”Culinary Confessions” is a series that opens the books on our eating habits and shares our shopping, cooking, dining and diet strategies with you.
We bought our first house in 2020 in a small town in the North Carolina foothills and started work to make it our home. Of course, that meant organizing our kitchen to make all our favorite recipes that we share here on #FoodieScore. But it also included excavating a 10-by-10-foot section of our yard to create our first vegetable garden. Now, our #FoodieScore experiences include food we’ve grown ourselves!
We’ve loved every step of the gardening adventure, but we must also admit that growing vegetables from scratch is, indeed, hard work! We can’t tell you how many times we’ve said how thankful we are that our entire food supply doesn’t depend on our gardening success!
Starting with Seeds
After preparing 100 square feet of our yard by removing the sod (the top layer of grass and dirt), tilling the soil underneath and mixing in compost and manure to prepare a place to plant, we started our vegetable seeds indoors to get a head start on planting and growing. In future years, we might plant directly into the ground or try a different approach, but we wanted to start with seeds this year in our first experience to get the whole adventure!
We selected Big Red Beefsteak Tomato, Prolific Longneck Squash, Golden Yellow Utah Onion and Multicolor Bell Pepper seeds and placed two of each variety together (to give extra chances for sprouting) into different leftover, cleaned-out yogurt containers in our laundry room. We drilled small holes in the bottoms of the containers to allow drainage, and we placed those containers atop a cheap dollar-store cooling rack molded into a dollar-store dish pan.
That gave us a single safe place to keep our little seeds where we could mist them with a water bottle a time or two a day and rotate them in the sunny window. We live in Growing Zone 7, so it’s not safe to plant most things outdoors until late April when the chance for frost mostly goes away.
Our seeds turned into small plants, and we transplanted those into our garden in early May. In the following weeks, we watered the plants just about every day, pruned “suckers” (extra unnecessary growths along the stems) and bad leaves as necessary and watched them grow.
At the same time we planted our seedlings in the backyard garden space, we surrounded them with a set of French marigolds. We read several places that some fragrant plants like marigolds can help deter many pests from invading vegetable plants, so we thought we’d give that a try in this first garden.
Tending and Problem-Solving
We staked our tomatoes and peppers by using a variety of simple wire rods and leftover pieces of PEX pipe tubing, with biodegradable twine run between them to help hold and straighten plants. (Since squash and onions grow more horizontally and less vertically, we didn’t need to worry about staking those.) By July, our plants were flowering and starting to grow vegetables.
We believe our onion seeds may have been bad because those plants died off before they even reached the garden. They barely even sprouted to begin with, and we followed all the steps that should have led to success. We decided not to re-purchase more onion seeds and retry. Perhaps we’ll try other onions next year.
Several of our tomato seedlings suffered from transplant shock, where the outside conditions are such a change from the indoor starting conditions that they kill off the plant. (We did try to “harden off” our indoor starts to get them used to outdoor environments, but that’s no guarantee for success).
We have also battled bugs that have tried to eat the main stalks of our squash plants! It took us many weeks to research and realize what was happening, but we finally settled on Sevin dust to treat the plants and keep the bugs at bay. As we’ve read many places, squash plants that are attacked by pests can be quite resilient as long as the bugs are removed and the stalks are treated. A couple of our squash have survived and continued to produce vegetables to eat.
Other than these few setbacks, our vegetable plants have mostly done well. And we’ve learned so much that we can use to continue to grow in the future.
Harvesting and Eating
When we’ve had vegetables to harvest, we’ve picked them early in the morning, as we’ve seen recommended by many other gardeners. Normally, we pick ripe items when we’re in the garden to water plants, which we try to do before the sun gets high in the sky and starts baking everything.
After a lot of patience, time, weed-pulling, staking and watering, we’re enjoying peppers, squash and tomatoes in our own kitchen. Here are some of the recipes we’ve made with our crops! (We’ll update these as we try new uses for our veggies.)
We’ve also enjoyed squash casserole, fried squash, chicken fajitas with fresh peppers, fried green tomatoes and other dishes. If we refine specific recipes for any of those, we’ll be sure to share!
Compost for Next Year
Oh, and on top of the growing, harvesting, cooking and eating joy we’ve experienced in our first garden, we also started our first compost bin to benefit future gardening adventures and the earth as a whole.
We took an old Sears trash can with a tight-fitting lid, drilled a few dozen holes in it and positioned it atop a couple of cement blocks spaced apart. The blocks help keep the compost pile off the ground to allow air to circulate underneath, and the holes provide entrance points for air and exit points for excess moisture.
We’re particular about what we put in our compost to keep it clean and happy, but so far some of our ingredients have included coffee and tea grounds, rinsed egg shells, chopped vegetable peelings, used seed-starting soil, grass clippings cleaned off the mower, leaves and small yard waste, and a few other items.
By the time the next gardening season rolls around, we hope to have our own homemade compost to help encourage even better growth in our soil!
Are you a home gardener or even a farmer? We’d love to learn about your experiences with growing food at home and any tips you’re willing to share! We’d also love to answer any questions you have about what’s worked for us so far. Comment on this post or share with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!