I grew up in the city. (There's 50,000 people in Bellevue, OK? It counts!)
The closest I came to country living as a kid was listening to Garth Brooks on the radio. But lately, I've been itching to break away from my urban roots and grow a garden, thanks to my best friend Megan Kolarik.
Megan has one in her backyard. She grows tomatoes, onions, radishes, cucumbers, beans, potatoes, lettuce, peppers, squash and peas. She even looks after a potted blueberry plant like a doting mother. She inherited her dad's green thumb.
Dave Kolarik lives in Bellevue but grew up on a farm in Kansas, surrounded by rows of soybeans, fields of golden wheat and a few cows, or “mooers” as he calls them. His mom tended a small vegetable garden, too.
Turns out, you can take the guy out of the farm but you can't take the farm out of the guy. The thriving garden in his backyard is proof of that.
He's helping me discover my green thumb and start my own garden. According to a 2009 National Gardening Association survey, I'm joining the ranks of 36 million households that participate in a food garden — growing vegetables, fruit, berries or herbs.
» I'll eat more vegetables if I grow them myself.
» I'll know my food is organic and fresh — and it will taste better, too.
» I'll save money. Most people spend $70 on their gardens each year, the survey shows. That number drops to $53 if you grow only vegetables. One man (Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International) saved $2,000 gardening instead of buying his produce.
» I'll spend more time outdoors and less time on my bum. (Bonus: Did you know gardening for 15 minutes burns around 100 calories?)
Project “Smaller Grocery Bill,” as I'm calling it, officially kicked off almost three weeks ago. Dave pulled up in his pickup, carrying seed packets, a few baby plants that had already started to sprout leaves and a tiller, a machine that unearths grass and the soil beneath it.
Things got off to a rough start. The tiller wouldn't start, and I don't own a hoe. (I'm from the city, remember!) So we dug five shallow holes in the dirt behind my house and stuck in three tomato plants — the most popular garden vegetable — and two pepper plants. I watered them until a pool of brown liquid surrounded each one.
Voila, day one done.
The seeds waited a couple more days. He arrived around dusk, this time with wooden boards and bags of potting soil. In short order, we — OK, mostly he — created two 4-foot-by-4-foot boxes and laid them side by side next to the already-planted tomatoes and peppers. Then we piled dirt and manure directly onto the grass and planted the seeds: zucchini, peas, radishes and lettuce. We added a cucumber plant and onions to the mix, too.
Following his advice, I filled the seed packets with a little dirt and stuck them directly in the garden box, near the edge. That way, I won't forget what is growing where.
Within a week, rabbits had discovered my small plot and gnawed one tomato plant to the ground. Luckily, most of my crop hadn't sprouted, so it stayed hidden and uneaten. We put up a fence in short order to keep out any critters with an appetite for fresh veggies. It worked, too: I've seen many a rabbit approach the fence and impatiently turn away.
It's been a little more than two weeks since seed met soil, and I'm happy to report that it now looks more like a garden than a sandbox. Radish leaves and onion shoots are sprouting. The plants are flowering. But no edible produce yet.
So in the meantime, I'll water, I'll weed and I'll twiddle my green thumbs.
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