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Who needs a big vegetable garden?

LITTLE GARDEN: Our garden this year consists of one 4-by-4-foot raised bed. We’re growing six tomato plants and a few yellow beans, peas and beets. We also have a large flowerpot full of lettuce.
Sometimes less is more when it comes to gardening.

When I was a child, my parents planted a vegetable garden every year. Even when I wasn’t old enough “to help,” I can remember sitting in between rows of vegetables and playing in the dirt while my mom picked a bagful of green or yellow beans or peas for supper.

When I was in my late 20s, my dad helped us plant our first garden. My husband, our four sons and I have had a garden almost every year since.

Most of our gardens started out with great intentions. We planted, watered and weeded. It looked great the first two or three months. Then during the week of the county fair in July, the weeds seemed to, well, grow like weeds, and it was a struggle most years to keep up with them after that. It also became a challenge to find the time to weed and water and, eventually, harvest the vegetables.

Eight years ago, we decided to combine forces with our neighbors Bob and Jane and grow a garden together. That worked out fine while we still had kids at home to help with the weeding and watering, but as they went off to college and were busy working summer jobs, the work fell to the adults.

BIG GARDEN: When we gardened with our friends Bob and Jane, we had a big garden with 24 tomato plants, peas, beans, onions, beets, carrots, peppers, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, spinach, lettuce, potatoes and butternut squash.

This spring, I convinced Jane that we should try something easier. I suggested we each grow a small garden with a few vegetables, and we buy most of our produce at the Amish Produce Auction in Dalton and at area farmers markets. That way, we could focus most of our energy on freezing vegetables and canning salsa, apple sauce and pickles, and not spend most of our energy weeding and watering.

How is it going?
Well, halfway through this experimental year, I would have to say it is going well. We resisted the urge to plant a big garden. My husband and I bought the materials at Menards to build a 4-by-4-foot raised garden bed. We mixed in nine bags of topsoil, two bags of peat moss and two bags of cow manure. We planted six different types of tomato plants, a few yellow beans, a few peas and a few beets. And we built a chicken-wire fence around the garden to keep out the rabbits. I also seeded a package of lettuce seed into a large flowerpot just off our deck. To my surprise, we haven’t had any weeds!

The produce auctions are held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. So far I have bought and frozen cauliflower, broccoli and sweet corn. I have also bought some beets, onions, sweet corn, cantaloupes and watermelons to eat. In early September, Jane and I plan to buy pickles to make bread-and-butter pickles, and Roma tomatoes, onions and green bell peppers to make salsa.

Produce at the auctions is usually sold in large quantities. We’ve talked to several people and learned a lot. We have been fortunate to find individuals who will sell us a few cantaloupe, watermelons and vegetables in smaller quantities for what they paid for it.

Next year, I want to add another 4-by-4-foot raised bed so we can grow more peas, beans and beets, and add some bell peppers and onions. I also plan to grow one more pot of lettuce so we don’t have to wait for the lettuce to regrow.

Having a small garden allows us to eat fresh vegetables all summer long. Buying at the auctions and farmers markets gives me the quantity I need for canning and freezing. Being able to still play in the dirt, eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and not spend all of my time watering and weeding is priceless!


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