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Garden Journey 2016, Part 1

Four kinds of tomatoes that I seeded a week ago.

How exciting that they're popping up!

For the last several years, two months before planting season, I’ve turned my guest bedroom into a temporary grow room. The bed and antique ice box and sewing cabinet that serve as nightstands are replaced with a plastic folding table, a fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling, and a circulating fan and space heater. My goal is to create a lovely and warm environment to sprout vegetable, herb, and flower seeds...and then an optimal one for when those seeds turn into plants.

It can be a small production. There are a few cons, to be sure. During April and May, there is not a lot of room for guests to stay overnight. The electric bill increases about $30 a month. Also, our water is so alkaline that before I give it to the plants, I have to check the pH with a monitor and add citric acid bit by bit until it is within a perfect range; otherwise, I risk killing the veggies. Finally, there was one tense moment last year when a sheriff’s helicopter flew above the house checking for thermal output…you know, in case I was growing “other things”.

It’s also a lot of work that only increases as the weather becomes warmer. But it’s worthwhile work. I’ve learned that I have virtually no control when it comes to the plants and Mother Nature but what I can control is indispensable. I can buy heirloom, non-GMO seeds for not a lot of money. Each year, I can try growing things I’ve never grown before. This season, I’m growing poblano peppers, tomatillos, Lacinato kale, and a few new-to-me varieties of tomatoes, sweet peppers, and eggplants. I also get to choose the food I give the plants. Rather than chemical fertilizers that personally affect my breathing, I feed the plants good things like molasses, fish, and Mycorrhizae (beneficial fungi). Their roots and leaves grow strong before they’re ever transplanted into the garden beds. The beds themselves contain high-quality organic compost and seasoned cow manure. And every year, I rotate what I grow in a bed so as not to overtax the soil.

I do all of this because food—the quality, the taste, how it’s grown—is important to me. I have become intimately connected to my food. It’s no longer something that I just pick up at the market or restaurant. I’m fully invested in it. I'll dance a little jig and call my husband when the seeds start to sprout. Or I'll cry a few frustrated tears when lush and seemingly healthy plants suddenly die. It is simply Nature and I am a small, humble and yet, mighty part of it. Whether the garden gives me fresh tomatoes that I slice and sprinkle with sea salt; or green beans that I blanch and marinate in soy sauce, molasses, red peppers, and garlic; or jars of dried pinto and black beans that will get me through the winter: all of these have come to be because I helped. Because I have offered love, thoughtfulness, sweat, bug bites, sunburn, and long body-exhausting days for my family's food. This connection is simply powerful.

Here is the first part of this year’s Garden Journey.

Deconstructing the guest bedroom.

Grow room. The light fixture has 8 bulbs and costs about $100.

I use seed starting pellets. They're flat disks that expand in water and provide a safe cocoon for the seeds to start growing. The top tray has four kinds of tomatoes and four kinds of peppers. They were seeded on March 31st.

The bottom tray has three varieties of eggplants, basil, sage, parsley, and marigolds (a great rabbit and deer deterrent). They were seeded on April 3rd.

The basil and one marigold are already growing! Time to dance a little jig!

Stay tuned for more of this year's Garden Journey!

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