Lessons from the Garden ... or Not

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SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 11:  A row of lettuce is seen at the City Hall Victory Garden August 11, 2008 at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, California.  Slow Food Nation and City Slickers Farms in West Oakland have planted a quarter acre edible 'Victory Garden' in the Civic Center Plaza across from San Francisco City Hall. The garden will be  harvested in mid-September with all of the vegetables donated to local food banks and food programs.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

My name is Mir, and I'm a vegetable gardener. Rather, I want to be a gardener. I mean, I garden. I do. But I have no idea what I'm doing.

I remember learning to cook. "If you can read, you can cook!" my mother always told me. I found that to be true; if you were willing to read a recipe, follow directions, and pay attention, it certainly seemed like anyone could be a successful cook. I figured growing food was probably a lot like cooking in that regard. So I started by doing a little bit of research.

A few years ago, I planted just a few things. Herbs, mostly, to kind of ease myself into it. I discovered which easy-to-grow edibles tend to thrive in containers, and tried a few of them, with varying degrees of success. Our modest harvest from that first year convinced me that, with preparation and vigilance, I could tend to a real garden.

The following year, I read up on square foot gardening and how to plant in raised beds. My husband put together planter boxes for me and I planned out our harvest. Of course, I had no idea how huge those zucchini and squash plants would get... or that they would throttle everything in their path. Oops. I didn't realize my creeping cucumber vines -- unable to find purchase within their tight confines in the box -- would wind here and there and give birth to oddly-shaped round monstrosities. I'd never heard of a tomato horn worm when I began (really, don't Google that unless you have a strong stomach), and found myself shocked at the heroic lengths to which I was willing to go to rescue my backyard 'maters.

At the end of last summer, I had a freezer full of Roma tomatoes and green beans and homemade pesto. I figured it was a good year, though I wasn't sure how much of a part my efforts had truly played in that success.

This summer, I figured I was an old hand. We put up trellises for the cucumbers and for the beans; the former, to keep the cukes off the ground, this time, and the latter because last year's bean windfall had dangled precariously from twine we'd strung in a hurry between the bean poles. I was ready with our homemade compost, diatomaceous earth to keep the bugs away, and what I thought was a measure of gardening acumen based upon the prior two seasons.

Well. The yellow squash plants died a mysterious death fairly early in the season. I have no idea why. And while one mighty zucchini plant remains -- and my freezer is stocked with zucchini bread -- no more zucchini seem to be forthcoming. Why? Beats me.

The cucumbers are loving the trellis, and we are loving the fresh cucumbers. But the last two I picked had bugs. Ugh.

For the third year in a row, my attempts to grow spinach have failed. We have rabbits, and that's all I think I need to say about that.

The beans have grown and flowered and the vines are a profusion of life ... except for the part where they actually, you know, produce beans. I see bees over there all the time, too. I have no idea why they're not producing.

The snap peas, which I decided to try for the first time this year, fought bravely against an influx of aphids earlier in the season. They struggled back to health just in time to be choked out by the bean vines. Oops?

Every single pepper plant I've nurtured and cheered on has been eaten up except for one, which currently sports a single bell pepper the size of a shot glass. I would be lying if I didn't admit I'm sorely tempted to pick it now before it dies.

My tomato plants are actually looking really good, though I have yet to get an edible tomato. I planted a bit late this year and now I wait to see if the fruit is just late or if something is wrong.

This was supposed to be the year I could swagger out to the garden and gesture to enough food to feed an army and smugly declare, "Yep, I grew that." Okay, that's not going to happen. But surely I can learn from this year's problems? Well, I'm not sure what I should learn. The failures and successes alike are mysteries to me.

This was also supposed to be the year I would learn how to can. Now, unlike the actual growing of the food, canning is something I still believe you can do if you can read. So maybe in order to make that part of my fantasy come true, I'll just need to hit the Farmer's Market for the food first. Hmph.

Other Gardeners Weigh In on the Fruits of Their Labors

Debiclegg at Connecting the Dots in my Garden Spot found a surprise in her garden.

Swirlz at radicalmontreal continues to document her adventures in urban organic gardening.

Robin (a.k.a. The Gardener of Eden) checks in with a progress report that has me jealous of her peppers.

Angela of Quarter Acre Cottage does a great job of explaining the wonder of watching seeds become actual food.

Jessica of One Shiny Star is growing the kind of zucchini legends are made of, for real.

Emily of Live Renewed tallies up the lessons from her first year of gardening.

And at eating from the garden you can snag some wonderful summer salad recipes you can likely make with ingredients you grew yourself!

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir is dreaming of fresh tomatoes. She blogs near-daily about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and posts all day long about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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