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Veggie primer

Thomas J. Story Stepping stones are Tuffits from Cottage Gardens of Petaluma (707/778-8025).
Cultivating your own edibles is easy and fun

My first foray into vegetable gardening started with two plants in paper cups, given to me as a gift. Because I have no "land" to grow anything on (I live in a second-story apartment), I put these two little guys ― a tomato plant and a pea plant ― in the cup holders of my car. I watered them with my water bottle and parked in the sun every day, thinking I had invented cup-holder gardening. But two weeks later, my plants didn't look so good. They needed help, fast.

Fortunately, I was able to find space for them in Sunset's test garden. I also enlisted the help of some staff experts in choosing and ordering seeds and seedlings of other vegetables. I chose seedlings in 2- and 4-inch pots of the following: basil (one plant), bell peppers (five), eggplants (two), 'Eight Ball' squash (two), green beans (five), sage (one), tomatoes (one), and yellow squash (one). I planted carrots from seed because ― like corn and peas ― they don't transplant well. The garden took 1 ½ hours to plant.

It was definitely a learning experience. Once, I turned the hose on at 11 a.m., intending to turn it off 30 minutes later. But at 10 that night, I arose from my couch in shock, like a mother who'd forgotten to pick up her kids from school: I'd left the hose on. Flashlight in hand, I returned to find my garden soaked, but the rest of the test garden was mercifully spared of flooding.

 

 

In spite of the mishaps, my first garden was a smashing success. To be exact, I harvested 9 carrots, 9 eggplants, 28 'Eight Ball' squash, 105 green beans, 8 peppers, 103 tomatoes, 17 yellow squash, and big bunches of basil leaves. The carrots and eggplants were my favorite ― the carrots because I grew them from seed, the eggplants because they were gorgeous.

The best part of the experience was being able to make good use of my produce. I whipped up pesto for friends, grilled eggplant like it was going out of style, and packed my freezer with 2-cup bags of chopped squash for that rainy day when I'm inspired to make zucchini bread.