Days of Summer Gone By Part II

Welcome to the second part of this post, where I focus on the results of my first tomato/herb garden (to read the first part of this post on renovating our front garden, click here). With fall upon us and winter fast approaching, I’m taking the time to reflect on some of my favorite summer projects this year, including my vegetable garden. In Humble Veggie Beginnings, I built my vegetable box, bought the dirt and had about eight tomato plants, along with two basil plants and a rosemary. While this was my first year growing my own produce, I had a very successful harvest. Almost too successful. Before I knew it, I was swimming in tomatoes and basil, without really knowing what to do with my bounty. So here’s a few lessons I’ve learned from farming my first little plot of land and raising a plethora of tomatoes, basil and rosemary.

herb garden

 1. PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
We planted these guys back in May and it seemed like it would take forever for these ripe tomatoes to come through. It wasn’t until about July that I was finally able to start picking my vegetables, but looking back, that time really flew by. The important thing to remember is plenty of water and plenty of sunshine. Depending on the weather, I watered the tomatoes every other day. But I learned the hard way that I needed to water the basil and rosemary absolutely every day. Otherwise, my rosemary would have turned even more red then it had already become. Rosemary should never be red, to say the least, and once I started tending to it every day, it began to look much more normal. Another key thing to remember doing is aerating the soil. This involves loosening up the dirt around the plants with a small shovel in order to release necessary nutrients. Otherwise, water can’t penetrate a dry, cracked soil. This will need to be done about every three weeks or when you notice the ground is starting to look like a desert wasteland.

herb garden

2. EARLY PREPARATION IS KEY
herb gardenI can’t stress enough how important it is to start early with prepping your vegetable or herb gardens for successful harvests. Especially for tomatoes, it’s important to get cages in the ground within at least a month of first planting. I unfortunately waited too long for the cage to fit around the plants the correct way. Instead, I had to flip the cages upside down, with the pointy edges up so the base could fit around the tomatoes. This caused some trouble down the road because my cages kept wanting to topple over, but it wasn’t anything some heavy rocks and string couldn’t solve. I also found myself having to place a cage around my cherry tomatoes — that and some added material to protect from wild animals. I ended up constructing this device out of some chicken wire and a post in order to keep pesky animals from chomping on my little babies (overprotective mother alert). With a little prop from a ruler, I was able to keep the plant sturdy enough to stand on its own and not topple over.

herb garden

 3. BUGS ARE BAD, SPIDERS ARE SPECIAL
The above photo was taken in July, so you can see how big these plants can get in such a short amount of time. Along with this jungle came a few new unlikely friends. Specifically one friend who I formed an unusual alliance with — a spider. Anyone who knows me knows I hate spiders, especially inside my house. So when I noticed a long-legged striped guy planted firmly in a web between two tomato plants, I thought nothing more than washing it away with the hose. But when it came back the next day, I made a truce with it instead. If it promised to leave me alone and eat all the bugs, I would leave him alone and let him live. I’m disappointed I didn’t get a picture of him to show, but it probably would have been more squeamish than anything. It wasn’t until August that I got used to picking tomatoes around him, even using tongs to reach some right underneath his web. But he kept his promise and so did I, which I think is part of the reason I had so many good tomatoes. He definitely grew to be enormous, eating everything from bugs to spiders who set foot in his turf. I was even a little sad to see him gone one day in September. His spider senses must of known fall and cold weather was coming so he burrowed under the ground for the season. Hopefully I’ll see him next year and in the meantime it’ll give me enough time to come up with a name.

herb garden4. PREPARE FOR PRODUCE
herb gardenherb gardenBefore I knew it, I had a jungle growing in place of where my vegetable garden should have been. I was swimming up to my eyeballs in tomatoes so much it was almost impossible to keep up. So my next piece of advice is to have a plan for how you plan to use all of your goodies. The first big thing I made with our fresh tomatoes included soup, while some smaller things involved using them to dress a salad or topping them on some bruschetta. I also learned how to preserve some of my tomatoes too, aside from freezing them, of course. I learned the benefits of canning and created tomato sauce and jam. You’ll be able to find most of these recipes in some upcoming Food for Thought posts. As for the basil, it’s been pretty amazing to just go outside to grab some rather than using the grocery-bought kind. I’m also planning on making  and preserving some pesto out of these huge bushes. And finally the rosemary, which is the simplest kind of preservation —drying. After hanging some up to dry for a couple weeks, I stripped the stalks and paced them in a mason jar to use for future recipes.

tomatoes

And there you have it! Lessons learned from my first experience growing my own vegetables. While I’m sad the summer is gone, I’m excited to see what more things I can make next year. Here’s a sneak peek: it involves a second vegetable box along with some cucumbers, peppers and maybe a little surprise. But that’ll have to wait until next season. Adios summer! You will be missed.

To read about my epic renovation of our front garden, follow the link to Days of Summer Gone By Part I.

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