The other night I made dinner for Mike and myself. Like all of my cooking attempts, we really weren’t sure how this dinner was going to turn out. (We always keep our medicine cabinet stocked with Tums, Pepto Bismal, antacids, etc so we are prepared for my dinners). Much to our shock, it actually tasted good! AND I made the dinner using fresh tomatoes from my garden in the backyard. Did I feel confident enough to be on the cover of “Good Housekeeping” Magazine after my one amazing dinner? You bet I did. Not only did I cook a dinner that was edible, but my summer project of “Having a Garden” turned out to be a success as well. It wasn’t an easy road to get those tasty tomatoes into our dinner though.
My vision of a garden all started this past spring. It was another cold, rainy, dreary day in Chicago. At that time it seemed it had been raining every day for weeks! After so much time, weather like that started to affect both Mike and my mood and we were feeling a little down. I started thinking towards the summer and needed a project to keep me busy. That’s when the idea of having a garden popped in my head. At dinner that night I excitedly explained my plans to Mike. He was very supportive and on board with my big idea. But he did delicately question my project choice. “Sounds like a great summer project, Kath!” He said, trying to match my enthusiasm. “But, just curious…why are you choosing to grow a garden for your summer project… given your track record with accidentally killing most of our plants in the past?” He said it in the kindest way possible, but we both knew I was a plant serial killer. Not on purpose, of course, but it was the truth. Any plant someone would give me or I’d buy seemed to immediately die in my hands. It was as if my thumbs were poisonous and not green at all.
Anytime my Mom, who basically runs her own house plant hospital, came over to our house I could feel her looking around at my dead plants and judging me. My house was like walking through a plant funeral home to her. “Looks like your plants here could use a little water…want me to give this one a little drink?” She’d say and she walked around frowning at all the houseplant corpses I had. “I DID WATER IT BUT I THINK I ACCIDENTALLY DROWN IT SO JUST LAY OFF, MOM!!” I’d think as I’d watch her judging eyes scanning my plants.
I was determined to prove that I could keep something alive so I told Mike that I was going to, as my Grandma used to say “come Hell or high water” grow us some vegetables that summer. He, as always, offered his support and wanted to know how he could help. But I knew this was something I needed to try do on my own.
As I tell you about my journey, readers should know about a few of my many characters flaws. First, while I am a big “ideas” person, my follow-through could use some work. So when Mike cautioned me to “Maybe start out small” I basically shut him down and shared with him my plans to become a full-time farmer. I was going to grow any vegetable you can imagine, plus pumpkins and watermelon, different herbs and spices, etc. Why would we buy produce at the grocery store when I could grow it in our own backyard! The other thing readers should know is that’s while I come to the table with great project ideas, I tend to procrastinate a bit on starting, sometimes waiting until the last minute. But at this time, I was still riding high from this big project I was excited to start, so the very next day after telling Mike my plans, I went to Menards to check out the garden center and get my supplies. I got in the store, realized all the supplies I needed was in the “outdoor” garden center, and turned right around and left as it was a rather chilly spring day and I did NOT want to be outside looking at plants in the cold springtime weather. I went right home and snuggled up by my space heater and promised myself I’d go back when the weather was slightly warmer. (I mean the wind chill that day- no thanks. It was in the 50s).
A few weekends later Mike was going to Menards so I decided to join him and check out the garden center again since the weather was more conducive to garden center shopping (Unlike my last attempt!) But I ended up getting distracted by the basil section. My soon-to-be Brother-in-Law’s nickname is “Basil” so I had to take some photos with the basil plants and send it to him! It’s not everyday you see basil plants so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share the experience with other Basils!
Most of the month of May I spent telling people about my plans for this amazing garden but not actually doing anything to make it happen. I talked about it to anyone who would listen-at family dinners, Bridal showers I attended, out at the bars. Pretty much everyone in the Chicagoland area knew of my gardening plans. I was taking vegetable requests from people and even told my mom I’d “lease her some of my land” if she wanted to grow some tomatoes of her own after I finished tilling the soil (which I hadn’t started yet).
A few weeks later on a Saturday when Mike was doing yard work I announced that I was going to start clearing my land for my garden. I made a big deal about it, acting like the town crier as I announced to him how I was finally starting work on my garden. If I had a bell I would have been ringing it throughout our backyard as I yapped away to him. Once I was done running my mouth and making myself laugh, I got out a shovel to start digging. Unfortunately for me, the first time that shovel hit the dirt it was like hitting concrete. Yikes! I didn’t say anything at first but in my head I thought “Oh HELLLLL NO! I am NOT dealing with this today!” It was a Saturday and I wasn’t in the mood for all that work and getting dirty. We had plans later and I already washed my hair the night before. (It was not a hair washing shower day for me, only a body washing shower day) But I couldn’t just say that out loud because I knew Mike was watching me with a grin so I turned to him and said, “You know what? On second thought, I think I’ll do this gardening later in the week. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow and the ground will be much softer after that.” And I put down my shovel and went right back inside.
As summers tend to do, the summer days somehow flew by and suddenly we were coming up on the Fourth of July. I had bought vegetable seeds but did no tilling of soil and no planting. I didn’t even have overalls. I’d say my land was barren but it was not, it was full of weeds and other wild plants that I was supposed to clear away in the spring. The vegetable seeds just sat on our kitchen counter starring me in the face every time I walked by.
But, lucky for me, a farming miracle happened. I got together with some old work friends for a little Fourth of July party and one of my friend’s asked how my garden was coming along. When I told her I hadn’t started, she told me her father had a surplus of vegetable plants that he would be happy to give me. All I had to do was plop them in the ground and water them. Talk about winning the vegetable garden lottery! Fast forward a few days and I am having a lovely summer afternoon with my friend Jan and my new friend “Papa” out in his backyard. Papa walked me through his amazing and expansive garden and taught me lots of things about growing vegetables. He then generously gave me all different types of tomato and pepper plants. It was a great day. And it finally lit a fire in me to clear that land and get those vegetables in. I did not want to let Papa down.
Once I got my vegetable plants planted I took VERY special care of them. Full disclosure, there were a few weeks over the summer that the plants did not receive much water due to me “forgetting about my garden” (in my defense, a garden behind the garage is a forgettable location but it was sunny) but I think that made my plants stronger. So really I did them a service. Right around Labor Day my first crop came in. I was over the moon:
I will confess I did get a little jealous when I discovered another tomato farmer in the area, who also happens to be my three year old niece, was yielding more crops than me. But it wasn’t a competition, OK?!
While I think I could make some improvements for next summer’s garden, overall, I’d say my garden project was a huge success this summer. I learned a lot, made a wonderful new friend and even hosted a few farm conferences with some fellow farmers to discuss the challenges of backyard farming:
Unfortunately at the conference we did have one disrespectful Farmer fall asleep during our discussion on the use of Miracle Grow. Clearly she’s in the wrong profession and was just there for the free lunch.
So put in your vegetable requests now, because its official and I am happy to report that after a successful 2022 season, Farmer Kath’s Garden will be returning for the Summer of 2023.