A Little Dirt On My Hands

For years now I’ve wanted to grow my own food–and this year I finally got the chance!  Last year I (and several other friends) invested in a ton or two of good, nutritious soil, and helped grow a bunch of seedlings.  Life got a little too hectic for me, one of the friends moved to San Diego, and the other did some work, but I completely lost sight of the project.  This year, since I thought I would be living at the garden through at least December (strange things happen: my friend asked me to move out of his house ASAP, so now, as of yesterday, I’m moved out), I planned and planted two very long rows of plants.  The rest of the giant garden is in use by Local Roots, a restaurant here that’s trying to grow as much of their own produce as possible.

I’m a total garden newbie–I’ve never grown much of anything from seed (and watched it mature) and I’ve joked my entire life about being a black thumb. My mother, hands down, is the gardener of the family (though I’ve heard it’s been harder for her since she moved to a completely different–and more tropical–climate in south Alabama). Growing up, we had roses and flowers and tons of azaleas dotting the yard, and I remember some tomatoes early on, but vegetable gardening was largely out of my plane of reference.

So this year I decided, naturally, to grow all my plants from seed–and to plant 100 feet of crops. I apparently don’t take things very slowly, do I? Jumping feet first, I ordered a bunch of seeds and seed potatoes from Southern Seed Exchange, a Virginia-based non-hybrid/heirloom seed company that focuses on plants that will grow well in the South and Mid-Atlantic. They have such a great selection for anyone buying in the region–I highly recommend them! And after the seeds arrived, since I didn’t have any of those cute little “grow-your-seed” containers (you know, the ones you can find at Lowe’s or Walmart), I planted rows in 5 gallon planters. Was root damage a possibility? Of course. Would it be harder for the poor little buggers to be watered properly? Of course. But you make do with what you have. Or something.

For several months, I grew the plants indoors–and low and behold, tomato plants did sprout! As did peppers! And I slowly hardened them by putting them outside when it was warm and bringing them in at night. And after I planted the potatoes, I planted the seedlings–15 different tomato plants, 1 banana pepper, 1 jalepeno pepper, 1 serrano pepper, 4 bell pepper, 2 purple eggplants. And the, eventually, the zucchini, cucumber, and butternut squash. The only plants to die post-planting were the cucumber plants and the lone banana pepper (which I replaced with one from the store since it was the only plant G wanted).

And today? Well, today I’ve got a garden somehow with 15 flourishing tomato plants–Old Virginia and Cherokee Purple and Matt’s Wild Cherry and Roma–2 eggplants with eggplants actually growing, 4 bell peppers with bell peppers popping, hot peppers, and potatoes in the works. I’ve had a wee bit of end rot on the Romas, but that should be fixed soon with some organic phosphorus rich food and the new soaker hose I’m going to put down tomorrow. As for everything else, it’s happy as could be and I’m already swimming in tomatoes. Who knew, maybe I can garden?

And, because it’s been a long time since I posted a photo of her, a picture of Dorian doing what she does best–lazing around. It hasn’t taken her long to take over the roost and claim full possession of me and everything G & I own. Plus she’s put on healthy weight!

So, now that we all know I have all these tomatoes, does anyone have suggestions for what to do with them? I’m up for anything from canning to freezing to eating right away!

15 Responses to “A Little Dirt On My Hands”
  1. First of all, Dorian is gorgeous. Seriously. And I think she knows it. Second, what an amazing garden you have! My garden experiment failed horribly, so I’m going to have to live vicariously through yours. I can imagine that there is nothing tastier than a homegrown tomato. Enjoy!

  2. Barbara says:

    What a sweet garden you have, Jes! I say, where there’s a desire to grow things, they grow. If you get lots of tomatoes and it gets really hot your way, try making sun-dried tomatoes in your car. Slice the tomatoes (preferably the Romas), sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and set them out on cookie sheets. Place them in the back window ledge of your car with the windows rolled up and leave the car parked in the sun; 8-9 hours later, you will have the most delicious “car-oven,” sun-dried tomatoes. Enjoy!
    Of course, my favorite way to eat fresh tomatoes is sliced with fresh mozzarella and basil. yum!

