City Girl Gone Gardening: It’s In The Ground

By Jackie Hollenkamp Bentley

I’ve been trying to think of a catchy first sentence, but, really, the only thing I could come up with is, well, the garden is in. Mostly.

In the few, short years that I’ve been using my backyard as a source for food, I’ve developed some traditions/habits/superstitions. There are a few things I never plant until the Kentucky Derby has run its course and any good Louisvillian knows that is the first Saturday in May. By the end of the following week, I usually have my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans and squash in the ground.

This is what a Roma tomato should look like and, by all that is holy, I pray mine turn out this pretty.

This is what a Roma tomato should look like and, by all that is holy, I pray mine turn out this pretty.

 

But I got a late start. Well, I guess I could blame it on the Derby running on May 2. But, in reality, I can blame it on the Ohio Valley crud. And three kids. And a dog. And writing (I know, cry me a river and all that). Anyways, by May 11, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I was itching to get out back and get my hands dirty. I had made a run to Gagel’s Farm after learning they sell heirloom Roma tomato plants. Those new seeds that I planted a few weeks ago are actually coming up (See Seeds of Patience), but they have been assigned to a different garden that I’ll tell you about next week.

Why heirloom? If a seed packet or plant is labeled “heirloom”, then you can save those seeds and use them the next year … if you can start seeds without killing them. Again, see Seeds of Patience. I’m stubborn and an optimist.

Why Roma tomatoes? They are the best for making all kinds of tomato sauces and salsas. They’re “meatier”, which means the insides are thicker and won’t reduce to thin juices when you cook them down.

After loading up on Advil and Mountain Dew Kickstart, I headed out back. My first order of business was to add compost to the beds.

 

This is what we nerdy Bentley’s call The Death Star. For the past year, we’ve been dumping kitchen scraps, dead plants and grass clippings (not the grass from the backyard, as it’s my dog’s, um, dumping ground). It spins, which speeds up the decomposition and you end up with this nice, black compost that loaded with nutrients and all that good stuff plants love. Plus, it saves me money because I don’t have to buy as much dirt.

I'll use any excuse to show off my nieces and nephews, but their Derby Day digging and throwing actually tilled the bed so it wasn't as difficult digging holes.  And, yes, one of them is eating the dirt. Fortunately, the compost had not been added.

I’ll use any excuse to show off my nieces and nephews, but their Derby Day digging and throwing actually tilled the bed so it wasn’t as difficult digging holes. And, yes, one of them is eating the dirt. Fortunately, the compost had not been added.

 

Once I raked in the compost, I set out the plants to see where they would go.

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The plants sure look puny, but they actually perked up after planting and a lot of watering.

 

 

Then, based on what I’ve learned from the internets, I crushed some egg shells into the hole. The shells are supposed to provide calcium to the plants which tomatoes apparently love.

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After the eggshells, I filled the hole with water and then placed the plant inside after I pulled it out of the container. These particular plants in this bed are hybrid (don’t save the seeds) romas, Big Beef and Mortgage Lifter (I just loved that name so I had to get two plants). The latter two are great for just slicing up and eating raw.

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I put six in this bed and then put the heirloom plants in my fancy, self-watering container my in-laws gave me for my birthday.

You pour water down that black pipe and you can go longer in between waterings. Fancy, ain’t it?

Once my tomatoes were planted, I decided to let cucumbers share their space as they make great companions. That’s something else I learned from the internets.

The next bed holds my jalepeno and banana pepper, along with more cucumber seeds. I didn’t place egg shells in with the pepper plants. We didn’t eat enough eggs that week apparently. But there were eggs in the compost so I’m not too worried about it.

I planted yellow squash in one half of my third bed. The other half holds Kentucky Wonder bush beans. Why bush beans? I’m not a fan of the taste of pole beans and, to me, bush beans seem much easier to grow.

After all that was “put in”, I looked down and realized I still had a packet of zucchini left to plant. I grabbed the base of an old rabbit cage, filled it with whatever dirt and compost I had left and planted them in that.

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The old bed of the late Alex the Bunny. Waste not, want not.

Notice the marigolds in each corner of the beds? My mom said they do a good job in attracting bees, something sorely needed if the plants need pollination. So, that’s like, my entire garden.

Then, for the next week I would check to make sure nothing died yet or it anything sprouted.

 

There’s no better feeling then seeing that first bit of green emerging from the dirt. It may sound silly, but it gives me a burst of confidence that maybe, just maybe, I might be doing something right with this gardening thing.

Oops. I was in the zone so I did not see the Derby Party leftover.

Oops. I was in the zone so I didn’t notice the Derby Party leftover.

 

What’s next on the gardening to do list? I actually do have a couple of plants that survived my seed starting debacle so I want to get them and some herbs in these pretty little containers I painted this week. The grand prize goes to the person who can tell me what they were before I painted them. Put it this way, I take recycling seriously.

I have never, ever claimed to be an artist.

 

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