When we moved to my grandparents’ land—land they had filled with overflowing gardens—I said I wasn’t interested in gardening. It wasn’t my thing.
By our second summer here, I accidentally had two raised beds. The people renting a house from us moved one weekend without telling us, breaking the lease and leaving behind a house filled with trash, filth, and two newly-built raised beds in the garage.
I brought them home and filled them with dirt. I planted tomatoes, jalapeños, zucchini, yellow squash, cilantro, and basil. I watered and tended to the blooming plants as we spent the summer remodeling the rental house.
It was the first summer Chris was sober. We were overwhelmed with getting a house ready to sell while paying two mortgages. Our girls were miserable as we spent hours upon hours at the rental with no internet or air conditioning.
My two unexpected garden beds felt like a quiet gift in a loud, stressful summer.
2021 is my fourth summer gardening. I’ve learned a lot and still have a ton to learn. Here’s what I’m using this summer in the garden. I get a lot of questions on Instagram about garden stuff and I’m definitely not the best person to ask, but I’ll tell you the little I know. (With the caveat that most of this stuff isn’t necessary. My first summer I had two poorly-built raised beds, some veggies from Home Depot, and a watering can with a crack on the spout. Growing food to eat shouldn’t be complicated or fussy. People with resources tend to overcomplicate things because they can afford to. You don’t need the things I have to grow green peppers and tomatillos. Don’t talk yourself out of gardening if you don’t have much to start with. You really just need good dirt and some seeds.)
My favorite addition to this year’s garden is the squash arches. I’ve been dreaming of them since last summer when vines started taking over my yard. But they’re expensive. So I planted yellow squash, butternut squash, zucchini, and acorn squash thinking I’d just accept another year of vine madness. But then, like a week later, I found this tutorial to make an arch out of PVC pipe and chicken wire. I bought the plans ($5), and for less than $100 we made two arches for the garden.
Hindsight, I’d have put them up *before* planting, but it was too late to dig everything up. So I just had to be a little more patient with letting them grow before I started training them up the wires. But they work great. I spray painted the PVC pipe black because the white stood out too much, but there is no actual reason to do that besides being picky about stuff. The arches I really want are not cheap, but I think I might save up to buy at least one of them. Maybe two, if I’m feeling fancy. But in the meantime, these work perfectly.
(The only thing I’d do differently is not be so great at growing butternut squash because those things are super heavy and while these arches are wonderful, they’re not made to hold 14 growing butternut squash without bending. They don’t break—PVC pipes are made to bend—but things got a little wonky a few weeks ago so I had to take matters in my own hands. So maybe I just need the fancy arch for butternut squash. Because those suckers are heavy. And delicious. Heavy and delicious.) (Also #2: the plans make the arches six feet tall, but I’m six feet tall and with vines, I wasn’t going to be able to walk under them. So we made them seven feet tall. That might have added to the bending factor.)
Another new thing I tried this year is this cucumber trellis. In the spring of 2020, we tore down my two (rotting) raised beds taken from the rental property and built sturdier, larger beds in a different spot. I added two more beds, put gravel around the beds, and surrounded everything with a border. I don’t need more space or bigger beds, but I did need better ways to contain all the vines. The arches were one solution. The cucumber trellis was another.
I really like it. I’m not sure why hanging cucumbers seems like magic, but it does and seeing them grow while dangling in the air is better than watching TV. (Your grandma would agree with me, ask her.) One trellis was enough for me; we get more cucumbers than we can eat and trimming the excess to keep it contained hasn’t stopped it from producing a ton of cukes.
I ordered four of these square tomato cages from Gardeners.com when I got the cucumber trellis. I needed more cages, specifically something heavy to hold up tomatillo plants. Those bad boys get so tall and overflow with fruit. I’m not complaining. But the cages I had were not up to par. These square ones are great.
For Christmas, my friend Jessi got me the cutest gardening apron in the world. Did I even know I needed a gardening apron? Absolutely not. But I did and now I’m not sure how I survived three summers without it.
What do I keep in my cute gardening apron? Thanks for asking. These hand trimmers. This twine. And this plant tie. Good for training butternut squash vines up your new arch or tying jalapeño plants to stakes as they get heavy with peppers.
I have gardening Crocs. (I’m sorry, I can’t find a link to them. Good news: I also have house Crocs.) Please respect my privacy during this time. It’s not how I imagined my life going, but we all just have to roll with the punches. While wearing sensible shoes that we can rinse off at the hose and put into sport mode when the occasion calls.
I don’t use any chemicals on my garden, but I do use Neem oil to try to stay on top of squash bugs and mildew. This year I’ve been more consistent about it and, shockingly, it seems to be working. I dilute the Neem oil with water, but I don’t really need to tell you that. I’m sure you can read the directions just like I did. I believe in you.
The last two things I’m adding to this gardening list aren’t for the garden exactly, but for the bounty. I love growing vegetables, but I grow way more than we need. Even planning our weekly meals around what’s ready and freezing things for winter, I have more than we can eat. (I freeze instead of can; also, I freeze what we’ll eat this winter and that’s it. I don’t have the space or desire to prep for years out. I love these for freezing soup, salsa, giving away, etc.) I really love giving garden harvests away. I ordered these quart produce containers so I can give things away in style.
Okay, that’s it. I’m sitting outside staring at my garden as I write this so I don’t forget anything. It’s dark now and the only light is this computer screen. I’m not sure where the bugs are—it’s been the buggiest summer I can remember—but I’m not going to think too hard about where they’re at. It’s nice to be outside in the evening again. A few weeks ago, we put up a hammock so I can read and nap and hide from my family. We hung it in a cluster of trees, over a bed of hostas I planted last summer. It sounds dreamy. It is. But the bugs have made it nearly impossible to use. Let’s hope they stay gone; I have a fresh stack of books and some reading to catch up on.
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