Archive for April, 2009

My garden

My dad has had a vegetable garden every year as far back as I can remember. When Mason and I were house-hunting, one of my requirements was that the house have a yard big enough for me to put a garden in. One of the reasons I liked the house we eventually bought was that the previous owners had already created a raised bed for a tree rose garden. Unfortunately, they were not so adept at growing treen roses and by the time we moved in, all five had a fungus, so I didn’t feel too guilty about pulling them up and replacing them with my beloved veggies.

This year I got a later start than usual due to the unusually cold weather in March. Then I lost a few plants after a late April freeze, but after replacing them everything is going just peachy. Except for a current battle with fire ants, but I will prevail.


Here’s the whole thing. It’s a 16×16 bed. I put a row of stones in the middle to minimize the amount of walking I have to do in the garden itself.


In the front we have herbs (basil, thyme, oregano, mint, and chives), four types of tomato (Celebrity, Green Zebra, large red cherry, and Cherokee Purple), and jalapenos.


In the back we have cucumber, zucchini, canteloupe, and three kinds of sweet pepper.


This is my first veggie of the season, a baby jalapeno. I have three plants and will have more jalapenos than I know what to do with, so let me know if you need some.


Here’s my Celebrity tomato plant. Celebrities are what you think of when you think of grocery-store tomatoes — big and red. I planted a cherry tomato plant b/c I love them and b/c they grow quickly. I should be able to harvest some in a month or so. I also planted two heirloom varieties, a green and a purple, because I love how they taste. And they’re kinda cool-looking.


My zucchini. I’ve never grown zucchini before, but I’ve done cucumbers and they are pretty similar in terms of how they grow, so I’m not too worried.

Some people have asked me how to start a vegetable garden. Here’s the rundown.

1. Pick a spot in your yard that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. This is very important. Most veggies you want to grow need full sunlight (defined as at least 6 hours per day). They won’t die without this amount, but you won’t get much of a yield, and it won’t be worth the effort.

2. Add compost (unless you have perfect soil). If you live in central Texas, you do not. Ideally, you’d add in 6 inches of compost for a new garden, but that can get kinda pricey, so add in what you can and just add more each year. I recommend finding a local nursery that you can get bulk compost from. It’s much cheaper than buying it in bags. Try to level the compost throughout your garden using a dirt rake. Use this calculator to figure out how much compost you need.

3. Rent a roto-tiller and till up everything. You want it all mixed together. Level with a dirt rake.

4. The hard part is over! Now you get to plant your plants. This should be pretty easy. A few things: If you plant tomatoes, bury about 80% of the stems. Tomatoes can grow roots out of their stems, so burying the young plants helps them grow stronger by instantly helping them grow a great root system. Also, I would go ahead and buy tomato cages and put them up around your tomatoes. If you wait till they are big enough to need caging, it’ll be hard to get the cages in the ground. Also, you can put cages or other support systems up around cucumbers, zucchini, and the like. The plants will grow up the trellises and the veggies won’t lay on the ground and become bug food.

5. Once you have everything planted, it’s a good idea to use a liquid root starter to water in your plants. Miracle Gro makes one, but I use Maxicrop liquid seaweed. You just mix with water and go. This helps prevent transplant shock (when plants die after you move them to the garden) by giving them a boost of nutrients.

6. If you want, at this point you can lay down a drip hose. This is a porous hose that runs right next to your plants and delivers water directly to the plants. You can plug your garden hose into it to water your plants. Much more efficient than a normal sprinkler.

7. Mulch. Seriously. You can use compost again, but it’s pricey, like I said. I get bags of cedar mulch. Spread it out evenly. You want 2-3 inches of mulch. This keeps weeds out.  If you don’t mulch, you will pay with a ton of weeds.

8. After all this, it’s just maintenance. Check your plants for bugs and other bad stuff daily. Water about once a week, more if it’s really hot. Stick your finger in the soil and check the moisture to tell if you need to water — it should be damp about an inch down. Fertilize with a high-nitrogen fertilizer every 1-2 weeks. I use Miracle Gro tomato fertilizer.

9. Enjoy your home-grown veggies. You have not tasted a tomato until you’ve tasted a home-grown tomato.

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Monday was the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. I was a senior in high school when it happened and, incidentally, a faithful subscriber to Time magazine. A week or so after the shootings, I received my issue of Time and came across this column on the back page.

I wanted to share it with you because in this age of get-the-news-out-as-quickly-as-possible writing, there are still some masterful examples of good writing out there, and this column remains one of the best pieces I’ve ever read. When it came out, I was getting ready to go to college and was registered as a chemistry major with pre-med intentions. A short while later, I changed my major to journalism and never looked back. I’m not kidding when I say that I was incredibly inspired to do so by Roger Rosenblatt’s piece. I thought of it every time I tackled a feature article, and I shared it in my senior-year column writing class with my fellow classmates.

I admit that a big reason I love this column so much was that I was the same age as Rachel Scott. She would have graduated that year, just like me. She was a writer, like me, and we both had younger brothers. I felt a deep, personal connection to her and to the shootings. Maybe you won’t be as touched as I was, but I hope you can still appreciate it. Let me know what you think.

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