I love summer for a number of reasons. The sun, the flowy dresses, early morning runs in the daylight, warm evenings with a Bomb Pop dripping down my chin...summer rocks. Maybe it's the extra vitamin D or the warm weather, but I always drop 5 pounds this time of year (note: I always gain 5 in the winter, so it all works out). I also start saving significantly on my grocery bill. And it's not because I eat less or stockpile coupons...it's because my backyard becomes a produce department. Full of organic, pesticide-free veggies.
Now, I am no expert on planting a garden, but this year—our second attempt at developing a green thumb—our garden is ridiculous. In a 4-foot-by-24-foot strip, we managed to cram several tomato varieties, numerous types of bell peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant and asparagus. Oh, and a few potted herbs, habanero and jalapeño plants. It's a jungle up in here.
Turns out we have pretty good beginner's luck when it comes to vegetable gardening, too. Check out this year's first big harvest in the photo above, including one zucchini that definitely exceeds the "large" category and cruises right into the "mutant" category.
Going to the garden has become a thrilling ritual for me. It's better than getting the mail when you're eight. I crawl in the garden through an elaborate chickenwire fence my hubby made to keep our dog out (she can clear 4 feet, so it's not a beautiful part of our yard, but I've stopped caring now that the space is feeding my grape-tomato obsession) and then lift the giant zucchini-plant leaves to see what new goodies are hiding. Every day I find some MASSIVE cucumber that I swear wasn't there the day before. My neighbors must think I'm insane, as—like clockwork—I dive into my overgrown garden (the tomato plants are over 6 feet tall at this point) and then squeal with delight at what I find. Hey, it's the little things.
The veggies are so big that I really wonder if someone sprinkled steroids or creatine over the soil. I know that compost is good and all, but I had no idea that composting our yard waste last year would be so fruitful this year. And healthy for us.
Now that we have all this produce laying around, even my husband sees the need to snack on raw veggies just to keep up with the pace of our little veggie factory. I've made veggie lasagna, pasta, pizza, soup, frittatas, burritos, salads...it's all becoming a bit Bubba Gump. But, I love it. And once I can't keep up (which is probably only weeks away as the big tomatoes are starting to get big and poppin' red), I'll happily share them with friends, neighbors, family and anyone who's willing to try an organic mutant vegetable.
Now, I have little experience with gardening, and like I said before, am no expert. But, I have learned a few lessons that I'm happy to share.
Five Gardening Tips from a Non-Expert 1. Never plant more than one zucchini plant. You'll be tempted to plant more when you first put them in the ground, but do...not...do...it. Resist the temptation.
2. Keep it closed. A fence around the garden keeps out critters large and small, domestic or wild.
3. If you like to cook, plant a crapton of expensive herbs. If I had to buy basil to make pesto, it would easily cost me $10. Instead, a couple of $1.95 plants last me for three months. THREE MONTHS OF TASTY PESTO. I wish I had the room to grow olive trees.
4. Space es bueno. Unless you want your cucumber vines attacking your bell pepper plants (and as someone with experience with this, believe me, you don't), give your plants plenty of space to grow.
5. Cover the ground. I save time and water by covering the soil with grass clippings. It keeps the ground moist and gives me a legal place to dump my grass. Score!
If you're looking for real tips by people who know what they're doing, check out Martha Stewart's gardening sectionon her website. It might make you feel inadequate (or maybe that's just me...), but it sure does have some good advice for those looking to garden in a big yard, small space or containers in an apartment. And it has pretty pictures.
Have any fave mutant veggies of your own? Or any tips that help your garden grow to new heights? Want to comment on how good of a workout gardening is ('cause it really works your back and hammies)? Let us know in the comments below! — Jenn