tomato that I will pick from the vine and go straight to the kitchen to slice and eat.
I also plan to grow basil, cilantro and dill in containers during the summer, but then my garden space is maxed out. There are so many other things I'd love to grow, but alas, I have no more room. But in the meantime, I will just daydream about having a giant garden with a greenhouse and lots of other fun things. I'm kind of obsessed with this layout provided by GRIT Magazine:
It's a spring garden instead of summer, but you get the gist. A greenhouse, large garden, beehives, compost area and a chicken coop? Yes, please. GRIT also has a fantastic garden planner that you can use to layout our garden plot before planting to make sure it will all work well together.
|Raised bed corners from Gardeners.com|
And then I have two other must-haves that I use when it's time to get my gardening on.
First, I'm pretty handy around the house but I'm no Bob Vila. So when it came time to build my raised beds, these pre-made corners from Gardener's Supply Company made everything so much easier. I simply just had Lowe's cut my wood to my requested measurements, and then slid the wood down into the corners, added the screws to hold everything in place, and voila! A perfectly square raised bed ready to go in no time at all.
And the other thing that I can't live without is ERTH Food compost fertilizer. This stuff is amazing. I have a friend that refers to it as "Jesus dirt" because it works miracles. And you use it as a top-dressing mulch so in addition to fertilizing your plants, it also works to prevent evaporation. If you're in the Southeast, there is probably a local garden center that can deliver it in bulk and that makes it much more cost-effective.
So now I just sit back and wait for my little seeds to sprout and grow.