In the sweetest, most innocent voice, my Mady pleaded with me earlier this spring.
“Please daddy, can we plant a garden?” she asked, batting her long eyelashes for effect.
“I learned about it in school. I’ll help,” she promised.
Depending on who you talk to, I agreed for various reasons.
I said I did it because growing up, my family always had a garden. My dad still does, but my mom was the one I remember working tirelessly in the garden. Trimming back dead leaves, harvesting cucumbers while my dad did most of the physical labor. My mom had a green thumb and doing one of her favorite hobbies made sense for me and my oldest daughter.
If you asked my wife, it’s because I can’t say no to my children and they know they have me wrapped around their tiny little fingers.
Either way, I started in mid-May to work on the garden. Early on, I realized that I was up a creek when it came to help.
Mady thought planting a garden meant that you put a seed in a pot, it instantly grew and you had yummy tomatoes and carrots.
Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.
The first hard part was convincing her to not to go overboard with our tiny garden.
“I want lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, onions, watermelons, cantaloupes, honey dew, green peppers, hot peppers, banana peppers…,” she went on and on. Finally, I trimmed her back to cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce and some peppers.
I had measured out a 4×4 area in our back yard that receives full sun and started digging. Mady, meanwhile, stood behind me ready to plant. Three hours later, I had cleared just enough space, had probably taught her way too many swear words and was covered in sweat. For the record, her and her sister and mother left to go to the park, leaving me about halfway through because I wasn’t moving fast enough for her 6-year-old liking.
Finally, we got the landscaping timbers in the ground, the sod up and gardening soil down.
I put our plants in the ground and Mady was ready to harvest right away.
That’s when I learned all about the troubles with gardening.
Our modest little garden looked cute, cute enough that it attracted animals at night. Gone were our cucumber plants, our pepper plants nibbled through and our tomatoes trimmed back.
That led to another trip to the hardware store, this time for posts and fencing. Yeah, I should have thought of that the first time.
Once again, I planted cucumbers, another tomato plant, a couple more peppers, some thai basil and hoped for the best.
I’ve heard that most people had problems with their cucumbers this year – but not me.
We went away on a vacation for our 10th wedding anniversary in June, I returned home ahead of everyone else and was blown away by our garden.
What were tiny plants when I left had grown at least 10 fold and were quickly resembling an urban jungle. The cucumber plants surged out of the fencing and yielded 119 cucumbers before I pulled them in early September.
The cherry tomato plant is still going strong, producing quart after quart of juicy, succulent tomatoes.
Where I ran into trouble was with the lettuce and carrots. I had banana peppers come up, my green bell peppers tried but were victims of blight, but my lettuce and carrots just wouldn’t come up no matter what.
Not deterred, I dug into the Farmer’s Almanac and learned, yep, I planted them at the wrong time. So back to the drawing board I went, planting more carrots and lettuce in the area where my cucumber plants had lived.
That was early in September, the weather was still warm and consequently, so was the soil. I watered every day, sometimes twice, and my wife is still yelling at me about the water bill.
Notice I’ve said I, my help promised me by Mady to convince me to plant has never materialized. Sure, she’s carried in a few cucumbers or tomatoes, but she says watering is boring. She’d rather swing.
So, her garden has become my own, and I’m still trying to plant lettuce.
Here’s a tip I learned from my friends Teri and Bryant Osborn at Corvallis Farms. Refrigerate the lettuce seeds before planting, and do so in cool weather – like in late September or early October. The seed will need about an inch or two of water to germinate and it should continue to grow in the cooler fall days. If you’re worried about frost, cover it with some light weight produce fabric. In the fall and winter they use hoops to create growing space, allowing water to flow through the fabric. I’m not that fancy, so I ordered some to cover my fence posts.
Hopefully, I’ll have some nice leafy greens to report on later.
Of course, I’ll have to harvest it. Mady is still too busy swinging.