Vegetable gardening for beginners

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When Jonah and I went to the greenhouse a month or so ago to buy plants for the pots on our patio, I decided to pick up some tomato plants as well. For a year or so I’ve been interested in starting a small vegetable garden. They have one at the kids’ preschool and the twins eat cherry tomatoes off of the plants like they’re candy, and the other day Vivi came home from school with a small carrot in a dixie cup full of muddy water and could hardly wait to eat it. I thought that it would be rewarding to share the process of growing your own food with the kids and, if I’m being honest, it probably fulfills a small piece of my desire to raise the kids on a screen-free Montana homestead.

I made the rookie gardener mistake of putting roughly eight tomato plants into a tiny fish-shaped pot that they would outgrow in a matter of weeks. Once I looked up the variety and saw that they could grow to be enormous, I realized they would need a new home, and quickly. I started watching sections of the yard throughout the day (by dropping a couple of colorful plastic dinosaurs in a spot or two) to see how many hours of sun each received. We have a very shady yard that isn’t exactly built for “full sun” gardening, but eventually I found a spot that I thought would receive just enough sun to make it work.

My parents came back to town a couple of weeks ago so I asked my mom if she would join us on a field trip to the greenhouse. The first time we’d gone Jonah had begged me for a fairy house, but I told him no and suggested that perhaps Gigi would take him when she returned to town. Just as I’d suggested he got his fairy house that day, and brought it home and set it up near the perennial garden, building a nest beneath it for the unicorn and dragon that his brother and sister chose.

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I picked up a few vegetable plants (cucumbers, red peppers, zucchini) and a couple of seed packets as well (carrots and beets) and figured that the tomatoes would probably need a good bit of the garden real estate. It was nearly 100 degrees out that weekend, so I waited until this weekend to start digging up grass. My parents came over at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday with tools and extra hands to make this little dream of mine a reality.

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My mom picked up the digging where I’d left off the previous day, and my dad let Jonah help cut boards and screw them together to make a frame for the 4′ x 8′ garden bed.

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My mom helped me to pick out the right kind of soil (and taught Vivi that it wasn’t “dirt”, it was “soil” so I laughed when I heard her sharply correct Jude a bit later). The kids enjoyed moving it around and breaking up chunks, but they were mostly over it by the time I was doing the planting.

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I loved the whole process so much. While I was out there planting I felt like Nici Holt Cline. It’s entirely possible (and likely, if you ask my neighbor) that the deer will eat all of it, but I keep telling myself that I’ll never know if I don’t try.

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I’m not going to lie, not every moment of the weekend was magical and homestead-y. Kristin was away at a yoga retreat in Connecticut and I lost my patience with the kids a lot. I was more than ready for bedtime, but at 7:00 when Jonah told me that he really wanted playtime with me, I started to feel guilty for having spent so much time in the garden all weekend long. I offered to push them on the tree swing for a few minutes before they got into PJs, and everyone was thrilled. I love that it’s something that they can enjoy together and that it gets us all outside.

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I’m excited to see what grows and what doesn’t and to learn through trial and error along with the kids. At the very least I know that they’ll be excited about watering, and hopefully eating the spoils.

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