I love a challenge. I like to challenge myself to try new experiences. Bungee jumping from a hot air balloon? Check! Parasailing in Mexico? Check! Walking across the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina? Check! You get the idea.
My introduction to vegetable gardening started as a challenge, too. I was living in Cross River and invited my friends, Sam and Shari, up from NYC for the day. We drove over to Muscoot Farm and went to a farmers market to give them a “day in the country” experience. At the farmers market, Sam bought six Jet Star tomato seedlings. He planned to grow tomatoes in containers on his high-rise apartment terrace on the lower East Side. I never knew anyone who grew vegetables in pots. “You have a sunny deck,” Sam said to me. “You should try it.”
That was the start of the Tomato Challenge. We morphed into farmer mode and drove to a garden center to buy bags of potting soil and a bale of peat moss to split. I already had a few large plastic pots from long-ago houseplants. We drove back to my house and planted my Jet Star tomato seedlings.
Over the next few days, I was bitten by the gardening “bug.” I spent my lunch hours at the hardware store, selecting seed packets of radishes, small carrots, green beans, dill and sweet basil to add to my deck garden. I bought more pots and more potting soil. Co-workers brought mint cuttings and a melon seedling to add to my expanding container garden. I purchased gardening books and read them from cover to cover.
In our weekly telephone calls, Sam and I compared our tomato seedlings’ progress. “Do you have any white flowers yet?” “Should I use stakes or tomato cages?” “How many green tomatoes do you have on each plant?” There was no money on the table. No official wager. It was just a friendly competition between two novice container gardeners.
I loved the whole process of preparing the soil, planting the seeds and watching everything grow green and healthy. I added photography to the garden project and documented every stage of the tomato plants. New conversations sprang up with neighbors, co-workers and garden center employees only too happy to share their advice and suggestions. All summer long I talked about my vegetables and herbs. I even brought photographs to work.
On sunny weekends toward the end of August, I savored the pleasures of picking a red ripe tomato, kissed by the sun. Before taking a bite, however, I arranged an artful tableau of tomatoes, green beans, radishes and carrots (with just a hint of soil still clinging to the darling root vegetables). I carefully posed these edibles and snapped photographs of tomatoes nestled in wicker baskets. The Tomato Challenge had sparked a life-long love of gardening.
When I moved to South Salem, I had an actual garden plot in the backyard to plant my vegetables and flowers. My Dad helped me on the weekends and we added potatoes, zucchini, melons and many different varieties of tomatoes and beans to the garden. I continued to plant containers of herbs and lettuce on my large deck for the convenience of just stepping outside to snip the salad fixings.
Last week, I stopped by Copia Home & Garden in Vista to ask owners Peter and Jenn Cipriano for a few container garden suggestions. Jenn said that there are new compact hybrid varieties of cucumbers, peppers, potatoes and zucchini perfect for growing in containers. Her favorite tomato varieties are Sungold (cherry tomatoes), Juliet (grape-type tomatoes) and Big Boy (a good slicing tomato).
Now my next gardening challenge will be dealing with the weather!
Kim Kovach is a writer, gardener, baker, photographer, hiker and reader. Please visit her website at kimkovachwrites.com