How to Start Your First Veggie Garden

Before you start a veggie garden, I’d like to impart thoughts about my first season with a large, legitimate plot. September is drawing to a close and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or rather, I can see that soon I’ll be working hard to prep my garden for next year! dsc05800

First of all, you need to get your ducks in a row!

  1. Unless you have done tons of research and are prepared way ahead of time (good for you), find a friend who is caring enough to give you great advice. I did that and Julie helped me lay a super solid foundation of knowledge on which to build my garden.
  2. Do not get overwhelmed! Take it one day at a time. If you run out of time to build another box, let it go. You can add on next year!
  3. Be prepared to start you garden inside in FEBRUARY! That’s right, during winter. It seems so crazy, right? But that is when you have to clear a large space and start seeds growing, especially cold weather veggies like cabbage and broccoli.
  4. Learn relaxation techniques to pull you through all those dreaded late frosts. You may have planted potatoes, beets, turnips, and a few greens and they have already emerged!

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    Spring Harvest
  5. Around May 1, email or call all of your friends and tell them you love them, but will not see or talk to them, go to any functions, or respond to emails until November as you will be neck deep in dirt, weeds, and vegetables.image image
  6. If you are crazy enough to commit to the project, you will spend your ENTIRE summer gathering vegetables, washing vegetables, eating vegetables, canning vegetables, and yes, even DREAMING about vegetables. In July, I had nightmares almost every night about squash bugs. They are hellish creatures that are nearly impossible to kill and they systematically take over your squash rows.image
  7. Read a lot about squash bugs. Be prepared to have a few “decoy” plants.  You can always let them cover that plant and then pour on gasoline and burn them all to hell while you start new plants in a different location. I am plotting to start squash rows in around 5 different locations on our property next year.

    A few plants survived and continue to produce.
    A few plants survived and continue to produce.
  8. Read thy tomato books. Tomatoes are going to get their very own blog post. What is that? Anyone can grow tomatoes? Mohahahahaha, mooohahahahahaha…. Sorry. I am laughing maniacally right now. Ha. Oh my.image image
  9. Learn to can. Find a friend who cans. Invest in a Food Saver and an extra freezer!!! Because when those green beans and okra come in, just be ready.image image
  10. Water. It’s important. Years back, I would not have had what it takes to garden like this. When mid-July rolled around I decided it was too hot to go outside. Or I’d forget to water and everything in the yard I’d worked hard on in the lovely cool weeks of May would shrivel up and turn brown by August.
  11. Get a nice big hat, a few long-sleeved shirts, and a stack of sweat rags. Many days, even if I managed to get out there at 6am, sweat was rolling down into my eyes in no time. Yes darling, it’s all a part of gardening. Sweat, dirt, blood, tears, and constantly dirty nails.

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    My son and I look like ripe tomatoes when we get hot outside.

With the end of my garden season right around the corner, I feel proud. I did it!!! I can do the dance of JOY! WOO HOOOOOOOOOO!  My goal was to save money on groceries and stock our pantry and freezer with food to enjoy for months.

I clocked countless hours in my kitchen. I spend most of my time there anyway what with feeding a family of 6. Add to that blanching, freezing, canning, mixing, chopping….. Really, you have no idea. Also, it was hot. I need an outdoor kitchen.image

Two times I literally thought I would crawl out of my skin if I had to spend another minute over the stove. Then I’d go out to the garden, have a great time picking more tomatoes and more okra and remind myself that doing all this hard work now means less work over winter. I will actually be able to pay more attention to my children!

That is, until February.image

I Can Can!

Hello friends! I’m sure all 4 of my readers have been asking themselves “where has Running Mommy been lately?”  I have been canning! Peeling apples, making juice, canning. Canning in my sleep. Laying awake at nights Googling canning jellies. I’m sure “jelly, apples, can, crap” came out during my nightly sleep talking.

In my steadfast determination to become a pioneer woman, canning suddenly became an obsession, a new land to conquer.

 

The very first time I attempted canning, I started with about 12 huge home-grown tomatoes someone had given me. It seemed like so many tomatoes.

After hours of sweat and work and a couple of burns, I ended up with exactly one and a half quarts of spaghetti sauce! We used it right away and I felt like a moron for spending an entire day on one and half measly jars of sauce.

Recently, when I found lovely little organic apples for an unbelievable price at Wal-Mart, I came home with 15lbs! With all of my supplies gathered, it was time to make jelly.

Round one. DING!

NINE cups of sugar?? Well, I told myself, I’m sure it will come out ok if I use 6 or 7 cups of sugar.

Nope. The next day I had to open all 8 jars of jelly and reprocess the jelly with another box of pectin and more sugar. More scary boiling water, more time spent on canning.

They set up. This was not enough for me! I had to try making jelly with LESS SUGAR! I don’t eat a lot of sugar so jelly seems a ridiculous choice. It’s not really about the jelly. I had to learn to can and jelly is a great way to practice.

This is how I imagine my pantry looking in one year. But I'll pass on the hair style.
This is how I imagine my pantry looking in one year. But I’ll pass on the hair style.

Round two. DING!

Thankfully my apple peeler/corer/slicer makes quick work of apples. More juice!

This time I used Less Sugar Pectin and followed the instructions exactly. I pulled the jars out of the water bath canner and waited for my favorite part, where each jar makes a lovely, delightful pinging sound as the lid seals.

24 hours later, the jelly looked runny. This time I decided to reprocess only two pints of jelly so I could compare them to the original low sugar apple jelly. When I dumped the jelly out, I realized it was about half set up. A semi-set gelatinous blob. It would pass as jelly.

The reprocessed jars came out exactly the same way.

Round three. DING!

I had to make MORE jelly! Jelly with full sugar, following a recipe exactly! It just had to come out perfectly the FIRST TIME. DSCN1069

This time I was a bit more confident using the water bath canner and handling the jars because I had spent a day canning peach pie filling with my sweet friend Julie. All in all, I have spent 5 days canning over the last two weeks.

7 cups of apple juice (lightly tinted with organic beet juice), one packet of pectin, and NINE cups of sugar later, I’d made perfect apple jelly in one shot.

We also have two jars of dried apples, loads of frozen apple slices for future desserts, and I used all the boiled down apple pulp for our compost.

With a triumphant sigh, I stood in my kitchen and stared at the lovely jars of jelly. I now have over 16 jars of apple jelly.

Hmmmm…….. wonder what I’ll be using as quick gifts this season? If you are on my list, that’s what you will be getting.DSCN1111