For everything you do in life, there is that first time. It doesn’t matter what endeavor you undertake, there is nothing like those first nervous steps into the unknown. Anticipation builds leading up to the event. You become a little anxious even, expectations are so high. Making plans can help, rummaging through reference materials and taking fastidious notes strengthens one’s resolve. We will make this happen. There are bound to be some disasters, we may suffer a few losses, but those delicious tomatoes will be worth it all in the end! These are the first steps into any new adventure, and so began ours.
The garden was a Mother’s Day gift from my husband. We had moved to a house on Main Street, a street with much fewer deer than our last home address. A garden had simply been impossible there without a six foot perimeter fence around your entire plot. Discussion had begun over the winter about planting our own food. All of our grandparents had gardened in some way or another. My grandmother grew flowers, his planted corn in the front yard. My grandfather was famous for his tomatoes and his raised chickens in Israel. There was a long heritage of gardening and self-sustainability here that we wanted to honor and continue.
First we discussed the placement of the garden in the yard. What part of the yard received the most amount of sun? Did that same area also have suitable drainage? We wanted to grow things, not create a mud puddle. Looking back on it now, I am surprised at how much research we did ensuring our garden was in the best possible location. I am not a patient woman, so this type of scrutinizing was uncharacteristic for me. We chose the sloping south side yard for our garden. The sun made a slow marching arch over the space and the natural slope of the yard made for perfect drainage. That time spent was well worth it; our garden is now in its eighth year and continues to produce for us every year.
Even though I knew exactly where the garden would be dug and terraced, it was still an awe inspiring surprise to watch it actually take shape. That was no small task, five plots were dug out and shaped and four curving walls were built to separate the plots. The walls came down the side yard, advancing in soft arcs; the landscape men there to assist were stunned we weren’t adding shrubbery and other landscapes to fill the space. They left scratching their heads when my husband informed them his wife intended to fill the space with vegetables. I can still remember standing there, smiling from ear to ear. Smelling the fresh turned earth, I couldn’t wait to dig our hands in there and get started.
Our garden was ready to be planted by mid-May, far too late to start our crops from seed, so we did the next best thing. In the Garden State we are blessed with a very active 4-H community of Master Gardeners. Every Mother’s Day, in our county, they would host a plant sale of all the Master Gardeners’ starts. There were flowers and shrubs, vegetables and fruits. Most prominent in the middle of the sale are rows and rows of gorgeous heirloom tomato starts. In New Jersey, we don’t take our tomatoes lightly, this is serious growing business. Rutgers University is responsible for developing several different types of tomatoes right here in Central Jersey. Choosing a variety for our new garden was no easy task, but it was an enjoyable one. I chose a large purple variety, while my husband chose a cherry. After everyone in the family had made their decisions, we were ready to go home and plant.
The garden went in that day. The soil was fresh and new, very easy to plant the new starts. Our work was completed before the sun had set; there was an amazing feeling of accomplishment. We had watermelon, strawberries, and two varieties of tomatoes, celery, carrots and a bearded Iris for our youngest. The fifth plot we had given to our tenant, which she planted with herbs and peppers I believe. We stood there with dirt on our knees, blisters on our hands and enormous grins on our faces. The dream had become a reality, something we had talked about for years finally comes to life, and it was awesome.