Grow Your Own: 5 Lessons from Our First Garden

5 Lessons from Our First Garden | This American House

Now that the temperatures are starting to fall and most of the “crops” have been harvested, it seems like a good time to look back on the lessons learned from our first year gardening. For city boys I think we had a pretty respectable season. But there are plenty of ways we can improve for next year.

We kept it pretty simple for our first garden. Even though they’re not very aesthetically pleasing, we kept the raised beds and concrete blocks that the previous owners left behind. We were so overwhelmed with all of the other landscaping this spring that it didn’t seem like a good idea to start from scratch with the garden. We both hate those blocks with a passion but they did make it easier for two novices to feel like they know what they’re doing. That said, the blocks are coming up this year! We’re going to start fresh with one big garden plot next spring.

Speaking of next spring, it’s going to be a much different planting experience. This year we were faced a garden that had been unattended and hadn’t been cleaned out at the end of the season. It was covered in a mass of leaves, dead plants and weeds, weeds, weeds. We’re already prepping the garden the next year. We’ve started pulling plants out of the beds and, as we do, we’re also taking up all the concrete blocks. We kept up on the weeds this year and we’ve started putting organic matter on the entire garden plot. Here’s hoping that next year we have rich, healthy soil.Looking Back on Our First Garden | This American House

But enough about next year, let’s look at what learned this year.

Lesson #1: Better planning would help. We planted two beds of potatoes, one bed of onions, one bed of green beans, three tomato plants, a row of beets and some carrots. It was all very haphazard. I bought the seed potatoes and onions early in the season so they went into the ground first. And then as we would pick up other seeds and seedlings we’d fit them into one of the empty beds. Next year we should start earlier and really map out the garden – especially since we won’t have the raised beds.

Lesson #2: Sometimes weeds are actually plants. The carrots that I planted never made it to harvest. In fact, I’m not even sure they made it past seedling stage. Thanks to some overzealous weeding early in the summer, the carrots were pulled out and composted. Oops.

Lesson #3: Starting indoors might be easier. We wouldn’t have lost the carrots if I had started them indoors. Placing seedlings in the ground will make it easier to know which little sprouts are plants and which are weeds. Since I dumped the carrot seeds into a bed that was also very weedy, they were bound to be pulled up before they got a chance to grow.

Lesson #5: It’s easier than it seems. Even in our bungling way, and despite many weeks when the garden went completely unattended, we grew food. We definitely have a lot to learn but it’s good to know that it’s not all that difficult to garden. That said, I’m glad we don’t have to live solely on what we grow!

Lesson #5: The food you grow is the tastiest. I’ve never liked tomatoes. I mean, I don’t hate them but I’ll skip past tomatoes when I’m dressing a hamburger or whatever. But when it comes to the tomatoes that came out of our garden, I want to put them on everything! They’re that delicious! There’s something about growing your own food that makes it taste all the better.

We have a long way to go before we’re gentlemen farmers, but I think we’re well on our way. Happy harvesting, folks!

Images: This American House

Travel Back in Time on a Vintage Pullman Train

The Varsity Pullman Train | This American House

Speaking of the romance of train travel, here’s a chance to experience the glory days of riding the rails. Over three dates in October, you can board a mid-century style Pullman train in either Chicago or Madison and experience rail travel the way it was meant to be – stylish and romantic. The $199 “diamond class” fare includes a chef prepared made to order meal and beverages (including spirits!). There’s also a $99 standard class fare, with snacks and beverages available for purchase.

Having traveled with the masses on a standard Amtrak train, which felt akin to riding a Greyhound bus, I’d love to try out this first class train experience. The website shows passengers dressed in their finest. Let’s hope that encourages folks to ditch the flip flops and shorty shorts in favor of more tasteful attire.

Check out the Travel Pullman site for more information on riding the Varsity line.

Image: Travel Pullman