Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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Gittin' Ma Garden On

Me. A flowing country sundress, walking barefoot, the cool, Pennsylvania soil tickling my soles as I tend to my vegetables. Violet and Henry frolic with the dogs and chase Serge as he cuts the grass, the mower humming a happy, summer tune. I stoop to inspect growing peppers, carrots, broccoli, pumpkins, tomatoes and pop a green bean in my mouth.

The reality is pretty much me on a couch, stuffing my face with Doritos. But a girl can dream, dammit!

From my very first visions of moving to rural Pennsylvania, planting a vegetable garden was one of my top three daydreams, right in between sitting on a porch swing and a fenced in backyard for my dogs and babies to roam free.

Now that we've got plenty of porch sittin' under our belts and the fenced in backyard is a reality, it's time to turn our attention to what goes in the backyard. We've got a big backyard.

Big backyard: yay! It's mostly empty. Boo! But that means we get to spend the years to come filling it up. I have dreams of a lush cottage garden. Organized chaos. Trees, bushes, ivy, wildflowers so thick you can't see the fence. Plenty of nooks and crannies for hiding and alone time. A fire pit for backyard campouts and S'mores, a tree swing, a stone path leading out the back gate to the kids' future elementary school.

Like some women plan weddings or parties, I lie in bed at night and plan my backyard. The swing set will go here, the playhouse here, I'll plant a group of trees there. The centerpiece of everything: a big vegetable garden. Would you laugh if I told you I even have fantasies of canning stuff like my grandma did? Okay, all right, wise ass. Stop yer snickering.

We moved here too late in 2011 to really get a garden going. Last year's house fire prevented us from really getting our hands dirty although we did manage to till up a large rectangle of grass where we want the garden to be. When the snow started to fly we covered the soil with a bunch of grass clippings and there it remained, playing host to a neverending weed party (not that kind of weed) until this week when a bunch of warm weather finally allowed us to get outside and start getting the soil ready for planting.

Here's what the garden looked like April 1st:

Henry, who enjoys all manner of weird wildness, is horrified. Even Stevie Nicks is averting her eyes in disgust.

He brought out his lawnmower with the best of intentions but promptly declared he cannot work in such deplorable conditions.

Weather permitting (and Mom Nature hasn't really permitted a whole helluva lot, that fickle bitch) we've spent the past three weekends weeding and shoveling, raking and picking up more rocks than any plot of dirt has a right to contain and here's what it looks like today.

Violet and her shadow dance a sunset jig as the garden starts to look more like a garden.

Even Max is delighted by our progress.

She's been roto-tilled, now we're just waiting on some au naturel fertilizer. Read: manure and some other stuff called Blood Meal. Yup. Just waiting around to put some poop and blood on our garden!

While Serge and I have grown tomatoes and herbs we've never really gone all in. This year we're going all in. Especially now that we're eating vegetarian meals every night of the week. Tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, eggplant, kale, broccoli, jalapenos, green/red peppers, pumpkins, peas, green beans, basil, cilantro, parsley, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries... These are all the fruits and veggies we eat on a regular basis around here so that's this year's goal. I hear potatoes are a really good way to get your garden going but they're so cheap at the store I don't really see the point. What do you think? Are you into vegetable gardening at all? What would you plant? What have you had really good luck with? Do you start seeds inside and move them out or do you sow directly into your garden after the last frost? I think I'm just going to sow directly into the garden this year.

I cannot wait for the summer.

C'mon sunshine. Don't make me sic Stevie Nicks on your ass. Because she will totally cut a bitch. Seen it happen. Ain't pretty.

Don't believe me? Just try and drag cold temps into May and see what happens.

Reader Comments (12)

I start tomatoes and basil inside. I live in zone 9, so this is a January activity for me, with planting in March.

In zone 9 summer growing is limited to tomatoes, peppers and other heat-tolerant things. Greens like lettuce and the coles have to be grown in the late autumn here, but I do sow those directly into the garden.

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

that is a HUGE backyard! fun.

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLC

Grow potatoes! I have great memories of digging them up with my Grandmother when I was a kid. (Also, given that they're grown IN THE DIRT, unless you're buying organic, you're getting all the chemicals and crap that are also in the dirt fairly directly with store-bought potatoes.)

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

I hope you love it! I thought perhaps I would become a gardener when the husband & I bought our first house a couple years ago... and I did not love it. I like to get home from work and SIT in my yard, not get home from work and WORK in my yard. I wish I loved it, but I've accepted that it ain't my cup of Miller Lite.

I do manage to grow kitchen herbs in little pots on the deck, we'll call that a success.

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterleah

There's only two things that money can't buy and that's true love and home grown veggies.(I'm paraphrasing a song lyric here). At any rate, grow the potatoes. You won't believe what a difference in flavor it is!

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatyE

Girl Who,
Do you own the house now? Or are your landlords just the best folks around?

We are tomato freaks and just this past weekend planted 30 plants in raised beds. Yes. 30. Each year we try some new ones and the "tried and true" ones. We even have a notebook w/ the varieties we love and hints for next year. Like: "newspaper mulch worked out great in bed 4" etc.

