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  • Writer's pictureRose of Sharon DeVos

Three Things I learned in 2021 About Starting My Gardens

In Chicago, the weather is teasing us with the promise of Spring. We had one glorious day in early March where the thermometer crept above 60 degrees, and I rushed outside to tend to my beds. I had forgotten the sheer pleasure of sun on my back and focused on the soil as I pulled up old vines and contemplated how to arrange my gardens this year. Of course, the next day it snowed. I've learned so much in the last few years of gardening in my raised beds. Here are a few things that will shape my plans this year:

1) Everything gets bigger than I think it will.

My squash and zucchini looked so lonely when I planted them - little mounds with 3 seeds each, over a foot apart. They got so big they ran between my beds and well into my yard. I planted my tomatoes with the thought "I'll put a trellis in later. I have lots of time." Only to have them jump out of the ground overnight and take over before I have them a place to go. This year I'm going to build my trellis right when I plant my seeds. It's going to be very high! My goal is to pick my veggies up in the air, not on the ground. As I pulled up the old vines I started thinking about what will be going in each bed. I'll have one for peppers - all varieties, one for tomatoes, a salad garden, zucchini, and squash, but wait - I loved the red leaf cabbage, radishes and I want carrots... I actually don't have a plan yet, but at least I'm thinking about it!

2) I don't really need to start everything as seeds inside my house.

It's March, and I've started adopting houseplants in my effort to green things up. It's tempting to start my little seeds without even a plan for how I'm going to fit it all in my beds, or how early I am in my plan right now. Larger seeds like cucumber, zucchini, and squash seemed to do much better when they were planted right after the first frost. It didn't do them much good to start early. They spring up and get going quickly. I really need to stay focused on the calendar and not get ahead of myself. Also, since I really prefer a lot of variety, and don't need many plants for a large harvest, I'm probably better off just buying plants after the frost.

3) I need to think about eating what I plant more.

I'm ashamed to say, but a lot of wonderful garden-grown food went to waste last year. There's something psychological about plenty - I didn't seem to want to eat what I had tons of. Oh, when it first came in, I was thrilled to eat that juicy tomato and cook up a tender young squash. It was wonderful! But as the season progressed, I stopped milling about in my garden, and it took on a wild look of plenty. I stopped thinking about better ways to preserve, freeze, and most importantly COOK tasty dishes for my family. Somehow veggies are at the very bottom of the desirable food chain. I want to spend more time this year learning how to make appetizing dishes from all the fresh things I grow.

Go ahead and start dreaming about your garden. Mark out where you want it to be if you don't have one already. Browse the seed catalogs, read the blogs on gardening. But hold on Chicago, it's still a little early. But it's going to be wonderful!

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