Different each year: the joys of growing a garden

Published 5:37 pm Thursday, May 2, 2024

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Like many people around here, I grew up with a vegetable garden in my backyard each year.

Though I disliked having to chop the weeds that would spring up regularly, I also have plenty (mostly fond) memories of getting up early in the summer – to avoid the worst of the day’s heat – to pick snaps, peas, peppers, squash, and whatever else was ready at the time. And then we’d all sit in the living room together to shell the peas or snap the ends off the snaps. We’d shuck corn on the back porch or from the back of a pickup truck, to make the mess easier to clean up.

I used to be quite squeamish whenever I’d uncover a little worm crawling around the corncob!

By the time July would hit, most of our meals would feature corn, tomatoes, or squash. Sometimes all three! We’d still have excess, of course, that my parents would give away to neighbors, or my mom would can and freeze. As a kid, I liked watching the process she would go through to sterilize the jars.

Mom still usually makes pickles from the cucumbers once a year, which is also fun to watch but makes the entire house smell intensely like pickles for a few days.

The past few years, I’ve tried to grow a garden of my own. Usually, I’m a little too ambitious for my skill level (and energy level). You skip one weekend of chopping weeds and suddenly your whole garden is a wild jungle! I was sick for a while last summer, which didn’t make it any easier to tend to the plants.

So this year, I tried something similar to container gardening. My parents and I bought some big pots from the store and a bunch of potting soil, and we planted different seedlings in each one. It seems more manageable this way. For one, these potted vegetables are closer to the water hose so I don’t have to lug a jug of water multiple times to the garden plot every day like I’ve had to do in previous years.

I’m hoping this means less weeds to have to deal with too. I certainly won’t miss the way my arms and back aches after chopping several rows of stubborn weeds.

The garden is smaller this year, but that’s probably what I needed anyway. I had to sacrifice the okra I usually plant, for example. But I’m not too upset about it because I only have two recipes to cook okra and I got tired of them both quickly, leaving an abundance of unused okra. (They also make my hands itchy when I pick them off the plant, so I won’t mind missing out on that this year!)

Another first in my gardening experience this year: having to cover up my plants to save them from frost.

Usually, I procrastinate until well into May to plant everything, but we got a head start this year. And then the weather briefly turned cold again, so I had to scramble to find ways to cover and protect my little plants. Thankfully, Mom had some blankets I could borrow and Pops had some large buckets I could use.

It was a learning experience for me, so I’ll be ready now for any more unexpected frosts in the future! Hopefully!

If you’re thinking about starting your own vegetable garden, now is the perfect time. Like me, you can try something a little more unconventional if that’ll work better for the space you have. There are plenty of local places in our four-county area that are selling a variety of plants right now as well as the tools you’ll need to help them grow over the next several months.

You never know what you might find while browsing through seed packets and seedlings! A few years ago, I found a variety of Japanese eggplant for sale, and I decided to try it out. (I had some recipes I was eager to experiment with.) As it turns out, this variety of eggplant is smaller than the American version you usually see in the grocery store, so it was much easier for me to chop up and cook with. I am excited to try it again this year!

The upfront costs are a little expensive – you have to buy a lot of potting soil for your pots after all – but it saves you from having to buy so much produce at the store during the summer months (and in the winter months if you’re good at canning and freezing). So it’s usually a good tradeoff.

My advice to new gardeners would be to plant things you want to eat. I put bell peppers in something just about every week, so I always make sure to include bell pepper plants every year.

It helps to have a variety of recipes to choose from for each vegetable. When downsizing my garden this year, I decided to skip planting zucchini since I don’t do much with it other than throw it in a stir-fry (or give it to Mom to make zucchini bread… which is nice until you’re on your fifth loaf of it.)

There is still plenty of things I need to learn about vegetable gardening, like how to get rid of pesky insects or how to make sure deer don’t eat my plants as a late-night snack. But I learn a little more every year, and it’s usually a lot of fun along the way.

So to everyone else who’s growing their own garden this year, good luck! May all your endeavors successfully bear fruit… or vegetables!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.