“Nothing so benefits a man’s physical disposition as the regular consumption of vegetables. Nothing so benefits his mental disposition as the growing of them.” -Samuel Johnson
As a child, I thought vegetables were dumb, gross, or best served smothered in Hidden Valley Ranch™. Then I grew up and came to realize that vegetables are not dumb or gross and only occasionally best served smothered in Hidden Valley Ranch™. Except mushrooms. Mushrooms will always be gross and dumb because they taste like dirt, feel like an old sponge, and are somehow neither plant nor animal. Pick a side, mushrooms.
I like eating vegetables. I don’t do it because fascist doctors say they’re good for me or because HuffPo says your meal should have lots of different colors or even because I imagine with every bite that I’m rending the still living cells of sentient if silent organisms, I eat vegetables because they’re tasty and toothsome. (I also eat vegetables because I’m a fan of mouth murder, tbth, tho). Cruciferous veggies roasted in oil and garlic. Steamed greens dusted with salt. Crudités smothered in Hidden Valley Ranch™. I love it all. Even salads without even any croutons or cheese. (not gonna say no to croutons and cheese, obvs, but willing to go without). Vegetables are how I live, and if I have a meal without vegetables involved somehow I feel like a failure and put myself in time-out in my quiet place. The only thing I love better than vegetables is pasta. Which really means something.
Now that I have a house with a yard and a garden and a dog and specifically a dog capable of and all too willing to murder pest animals, I thought it was time to start growing vegetables myself. I feel like that’s what people are supposed to do when they get a house with a garden and also a murderous dog. Grow vegetables.
I have no idea how to grow vegetables.
This is an important jumping off point for discussing how I ended up going about starting a vegetable garden. 1. I like vegetables. 2. I think maybe I should grow them? 3. I have no idea how to grow vegetables. As the Buddha teaches us: “the path to wisdom is first undertaken with the acknowledgment of ignorance.” (<—-this is not real).
First I had to decide what vegetables to grow. Régine and I eat a lot of peppers and cucumbers in our salads which frequently but not critically include croutons and cheese, so I started there. Then I decided that since I love spicy foods and also pickles that I would grow a bush of jalapenos for eating and pickling. (click here for my blog post about pickling) When we were plant shopping, I saw a packet of watermelon seeds and thought “I like watermelons,” so I also got a watermelon plant. Lastly, everyone grows tomatoes and I feel like if I don’t grow tomatoes then maybe I’m doing something wrong? Do tomatoes make other vegetables grow…bigger…or something? Not sure. Anyway, we’re growing tomatoes.
The next thing I had to do was figure out where to grow the vegetables I had very good reasons to grow that were in no way capricious or impulsive. The woman who lived in our house prior to us was a prolific gardener, so there were a number of beds to choose from. Some of those beds were taken up by tulips (love those pretties), some by roses (DIVAS), some by aromatic bushes and trees. But there was one section of raised bed that only seemed to be growing weeds. Or at least plants I don’t recognize. Probably weeds. (probably not). Two weekends ago, I spent all day Saturday clearing out a 16′ by 3′ bed, pulling weeds (ornamental grasses?), chopping down weeds (trees?), and ripping up weed roots (tulip bulbs?). In the end, I had 48 square feet of empty garden, as well as a damaged shoulder and a sinus infection.
However, and this is maybe something that not everyone knows about, I noticed that as plants grow up they also grow down. They have an entire structure at their root (I call these “roots”) that anchor the plant and serve as conduits for delivering moisture and nutrients. These roots are, in many cases, entirely under the surface, and, as such, are a complete pain in the nards to dig up. Luckily, one of our neighbors, Will, has a rototiller, so Will and his wife Jessica came by this last weekend, lent me their rototiller, and sat in our backyard drinking beers, being entertained by Régine, and assaulted by our murderous dog while I tilled up those dumb stubborn roots. It was real pleasant.
Here comes the planting part. You might think, “hey, all you do is dig a hole and then drop a seed in it, right?” As it turns out, you are not right. Growing plants from seed is, I guess, some kind of big no-no in vegetable gardening circles, as I learned from 45 seconds of googling. So instead of buying seeds, I bought “seedlings”, which are not, as the name suggests, baby seeds, but rather baby plants that have moved on from being seeds of any sort and are in fact plants already.
By this point, I realized that there was a greater than even chance that I was going to definitely mess everything up so far as my vegetable gardening was concerned, so I decided to seek out the advice of the smartest group of people on the internet. Reddit. If you only know Reddit for its stupid jokes, amateur porn, and virulent misogyny, Reddit also has a number of subreddits devoted to various hobbies, interests, and leisure activities. Their gardening subreddit is superb. (Fair warning, these people are very good at gardening and looking at their posts will cause unrealistic expectations about vegetable self-sufficiency. Like. Great peas, show-off.). Being a naif, I decided to ask for advice from the r/gardening community about plotting and spacing for our vegetable garden. Their polite reply was “read the labels that come with every plant you bought and follow those directions.” This is what I did.
In the end, I planted three types of tomato, three types of bell pepper (including a purple one, did you know there was that??), a jalapeno plant, two cucumber plants, and a sugarbaby watermelon vine. As it turns out, the proper spacing is about 3 feet per tomato plant, 1.5-2 feet for the peppers and cukes, and an absolutely impossible 7 feet for the watermelon. So the melon is colonizing our fallow tulip bed. This is probably a dumb idea because won’t the melon roots strangle the tulip bulbs or something? I have no idea.
At any rate, I’m really excited to have started a veggie garden, after wanting one for a long time, but I’m also pretty terrified that it’s all gonna be mucked up somehow or another. Keep watching this space and I’ll fill ya’ll in with a future installment of Guest Post by Idiot Husband. Hopefully we’ll be eating something tasty!
PS- Guys. The Samuel Johnson quote at the top is fake. Sorry.