Garden party

Grow your own and pass it around

If you think buying organic vegetables at the Farmers’ Market is cool, you ought to try growing your own veggies to make yourself feel completely superior.

It’s pretty easy and amazingly satisfying. Oh, there’s work involved, and you’ll get your hands dirty. But there is something metaphorical and maybe even metaphysical about getting down on your knees and digging your hands into the earth.

And afterward the dirt beneath your fingernails is not nearly as unpleasant as the grease that gathers there when you wrench on your car.

I hadn’t had a garden for the past few years due to limited living arrangements. But now I’ve got a little plot of land that is fenced off and just right for a vegetable garden. But since I just got around to tilling the soil within the past few weeks—late May—I’ve decided to keep things small and simple—sort of like me. So far I’ve planted four tomato plants—one beefsteak and three Roma plants that, according to the little plastic sign shoved into the soil of the pots, will do well in really hot weather.

I’ve also planted two bell pepper plants—one green and one purple. I’ve planted these because not only do I like bell peppers, but I also find their physical appearance—shiny and curvaceous—quite sensuous. Pretty weird, huh?

My approach, and I learned this in a plant and soils science class taken at Chico State University about 15 years ago, is to dig narrow trenches around raised beds. In this case I’d hoped to form 12-inch-wide beds and 6-inch-wide trenches. It worked on the first bed, but by the time I dug the second one—this was in the middle of the day—the sun had fried my sense of depth perception and I ended up with a second bed about 2 feet across.

I run a garden hose to the trenches and turn the spigot on about halfway. I let water flow and fill the trenches until the beds have soaked up and are moist all the way across (which isn’t easy when the bed is 2 feet wide).

It is best to water heavy but not often, rather than often but not heavy. This way the plants’ roots will be forced to grow deep to find the water and thus make the plant secure against wind and rodents. Be tough, don’t pamper.

You can add fertilizers and chemicals and get all farmer-like, but just paying close attention to your plants goes a long way. And don’t be frightened the first time you come across a tomato worm. They are amazingly hideous creatures. No matter how brave you are, you won’t want to touch the little green monster to pluck it off your plant. Get an old pair of tennis shoes and smash them together to rid your life of these invaders. Sounds gross, but trust me, it’s best for all concerned.

It’ll take about 60 to 90 days before you start getting tomatoes. And when they appear, cut back on the watering, which will both increase production and flavor. Just plant a couple of tomato plants—they are amazingly prolific—otherwise you’re going to be throwing them away, canning them and then throwing them away, or really bumming out your neighbors by regularly showing up on their porches cradling dozens of beefsteaks in your arms.

One other thing—don’t plant corn unless you’ve got about 40 acres and a John Deere tractor in your garage. It just ain’t worth it, and you’re liable to end up with ears bearing kernels that look like they came from the ‘60’s version of The Outer Limits.