Garden Fresh All Year

27 Feb


These are my humble beginnings as a container tomato gardener.  Started in the icy January of 2008, these fragile shoots would be my companions on a journey I didn’t think I had in me.

I have self-diagnosed seasonal affective disorder, which basically means I get sad in the winter due to a lack of life-giving sunshine.  I pretend I’m a lizard in the winter and bask under an LED light which supplies vitamin D.  It works pretty well, but during the winter of ’07/’08, I felt like I needed a little bit of extra feel-goods.  I had just returned from a stint in sunny Northwest Las Vegas where I completed my student teaching.  If you’ve lived in the Midwest, you know any good winter here can make you crash pretty hard, especially if you are coming down from a Southwest sun high.  To add to my distress, I was having trouble finding work and my partner in crime was still in school.  A quick trip to our friendly local library provided me with some extra tips to combat seasonal depression.  Grow something!  What a novel idea!

But, we lived in an apartment without any window ledges and I believe the windows were North facing.  So I poked around some more.  I don’t recall exactly why I hit on tomatoes, but I know I love them and they remind me of those warm summer days.  A few trips to ACE hardware and Theisen’s and I was set up.  A handful of plastic pots, bags of potting soil, and a few metal lamp hoods equipped with florescent bulbs were all I had that first year.  I ordered a handful of seed packets from Tomato Grower’s Supply Company after they sold me with their bright and informative catalog.

After that, I joined the ranks of the container gardening community.  We moved into the back apartment in our building which had an outdoor landing so I was able to set my tomato plants outside in their pots.  That first year not only provided us with a handful of colorful and oddly shaped tomatoes, but it armed me with a new zest for life:  I was good at gardening.  I had never gardened before, and I had raised six heirloom tomato plants from seed with only the help of the internet and some light bulbs.  I was so proud.  My mother, who had always seemed like the queen gardener to me was shocked that I had grown tomatoes, something she has never tried to grow.

Plant Room

Our two year old, Eli, resting in last year's "Plant Room"

This love of gardening has since blossomed into a huge part of my life.  It is one of my chief hobbies.  Since that first winter I have experimented with dozens of different types of heirloom tomatoes and have branched out into growing other vegetables.  Two summers ago marked the first year we had our own outdoor garden to transplant into, and seven of my homegrown tomato plants made the move to Minnesota with us.  Last summer we had an even larger plot.  In a 20×40 foot plot I grew sweet peas, pole beans, carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, mustard greens, collard greens, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, basil, dill, radishes, crookneck squash, cucumbers and melons.  But my favorite part of the garden was my tomato forest.  On one half of the plot I crammed 40 tomato plants, (Some grown from seed, others picked up compulsively at markets and nurseries) 10 eggplants, probably 25 pepper plants, and one corner was totally dominated by a gigantic tomatillo bush.  To top off this awesome achievement of the green-thumb variety, my grandma taught me how to can my bounty.  So now I am an avid fan of grow-your-own-so-you-can-enjoy-garden-fresh-all-year.

This year, back in Iowa, I have a considerably smaller space to work with, but despite this, I have started 11 new types of tomatoes and 3 types of peppers.  My admiration for growers and small farms has only increased over the years and I have been actively attempting to live a more sustainable lifestyle.  For now, I will continue to plan and nurture my future garden while the simple act of growing itself nurtures me and helps me to be happy, and healthy, and myself.

Check out my garden’s progress on my page: Watch Me Grow


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