Running from the Law: Getting Down And Dirty with Vegetables

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Getting Down And Dirty with Vegetables

Ryan and I have been talking about planting a vegetable garden for years now. Every spring we talk about where we should plant our vegetable garden. And every year we don't do it. And every summer we bitch about buying rock hard tasteless tomatoes from the grocery store. And every fall we promise ourselves that next year we'll plant lots of vegetables. And every winter we dream of fresh tomatoes and peppers and herbs. And then spring comes around and we start the discussion all over again. Where should it go? What should we plant? And then we don't do it.


This year we did it! We finally planted a vegetable garden! We don't have a clue what the hell we're doing or whether it'll work, but we're at least trying.

I have to give Ryan all the props for making the effort. Had he not gone through all the trouble to dig up and transplant about 8 bushes from our back yard, then spent days tilling the soil, adding nutrients, watering it and basically doing everything for me, this never would have happened. He constantly harassed reminded me to figure out what I wanted to plant and where/how to plant it. He shoved nudged me in the direction of the nursery. He insisted suggested we do it before his birthday party, leaving me with about 4 days to get it all done. And of course, I had no clue what I was doing.  But no worries.  Internet to the rescue.  Here's the (horribly simplified) step by step process that I used to plant our garden.

STEP 1 - Pick your produce.

Grow only those vegetables you enjoy eating. Give priority to those prized for incredible flavor when eaten fresh from the garden. I chose to plant the following: tomatoes, peppers (red, green and hot!), zucchini, lettuce, onions and a few herbs (basil, thyme, cilantro, oregano).

STEP 2 - Prepare the Soil.

Prepare a plot of flat ground that gets full sun nearly all day. Break up and turn the soil and add compost or other organic material. A full day of blazing sunshine is especially important if you grow vegetables in the cool weather of early spring, early fall or winter. (Thank you Ryan for doing all of this!)

STEP 3 - Plot and Plan.

Figure out how much growing space you have and plant accordingly. Lettuce, for example, can be grown in a solid mat, but tomatoes need to be spaced about 2 feet (60 cm) apart. Beans, peas, tomatoes all need support, so make sure you get a trellis or stakes. Growing requirements are provided on seed packets, in catalogs, and on nursery tags, as well as in books on growing vegetables.

It is helpful to draw a diagram of your prospective garden, mapping out each row according to height, plant requirements and other criteria. The direction of the rows isn't necessarily critical, but often it is a good idea to have them running East-West, thereby allowing you to plant your tallest crops on the North end of the plot, and successively shorter crops in front. This prevents shading of the shorter plants.

Being a crazy, detail-oriented, obsessive perfectionist Type A, I was pretty good at this. I spent about an hour plotting my garden, in 6 inch increments. Everything was labeled, color-coded, and precisely arranged. Yes, I know I'm crazy. Thanks.
STEP 4 - Schedule.

You should schedule plantings around the two main growing seasons which vary by region: cool (spring and fall) and warm (summer). Common cool-season vegetables include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach and turnips. Warm-season crops include beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, pumpkins, squash and tomatoes.

STEP 5 - Shop for Seedlings.

Unless you are an experienced vegetable grower, start with nursery seedlings of certain other crops . These plants tend to do better when set out in the garden as seedlings: eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Squash and cucumbers are among a few you can plant just as effectively as either seeds or seedlings. Shop for seedlings when your soil is prepared and you are ready to plant. Keep them moist and don't let them sit around for more than three days. Buy healthy and vigorous seedlings. They should stand up straight and be stocky, not lanky, with no yellow leaves or bug holes.


Planting depths and spacing are critical, so don't crowd to many plants into the allotted space or you may end up with spindly plants and no food. Be sure to place a tag or marker on each row or area so that you will know what to expect will sprout there and when! Water your garden thoroughly the day before you intend to plant. 

