Gardening is so relaxing. Just looking at beautiful greenery and flowers is calming to my soul. Reaping fresh vegetables is so rewarding.
Lesson #1: Container Gardening Makes Everything Easy
The soil in my yard is impossible to till. Like many areas in New England, and particularly Connecticut, it is filled with small stones left over from glacial activity. I decided to purchase a raised garden bed, which is a decision I will never regret.
Raised beds come in many sizes and shapes and have a large price range. I opted for a 49" X 49" x 9" polyethylene bed, which rests on the ground and looks quite a bit like a child's sandbox. These are available online and in many retail stores. It was super easy to snap together and looks great. There are also other raised beds that put the soil box at counter height for someone who doesn't want to bend over to tend to their garden.
The raised bed came with instructions indicating it holds 8 cubic feet of mix. The instructions also suggested clearing out all the weeds and grass under it or putting weed blocking cloth under it. I opted for the latter and it's worked out well.
Then I was off to my local home improvement store, where I found organic soil mix specifically for container gardening. This is important, as regular garden soil can clump. This was a great way to start an organic garden.
Lesson #2: Growing Cherry Tomatoes From a Cherry Tomato Is Easy
After some exploration and research on the internet, I came across a video on an easy way to grow cherry tomatoes. Simple. Buy some in the supermarket and cut them into small pieces. Make sure each piece contains at least one seed.
My first year trying this I just pushed a few sections of cut cherry tomatoes into the soil of my raised bed garden. It was magical. Within a week, all three pieces I planted sprouted and grew very strong production plants. The plants produced super sweet cherry tomatoes all summer. Surprisingly, these cherry tomatoes were even tastier than the original ones that were their parents.
Now to be honest, there can be a downside to this method. The next year I decided to do it the "right way" and start my plants indoors in peat moss pots. This method did not work. The plants came up, but almost as soon as they sprouted they all grew fuzzy white mold on them.
Lesson #3: Celebrity Tomatoes Were a Great Choice
I would like to say I knew what I was doing when I selected a Celebrity tomato variety at our local nursery, but I didn't. I just got lucky. The plant grew huge and produced over 70 big, ripe, beautiful tomatoes. Indeed, I gave a lot away to friends as I couldn't eat them all. I froze some to use in soups and stews. If I grow as many this year, I have the names of some local food banks that accept fresh produce. (Note: Celebrity tomatoes can be grown in zones 3–9.)
During COVID-19, by the time I got to the nursery, everything was picked over. I purchased Roma tomatoes instead of the Celebrity tomatoes. It may not be true for everyone in every climate, but my Roma tomatoes were prone to splitting on top and then getting insect activity or rot in the open fissures. This happened no matter how I watered them, and I tried several different methods.
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Lesson #4: Tomato Horn Worms Are Gross
When I was a little girl, I remember my grandfather finding tomato horn worms on his plants and he killed them. My aunt could walk among the plants and detect an odor that told her there was a tomato horn worm nearby. This is something I was never able to do.
Horn worms are actually large green caterpillars that develop into moths. They can easily destroy a tomato plant by eating all the leaves.
One day, I was looking at my plants and found two large tomato horn worms—but I got lucky. I didn't have to deal with removing the ugly caterpillar, as my two horn worms were already parasitized by paper wasps and covered in their eggs.
When I first saw them, I thought they were horn worm eggs and I was going to have an invasion. A little searching on the internet and I found that the paper wasp eggs would hatch and eat the the horn worm. This is the best thing that could possibly happen to a gardener. Having a large population of paper wasps in the garden is a preventive measure against horn worms.
The next day I went out to check on the progress the wasps had made and the whole horn worm was gone, without a trace.
Lesson #5: Take a Chance on Volunteers
Sometimes a plant would pop in my garden unexpectedly, as it was something I had not planted. I didn't know the name for these is "volunteers".
The year after my first tomato growing experience, I found so many volunteers. I had been told that volunteers typically aren't as strong and don't produce as much. For my whole life, I have always been frugal and against wasting anything. I took each of the volunteers and potted them. Some of them produced a whole lot of cherry tomatoes and some just looked sparse and sickly.
Surprisingly, late in the season a volunteer popped up under my zinnia patch in a raised bed. I didn't pull it out, as I didn't want to disrupt my zinnias. This volunteer was shaded by the zinnias, which is contrary to the sunny conditions tomatoes need. It grew very vine-like and out and over the edge of the raised bed and produced more cherry tomatoes than any other plant I had.
The message here is that you will never know what a volunteer will do and how it will produce. My suggestion would be that if you have the space and the patience, by all means keep them and see what they do. They are free, so take a chance.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Ellen Gregory