  3. Aaron Garland says:

    My Mom sent me pictures of the garden a couple weeks ago. It is inspirational to me to see it full of veggies. I am not doing any gardening this year, but I have a pretty active worm bin.

    • Jes says:

      I’ve always wanted a worm bin! Maybe next year when I get the garden going where I’m living. Finally got a soaker hose (75′) and got it working today. Miss you guys!!

  4. chow vegan says:

    Lovely garden! I’m so jealous, I always wanted a garden but there’s no space for one. Not that I’m any sort of gardener. But I’m thinking of maybe some sort of indoor garden some day. 🙂

  5. Stunning photos! There is nothing as beautiful as your homegrown veggies still covered in morning dew or last night’s rain. My tomatoes are at just about the same stage of ripeness, too. This is the best part, as the harvest finally begins! 🙂

  6. Eric says:

    Looks like your garden is doing great! We’re growing romas for making sauce and canning and regular/heirlooms for eating. If you have cherry/grape tomatoes you can pickle them–it is satisfying to be able to bite into a (pickled) tomato in the middle of winter.

  7. Jessica says:

    That is a wonderful beginner gardener! I’m sure it’s because you did your research. I want to be a gardener, but I have a very basic understanding of hardening … and you did it! I have mastered container gardening for basil, and I enjoy that very much. I hope to expand one day.

    Oh, I like Eric’s idea of tomato pickle – green tomato pickle would be good, too, with some jalapeno. You can eat with the black eyed peas in the winter. And I would make fried green tomatoes at least once, unless you get those on your own.

    • Jes says:

      Haha, I wish I could say I was smart enough to research, but I really just planted some seeds and rolled with it. I’m such a lazy gardener. The tomato pickle with jalepeno sounds amazing, I think I’m definitely on board with that!

  8. Renae says:

    I am impressed and jealous! I didn’t bother trying growing tomatoes this year after several years of failure. I didn’t even bother with any herbs because I end up spending more on the plants and dirt than I’d spend buying them in the grocery store or at the farmers market, because they just die. I really, really wish I didn’t have a black thumb! I had pipe dreams of growing enough tomatoes to can, but I think in all the years I tried, I yielded a grand total of 3 tomatoes. So I can only wish I had your problem of too many tomatoes.

    Dorian is beautiful. She looks like very nice to pet.

    • Jes says:

      Awww stinks that your tomatoes aren’t rockin out. I was scared to plant them this year since everyone had issues with blackening the past few years, but figured I’d go ahead with it. I’m sure with better watering/fertilizer/attention they would have done ok, but they were definitely happy in the soil I was gifted with. I think a small container herb garden in your kitchen would be rad–that way they’d grow all year 🙂

  9. Monica says:

    I am seriously in awe – you’re first garden is, well, an inspiration. This is year two for me and my garden and it’s been tough growing. We have the same tastes in veg – I too stocked up on seeds for all those fresh warmth-loving veggies like tomato, chillies, cucumber, tomatillos. Things I can’t get easily in England! Well, there’s a reason – they’re freakin’ hard to grow! We just don’t have the sun / warmth. All of my chillies failed. The tomatoes are doing better. The cucumber – I will be lucky to have one. I have have a great tomato chutney recipe that a neighbourr gave me… good sub for ketchup. The onion seeds are key:

    TOMATO AND SULTANA CHUTNEY- makes 2 large jars

    5 fl oz/140ml cider or white wine vinegar
    5 oz /140g caster sugar
    2 shallots diced
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    1/2 tsp fennel seeds
    1/2 tsp coriander seeds
    1/2tsp pepper
    3 tbsp tomato puree
    1lb 2oz/ 500g tomatos, washed & chopped
    1 bay leaf
    2oz/50g golden sultanas
    1 tsp chopped thyme
    1 tsp black onion seeds

    Put vinegar,sugar,shallots,garlic,fennel,coriander seeds,pepper,and 1 tsp salt into large saucepan, gently bring to the boil and cook until it becomes syrupy
    Add the tomato puree,chopped tomatos,bay leaf and sultanas and reduce heat to a gentle simmer
    Cook until thick, then bottle in sterilised jars

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