We also have 6 dwarf peach trees. DEFINITELY get a few. We are battling through peach leaf curl, but I tell you, NOTHING tastes more peachy than one from your tree on a warm summers afternoon. Your kids will thank you for it.


April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGiGi

I don't nearly have the kind of fabulous yard you do (mine is full of trees), so I container garden on the deck, where it gets decent sunshine. I have the best luck with Basil, looseleaf lettuce, green beans, cherry tomatoes, flat-leaf parsley, and serrano peppers. I've tried other things, like eggplants and regular-size tomatoes, but in the container garden world, those bigger veggies can be tricky to pull off. I'm satisfied with what I manage to get: it helps defer some food costs, and there's something super empowering about eating stuff I've grown. :)
I can remember my grandmother's garden when I was small, and helping her in it, snacking on kohlrabi and zucchini. I remember she accidentally grew potatoes in the compost pile now and again.
I am so excited for your kids to have those same memories I have of being small and running around in the garden: there's something magical about growing things.

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterconnie

Good grief Miss Monica, you are totally living my dream. A garden, yes. And it will be something great. Hey my friend grew a garden with these gigantic mutant zucchini and I am SURE she was using manure. I have no idea what you will get with bloodmeal but if that's what the Amish are using to grow their giant kumquats,...on second thought, the bloodmeal scares me. I don't know what you should grow. Whatever you can afford which won't go to waste. I am sure that you will grow so much you could start a stand. I like lots of variety. It's interesting. Fun to watch. I think it is also cool to share with people. But variety is good. Why not? One time I had to buy perennials and I wound up with 35 different varieties for my mom's garden. Anyway, I can't BELIEVE what a gigantic YARD you have. You have to (well not HAVE to) plant a HUGE OAK TREE smack in the center of it all so one day it will grow so big and wide and provide a canopy of shade and a nice place to put a tree house...and a tire swing next to the lake. Oh wait, that's my dream but YOU, my dear are going to do GOOD things, better things with that yard than anyone else can imagine. My goodness...I understand completely how you feel. It's like you have this big blank slate and you can do ANYTHING you like, sort of putting in a Bilankoville, Pennsylvania. I must be in a sugar stupor, sorry but it's just so cool back there. The Main path runs to the center circle around that HUGE OAK. I can send you plenty of that spanish moss to hang from it's branches too...oh man, what a cool place to live. I had no idea it was THAT LARGE a lot. WOW. Okay so I guess I would make a curvy shape around the parameter to plant all of those perennials and flowering bushes like lilac and rhodies and hydrangia and honey suckle yada yada and put those little lights here and there and wood chips or mulch...and bulbs. LOTS and LOTs of bulbs!!!! Every spring they will come up one after another and then the flowers. Okay...I am all wound up over your back yard. I need a life. Ha! So have fun and keep us all posted of course. Canning...yes. That too. All in good time. Fruit trees? I gotta go plan my own garden. Thanks for the inspiration. :)

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

What an awesome yard! Can't wait to see what you guys do there!

We do a small garden every year that's surrounded on three sides by part of our chicken yard (you may want to add some chickens to your backyard plan - fresh eggs, plus their manure is AWESOME for gardens!). I grow everything that I want my daughter to love - green peppers, a mix of wax, green and purple beans, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, sugar snap peas, carrots, green onions, and pumpkins. Oh, and tomatoes....lots and lots of tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes and small yellow and orange tomatoes. I don't grow lettuce - it gets incredibly dirty, and why grow it when I can buy an awesome organic mix at the store for $5/pound? Totally not worth it...too much work for what you get. We grew a few potatoes, too, last year. My daughter LOVED digging those things up. Have FUN!

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

These are awesome tips. Although potatoes would be fun to grow, they're so cheap at the store it doesn't seem worth it. Peppers are always expensive so I want to grow tons of those; green, red, jalapenos, serrano, banana. Eggplant is pricey so I wanna grow a ton of that... The kids are excited to grow carrots which we always use in Indian curries or hummus dipping. We use a lot of broccoli too - anyone have any experience growing broccoli? What about cauliflower?

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheGirlWho

I live in Wisconsin and grew broccoli last year. My dad (has a masters degree in horticulture) wasn't sure it would be any good, but it was. It got a little out of hand, but that was mostly because I have a hard time waiting in between plantings so I wind up with too much ready to be eaten at one time.

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStacy

So exciting! I am totally taking a canning class in June (and dragging my husband with me) so that I can preserve the excess veggies this summer, so I'll nerd out with you if you do it too.

This year, I'm growing: Tomatoes, basil (NOTHING better in this world than picking a little of each from your garden and eating it 5 minutes later), cucumbers, broccoli, zucchini, radishes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, arugula, peas, peppers, and beans. I use compost (I save my scraps all year and compost them, so that by spring I have a heaping pile of amazing soil) and my veggies look like they're nuclear - they get SO BIG that it's a little ridiculous. Your manure/blood meal combo should work well. You've already done the hard work clearing the plot. Just remember to water when it's super hot in the summer and you'll be fine.

I grew broccoli last year and it did great at first, and then these terrible harlequin cabbage bugs got them and destroyed the plants. This year I'm putting some old mesh screens I have around the broccoli to hopefully protect them from the bastards.

April 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKat

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