26 April 2009

Our First Garden...Sort Of...

Michael and I were both raised in families where growing a vegetable garden was an annual event. It was the same in both households: Dad ran the tiller to refresh the dirt in the garden plot, Mom chose what veggies she wanted to grow and harvest, and the kids dropped the seeds into neat little rows and covered them carefully with dirt. The only differences between our family gardens were the size (he had a larger yard, and therefore a larger garden) and what vegetables were grown in them.

Having grown up with such gardening experiences, Michael and I couldn't wait to own a home with a decent amount of land so that we could carry on the tradition. When we bought our house back in the fall, we decided that our garden would go in the front yard where it would be guaranteed to get full sun. The back yard is well shaded, and it slopes quite a bit. Not a quality spot for veggie-growing.

We then thought to try a new type of gardening that we had only seen in magazines and on the Walter Reeves Show: raised bed gardening. Raised beds are similar to flower boxes, except the box is much larger, is open on the bottom, and is put into the ground rather than on your porch or under a window. Once in the ground, you fill it with topsoil, compost, manure, etc., before planting. This helps the gardener avoid having to till up the ground every year (a giant plus in my book). The beds also help with watering. If an in-ground garden is watered or is rained upon, then the soil dries slower because it has difficulty draining and can lead to root rot if it stays wet too long. In a raised bed, the soil is naturally better at draining because it sits higher off the ground. The only drawback is that the beds can dry out too fast on those extremely hot, dry days. To help slow this process, a gardener must mulch around the base of each plant. Another plus in raised bed gardening is that you can grow your crops much closer together than in an in-ground garden.

Our childhood gardens were ones that were literally carved out of the earth. In order to get raised beds, we knew we would either have had to buy premade ones (which are MUCH too expensive) or make our own (cheaper, but labor-intensive). So it was off to Home Depot we went to buy wood and deck screws to build our contraptions. Michael began constructing the beds during the winter so that we would be ready for planting as soon as spring arrived. And since the beds are made of wood, and we all know how much termites and other critters like to feast upon this cellulose-laden material, we stained each board of wood with linseed oil. Supposedly, it's a termite deterrent. It's also a "green" product, so we felt safe using it.

Now you're probably wondering what it is that we're growing in our raised beds, since I've most likely bored you with all those facts about them and why they're so gosh darn great. Here's a quick list:
-4 types of tomato (big beef, roma, grape, yellow pear)
-2 types of pepper (Carnival bell, jalapeno)
-purplehull peas (http://www.purplehull.com/growingpeas.htm)
-3 types of onions (green onion, leeks, sweet onion)
-garlic (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYfcb3LAoX4)
-herbs (oregano, dill, sweet basil, lemon balm, mint, flat-leaf parsley, chives)
-blueberries (which won't produce until next year)
-4 types of "lettuce" (cabbage, mixed greens, Swiss chard, arugula)
-potatoes (something Michael always grew; this is my first time)

Everything in our garden is growing, some faster than others. The potatoes are the most impressive with their bushy greens atop the dark soil. I've already used herbs to cook with and can't wait to harvest the garlic. Like an Italian chef, I use it in almost all of my cooking. It feels amazing to know that what we have put into the ground is growing successfully. Just like when we were kids...

Growing this garden isn't just about tradition, though. Here are some perks of having your own garden:
-homegrown just tastes better
-you know what chemicals are or aren't being put into your produce
-you can share surplus with friends, family, and neighbors
-it's a learning experience (you know..."more wrinkles in the brain"...)
-it saves energy (gas/exhaust from produce trucks, refrigeration during transport/while in-store)
-plants are good for the air you breathe (in with the CO2 and out with the O2)
-it saves money (duh)

We can't wait to share our garden with everyone. Sorry I don't have photos of it to post yet, but I should soon. Stop by and see it in person!

"Cultivators of our earth are the most valuable citizens." --Thomas Jefferson

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