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Starting this year’s garden

So, there you are, with the pile of seed catalogs (or the URLs of home gardener seed companies and your computer) and feeling overwhelmed. You’d like to have a garden this year. You’d like to grow more of the vegetables that your family eats (fruits too, if you are feeling ambitious), but there are so many varieties to try. What’s going to work for you?

What I always tell people who ask me about starting a garden is this: Start with what your family already eats. Just sit down with a pencil and paper and think about what gets put on the plate at your house and what gets eaten. Not the ‘awwww, do I have to eat this?” sort of response and with pulling and shoving and lots of sighs and finally a bit gets chewed up and hopefully swallowed. I mean, eaten. And I don’t care if it’s eaten covered with cheese, catchup, tomato sauce, parmasan cheese, ranch dressing, Italian salad dressing or melted butter and lemon juice. I mean eaten and, it is hoped, with relish and perhaps with yummy noises as well.

That list might be actually fairly small (and that is ok – we have basically 10 go-to veggies at Chez Siberia other than potatoes and onions), but that is ok. Here is out list:
Cabbage Family Plants (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Kale)
Carrots
Fresh Green Beans
Peas
Beet Family Plants (Chard and Beets)
Spinach
Greens of various sorts
Tomatoes
Peppers
Squashes and curcubits (summer, winter)

Once you have that list, for the first time you have a garden, try to keep your eyes smaller than your stomach – don’t go crazy, don’t rip up your entire yard. There are two means to success: First, only dig up as much as you can keep control over. If that is a 4 foot by 4 foot block, then so be it. If that is one 3 foot by 10 foot bed, then so be it. The DH once dug up about a quarter of an acre of the yard by hand, made beds, planted everything and ripped up one of the tendons in his arm. I was very pregnant at the time, so all of that sat out there while he was all bandaged up. Needless to say, finding the harvest was the challenge. We could have done a lot better with one bed. Second, not only pick types of veggies that your family eats (if all you can get your kids to eat is tomatoes of any sort – fresh in salads or processed for sauce for pizza and pasta – then grow tomatoes), but also pick varieties that will work for you and your location. Every seed site or catalog will have a USDA zone map which will tell you dates of last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall. Count up the days in between those two dates and you’ve got your growing season. Make sure you choose varieties of those veggies which will mature (that is, give you stuff that you can eat) which have shorter maturation than your growing season.

For example, here at Chez Siberia, to be frank, we are taking a huge risk if we put in plants like tomatoes and peppers before Memorial Day. The first week is June is sort of ‘iffy’ in terms of getting a frost. Likewise, although my zone information says that my first killer frost is the end of September or early October, we’ve been known to get freaky Canadian jet stream stuff during the first ten days of September which has killed everything in the garden except for the cabbage family. So, I only count June, July and August for my growing season: 92 days. So, in choosing tomato seeds to grow plants (or, if I were the sort of person to buy my plants at the local- not big box chain store – greenhouse, I’d check the labels on the six packs, the number of days to maturation will be there also), I’m going to go for the shortest days to maturation that I can find. One more hint on this — the smaller the tomato, the smaller the number of days to maturation, generally. So, cherry tomatoes are almost a ‘no-brainer’ here at Chez Siberia; beefsteak tomatoes will be something that I’d start a couple of plants super early and keep transplanting them into bigger and bigger pots until it is warm enough to transplant them outside, AND I’d put black plastic on the ground where I was planning to plant them to make sure the ground is nice and warm also. So, for example, for a beefsteak type tomato, I’d choose Pruden’s Purple (which is an heirloom tomato, tastes great, and has a days to maturity of 72 Days) over Black Brandywine (which is another heirloom, but has a days to maturity of 90 days).

Another thing to think about is this: If you have never gardened before, and you have children, it will be far easier to get them to eat what you are growing if the stuff looks familiar. So, if what your children think of as a ‘tomato’ is red (or, you eat green peppers at home, as another example), then make sure that you pick varieties which mature looking like what they expect the item to look like — a round, red tomato, not a black or purple Russian type, or a pepper that matures as a chocolate brown color. After a couple of years, you can branch out a bit and grow purple carrots, purple broccoli, fingerling blue potatoes and so on. But for the first time, just take it easy.

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