Here’s how it started. Exactly 18 days ago I was having brunch with two friends, April and Mary Katharine. Somehow we stumbled upon the topic of homegrown tomatoes, probably because this word gets used often in my vocabulary. I can be talking about almost anything and, bam, the word tomato pops out.
“How about I devote tomorrow to help you build raised beds for a garden?” my now forever best friend in the world, MK, says to me.
My articulate response to her proposal went something like, “That sounds amazing. I’m freaking out backwards.”
April was fit to be tied because she was scheduled for a job the next day and was suffering from what my friend Paige calls FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Having no idea what I was talking about, I assured April that there would be years and years of opportunity for her to contribute to what was about to explode in my backyard.
You should know that at this point my backyard was known only for grass, general blah-ness and an occasional firefly. But I’ve always had higher visions. In fact, starting a garden has been a dream of mine over the past few years, ever since I started canning tomatoes from our farmers’ market and subscribing to a CSA, ever since I devoured Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, along with a couple books by Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin. For various reasons I could never get started, partly because I’m the type of person who thinks I need a doctorate in photosynthesis before I toss my first seed in the ground. Friends are a tremendous resource for me when I get locked down like this.
“If we think we have to know everything there is to know about gardening we’ll never get started”, Mk said. This felt like wisdom to me, so the next day we set our alarms – because farmers rise early – and we tore off to the farmers’ market in a blaze of ignorance. Though I was smitten with the burgeoning vegetation roaring in the display beds of the market, I couldn’t even think about seeds or plants yet. I had to get my beds built and the proper soil put in those beds. Fortunately I met a really helpful store manager named Aaron. He seemed to enjoy me at first until he realized I was an unlearned gardening wackadoo. I think the only reason he put up with my myriad questions was because he sensed that my unharnessed fanaticism may lead me to plunk down the money for enough untreated cedar and organic soil to keep him in business until Thanksgiving, as well as to destroy the shocks of my Jeep.
My friend and I loaded up and made 3 round trips, pulled into my backyard and unloaded each time, put together cedar rectangles, wheel-barrowed bags of soil to those rectangles, and dumped them in one bag at a time. As the day wore on and my muscles fatigued I’d slam the bags of soil into the wheelbarrow, gravity would take over, and then the wheelbarrow would take off with a shaky, pale, 30-something woman tearing off behind it. After 140 excruciatingly dense bags of this, I was beginning to rethink this whole garden “adventure” and my friend was rethinking her friendship with me. Turns out that drilling screws into cedar boards and unloading a zillion pounds of manure and worm castings made “going to work” on a Monday look pretty enviable.
After two beds of bordering on illegal amounts of labor I decided to hire my neighbor Manny to build and fill the third bed – this drove up the cost, but again, think of all the money we’ll save if we eat our own vegetables everyday until we’re 109.
Here are the first two beds before Manny built the third one. (There were only supposed be a total of two but I’ll explain the “need” for a third one in post #2. Assuming everything lives that long.)
Here I am celebrating what looks to be pretty much nothing, but it’s all about the hope of what’s to come…
After these two beds were built and filled with the proper soil, I began to obsess about what I would plant in my raised beds. Tomatoes of course, but what varieties and what tomato plant gardener could I really trust? (Heavy stuff.) I had my deep bed for tomatoes and my shallow one for other vegetables like squash and zucchini, beans, peppers and eggplant. Mary Katharine also insisted on okra, cucumber, artichokes, and jalepenos, so these were big dreams we were chasing. And for you gardeners out there, you know they were big dreams limited by small spaces, but I discovered this soon enough.
Next up, my adventures with Lisa Harper to Marrianna’s Heirloom Seed Farm, along with a few spiritual lessons God’s already shown me from elements like plants and dirt. Pretty amazing stuff it turns out.
Would love to hear about your gardening successes and obstacles, especially anything about tomatoes…
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