Ruby red tomatoes bursting with flavor, spritely spring onions, and deep leafy greens standing tall – that’s how I imagined my vegetable garden would look. Full and lush, producing a fresh salad every day.
In reality, it’s more like dirt, dirt, dirt, and a few hardy stragglers.
My first foray into planting a vegetable garden in containers on my porch was a flop – but at least I know why.
Spring Comes Early
The planting season always comes early where I live in Texas, but this year it came particularly early. Winter was nothing but a puff of cool winds and a handful of coat-worthy days. By the first of February, I could already feel the springtime around the corner – and with it, the desire to plant flowers, grow vegetables, and get knuckle-deep into dirt.
Although it felt like spring, there’s always a chance of a winter snap or even a storm that drops well below freezing, well into March. I decided to begin my bountiful vegetable garden indoors as seeds, so I could watch them sprout and get the most out of my gardening experience.
How Doesn’t Your Garden Grow?
I started small, with four packets of seeds: baby spinach, green leaf lettuce, cilantro, and spring onions. The tomatoes and rest of the salad ingredients could wait for warmer weather.
I mixed a little organic fertilizer with some potting soil and arranged a bench beneath a sunny window in my kitchen. Every type of seed got its own egg crate container, and the whole lot was misted down regularly. Soon enough, plants started to sprout – it took less than a couple of weeks to see seedlings.
And now they are all dead.
- I didn’t follow instructions. Every packet of seeds said to plant directly outdoors. But in February, there was still a danger of frost – and I hadn’t quite gotten around to setting up my containers on the patio. But I DID have empty egg cartons and a lack of patience. So, I planted the seeds indoors with a plan to move the seedlings outside in a few weeks.
- I didn’t transplant the seeds soon enough. Quicker than I expected, the seedlings had grown a couple of inches and were ready to be planted outdoors. But it was a Tuesday, and I was really busy. By the time the weekend had rolled around, the cilantro and lettuce seedlings had keeled over and lay dying, flopped against the earth like deflated green balloons. They never recovered. Apparently, Mother Nature waits for no woman.
- I didn’t listen to my mother. She told me that growing plants from seeds and transplanting the seedlings could be very difficult. Why didn’t I just buy seedlings instead and start from there? But I wanted to grow seeds. I gently, so gently, attempted to transplant the spinach and spring onions to my new outdoor containers. The spinach died almost at once.
- My dog killed the rest. The spring onions were hanging in there until my wiener dog Steve decided to jump up into the container and dig, dig, dig. I caught him in the act, gleefully throwing dirt all over the patio with a look of absolute delight on his furry little face. The spring onions weren't as gleeful.
- I did not label my vegetable garden. I started over, planting a new round of seeds in a set of three outdoor containers. But somehow I became confused: I planted cilantro in the first pot, lettuce AND spinach in the second pot, and nothing in the third pot. Now the lettuce and spinach have to fight over limited space, while the third pot sits empty.
Status Update: My Vegetable Garden Today
My lettuce and spinach seedlings are going strong and competing for space. The cilantro is not so strong, but at least it's alive. My containers – 17” self-watering pots – are really not big enough to grow the garden I had imagined. I’m glad I started small and I have definitely learned a lot – and this summer, maybe-- just maybe -- my tomato dreams will come true.
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