I wanted to become a gardener this summer, and I did. Here's what I learned along the way:
There is no such thing as too many tomato plants, or too many tomatoes. Well, there might be, but not at my house. Twelve plants kept us eating delicious tomatoes all summer long, and I've made several batches of marinara sauce with the surplus. Next summer, I'll put in at least 12 plants, but I'll be sure to include more cherry and Roma varieties, and leave the beefsteaks out (those didn't perform well for me).
Horn worms might be one of the most disgusting things on the planet. Seriously. I was not prepared for horn worms or cucumber beetles (had a horrible infestation of those) but next year I will be ready!
Sharing a garden with children is a rewarding experience. The Little Guy helped me plant the green beans from seed and water the plants, both kids helped put things in the compost bin, and Little Miss helped me harvest. Of course, she occasionally picked still-green tomatoes off the vine and tossed them in the compost bin, but that's how it goes sometimes. Sharing this experience with my kids this summer was amazing. It was a lot of fun to explore each day and see what was appearing or ripening, and enjoy--literally!--the fruits of our labors.
Zucchini grows fast. Holy crap, does zucchini grow fast. I'll plant at least two zucchini next year, if only to be twice as fascinated by it's speedy growth rate. Goodness knows I don't actually need any more zucchini than what I had this summer, but that's what neighbors are for, right?
The satisfaction that comes from eating produce I've grown is immeasurable. I've made tons of delicious cakes and beautiful cookies, but I don't think I've ever been so pleased as when my family started eating the cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden. Plus, it feels good to know where our food is coming from.
Weeding is by far the most time-consuming task in the garden. I only weeded a few times this summer, but those times lasted an entire weekend each. It was brutal, and certainly not how I want to spend my precious summer weekends. Spending hours harvesting or tending, I don't mind. But hours spent weeding is just not fun. I don't want to spray weed-killer in the garden, so my solution for next year will be to spread layers of newspaper around my plants to discourage weeds.
Fruits and veggies ripen on their own schedule, not mine. This was a hard lesson to learn. Tomatoes took too long, and cucumbers were too fast. If only they would cooperate with me! Garden produce can be so stubborn. Next year, I'll be ready for those fast cucumbers and make some into pickles. As for the tomatoes, I suppose I just need to be more patient.
There is absolutely nothing on earth like a homegrown tomato. It would be easy to say that homegrown tomatoes just taste better, but that doesn't even begin to describe the astounding difference in taste, texture, feel and smell between a store-bought and homegrown tomato. Now that I've had the luxury of true tomatoes all summer, I'll dread going to the store for a 'fresh' tomato this winter. Homegrown tomatoes = heaven. Store-bought tomatoes = cardboard. End of discussion.
Planning a garden is almost as fun as growing a garden. I've been planning this garden for years and while it was great to see it finally come to fruition, I have to admit that I started planning next year's garden back in June, before I had harvested anything. By June, I could see what was doing well and what I had the space for next year. Also, by then I had fallen so in love with gardening that I knew I had to do it again next summer, and the summer after that, and the summer after that.
My plans for GARDEN 2012 are extensive. I hope to expand my repertoire from seven types of plants to 30, and plant two permanent perennial gardens to attract butterflies and bees. I want to put in a semi-permanent strawberry patch (most strawberry patches last for three years) and a permanent asparagus patch (those can last for over 20 years) as well as experiment with corn, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant and potatoes. These plans will keep me going during the dark days of Midwest winter.
Isn't that amazing? In the course of a season I went from total garden newbie to full-blown garden fanatic. From now on, the summer of 2011 will be referred to as "The Summer Amanda Finally Learned How to Garden." Better yet, it should be known as "The Summer Amanda Fell in Love with Gardening." Because that's exactly what happened.