This past winter I was sick for a week.  Whenever I am ill, I take the opportunity to look through garden books that I may not have yet, since I’m forced to stay in bed.  My husband gave me the Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver and after sifting its pages, I was inspired to expand my veggie garden in the spring.

My history with vegetable gardening is not the best.  My first love is flowers, so I’ve never really had that desire to grow my own.  Also, I know how complicated vegetable gardening can be in Florida.  I have made some attempts, but my yield was never much.  Most likely it was because I did not make a real effort.  I would just throw some seeds out there and hope for the best.  I think many people who love vegetable gardening are those who like to be needed because a vegetable garden will need you constantly.

A misconception about being a horticulturalist is that people instantly think you know a lot about growing vegetables.  Not hardly.  We leave that to the agriculturalists.  In my training I was taught not one thing about vegetables.  Maybe except that potatoes are considered a tuber and that tomatoes are actually a fruit.  We begin as does everyone…by trial and error.

I had one small raised bed of veggies last year, but only got a couple of tomatoes and one teeny tiny yellow squash.  It had turned out that I planted “determinate” tomatoes, which produce all their fruit early.  I planted too late.  I had big gorgeous plants, but no tomatoes.  My squash plants were defeated by the vine borers.

After researching in more detail the inner workings of tomatoes, I decided to plant both “determinate” and “indeterminate” varieties.  In case you are not familiar, the “indeterminate” will keep producing continuously through the season.  However, they need something to grow on since they are a vine.  A tomato cage will most likely not be enough.  I never buy tomato seeds because they take so long.  I bought small plants: 3 ‘Celebrity’, 3 ‘Better Boy’, and 1 ‘Brandy Wine’ heirloom.

Then I decided before buying any other seeds I would research which varieties would best suit our area, which is something else I never did before.  My selections were:  ‘Kentucky Wonder’ Pole Beans, ‘Texas 40’ Cream Peas, and whatever hot peppers my husband wanted.  He’s really excited because he has ‘Ghost’ peppers growing out there, which he checks on daily.  I love to see him getting so involved in the garden, but I can’t help notice how more interested he has become since the veggies came on the scene.  He would notice when large flowers would bloom, but not much else.  Now he comes to tell me exactly how many tiny flowers he has on his pepper plants.

I had been watching how the sun was really lighting up one spot in the back yard, so that was where I decided we would build the new addition.

I weeded out the area and Vito built the structure for the raised bed.

To conserve space I planted the determinate tomatoes in pots (only had 3) since they would not last all season anyway.  We still had the other raised bed, which was planted with the beans, cream peas, and hot peppers.  In the new bed, Vito placed 4 very long bamboo stakes in the ground to tie the tomato plants on as they grew.  He found the bamboo on craig’s list.  He used the mallet to really get the stakes in the ground in case of wind.  We planted the little babies and they grew!

Unfortunately, not much time had went by and we started to see caterpillars on the plants.  I had never seen so many caterpillars on one plant in my life.  It was ridiculous.  I immediately started to resent these plants since they were having more problems in only a month when I’ve had perennials for years that have never had such difficulty.  I am organic, so everyday we would simply pick them all off.  It seemed like an uphill battle.  However, now it seems that the problem is more under control.

Of course our garden puppy Coach helped with the veggie garden.  After all of our hard work, yesterday we harvested our first few tomatoes.

I’m already getting nervous that this will be our only harvest.  To celebrate, I will be making a fresh tomato sauce with basil while Vito will cook up some homemade pasta.  Even with all of its extra work, I am beginning to see why so many love to grow their own vegetables.

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