I have fond memories of my childhood backyard garden. My parents grew it all – beans, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, they even tried watermelons and pumpkins.
There was nothing better than a side of freshly-picked, steamed broccoli with dinner, or a pot of my mom’s spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove, made from tomatoes right out of the garden.
My husband also grew up with a backyard garden, so we decided to clear space in our own (small) yard and try our hand at miniature-scale farming. It’s a good family activity, and Sophie and Annabelle enjoy helping to choose the vegetables we’ll plant. It has become a family ritual to go out to a local garden center around Mother’s Day, wander through the displays, and pick our favorite plants.
In the four years we’ve been gardening, we have yet to get consistent results. Some years, we’ve had enough rain that we didn’t need to water much; other years, the girls have the fun of watering the garden in the evenings, which sometimes turns into watering each other! (Hey, it’s summer, that can substitute for their bath, right?)
We’ve planted tomatoes every year, since they’re the foundation for spaghetti and chili and a lot of other family favorites. And while tomatoes tend to quickly dominate the garden, their growth process has varied. One year, the plants sprouted up quickly, but it took a while to get actual tomatoes. The past two years, they developed right away, but have taken forever to ripen. The girls like to check each evening to see if any are changing color or are red enough to pick.
Growing peppers has also produced mixed results. The first year, we got one lone pepper. The girls checked it dutifully every night to see if it was turning orange, since it was supposed to be a red pepper, but it took until late summer to see the first streaks. This year, oddly enough, the plants sprouted flowers right away but did not grow to be very tall, and the peppers are mysteriously short and squat.
Our next-door neighbor experiments with the hottest varieties of peppers, with far better results. This summer, one set of plants was attacked by bugs, so he moved the others to the front flower bed, where they took off. Bonus: they’re very colorful – the peppers are in various stages of purple, red and yellow – and the girls are fascinated with the range of colors, which they see every time we get in our car.
We accidentally got spaghetti squash one year, and that didn’t work out very well. Cucumbers fared better, but their usefulness is limited. Oh, and I’m pretty sure we have a rogue pumpkin plant that sprouted out of last year’s jack-o-lantern we composted next to flowers.
And then there’s the zucchini.
We tried growing zucchini last year, since it’s a favored vegetable with many uses. The girls enjoy searching for the fruit hidden under the large leaves. The vines grew and spread quickly, and we got a few zucchinis early on, then they petered out. There were some late-blooming flowers, and we all got excited for a rebound, but no actual zucchinis appeared. This year, we must have accidentally dropped steroids in the soil, because the zucchinis keep growing and growing. And they’re HUGE. We just harvested one about the size of a newborn baby. I’m not even sure what to do with it – some people make zucchini boats, this would make a zucchini ocean liner.
Do you have a backyard garden? I’d love to hear what your results have been. Oh, and if you have any suggestions for the monster zucchini, send them my way.