Note: Remember to wear really crappy clothes and gloves because you will get really eff'ing dirty.  Get a towel to kneel on or you'll have dirty knee-caps for a while.  I'd also suggest pulling your hair/bangs back because if they tickle your face and then you touch your face, you will end up a muddy disgusting mess with dirt in your mouth, nose and eyes.  Or maybe I'm just a baby.  Whatever. 
If you purchased seedlings, or started your seeds indoors in pots dig a small hole which is slightly wider and deeper than the root ball of the new plant. Water the plant thoroughly prior to planting it out in the garden to lessen the shock of transplant. Gently tap the pot to loosen the roots and remove the new plant. If the root ball is tangled and compacted, use your finger tips to gently loosen the outer roots.Set the plant into the hole sightly deeper than it was growing in the pot, and firm the soil in around it, making certain that there is good soil/root contact.

And viola!! Planted vegetables!!
Ryan helped.
And Mally protected the garden from bunnies.
We planted tomatoes.
And zucchini.
And lettuce.
And peppers.
Basil, cilantro, thyme and oregano.
I think it turned out really amazing looking!
Now, we just have to figure out how to keep everything alive!
My fingers (and green thumbs) are crossed!
Look Dad!  I did it!


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  2. HOLY CRAP. I am beyond impressed. Amazed. You are really something lady. I am beginning to wonder if we really are long lost sisters after all because let me tell you, I may talk about doing something like that but doing it is a whole 'nother thing. I'm inspired. I may buy another basil plant and sit it next to the sad basil plant I already have. :)

  3. Congrats!! It looks great! (: Good luck with it

  4. I am dying for a house of our own so that we can plant a garden! I had small pots w/ herbs in them two summers ago and I grew some yummy basil, cilantro and chives... I may have to try again this summer!

  5. Looks great! My husband and I are hoping to plant our first garden this year, too. Just have peppers and tomatoes so far (need onions so we can make our own salsa!) It was nice seeing you guys on Monday night!

  6. That looks awesome. One warning: I know you haven't planted it, but if you EVER decide to plant mint, be careful because it completely took over the garden my parents had planted. They have no idea what happened, but now all they have are massive amounts of mint, even after trying to get rid of it! haha

    Good luck with it...looks like your dog will help to guard it! haha

  7. We are doing a serious garden this year too! I would also recommend looking into companion planting- some veggies like to be planted together and some won't grow if you plant them next to each other!

  8. Great looking garden! I am also starting a veggie garden for the first time this year!

  9. The charting is the most amazing part. I love the colors of your tomato cages :) I can't wait to eat over this summer. Go sara & ryan.

  10. My dad used to plot out a huge garden this way every year, and I so took it for granted because we always had the best, most fresh vegetables all summer (and all year because we used to freeze them!). Now I only wish I had the motivation to plant my own garden. I might start small with some indoor herbs (because I hate buying them but use them often!) and work my way up from there. I'm horrible about maintenance, that's my only problem.

    P.S. Watch out for animals who will come and eat your veggies before you do!

  11. You guys are so cute!! I've wanted to plant one in our backyard for 2 years but I never do it. My parents have an awesome garden so I just nab it from them. Hah! The closest I'll come is probably 1 of those upside down tomato things. ;)

  12. Great job! You are so dedicated to everything you do:)

    Our idea of a garden at our house is a Topsy Turvy tomato planter:) My daughters love it!

  13. Mulch! You need some mulch. Sorry I don't mean to be critical. I just have to tell you to put a thick layer of mulch on. Thick.

    Think of it like this. Soil is a living thing. You are a living thing. If we put you out in the weather without clothing or blanket and made you lie there, how long would you last?

    Great garden by the way. Wonderful stuff.

  14. Awesome! you inspired me to get started on my garden... it's so intimidating so i've been putting it off for weeks!

  15. Yay! We planted tomatoes (something I have also talked about forever) last weekend and outr plants already have a couple flowers! Woot!

  16. Jealous you have your garden planted! I can't wait to get my plants in the ground... right now they are busy growing in one of the guest rooms!

  17. Congratulations on the garden! It certainly looks like you dedicated tremous thought behind it. I can't wait to see and hear about your harvest!

  18. your garden looks great! i'm really jealous of those lettuce!