My First Veggie Garden

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York  I  Saturday, 19 May 2018

Okay, I know you’re wondering, how did this hippie chick get to her age without ever having a vegetable garden?

Well, I’ve had a rose garden before, when I was back in my 20s, when Julie, Lori, and I were renting my sister’s condo. I had a pretty stressful job at the time, at a service bureau.

What the heck is a service bureau? I’m sure you’re asking. Well, back in the day, when things were printed, they were first imaged to film negative, film positive, or photographic paper, by huge machines called Linotypes.

As a graphic designer, trying to get my foot in the door, I worked at a place with two Linotypes. They were large, heavy, very expensive machines, and every mistake in printing to them was a costly one.

We had regular clients, and some walk-ins, and they all wanted their stuff yesterday. It could get very stressful, when machines broke down, fonts bitmapped or substituted with Courier, the font that strikes dread in my heart to this day.

When I got home at night, I was wound up like a top, from a full day of non-stop deadlines, demands, juggling, and putting out fires.

I’d planted a few rose bushes in the little strip of dirt under our living room window, and I loved nothing more than in the evenings to kick off my shoes, dig my feet into the fresh, cool grass, and prune my rose bushes. All the worries of my work day would just melt away, as I admired the blooms on my Double Delight rose bush.

(Have I mentioned one of my prior jobs was at a rose greenhouse? No, I don’t think I have. Different day, different blog…)

Back then, I didn’t care very much about cooking or growing vegetables, I think I ate a lot of fast food. But I care about all this now. I seem to go through bags of onions and potatoes with alarming frequency.

And when that one guy brings in orange cherry tomatoes to church, I stand in the little kitchen/library and eat them, straight off the counter.

Also, whenever I was in his greenhouse last summer, I would sneak them straight off the vine. Shhh! Don’t tell him!

So, I guess it’s time to admit I like vegetables. Last fall, my eyes landed on a little patch of dirt just off the small side porch, downstairs. Not literally, just figuratively. Haha!

There were some scraps of old wood, metal, and shingles underneath the nearby bay window, and also a piece of very old, discarded gutter.

When I picked the gutter up to move it, a whole bunch of dirt fell out, and that dirt was positively loaded with little old nut shells. My guess is that multiple generations of squirrels had made it their winter home. Mawww, cute!

So I spread all this dirt over the little garden spot, too, figuring it would make for pretty fertile soil, what with all those decomposed nut shells.

I also started dumping my vegetables scraps there, hoping to enrich the soil. Some of you might find that gross (don’t care), and I know this isn’t really the proper way of composting, but that’s on my list of things to learn about.

Hey, a girl has to start somewhere, right?

I never thought the bad weather would end this winter, since we had three snowstorms in the month of March. But now it’s May, the sun is mostly out, and we’ve been getting plenty of good rain. The flowers and trees around here are bursting forth in profusion, and it’s time to give the gardening idea a whirl.

I marched into my local Agway several weeks ago and promptly confessed to two different employees that I knew absolutely nothing about vegetable gardening, but I wanted to give it a very small-scale try.

A helpful man pointed me to a package of Straight 8 cucumber seeds, which he said were the right kind for eating. I also bought one package of sugar snap pea seeds, a handful of little onion bulbs, and a six-pack of cherry tomatoes.

At the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store, I bought a four-pack of Boston lettuce plant starts. (I’m not a fan of iceberg lettuce, since it goes bad so quickly.) I love Boston lettuce, though, those cuuute little heads. That type of lettuce makes great wraps for burgers and other things. I wouldn’t have thought I could enjoy a burger without a bun, but it’s surprisingly delicious in a lettuce wrap!

So, I dug up some tools (pun intended), headed to the little strip of dirt close to the house, and planted the tomato starts in the back row, two patches of cucumbers (one on either end), a row of sugar snap peas, and then a row of onions.

And yesterday, I planted some pieces of potato I’ve been saving. I had one yellow, one red, and one russet potato, which I cut up, with several eyes on each piece. I maybe didn’t plant them deep enough. I dunno, we’ll see.

I have no idea if any of this will work. I’m not sure if I will even be able to eat one single solitary thing from my little garden this summer, but I figure it can’t hurt to try.

A few years ago, when I still lived in Salt Lake City, I had a tomato plant on my balcony, planted in a pickle bucket. I think it grew only one or two tomatoes, before a big ole split developed in the stem, and the plant died. Those were the sweetest tomatoes I ever tasted, though.

Gardening, like life, is a process of trial and error. Sometimes you get it right the first time, and sometimes you don’t. You’ve gotta keep on trying, though.

And when you get it right, when things fall together as planned, oh how sweet it is…