Gardening For Fun and Food!

I have been planting a garden every year since I first met my wife, usually to very dismal results. After ten years of trying, I finally learned a few things about gardening and actually getting fruit and vegetables to come forth out of the garden. It took a few life lessons of trial and error, okay a decade of trial and error to get it right. But this time the bounty was plentiful, and now we know the secrets involved to getting it right.

As many of you know, we recently moved to a small farm in rural central Illinois. Smack dab in the middle of corn country. God and the universe has blessed us tremendously. So being out in the middle of nowhere, we were faced with having to minimize our trips into the city for groceries and supplies. Thus, another garden was planned. This time, though, I began the planning back last fall. It started with research. What should we plant? Where should we locate the garden? What will grow here? What can we grow that we can actually use, eat and enjoy? What can we grow that the kids will eat? How big does the garden need to be? What kind of treatments are needed for the soil? Where do we buy seeds? What kind of bugs attack plants in this area? How hot are the summers? Will we have to water or irrigate or is there enough annual rainfall? What kind of pests can we expect? What about wildlife? These are the questions I wanted to answer long before the time came to till the soil or plant any seeds.

In my first gardening experiences, we lived in Texas north of Dallas in the town of Flower Mound. Suburbs. There my garden beds were usually very small, never more than five feet by ten feet. The problems there were the soil and the heat. Each year I would have to get a truck load of soil delivered once I had the bed dug out. This was not a bad deal, no tilling the soil. Once delivered we were ready to make rows and plant. But the problems I experienced there were the heat and bugs. I normally would plant tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons and cucumbers. Things I knew we would consume if I could get them to grow. The first year was a total wash. I planted cheap seeds from the dollar store and the heat killed most of everything early in the summer. It is really hot in Texas. Even though I watered everyday and treated for bugs, I never bothered to find out what kind of bugs were a problem there so I was using a shotgun effect with Ortho products. Never produced anything edible. The cantaloupes died early, never even got a watermelon or anything else. So the next year I ordered my seeds from Burpee and did more research on the pest subject and found that the bugs that were a problem there were weevils. Evil weevils. So I treated for weevils early and actually got a few cantaloupes and a few very small watermelons. Hardly worth all the effort and expense I was putting into it each year. Never got any tomatoes at all. I also found out that I was watering the plants but even though I was having garden soil delivered, I was not adding any nutrients to the soil, just hoping the soil was good enough to grow in the way it was. Then we moved to Mississippi.

My new gardens in Mississippi were much different. The first year or two we had to relearn the issues with bugs and soil again. So my first garden there did okay, I had spiked the ground in the fall with fertilizer spikes and actually tilled the soil. Though my garden was still only ten by five, it actually faired much better. Not any less heat, but much more humidity and I watered with a timer and sprinkler. Had planted strawberries, tomatoes, jalapeno, cantaloupe, watermelons and bell peppers. I actually had some growth that year. Unfortunately no one told me about turtles. Box turtles to be exact. They destroyed my strawberries, I think we only got to eat two or three the whole season. The turtles also laid waste to the cantaloupes and watermelons, long before they were big enough to say we had cantaloupes. We did however get a few peppers. Apparently they would not eat those. So the next year I built a fence around the garden. The answer to that issue at least. I also planted other herbs along with the garden to throw off the bugs and other critters. Finally we were getting somewhere. A decent harvest of three or four good sized watermelons and several cantaloupes My wife still frowned on it all saying as much time and money that I spent for those few melons, I could have got them at Kroger on sale for less than ten dollars. I was ready to give up the hobby all together.

Then last year we moved here to corn country, the richest soil on earth. As I indicated earlier, this time I planned out the garden way in advance. Did not want to leave anything to chance this time. So I got online and researched the area, I also went into town and spoke to a few locals about their gardening experiences. This was key, by the way. Here apparently it is the Japanese Beetles and the fungus that gets to the produce. The local farmers also told me where to buy my seeds and what to use to prevent the bugs they warned me about. Being in the country now, the biggest issue was rabbits, squirrels and bugs, so we set out to design our garden with all of these things in mind. More on this article to come....